SECT I: "Psychoanalysis, Politics, and the Event"

August 16-27, 2004


Alain Badiou, Professor, Paris
Joan Copjec, Professor, Buffalo
Slavoj Žižek, Professor, Sass-Fee, Switzerland
Alenka Zupančič, Professor, Ljubljana

The UCHRI announced its new summer "Seminar in Experimental Critical Theory" (SECT). SECT is an intensive two-week summer program for graduate students and faculty from the UC system and elsewhere, as well as other scholars, professionals, and public intellectuals. The Summer Seminar brought together four distinguished instructors and a group of 40-50 students to study a pressing issue or theme in contemporary critical theory, in both its "pure" and "applied" modes. SECT is neither exclusively an introductory survey course nor an advanced research seminar. Rather, it is an academy or "laboratory" where students and faculty at all levels of previous experience can study with scholars involved in important and creative theoretical thought. Truly innovative work is of necessity both fundamental and advanced, hence needs to be presented in ways that are simultaneously accessible and challenging for the widest range of scholars.

The inaugural program in the summer seminar series focused on "Psychoanalysis, Politics, and the Event". The lead instructors were Alain Badiou, Joan Copjec, Slavoj Zizek, and Alenka Zupancic.

Graphic Design: Carol Evers

SECT on "Psychoanalysis, Politics, and the Event" explored the implications of Freud's and Lacan's thinking for our conceptualization of the political and the possibility of subjective and social transformation. Four instructors -- Alain Badiou, Joan Copjec, Slavoj Zizek, and Alenka Zupancic -- led approximately six hours of daily plenary sessions and focused work groups on various aspects of the general topic. Evening lectures were delivered by visiting distinguished scholars.

From Freud's earliest writings, psychoanalysis has been centrally involved with political and social issues. The subject that Freud first describes and which Lacan goes on to formalize is embedded not only in a family but also in a group, of which the subject is both a member and a remainder. For Freud, "group psychology" has always been a part of "the analysis of the ego," insofar as the subject is always subjected to an ego-ideal, the charismatic leader who forms the common point of projective identification around which a community coalesces. Moreover, the project of "civilization" is intrinsically riven by "discontents," the aggressive malaise borrowed from the individual passions it was meant to restrain. Generations of "Psycho-Marxists" since Freud, including Marcuse, Fanon, Althusser, and many others, have tried to make explicit the political implications of Freud's thinking and practice.

Lacan too has always understood the subject as a disturbance of the symbolic and imaginary fields in which the political unfolds. In Lacan's theory of the "Four Discourses" of the Master, the University, the Hysteric, and the Analyst -- an analysis of discursive structure and social transformation that arose in the midst of the great upheavals of ’68 -- the political implications of psychoanalysis were more fully developed. Indeed, sexual difference itself, the bedrock of psychoanalytic experience, has a fundamentally political significance, insofar as Lacan argues in the 1970s that Men and Woman are determined by the radically different logics of particular and universal in which each participates. And just as Lacan argues that the relationship between the sexes is "impossible," always a failed conjunction, so the same kind of traumatic missed encounter lies at the heart of the political. Yet the concept of the act that Lacan develops, in opposition to the repetitive symptomatic behavior that Freud called "acting out," comes to stand for the possibility of transforming the political field of the subject, and allowing a new modality of social and discursive structure to arise. In Alain Badiou's terms, this is the possibility of the event, the break that shifts the paradigm and syntagm in which a particular situation of political, scientific, aesthetic, and amorous life unfolds.