Lacan’s work is known for being difficult, weird and inaccessible, almost offensively so. His name is associated with esoteric philosophers like Hegel and Deleuze perhaps just as much as it is with Freud – let alone Klein or Jung. It even seems unclear sometimes whether his work should be called psychoanalysis, or philosophy, or something else entirely.
His perhaps most dominant manifestation today is as an oracle of political theory, offering a body of work challenging and diverse enough to provide some traction in slippery political times.
Understanding the earliest moments of Lacan’s career in the 1930s can help us to appreciate how his work became the many-faced entity it did, and how we might best approach it today.
I will give one version of the story of how Lacan ‘became’ Lacan, focusing on three areas in particular:
- the psychiatric clinic which he worked up through and abandoned
- the French philosophy of the ‘30s in which he was immersed
- his engagements with the surrealist artistic movement.
I suggest that understanding the ingredients of this Lacanian cocktail remains of great relevance to making sense of the new kind of 20th Century psychoanalysis it became.