EVENT Mar 23
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NeMLA Panel - In the Eye of the Beholder: Psychoanalysis and the Aesthetic Object (NeMLA)

Niagara Falls
Organization: NeMLA
Event: NeMLA
Categories: Comparative, Literary Theory, Miscellaneous
Event Date: 2023-03-23 to 2023-03-26 Abstract Due: 2022-09-30

Kant’s account of aesthetic judgments is well-known. For him, beauty is characterized by a universal, necessary, and subjective feeling of disinterested pleasure that stems from the contemplation of the pure form of an object. Kant further connects beauty to morality, arguing that beauty is the symbol of the morally good. Unsurprisingly, this account of beauty is so afar afield from Freud’s that we might wonder if they’re discussing the same phenomena. Freud, we could say, restores what Kant rent asunder: namely, the role of sensation, sexuality, and embodiment in our judgments of the beautiful. As he famously argued in Civilization and Its Discontents, the production and appreciation of aesthetics is the product of sublimation, or the displacement of our repressed and sacrificed erotic cathexes. Thus, unlike Kant, for Freud, beauty provides us some promise of happiness, however minor, in response to our divided and frustrated existence. In his seminar VII, Lacan in turn draws on the Freudian notion of the Thing in order to develop the phenonema of repetition as a, in the long run, aesthetic category, affecting the very letter (the signifier) itself. Doing so, he provides a groundwork for the (metaphorical, allegorical …) interpretation of, for instance, literature and film.On the other hand, thinkers ranging from Marcuse to Firestone to hooks have, in their own ways, called into question the political function of the aesthetic as the reification or exploitation of the subject in the service of capitalism or white supremacy and ethnocentrism.

What can psychoanalysis say about the aesthetic object? What does art say about us, and how are art and responses to it constituted out of our own divided psychic lives? Does art reveal something about the ugliness of our desires and what is repressed in them (Bacon); point us towards a higher unity (Rothko); reject dependence on the maternal body (Mondrian); reject phallocentrism (Schapiro); guard us against the trauma of the Real (Lacan); offer catharsis (Aristotle and Freud); reject white heteronormativity (Muñoz); or something else entirely? How does a text – a novel, a drama, a poem, a film (cinematic text) – produce forms of aesthetic pleasure based on the ‘instance of the letter’ (Lacan), on comical and/or uncanny repetition? How do different forms of visual and textual elements, e.g. in film, reject interpretation and closure and henceforth produce aesthetic jouissance and contradictory meaning via this void itself?

This panel seeks papers that offer psychoanalytic interpretations of aesthetic experience. Paper topics could include anything mentioned above, but could also consider individual responses to works of art; psychic motivations for the production of aesthetic objects; the compensatory or fulfilling nature of artistic production and experience; the sexual and/or infantile core of aesthetic relations; the function of emotional satisfaction in art; or the destitution of art’s function under capitalism.



Matt Lovett