Thursday, December 14, 2017

Structuralists behaving badly at Johns Hopkins

The Quarterly Conversation has just published an essay excerpted from Cynthia L. Haven, Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard (Michigan St. U. Press 2018). Here's an passage from the excerpt about the response to Lacan's mysterious send-up of Freud, “Of structure as an inmixing of an otherness prerequisite to any subject whatsoever.”:
[Angus] Fletcher called him out in his first comment: “Freud was really a very simple man,” he explained. “He didn’t try to float on the surface of words. What you’re doing is like a spider: you’re making a very delicate web without any human reality in it . . . All this metaphysics is not necessary. The diagram was very interesting, but it doesn’t seem to have any connection with the reality of our actions, with eating, sexual intercourse, and so on.” At least, those are the heavily edited words from The Structuralist Controversy, which don’t capture the hysteria and pandemonium (Donato’s careful hand would rework this section).

At the event itself, rather than Donato’s diplomatic recreation of it, Fletcher’s voice had taken on an accusatory tone—“Vous, vous monsieur . . .” He attacked in a British-inflected French, while Lacan insisted on replying in his inadequate English. “Lacan was enjoying every bit of this. He was like a Cheshire cat,” said Macksey. “Angus just went ballistic.”

“I should have been aware, and wasn’t, the state that Angus was in. Angus is a very bright guy.” Elsewhere in the room, Girard was “trying to climb under the chair, it was so embarrassing,” he said. “René felt we owed something to the Ford Foundation, from whom all blessings flow . . . I would watch him. He was the senior member of the troika—at moments, he seemed to be thinking that the wheels had come off and we were rolling downhill.” Girard’s concern regarding the Ford Foundation was understandable, since “Lacan particularly set Peter [Caw]’s teeth on edge”—perhaps from the moment of the big bear hug.

Macksey felt that the microphone had to be kept from Wilden at all costs. Someone passed the mic to Wilden nevertheless. “At that point Tony lit into Lacan, saying this was your great opportunity, this was your first exposure in the United States. All you had to do was just talk your language and you don’t know diddly squat about the English language.” Goldmann jumped into the melée, attacking Lacan on procedural grounds as well.

The Structuralist Controversy gives little indication of this discord—remarks were toned down later to reduce the decibel level, and much of the action was between the lines, anyway. According to Macksey, “It got to be about midnight and things were just going on wildly and Rosolato says, ‘Oh, he always does this to me. He schedules me to talk right after him and then there’s no time.’ So Nicolas Ruwet, who is a Belgian linguist, read a paper that I thought was more exact and applied overt structuralism more than most of the people who were participating had done. But nobody paid attention to that paper. Alas.”

Back at the Belvedere, Lacan started calling everyone in Paris—Lévi-Strauss and Malraux among them—giving his version of the events. Eventually, he would run up a $900 phone bill from the hotel. “People in Paris thought a small revolution had occurred,” said Macksey. But the revolution would take place the next day.
The last day of the symposium, when Derrida delivered the paper that "deconstructed" structuralism. 

H/t 3QD.

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