Imagine There's No Woman
Ethics and Sublimation
- Winner in the 2003 AAUP Book, Jacket, and Journal Competition in the Scholarly Illustrated category.
269 pp., 7 x 9 in, 14 b&w illus.
- Published: September 17, 2004
- Published: January 17, 2003
A psychoanalytic and philosophical exploration of sublimation as a key term in Jacques Lacan's theories of ethics and feminine sexuality.
Jacques Lacan claimed that his theory of feminine sexuality, including the infamous proposition, "the Woman does not exist," constituted a revision of his earlier work on "the ethics of psychoanalysis." In Imagine There's No Woman, Joan Copjec shows how Freud's ragtag, nearly incoherent notion of sublimation was refashioned by Lacan to become the key term in his ethics. To trace the link between feminine being and Lacan's ethics of sublimation, Copjec argues, one must take the negative proposition about the woman's existence not as just another nominalist denunciation of thought's illusions about the existence of universals, but as recognition of the power of thought, which posits and gives birth to the difference of objects from themselves. While the relativist position currently dominant insists on the difference between my views and another's, Lacan insists on this difference within the object I see. The popular position fuels the disaffection with which we regard a world in a state of decomposition, whereas the Lacanian alternative urges our investment in a world that awaits our invention. In the book's first part, Copjec explores positive acts of invention/sublimation: Antigone's burial of her brother, the silhouettes by the young black artist Kara Walker, Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills, and Stella Dallas's final gesture toward her daughter in the well-known melodrama. In the second part, the focus shifts to sublimation's adversary, the cruelly uncreative superego, as Copjec analyzes Kant's concept of radical evil, envy's corruption of liberal demands for equality and justice, and the difference between sublimation and perversion. Maintaining her focus on artistic texts, she weaves her arguments through discussions of Pasolini's Salo, the film noir classic Laura, and the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination.
When Rossini was asked who the greatest composer was, he replied: 'Beethoven.' And when the interviewer responded, 'What about Mozart?', Rossini calmly snapped back: 'Mozart is not the greatest composer, he is the only composer.' The same should be said of Joan Copjec: she is not simply 'the greatest' American Lacanian - in a much more radical sense, she is THE ONLY American Lacanian. Her new book is not simply 'great' by any standards, it REDEFINES THE STANDARDS OF 'GREATNESS.' In it, two series - that of Lacanian psychoanalysis and that of feminism - meet in a way which totally restructures both fields. After reading Imagine There's No Woman, anyone who continues in the old way will sound like a physicist advocating phlogiston in the twentieth century. Only classics like de Beauvoir's The Second Sex even come close to Copjec's new book.
Slavoj Zizek, author of The Puppet and the Dwarf and The Parallax View
Joan Copjec's latest work is a tangy mix of precise conceptual argumentation and its imaginative application: Freud with Kara Walker, Pasolini with Zapruder, Bersani with Cindy Sherman. Copjec maintains an overall link to Kant and Lacan, two figures often mistakenly thought to represent critical erasures of the body, of sexuality and of woman. Those who take such truisms for granted are in for a surprise. Copjec puts these assumptions under the full pressure of her formal and psychoanalytic discernment.
Juliet Flower MacCannell, University of California, Irvine, Author of The Hysteric's Guide to the Future Female Subject, The Regime of the Brother, and Figuring Lacan
In this volume Joan Copjec expands and deepens the theoretical trajectory that she initiated in Read my Desire. One of the most striking features of this brilliant new book is its systematic exploration of the ontological implications of psychoanalytic categories. Following a rigorous and exhaustive discussion of Freud's and Lacan's texts, she shows how for Freud the theory of the drives occupies the place of classical ontology and how Lacan's ethics is grounded in his proposition that there is no 'whole of being'. This gives psychoanalysis a projection which far transcends any regional theorization. In the author's words: 'My arguments here are premised on the belief that psychoanalysis is the mother tongue of our modernity and that the important issues of our time are scarcely articulable outside the concepts it has forged.' Copjec's book is bound to have a deep and lasting impact on contemporary theory.
Ernesto Laclau, Department of Government, University of Essex