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When A Young Rebel Attacked Jacques Lacan in 1972 at Leuven University

Alex Gibson

 

In 1972, Jacques Lacan was speaking at Leuven University. He was saying things like "questions are formed on the basis that they have an answer. Often they already had the answer. And that's the limited scope of the question... We know that language never gives, never allows us to formulate anything which has less than three, five, twenty-five meanings."

He was being lovely and poetic and his oratory was theatrical. In a documentary about Lacan, the event was called 'The most French moment in 1972', where 'Lacan was accosted while everyone kept smoking'.

The scandal begins when a young man messes up the papers on Lacan's desk in front of a packed and shocked audience. Lacan watches on smoking his bent cigar and then the disruptive young man speaks, pausing awkwardly to formulate his exegesis:

"The composite body which up to fifty years ago could be called 'culture'-- that is, people expressing in fragmented ways what they feel -- is now a lie, and can only be called a 'spectacle,' the backdrop of which is tied to, and serves as, a link between all alienated individual activities. If all the people here now were to join together and, freely and authentically, wanted to communicate, it'd be on a different basis, with a different perspective. Of course this can't be expected of students who by definition will one day become the managers of our system, with their justifications, and who are also the public who with a guilty conscience will pick up the remains of the avant-garde and the decaying 'spectacle.'"

After the spectacle he becomes enraged at Lacan's response and throws water on the elderly intellectual. The young man is escorted away, and Lacan continues.


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