Books/Peter Mathews/Lacan the Charlatan

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About this book

This book sets out to determine the validity of an accusation made against Jacques Lacan by Noam Chomsky in an interview in 1989. He stated that Lacan was a “charlatan” – not that his ideas were flawed or wrong, but that his entire discourse was fraudulent, an accusation that has since been repeated by many other critics. Examining the arguments of key anti-Lacanian critics, Mathews weighs and contextualizes the legitimacy of Lacan’s engagements with structural linguistics, mathematical formalization, science, ethics, Hegelian dialectics, and psychoanalysis. The guiding thread is Lacan’s own recurrent interrogation of authority, which inhabits an ambiguous zone between mastery and charlatanry. This book offers a novel contribution to the field for students and scholars of psychoanalysis, philosophy, sociology, critical and literary theory.

About the Authors

Peter D. Mathews is Professor of English Literature at Hanyang University, South Korea.

Table of Contents

  • 1. Introduction
    • A Geneaology of the Charlatan Label
    • The Turn Against Psychoanalytic Authority
    • Two Untenable Modes of Mastery
    • The Work of Critical Sacrilege
    • Lacan's Accusers
    • References
  • 2. Lacan the Linguistic Charlatan
    • Linguistic Idealism
    • The Place of Saussure
    • Regimes of Truth
    • Diversion and Strategy
    • From the Symbolic to the Real
    • References
  • 3. Lacan the Mathematical Charlatan
    • Mathematical Charlantry
    • The Place of the Matheme
    • 'That Was No Done'
    • Enjoy Your Enlightenment!
    • Mathematics and Mastery
    • References
  • 4. Lacan the Scientific Charlatan
    • A Confession of Faith
    • The Sticky Branch
    • Repressed Power
    • Knowledge and Enjoyment
    • References
  • 5. Lacan the Ethical Charlatan
    • A Tale of Two Books
    • The End of Shame
    • The Man of Pleasure
    • Utilitarian Fictions
    • Sham Jouissance
    • References
  • 6. Lacan the Absolute Charlatan
    • The Unwitting Puppet
    • Three Puppet Masters
    • From Ancient to Modern
    • Playing the Master
    • References
  • 7. Lacan the Master Charlatan
    • The Fatal Flaw
    • The Transference Trap
    • Irony and the Master's Writing
    • The Meta-Charlatan
    • References
  • References
  • Index


"What authorizes an analyst to analyze? Lacan the Charlatan makes a significant contribution to this important question and is a must-read for anyone interested in the future of our praxis."

— Russell Grigg, World Association of Psychoanalysis

"Lacan the Charlatan is much more than a highly engaging study of Lacan's various critics, detractors, and would-be debunkers. It focuses in on one of the essential problems of his psychoanalytic theory: the nature of authority under conditions of modernity. Clown, guru, master, imposter, insurgent, analyst: Mathews shows how Lacan both incarnated and exposed the impasses of authority, and how his theoretical framework is crucial for understanding the charade of power and mastery we are living in today."

— Aaron Schuster, author of The Trouble with Pleasure: Deleuze and Psychoanalysis

"Mathews is that rarest of scholars in psychoanalytic studies: someone brave enough to consult works he disagrees with, and then able to produce smart, judicious, and fair-minded commentary and critique. Likewise, his interventions into the work and legacies of the best critics of Lacan, such as Roustang and Borch-Jacobsen, is not just overdue; it is often revelatory. Lacan the Charlatan is a major contribution to the literature - one of interest to scholars of literature, philosophy, and sociology - that will still be worth reading in twenty years."

— Todd Dufresne, Professor of Philosophy, Lakehead University, Canada