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Continental Philosophy Review

, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 271–290 | Cite as

The other side of the canvas: Lacan flips Foucault over Velázquez

  • Thomas Brockelman
Article

Abstract

This essay suggests that the minimal 1966 exchange between Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault in Lacan’s seminar actually stood in for a much fuller debate about modernity, psychoanalysis and art than its brevity would indicate. Using their contrasting interpretations of Velázquez’s painting, Las Meninas, as its fulcrum, “The Other Side of the Canvas” discovers a Lacanian critique of Foucault’s history of modernity, circa The Order of Things. The effort here is to insert the interpretation of Velázquez into the context of both Lacan’s “Science and Truth” (originally the first session of the 1966 seminar) and Foucault’s recently published book. Our interpretation develops above all from Lacan’s contrast between the definition of a painting as a “window” and Foucault’s implicit understanding of it as a kind of “mirror”—a distinction in which Lacan discovers his seminal concept of “object a.” Pursuing the understanding of object a as the “surface” of the perspectival window allows us to understand why Lacan expands the discussion of Velázquez both into an understanding of twentieth-century paintings (Magritte, Balthus) and an implicit interpretation of the difference between philosophical and psychoanalytic approaches to science and history.

Keywords

Lacan Foucault History Perspective Modernity Object a 

References

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Photo Credits

  1. Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas. (1656, Museo del Prado, Madrid) Image permission of Superstock, #4266.Google Scholar
  2. Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, detail. Image permission of Superstock, #1899-33145.Google Scholar
  3. Rene Magritte, The Human Condition (1933, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), with permission of the estate of Rene Magritte. Image permission of Superstock, #1158-2398.Google Scholar
  4. Balthus, The Street (La Rue). (1933, Museum of Modern Art, New York), with permission of the estate of Balthus (Harumi Klossowska de Rola). Image permission of Superstock, #260-1048.Google Scholar
  5. Albrecht Dürer, Illustration from On Measurement. Image permission of Superstock, #463-7149.Google Scholar
  6. Perspective illustration after, Peter de Hooch, A Woman Drinking with Two Men. (1658, National Gallery, London). Image permission of Superstock, #1746-2988.Google Scholar
  7. All other images are in the public domain.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Le Moyne CollegeSyracuseUSA

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