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On the Road to Lost Fathers: Jack Kerouac in a Lacanian Perspective

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Tomasz Sawczuk

The book is the first monograph which examines the correspondences between the oeuvre of Jack Kerouac and the thought of Jacques Lacan, the two apparently incompatible worlds which prove to be complementary when taking a closer look. The study demonstrates a number of points. Firstly, with Jacques Lacan as a silent partner, it helps to better understand why psychoanalysis won Kerouac’s enmity in the mid-1950s. It also delves into Lacan’s reflections on spontaneous free-association to prove their convergence with Beats’ literary tactics. In its final part, by employing Lacanian theory, the book offers an extensive insight into Kerouac’s oeuvre to excavate the problematic status of the father figure, a crucial matter not yet given a rigorous critical attention.

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2 Fundamental Lacanian Concepts

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2.1 Subjectivity

What is perhaps Lacan’s most significant contribution not only to the field of psychoanalysis but also to literary/cultural criticism and philosophy is his exceptional conception of the subject. Although the term was picked by Lacan for various purposes over the years, its prime meaning was, in simple words, that of a person entwined in the symbolic register (language, law and order) and subjected to the unconscious. In his famous statement from “The Instance of the Letter in the Unconscious, or Reason Since Freud” (1957), the French psychoanalyst traverses Descartes’ words: “I think, therefore I am” into “I am thinking where I am not, therefore I am where I am not thinking” (Écrits, 430). Being reformulated further, as we shall see, the statement is for Lacan nothing less than the indication that the actual subjectivity resides in the unconscious (“I am where I am not thinking” as opposed to the false subjectivity in “I am thinking where I am not”) and is always at the mercy of the unconscious and the desire, which are elaborated in the further overview of the symbolic. The subjectivity emerges as such as the effect of the symbolic castration – Lacan bars the subject (thereby represented by the symbol of in his formulas) to indicate its loss of pre-symbolic jouissance (explained further on the occasion of describing symbolic castration) due to the paternal prohibition and for the sake of entering into the realm of the language (the symbolic order). Apart from...

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