Notes on references by Jacques Lacan to Plato’s ‘Meno’, Nicolas Cusanus, Michel de Montaigne…

by Julia Evans on March 16, 2012

These notes were provoked by Bruce Scott’s presentation to the LW WG meeting on January 21st 2012 which is available on LW as follows: ‘Meno’, Montaigne and the ‘Docta Ignorantia’: Some thoughts and comments on the weak symbolic in the 21st century

My starting question

I start with the question, given by David Albertson ( see [i] ) of ‘Why did Bataille, Lacan and other twentieth-century theorists study mystical texts carefully?’

I could add that Lacan develops from these references throughout his work, sometimes unacknowledged, so these notes are the start of a journey following in his footsteps.

Following the references to Seminar I, II & XVII, I give the results of my internet researches.

Quotes from Jacques Lacan:

Jacques Lacan: Seminar I: 5th May 1954  [ii] :


O. Mannoni: In my opinion, one often gets the impression that we are speaking several different languages. I think that one should perhaps distinguish between a development of the person and a structuration of the ego. Something of this sort will allow us to understand one another, because it is truly an ego which structures, but within a being which is developing.

J. Lacan: Yes. We are deep in structuration. Precisely at the point where the entire analytic experience unfolds, at the joint of the imaginary and the symbolic. Just now, Leclaire raised the question about the function of the image and the function of what he called the idea. We know very well that the idea never lives all by itself. It lives with all the other ideas, Plato has already taught us that.

In order to bring a little light to bear, let’s get the little apparatus going, the one I have been showing you these last few sessions.


Jacques Lacan: Seminar I: 7th July 1954 [iii]:

Perhaps it is more difficult to get you to understand that, for reasons which may not be such good reasons for rejoicing as one might think, these days we know less about the feeling of hatred than in times when man was more open to his destiny.

To be sure, we have seen, not very long ago, manifestations which, within this genre, weren’t bad at all. Nonetheless, these days subjects do not have to shoulder the burden of the experience of hatred in its most consuming forms. And shy? Because our civilisation is itself sufficiently one of hatred. Isn’t the path for the race to destruction really rather well marked out for us? Hatred is clothed in our everyday discourse under many guises, it meets with such extraordinarily easy rationalisations. Perhaps it is this state of the diffuse flocculation of hatred which saturates the call for the destruction of being in us. As if the objectivation of the human being in our civilisation corresponded exactly to what, within the structure of the ego, is the pole of hatred.

Intervention by O. Mannoni: Western moralism.

Exactly. Hatred here discovers how to feed on everyday objects. You would be wrong to think that as a result it is absent from wars, when, for certain privileged subjects, it is fully realised.

Don’t get me wrong. In speaking about love and hate to you, I am showing you the paths for the realisation of being, not the realisation of being, but only its paths.

And yet, if the subject commits himself to searching after truth as such, it is because he places himself in the dimension of ignorance – it doesn’t matter whether he knows it or not. That is one of the elements making up what analysts call ‘readiness to the transference’ {English in the original}. There is a readiness to the transference in the patient solely by virtue of his placing himself in the position of acknowledging himself in speech, and searching out his truth to the end, the end which is there, in the analyst. The analyst’s ignorance is also worthy of consideration.

The analyst must not fail to recognise what I will call the dimension of ignorance’s power of accession to being, since he has to reply to the person who, throughout his discourse, questions him in this dimension. He doesn’t have to guide the subject to a Wissen, to knowledge, but on to the paths by which access to this knowledge is gained. He must engage him in a dialectical operation, not say to him that he is wrong since he necessarily is in error, but show him that he speaks poorly, that is to say that he speaks without knowing, as one who is ignorant, because what counts are the paths of his error.

Psychoanalysis is a dialectic, what Montaigne, in book III, chapter VIII, calls ‘an art of conversation’ [un art de conférer]. The art of conversation of Socrates in the ‘Meno’ is to teach the slave to give his own speech its true meaning. And it is the same in Hegel. In other words, the position of the analyst must be that of an ‘ignorantia docta’, which does not mean knowing [savante], but formal, and what is capable of being formative for the subject.

Because it is in the air these days, these days of hatred, there is a great temptation to transform the ‘ignorantia docta’ into what I have called, and this is hardly a novelty, an ‘ignorantia docens’. If the psychoanalyst thinks he knows something, in psychology for example, then that is already the beginning of his loss, for the simple reason that in psychology nobody knows much, except that psychology is itself an error of perspective on the human being.

I will have to use banal examples to make you understand what the realisation of the being of man is, because in spite of yourselves you put it in an erroneous perspective, that of a false knowledge.

All the same you must have realised that, when a man says ‘I am’, or ‘I will be’, even ‘I will have been’ or ‘I want to be’, there is always a jump, a gap.  It is just as extravagant, in relation to reality, to say ‘I am a psychoanalyst’ a ‘I am king’. Both the one and the other are entirely valid affirmations, which nothing, however, in the order of what one might call the measure of capacities justifies. The symbolic legitimations by virtue of which a man takes on what is conferred on him by others entirely escapes the register of entitlements to office [habilitations capacitaires].

When a man refuses to be king, it does not have at all the same value as when he accepts. By the fact of refusing, he is not king. He is a petit bourgeois – take for example the Duke of Windsor. The man who, just on the brink of being invested with the dignity of the crown, says – ‘I want to live with the woman I love’ – simply because of that remains on this side of the domain of being king.

But when the man says – and in saying it, is it, by virtue of a certain system of symbolic relations – say ‘I am king’ – it is not simply accepting an office. From one minute to the next the meaning of all his psychological attributes changes. His passions, his plans, even his stupidity take on an entirely different meaning. All of these functions become, solely by virtue of the fact of his being the king, quite different, even his inabilities start to polarise, to structure an entire series of destinies around him, destinies which are found to be profoundly modified for the reason that the royal authority will be exercised in this or that way by the person who has been invested with it.

This happens on a small scale every day – a gentleman who has decidedly mediocre qualities and who presents all sorts of problems in a low-level job, is raised up in to an investiture that is sovereign in some way, however limited the domain may be, and he changes entirely. All you have to do is observe him everyday, the significance of his strengths as well as his weaknesses is transformed, and their relations may well be reversed.

That is also what habilitations, examinations reveal in an unobtrusive, concealed fashion. Why, given the time that has elapsed since we became such clever psychologists, haven’t we eliminated the various milestones which formerly had the value of initiations, the degrees, the competitive examinations, etc? If we have truly eliminated this value, why not pare down the investiture to the totalisation of the work acquired, the notes taken down over the year, or even to a set of tests or examinations measuring the abilities of the subjects? Why retain this vague archaic character for these examinations? We protest against these elements of chance and fortune like people throwing themselves against the walls of the prison they themselves have built. The truth is simply that a competitive examination, in as much as it clothes the subject with a qualification which is symbolic, cannot be given an entirely rationalised structure, and cannot just be inserted into the register of the addition of quality.

So, when we meet this, we think how clever we are and tell ourselves – ‘But of course, let’s write a great psychoanalytic article so as to show the initiatory character of the examination.’

This character is obvious. It is fortunate that we are aware of it. But it is unfortunate that the psychoanalyst doesn’t always explain it very well. His is a partial discovery, which he explains in terms of omnipotence of thoughts, of magical thought, whereas it is the dimension of the symbol which is fundamental here.


From Seminar II: 17th November 1954 [iv]

This is what the contemporary history of the technique of psychoanalysis shows us.

It remains very enigmatic. This wouldn’t trouble us in the least if it were just a conflict between schools, between reactionaries and progressives, Ptolemaics and Copernicans. But it goes much further than that. What is at issue is the establishment of an efficacious, concrete complicity, between analysis, the liberating, demystifying treatment of a human relation, and the fundamental illusion of man’s experience, or at least of modern man.

The man of today entertains a certain conception of himself, which lies half-way between naivity and sophistication. The belief he holds that he is constituted in this or that way partakes in a certain current of diffuse, culturally accepted notions. He may think that it is the result of a natural inclination, whereas in fact, in the present state of civilisation, it comes to him from all sides. My thesis is that Freud’s technique, at its origin, transcends this illusion which, in a quite concrete manner, has taken hold over the subjectivity of individuals. The question therefore is whether psychoanalysis will ever so gently allow itself to abandon what had opened up for a moment, or whether, on the contrary, it will again make manifest its cutting edge in such a way as to give it back its sharpness.

Hence the usefulness of referring to certain works of a certain style.

It makes no sense, to my mind, to cut up our remarks according to the different series in which they occur. Thus, what Alexandre Koyré introduced in his lecture yesterday evening concerning the function of the Platonic dialogue, starting specifically with the ‘Meno’, can, without any undue contrivance, be inserted into the framework of the teaching being developed here. The function of the Tuesday lectures, rightly called ‘extra-ordinary’, is indeed to enable each of you to crystallise the questioning left dangling at the outer edges of the domain we are investigating in this seminar.

Yesterday evening, I underlined, in the few comments I made, transforming Men’s equations, what one can call the function of truth in its nascent state. Indeed, the knowledge to which truth comes to be knotted must actually be endowed with its own inertia, which makes it lose something of the virtue which initiated its deposition as such, since it exhibits an obvious propensity to misrecognise its own meaning. Nowhere is this degradation more obvious than in psychoanalysis, and this fact, in and of itself, reveals the truly nodal point which psychoanalysis occupies within the limited advance of human subjectivity.

This singular ambiguity of knowledge and of truth can be seen at the origin – although one never really gets completely to the origin, let us take Plato as the origin, in the sense in which one speaks of the origin of coordinates. Yesterday evening we saw it revealed in the ‘Meno’, but we could just as easily have used ‘Protagoras’ which wasn’t mentioned.

Who is Socrates? He is the one who within human subjectivity inaugurates that style from which the notion of knowledge as tied to certain requirements of coherence has arisen, knowledge which is the prerequisite fir any future progress of science as experimental – and we will have to define what the sort of autonomy which science has acquired within the experimental register signifies. Well then, at the very moment when Socrates inaugurates this new being-in-the-world which here I call subjectivity, he realises that science will not be able to transmit the means to achieve the most precious thing, the ‘arété’, the excellence of the human being. Here already there is a decentring – it is by starting off with this virtue that a domain is opened up to knowledge, but this very virtue, with respect to its transmission, its tradition, its formation, remains outside of the domain. That is something which merits attention, rather than rushing off into believing that in the end everything will sort itself out, that it is only Socrates’s irony, that sooner or later science will catch up with this through a retroactive action. Yet, up until now, nothing in the course of history has proved this to us.

What has happened since Socrates? A lot of things, and in particular, the concept of the ego has seen the light of day.

When something comes to light, something which we are forced to consider as new, when another structural order emerges, well then it creates its own perspective within the past, and we say, ‘This can never not have been there, this has existed from the beginning.’ Besides, isn’t that a property which our own experience demonstrates?

Think about the origins of language. We imagine that there must have been a time when people on this earth began to speak. So we admit of an emergence. But from the moment that the specific structure of this emergence is grasped, we find it absolutely impossible to speculate on what preceded it other than by symbols which were always applicable. What appears to be new thus always seems to extend itself indefinitely into perpetuity, prior to itself. We cannot, through thought, abolish a new order. This applies to anything whatsoever, including the origin of the world.

Similarly, we can no longer do our thinking without this register of the ego which we have acquired over the course of history, even when we are concerned with traces of man’s speculation about himself at times when this register was not pursued as such.

It seems to us then that Socrates and his interlocutors must have had an implicit notion of this central function, that the ego must have had for them a function analogous to that which it occupies in our theoretical thinking, but also in the spontaneous apprehension we have of our thoughts, our tendencies, our desires, of what belongs to us and what does not, of what we admit to being expressions of our personality or what we reject as being parasitical on it. It is very difficult for us to imagine that the whole of this psychology isn’t eternal.

Is this in fact the case? The question at least deserves to be raised.

p7: Well, if we do not know what a contemporary of Socrates might have thought of his ego, even so there must have been something at the centre, and there is no reason to believe Socrates ever doubted that. It was probably not made like the ego, which starts at a later date, which we can locate towards the middle of the sixteenth, beginning of the seventeenth centuries. But it was at the centre, at the base. In relation to this conception, the Freudian discovery, has exactly the same implication of decentring as that brought about by the Copernican discovery. It is quite well expressed by Rimbauld’s fleeting formula – poets, as is well known, don’t know what they’re saying, yet they still manage to say things before anyone else – I is an other. [Je est un autre]

p9: … La Rochefoucauld to give him his name, all of a sudden took it upon himself to inform us of the peculiarity of something we hadn’t thought long enough about, and which he calls ‘self-love’. It is rather surprising that this should have seemed so outrageous, for what in fact was he saying? He was emphasising that even those of our activities which seem to be most disinterested are motivated by the concern for glory – even passionate love or the most virtuous acts, however secret.

What exactly did he mean? Was he saying that we act with a view to our own pleasure? This is a very important question because everything in Freud will turn around it. If that was all that La Rochefoucauld had said, he would have only been repeating what had since time immemorial been taught in the schools – nothing is ever ‘since time immemorial’, but you can see the point of the ‘since time immemorial’ on this occasion. Since Socrates, pleasure has been the search for one’s good. Whatever we may think, we are pursuing our pleasure, seeking our good. The only question is whether a human animal of such a sort, considered behaviourally as we did just now, is intelligent enough to comprehend what is truly its good. If he understands wherein this good resides, he gains the pleasure which always results from it. Mr Bentham pushed this theory to its logical extreme.

Further comment on Socrates ‘Meno’ on p13-18, p20-21 (includes reference to the ‘Statesman’ )

Seminar II: 24th November 1954: p20

Founding speech, which envelops the subject, is everything that has constituted him, his parents, his neighbours, the whole structure of the community, and not only constituted him as symbol, but constituted him in his being.

In the end, for Socrates, though not necessarily for Plato, if Themistocles and Pericles were great men, it was because they were good psychoanalysts.

In their own register, they discovered what true opinion means. They are at the heart of this historical reality in which a dialogue is taken up, when no truth of any kind can be located in it in the form of generalisable knowledge which is always true.

I don’t mean to say that the statesman is a psychoanalyst. It is precisely Plato, who with the ‘Statesman’, begins to construct a science of politics, and God knows where it has led us since. But for Socrates, the good statesman is a psychoanalyst. That’s my reply to Mannoni.

Seminar II: 1st June 1955 [v]

Why does one talk in analysis? According to this way of looking at things, it’s to keep the audience amused. The analyst has to be on the look out, at the limit of the domain of speech, for what captivates the subject, what stops him, makes him jib, inhibits him, scares him. He should objectify the subject in order to rectify him on an imaginary plane which can only be that of the dual relation, that if to say the analyst as model, in the absence of any other system of reference.

Freud was never satisfied with such a schema. If he had wanted to conceptualise analysis in such a way, he would have had no need for a ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’.

We don’t come upon the imaginary economy at the limit of our experience, it isn’t an ineffable experience, it’s not a question of looking for a better economy of mirages. The imaginary economy has meaning, we gain some purchase on it, only in so far as it is transcribed into the symbolic order, where a ternary relation is imposed. Although Fairburn’s schema is modelled on the dream which illustrates it, the crucial fact is that this dream is recounted by the subject. And experience tells us that this dream isn’t dreamt at any old time, any old way, nor is it addressed to no one. The dream has all the value of a direct declaration of the subject. It is in the very fact that he communicates it to you, that he adjudges himself to have this particular inhibited, difficult, attitude, in some cases, or on the contrary one made easier in others, feminine or masculine, etc., that’s where the lever of the analysis is to be found. It is not superfluous that he is capable of saying it in speech. From the start, his experience is organised in the symbolic order. The legal order into which he is inducted almost from the beginning gives signification to these imaginary relations, as a function of what I call the unconscious discourse of the subject. Through all this, the subject is trying to say something, and to do so in a language which is virtually offered in order to become speech, that is to say to be communicated. The spoken clarification is the mainspring of progress. The history of the subject is integrated. The subject is as such historicised from one end to the other. This is where the analysis is played out- on the frontier between the symbolic and the imaginary.

The subject doesn’t have a dual relation with an object with which he is confronted, it is in relation to another subject that his relations with this object acquire their meaning, and by the same token their value. Inversely, if he has relations with this object, it is because a subject other than himself has relations with this object, and they can both name it, in an order different from that of the real. As soon as it can be named, its presence can be invoked as an original dimension, distinct from reality. Nomination is invocation of presence, and sustaining of presence in absence.

In short, the schema which places the object relation at the heart of the theorisation of analysis misses the mainspring of the analytic experience, namely that the subject gives an account of himself.

The fact that he gives an account of himself is the dynamic mainspring of the analysis. The rents that appear, thanks to which you can go beyond what he is recounting to you, are not an a-side in the discourse, they occur in the text of the discourse. It is in so far as something in the discourse appears to be irrational that you can bring in the images with their symbolic value.

This is the first time that I’m granting that there is something irrational. Don’t worry, I take this term in its arithmetical sense. There are numbers which are called irrational, and the first one which comes to mind, however unfamiliar you may be with this thing, is  [square root of]2, which brings us back to the ‘Meno’, the archway through which we passed to begin the year.

There is no common measure between the square’s diagonal and its side. It took a very long time for us to admit that. However small you make it, you won’t find it. That is what we call irrational.

Euclid’s geometry is precisely founded on this, that one can employ in an equivalent way the two symbolised realities which have no common measure. And it is precisely because they don’t have a common measure that one can employ them in an equivalent way. That is what Socrates does in his dialogue with the slave – ‘You have a square, you want to make the square twice as big, what do you have to do?’ The slave replies that he will make the length twice as long. The point is to get him to understand that if he takes a length twice as long, he will get a square four times the size. And there is no way of making a square twice as big.

But it is neither squares nor diamonds that are being manipulated. Lines are being traced out, that is to say, they are being introduced into reality. That is what Socrates doesn’t tell the slave. It is thought that the slave knows everything, all he has to do is recognise it. But on condition that the work’s been done for him. The work is in tracing out this line, and in making use of it in a way equivalent to that which is supposed to be given at the start, allegedly real. When it was simply a matter of larger or smaller, of real little squares, whole numbers were introduced. In other words, the images give the appearance of evidence to what is essentially symbolic manipulation. If one find the solution ot the problem, that is to say a square which is twice the size of the first square, it is because one started by destroying the first square as such, by taking a triangle from it, and by reconstituting it with a second square. This assumes a whole field of symbolic assumptions hidden behind the false evidence to which the slave is brought to adhere.

Nothing is less obvious than a space containing in itself its own intuitions. It took a world of surveyors, of practical procedures, preceding the people who discourse so knowledgeably in the agora of Athens, in order that the slave no longer be what he could have been, living on the banks of a great river, in a wild state of nature, in a space of waves and sweeps of sand, on a perpetually shifting, pseudopial beach. A very long time spent learning was needed, learning to fold things on to others, to match up outlines, to begin to conceive of a space structured in an homogeneous way in three dimensions. It’s you who introduce these three dimensions, you with your symbolic world.

The incommensuability of the irrational number introduces these first imaginary inert structurations, invigorated, reduced to operations like those which we still find turning up in the first books of Euclid. Remember with what care one generates the isosceles triangle, checks that it hasn’t moved, superimposes it upon itself. That’s the way one starts geometry, and that’s the trace of its umbilical cord. In fact, nothing is more essential to the Euclidian construction than the fact that one turns on to itself something which, in the end, is just a trace – not even a trace, nothing at all. And that is why, when one grasps it, one is so scared of making it perform operations in a space which it isn’t ready to confront. In truth, that is how one perceives the extent to which it is the symbolic order which introduces the entire reality that is at issue.

In the same way, the images of our subject are buttoned down [‘capitonnées’] in the text of his history, they are enmeshed in the symbolic order, in which the human subject is inducted into an event which is just as coalescing as you might imagine the original relation to be, which we are forced to admit as being a kind of residue of the real. As soon as the human being experiences this contrasting rhythm scanned by the first wail and its cessation, something is revealed, something which is operative in the symbolic order.

Anyone who’s observed a child has seen that the same blow, the same knock, the same slap, isn’t received in the same fashion, depending on whether it is punitive or accidental. The symbolic relation is constitutes as early as possible, even prior to the fixation of the self image of the subject, prior to the structuring image of the ego, introducing the dimension of the subject into the world, a reality, as the encounter of two masses, the collision of two balls. The imaginary experience is inscribed in the register of the symbolic as early on as you can think it. Everything that happens in the order of the object relation is structured as a function of the particular history of the subject, and that is why analysis, and the transference, are possible.

Seminar XVII: Session 14th January 1970:

p41 Grigg translation:

or Cormac Gallagher translation [available here]: …Chapter IV page 3: I could not avoid pointing out that some distinction should be made between what is eventually a translation of what I state and what I properly speaking said. In the preface (Anika Lemaire, Jacques Lacan, 1977) I am forced to point out clearly – this is the only useful thing about it – that it is not the same thing to say that ‘the unconscious is the condition of language’, and to say that ‘language is the condition of the unconscious’. Language is the condition of the unconscious: that is what I say. The way it is translated stems from reasons that certainly could be completely justified in detail, by strictly university motives – and this certainly would take us far, and will perhaps take you far enough this year. From strictly university motives, I am saying, there flows the fact that no one who translates me, who has been formed in the style, the kind of requirements of the University discourse, can do anything other, whether he believes or not that he is commenting on me, that to reverse my formula. Namely, give it an implication, it has to be said, strictly contrary to the truth and without the slightest homology to what I put forward. Undoubtedly, the difficulty attached to translating me into university language is also what will strike all of those who for whatever reason attempt it, and in truth, the author of the thesis I am speaking about was animated by the best of reasons, those of an immense goodwill. This thesis, which is going to (IV p4) be published then in Brussels, nonetheless retains all its value, its value as an example in itself, its value as an example also by what it promotes in terms of an almost obligatory distortion by reason of the translation of something that has its own laws into University discourse.

Other references which touch on this topic and have made it into my notes:

a)  ‘All together now: Montaigne and the art of co-operation  Economic insecurity has rendered our social life brutally simple: ‘us-against-them’ coupled with ‘you-are-on-your-own’. But the French essayist can inspire radical new forms of co-operation’

by   Richard Sennett  – a professor of sociology at LSE and professor of social science at MIT,, Friday 10 February 2012, and

Available here

First paragraph: At the end of his life, the philosopher Michel de Montaigne (1533-92) inserted a question into an essay written many years before: “When I am playing with my cat, how do I know she is not playing with me?” The question summed up Montaigne’s long-held conviction that we can never really plumb the inner life of others, be they cats or human beings. Montaigne’s cat can serve as an emblem for co-operation. My premise about co-operation is that we frequently don’t understand what’s passing in the hearts and minds of people with whom we have to work. Yet just as Montaigne kept playing with his enigmatic cat, so too a lack of mutual understanding shouldn’t keep us from engaging with others; we want to get something done together.

b) From the Stamford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (available here)

Title: Mystical Philosophy in the Fifteenth Century: New Directions in Research on Nicholas of Cusa

Author: David Albertson,

Date: July 10th 2009, in Religious Compass, Volume 4, Issue 8, pages 471–485.

Re: Nicolaus Cusanus, [Nicolas of Cusa] Quote: Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464) is one of the most fascinating Christian authors of the fifteenth century. His vision of an immanent God in an infinite universe weaves together some of the most vibrant strands of medieval Christian mysticism. Although his diverse writings are difficult to classify, they can be understood as a kind of mystical philosophy. While older patterns of research on Nicholas of Cusa separated the medieval and modern aspects of his thought, recent scholarship has tried to overcome this divide. Building on three waves of past scholarship, new directions in research attempt to unify potential divisions in the German cardinal’s writings: between science and religion, novelty and tradition, action and contemplation, and mathematics and theology.  19 Jul 2010 – Modern readers of Nicholas (or as he was called, Cusanus) have found it are both more memorable and more difficult than those of other authors. ….. by examining why Bataille, Lacan and other twentieth-century theorists studied mystical texts carefully. …. Cusanus: The Legacy of Learned Ignorance, pp.

c)  Title: Lacan’s medievalism by Erin Felicia Labbie 2006

Quoted from the internet. Available here :

p141: Chapter 4 (probable title)  Dialectics, courtly love and infinity

Footnote 48 Ch 4…   In ‘Unitrinum Seu Triuum: Nicholas of Cusa’s Trinitarian Mysticism’, in ‘Mystics: Presence and Aporia’ ed Michael Kessler and Christian Sheppard (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 90-117, esp. 92-92, Bernard McGinn situates the importance of mathematics in the history of attempts to understand the universe in a manner that is useful for contextualizing Lacan’s investment in Cusa as more than a passing fancy.

Footenote 49. Chapter 4. Michel de Certeau notes this slippage in the work of Nicholas of Cusa and he links it to his linguistic praxis and to his gaze. De Certeau also develops Lacan’s argument about the gaze by way of Cusa. See Michel de Certeau, ‘The Gaze of Nicholas of Cusa’, Diacritics 17, no 3 (Autumn 1987): 2-38


d) ‘Platonic architectonics: platonic philosophies & the visual arts’:

Author: John Hendrix

Published Peter Lang 2004

Quote from the internet, here:

Platonic Architectonics: Platonic Philosophies & the Visual Arts examines philosophical structures of Plato in their structural, spatial, and architectonic implications. It examines elements of Plato’s philosophical systems in relation to other philosophical systems, including those of Anaximander, Plotinus, Proclus, Nicolas Cusanus, Marsilio Ficino, Georges Bataille, Jacques Lacan, and Jacques Derrida. It also examines Plato’s philosophy in relation to architectonic conceptions in the arts, including the work of Leon Battista Alberti and Piero della Francesca in the Renaissance, Paul Cezanne, and the Cubists and Deconstructivists in the twentieth century. Platonic Architectonics presents new interpretations of philosophical texts, artistic treatises, and works of art and architecture in Western culture as they are interrelated and related to Platonic and Neoplatonic philosophical structures. It demonstrates the importance of philosophy in the production of the visual arts throughout history and the importance of the relation between the work of art and the philosophical text and artistic treatise.

e) Pedagogy, Psychoanalysis, Theatre: Interrogating the scene of Learning

by Barbara Freedman

From: JSTOR: Shakespeare Quarterly Vol 41 No 2 Summer 1990 p 174-186


Available here

Quote: Rabbi, why do you always answer a question with a question? And why shouldn’t I answer a question with a question? – anonymous

In the ‘Meno’ Socrates boasts regarding his ability to avoid teaching: “I shall do nothing more than ask questions and not teach him.  Watch whether you fin me teaching and explaining things to him instead of asking for his opinion.”  (Ref: ‘Plato’s Meno’ trans. G. M. A. Grube (Indianapoli: Hackett Publishing, 1976) p17.) Socrates not only denigrates teaching as merely providing answers, but he also celebrates a model of learning based on a displacement that generates an awareness of blindness. Around this concept of a blind spot and its structural implications for a critique of knowledge, I want to organise a dialogue between theatre, psychoanalysis, and pedagogy. More specifically, I want to consider how each employs the displacing art of the interlocutor to generate and to stage blindness. By drawing upon the value of psychoanalysis as a speculative art, which works through interrogation to shift and subvert the organisation of knowledge, I hope to reinstate the value of theatre as a speculative art.  To do so, I suggest we suspend the discussion of “how to teach Shakespeare’s plays’ and instead explore ‘how the plays teach us”, how they stage learning, and how their theatricality provides a means for rethinking both teaching and learning.

In training psychoanalysts, Jacques Lacan urged the collapse of any distinction between psychoanalysis and pedagogy.  I am indebted to Shoshana Felman for her development of Lacan’s ideas on the relationship between teaching and psychoanalysis, both in “Psychoanalysis and Education: Teaching Terminable and Interminable”, Yale French Studies, no 63, The Pedagogical Imperative, Barbara Johnson, ed. (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1982), p21-44, and as revised in Chapter 4 of her book, Jacques Lacan and the Adventure of Insight: Psychoanalysis in Contemporary Culture (Cambridge. Mass: Harvard Univ. Press, 1987 p69-81.,

f)  The Metamorphoses of the Circle:Georges Poulet:

translated by Carley Dawson and Elliott Coleman:

Published: The Johns Hopkins University Press:1966

(Les Métamorphoses du cercle, préface de Jean Starobinski, Plon, 1961)


From the dustcover of ‘The Languages of criticism and the Sciences of Man: The Structuralist Controversy’: Edited by Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato: 1970

Beginning with the medieval concept of God as an infinite circle, M. Poulet traces the metamorphoses of the circle in the works of the Renaissance and the Baroque, and shows it molded by the minds of Pascal, Balzac, Poe, Flaubert, Baudelaire, James, Claudel, Eliot, and many others. The resulting comparisons are illuminating.


Quotes from Wikipedia, 14th March 2012, here

Georges Poulet was born in Chênée, now part of Liège, Belgium in 1902. Poulet received his doctorate from the University of Liège in 1927, after which he taught at the University of Edinburgh. In 1952, Poulet became a professor of French Literature at Johns Hopkins University where he also acted as chair of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. He later taught at the University of Zurich and the University of Nice. Poulet died in Brussels, Belgium in 1991.  …

Focus of his work (quoted from Wikipedia)

Lawall (1968) identifies Poulet as “the first critic to develop Raymond’s and Beguin’s concept of experience in literature as a systematic tool of analysis. . . .He shifts their focus from the individual author to the author’s generic human experience”(74). …

Poulet’s criticism of consciousness Quote from Wikipedia op. cit.

Like other Geneva School critics, Poulet rejects the concept of literary criticism as an objective evaluation of structural or aesthetic values. For critics such as Poulet and Raymond, literature is neither an objective structure of meanings residing in the words of a poem or novel, nor the tissue of self-references of a “message” turned in on itself, nor the unwitting expression of the hidden complexes of a writer’s unconscious, nor a revelation of the latent structures of exchange or symbolization which integrate a society. Literature, for them, is the embodiment of a state of mind. (Miller 306-7)

Lawall (1968) writes, “[Poulet] is not concerned with technical uniqueness, verbal manipulation of themes, or any aspect of art that may be called ‘craftsmanship’ (130). Instead, Poulet is interested in what he calls a ‘criticism of consciousness.’ ”

Lawall (1968) describes criticism of consciousness as “a reading that explores the work’s expression of a conscious, perceiving being.” Poulet’s goal is to “[rethink] and [re-create] the author’s own expression”(78). It is possible for the reader to recreate the individual experience of the author because that experience is both personal and universal. For Poulet, the critic’s job is to “[empty] his mind of its personal qualities so that it may coincide completely with the consciousness expressed in the words of the author” (Miller 307). While reading a book, Poulet is “aware of a rational being, of a consciousness: the consciousness of another, no different from the one I automatically assume in every human being I encounter, except that in this case the consciousness is open to me” (Poulet 54). Poulet calls this consciousness the author’s cogito. The cogito is “each person’s perception and creation of his own existence” (Lawall 86).

Poulet’s method from Wikipedia op. cit.

In order to fully grasp an author’s cogito, it is important to examine all available examples of the author’s work. For Poulet, letters, journals, and unpublished manuscripts hold as much information about the author’s cogito as published novels or poems (Leitch et al. 1318). He did not believe that these sources should be analyzed as objects, however. Instead, they should be used by the reader to “coexist with the author’s developing grasp and formulation of his own existence” (Lawall 112). By examining an author’s complete body of work, the critic begins to see patterns of expression not only in the work of one particular author but also across literary periods.

In addition to the cogito, Poulet looks for the “point of departure” in an author’s body of work. The point of departure is a “structural and organizing principle” around which the author’s work is centered and which defines the author’s individuality (de Man 82). Poulet asserts that all narratives emerge from a preconceived world in which the author has already determined everything that will happen in the future. This static world is the point of departure for the fictional narrative. If the critic can identify the point of departure, he or she will have a key to the author’s cogito.


[i] Mystical Philosophy in the Fifteenth Century: New Directions in Research on Nicholas of Cusa by David Albertson  Article first published online: 19 JUL 2010 from  Religion Compass, Volume 4, Issue 8, pages 471–485, August 2009 and available here.

Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464) is one of the most fascinating Christian authors of the fifteenth century. His vision of an immanent God in an infinite universe weaves together some of the most vibrant strands of medieval Christian mysticism. Although his diverse writings are difficult to classify, they can be understood as a kind of mystical philosophy. While older patterns of research on Nicholas of Cusa separated the medieval and modern aspects of his thought, recent scholarship has tried to overcome this divide. Building on three waves of past scholarship, new directions in research attempt to unify potential divisions in the German cardinal’s writings: between science and religion, novelty and tradition, action and contemplation, and mathematics and theology.  19 Jul 2010 – Modern readers of Nicholas (or as he was called, Cusanus) have found it are both more memorable and more difficult than those of other authors. ….. by examining why Bataille, Lacan and other twentieth-century theorists studied mystical texts carefully. …. Cusanus: The Legacy of Learned Ignorance, pp.


[ii] p137 of Chapter XI: ‘Ego-ideal and ideal ego’ in ‘The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book I: Freud’s Papers on Technique: 1953-1954’, Edited by Jacques-Alain Miller, Translated with notes by John Forrester, Cambridge University Press, 1988. Or ‘Le Séminaire I’ by Les Éditions du Seuil, 1975.

[iii] P277-279 of Chapter XXII: ‘The concept of analysis’ in Book I op.cit. – see endnote ii

[iv] p4-5 & 9 of Chapter I: Psychology and metapsychology, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis: 1954-1955, Edited by Jacques-Alain Miller, Translated by Sylvana Tomaselli, with notes by John Forrester, W.W.Norton, 1988.Originally published as ‘Le Séminaire: Livre II: Le moi dans las théorie de Freud et dans la technique de la psychanalyse’: 1954-1955: Les Éditions du Seuil, Paris , 1978

[v] p255-257 of Chapter XX: Objectified analysis, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book II: op. cit – see endnote iv