Shoshana Felman and Psychoanalytic Criticism

Shoshana Felman is one of the most important post-Lacaniain psychoanalysts. Felman’s work is situated at the interface of Postmodernism, cultural criticism and Psychoanalysis. The following ideas from Felman’s work are of great import.

(1) Adapting the ideas of the speech -act theorist, J.L. Austin, Felman reworks the notion of the performative and the constative  The performative is the rhetorical enactment, a pure doing in the act of speech itself. For instance “I now pronounce you man and wife” or “I promise” are performatives because they perform the action referred to in the phrase- they do not carry any information. A constative speech act merely states things, and is used for conveying information.

(2) For Felman, Lacan’s singular contribution has been to suggest that the performative and the constative are engaged in a perpetual dialogism. The human subject is constantly a battleground for the conscious and the unconscious. The two inform and undermine each other. This is the double writing of the self, of what is enacted (performed, as in performative) beyond and outside what can be known (as in the constative speech act of information) at any moment.

(3) Felman’s interest in pedagogy has also made innovative use of Lacan.  Following Lacan, Felman argues that a teacher should teach in relation to the student’s unconscious or “unmeant knowledge.” This unmeant is the resistance to knowledge, where its laps and gaps are unconscious in origin. The teacher must address the unconscious Other. To this end she suggests a performative enactment of reading the unconscious text by recognising the resistances, absences and unmeant knowledge. Felman’s readings focus on the rhetorical dimensions of hiddenness by paying attention to the rhetorical strategies of a text.

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