Jean-Michel Rabaté’s public lecture: Lessons from Horror ?

17 May 2024 - 16:00 / 17 May 2024 - 18:00

Professor Jean-Michel Rabaté’s public lecture:
Lessons from Horror ?
Time: 4pm, Friday, May 17, 2024
Location: Northrop Frye Hall Building, Room 113, 73 Queen’s Park Cres. E, Toronto

We live in a culture in which cruelty is accepted, and in which terrorism from all sides is predicated on a wish to teach a lesson to the others. Some worry about horror, violence, and mass murders: thus Maggie Nelson, in The Art of Cruelty, surveys contemporary displays of violence in the media, literature and art. Thomas Hirschhorn critiques horror porn in “De-Pixelation” (Gladstone Gallery, 2017/18) by splicing images taken from recent conflicts, bodies ripped apart, with sexy publicity images. Nelson and Hirschhorn want viewers to acknowledge the ethical stakes hidden by the cruel spectacles that surround us. Indeed, horror movies attract and disturb, they seduce and repulse. I will offer examples suggesting that we can learn from horror by starting from a personal vignette to suggest that we should probe the instable link between esthetics and ethics. When horror mirrors systemic violence, it explodes the values underpinning institutions like the family (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) or colonialist violence and the genocides perpetrated in the name of civilization (Cannibal Holocaust). Horror forces us to confront the enjoyment stemming from the mixture of pain and pleasure that Lacan called jouissance, and whose roots might lie in Georges Bataille’s views on eroticism, sacrifice and religion (Martyrs). Such spectacles go beyond cruelty and mere gore. Derrida stated that that the problem of psychoanalysis is the persistence of cruelty in human beings, those archaic forms of aggression enduring by the pleasure one can find in pain. I will propose a theoretical site by combining these insights with theses derived from Jean-Luc Nancy’s Cruor and Touria Mignotte’s Cruelty, Sexuality, and the Unconscious in Psychoanalysis.

Jean-Michel Rabaté

Jean-Michel Rabaté, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, co-editor of the Journal of Modern Literature, co-founder of Slought Foundation in Philadelphia, is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has authored or edited fifty books on modernism, psychoanalysis, philosophy and literary theory. Recent titles include Beckett and Sade (2020), Rire au Soleil: Lacan, les affects et la literature, (2019), Rires Prodigues: Rire et jouissance chez Marx, Freud et Kafka (2021),  James Joyce, Hérétique et Prodigue (2022) and Lacan l’irritant (2023). He has edited After Derrida (2018), New Beckett (2019), Understanding Derrida / Understanding Modernism (2019), Knots: Post-Lacanian Readings of literature and film (2020), Historical Modernisms (2022, with Angeliki Spiropolou) and Encounters with Soun-Gui Kim : Writings 1975-2021 (2022, with Aaron Levy). Forthcoming (Routledge, 2024): Lacan and psychoanalytic obsolescence: the importance of Lacan as an irritant.