Twenty-five years later, extending his reflection on the question of groups and freedom, Lacan constructed his theory of the four discourses: of the master, possessor of the attributes of tyranny; of the hysteric, trustee of a failed rebellion; of the university, inheritor of academic knowledge. To these he counter-posed psychoanalytic discourse, which in his view was the only one capable of replacing the others, by destroying them. Psychoanalysis was once again accorded a subversive role.
Borrowing the notion of surplus-value from Marx, Lacan showed that its psychic equivalent was ‘surplus-jouissance—another neologism. From it he deduced that, while emancipation is worthwhile, it can never be unlimited, on pain of drowning desire in a libertarian disaster, a surplus-jouissance eluding all symbolization. Then, in highly pragmatic fashion, he applied his theory of the four discourses to the events of May 1968, with the immediate aim of getting those of his followers who had strayed into a political engagement he deemed extremist and ridiculous—Maoism—to return to psychoanalysis.
In a flight of fancy inherited from Kojève, Lacan maintained that revolution always ends in the recreation of a more tyrannical master than the one whose regime it has abolished. Worse still, if people were not careful, revolution risked being based on a science elevated into a religion and issuing in a world from which any form of subjectivity was banished.
For the youth of the 1960s and ’70s Lacan was a consciousness raiser: he rehabilitated the desire for revolution, while seeking to be the guarantor of a law that would punish its excesses.”—
Élisabeth Roudinesco, Lacan: In Spite of Everything (trans. Gregory Elliot)
Swap out psychoanalysis for literature and I’m there—though the equations are confusing! Anyway, why not make the swap? An account of subjectivity based on readings of Sophocles and Shakespeare was never anything but literature anyway. If I understand correctly, Lacan’s definition of the psychoanalytic relation is the centering of a surplus of meaning in the object that produces desire without the hope of mastery in the subject, which, reframed as a definition of the literary relation, certainly explains literature’s uneasy place within the university.