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NEAL GOLDBERG: What is Unsaid – Psychoanalysis and the Contemporary Theater

November 14, 2015 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm

What can we learn from the relationship between speech and desire in the modern or contemporary theater? This is a question that analysts rarely ask, yet is of great importance to our work.

For Lacan, the idea that psychoanalysis has something to learn from the theater – rather than the other way around – was, of course, critical to his view of speech and desire. Iconic characters like Hamlet or Antigone, in particular, were central to this effort, and contributed to what Lacan called our “precise” goal – to “give meaning to the function of desire in analysis and analytic interpretation”.
Yet when Lacan turned his attention to modern or post-modern playwrights and plays, his success in building upon and extending his use of the ancients and their analytic functions seemed far less useful. Writers like Claudel or Genet, for example, allowed Lacan to extend his notion of desire (Claudel’s Catholic trilogy), or the imaginary register (Genet’s The Balcony). But in choosing dramatists who wrote in a non-naturalistic, poetic style, Lacan overlooked a range of distinctly modern playwrights, from Chekov to the contemporary Annie Baker, whose use of a naturalistic style of speech – involving pauses, silence, and gaps – offers another dimension by which we can listen to and “hear” the desire of our analysands.

This workshop is designed to be both theoretical and experiential. We will start with Lacan and Hamlet and move on to the contemporary stage, reading segments of dialogue aloud from the plays of certain modern and post-modern playwrights (Chekhov, Pinter, Annie Baker), with the goal of “listening” for what the “unsaid” of the character’s dialogue – i.e. the pauses, breaks, and silences – reveals about the nature of desire, both in ourselves and our analysands.

FORMAT: After I introduce the issues and the theory behind them, my wife and I will stage read segments of dialogue from Annie Baker’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play, “The Flick” (currently running off Broadway). Participants will listen to the “unsaid” of the dialogue and discuss what they’ve “heard”. The readings will be used to pose two questions: What does this “unsaid” – and its relation to the rest of the character’s speech – reveal about the nature of character’s desire? And what kind of parallels might we see between its function in such a play and the speech of our analysands?


November 14, 2015
2:00 pm - 4:00 pm
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The New School, Wollman Hall
66 West 12th Street
New York, NY United States


Neal Goldberg

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