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A Basic Theory of NeuropsychoanalysisA Cursing Brain?A Dream of Undying FameA Map of the MindAfter LacanAgainst AdaptationAgainst FreudAn Anatomy of AddictionAnalytic FreudAndré Green at the Squiggle FoundationAnger, Madness, and the DaimonicAnna FreudAnna Freud: A BiographyApproaching PsychoanalysisAttachment and PsychoanalysisBadiouBecoming a SubjectBefore ForgivingBerlin PsychoanalyticBetween Emotion and CognitionBeyond GenderBeyond SexualityBeyond the Pleasure PrincipleBiology of FreedomBoundaries and Boundary Violations in PsychoanalysisBuilding on BionCare of the PsycheCarl JungCassandra's DaughterCherishmentConfusion of TonguesContemporary Psychoanalysis and the Legacy of the Third ReichCrucial Choices, Crucial ChangesCulture and Conflict in Child and Adolescent Mental HealthDarwin's WormsDesert Islands and Other Texts (1953-1974)Dispatches from the Freud WarsDoes the Woman Exist?Doing Psychoanalysis in TehranDreaming and Other Involuntary MentationDreaming by the BookEnergy Psychology InteractiveEqualsErrant SelvesEthics and the Discovery of the UnconsciousEthics Case Book of the American Psychoanalytic AssociationFairbairn's Object Relations Theory in the Clinical SettingFed with Tears -- Poisoned with MilkFeminism and Its DiscontentsForms of Intersubjectivity in Infant Reasearch and Adult TreatmentFour Lessons of PsychoanalysisFratricide in the Holy LandFreudFreudFreudFreudFreudFreudFreud and the Question of PseudoscienceFreud As PhilosopherFreud at 150Freud's AnswerFreud's WizardFreud, the Reluctant PhilosopherFrom Classical to Contemporary PsychoanalysisFundamentals of Psychoanalytic TechniqueGenes on the CouchGoing SaneHans BellmerHappiness, Death, and the Remainder of LifeHate and Love in Psychoanalytical InstitutionsHatred and ForgivenessHealing the Soul in the Age of the BrainHeinz KohutHeinz KohutHidden MindsHistory of ShitHope and Dread in PsychoanalysisImagination and Its PathologiesImagine There's No WomanIn Freud's TracksIn SessionIn the Floyd ArchivesIntimaciesIntimate RevoltIrrationalityIs Oedipus Online?Jacques LacanJacques Lacan and the Freudian Practice of PsychoanalysisJung and the Making of Modern PsychologyJung Stripped BareKilling FreudLacanLacanLacanLacan and Contemporary FilmLacan at the SceneLacan For BeginnersLacan in AmericaLacan TodayLacan's Seminar on AnxietyLawLearning from Our MistakesLove's ExecutionerMad Men and MedusasMale Female EmailMelanie KleinMemoirs of My Nervous IllnessMental SlaveryMind to MindMixing MindsMoral StealthMourning and ModernityMovies and the MindMurder in ByzantiumNew Studies of Old VillainsNocturnesNoir AnxietyOn Being Normal and Other DisordersOn BeliefOn IncestOn Not Being Able to SleepOn the Freud WatchOn the Way HomeOpen MindedOpera's Second DeathOvercoming Destructive Beliefs, Feelings, and BehaviorsPhenomology & Lacan on Schizophrenia, After the Decade of the BrainPhilosophical Counselling and the UnconsciousPractical Psychoanalysis for Therapists and PatientsPsychiatry, Psychoanalysis, And The New Biology Of MindPsychoanalysisPsychoanalysis and Narrative MedicinePsychoanalysis and NeurosciencePsychoanalysis and the Philosophy of SciencePsychoanalysis as Biological SciencePsychoanalysis at the MarginsPsychoanalysis at the MarginsPsychoanalysis in a New LightPsychoanalysis in FocusPsychology, Psychotherapy, Psychoanalysis, and the Politics of Human RelationshipsPsychotherapy As PraxisPutnam CampQuestions for FreudRe-Inventing the SymptomReading Seminar XXReinventing the SoulRelational Theory and the Practice of PsychotherapyRelationalityRepressed SpacesRevolt, She SaidSecrets of the SoulSerious ShoppingSex on the CouchSexuationSigmund FreudSoul Murder RevisitedSpectral EvidenceSpirit, Mind, and BrainStrangers to OurselvesSubjective Experience and the Logic of the OtherSubjectivity and OthernessSubstance Abuse As SymptomSurrealist Painters and PoetsTaboo SubjectsTalk is Not EnoughThe Art of the SubjectThe Brain and the Inner WorldThe Brain, the Mind and the SelfThe Cambridge Companion to LacanThe Challenge for Psychoanalysis and PsychotherapyThe Clinical LacanThe Colonization Of Psychic SpaceThe Condition of MadnessThe Couch and the TreeThe Cruelty of DepressionThe Dissociative Mind in PsychoanalysisThe Dreams of InterpretationThe Examined LifeThe Fall Of An IconThe Freud EncyclopediaThe Freud FilesThe Freud WarsThe Fright of Real TearsThe Future of PsychoanalysisThe Gift of TherapyThe Heart & Soul of ChangeThe Knotted SubjectThe Last Good FreudianThe Letters of Sigmund Freud and Otto RankThe Mind According to ShakespeareThe Mystery of PersonalityThe Mythological UnconsciousThe Neuropsychology of the UnconsciousThe New PsychoanalysisThe Power of FeelingsThe Psychoanalytic MovementThe Psychoanalytic MysticThe Psychoanalytic Study of the ChildThe Psychoanalytic Study of the ChildThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Puppet and the DwarfThe Real World Guide to Psychotherapy PracticeThe Revolt of the PrimitiveThe Seminar of Moustafa SafouanThe Sense and Non-Sense of RevoltThe Shortest ShadowThe Social History of the UnconsciousThe Surface EffectThe Symmetry of GodThe Tragedy of the SelfThe Trainings of the PsychoanalystThe UnsayableThe World of PerversionTherapeutic ActionTherapy's DelusionsThis Incredible Need to BelieveThoughts Without A ThinkerTo Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the WorldTrauma and Human ExistenceTraumatizing TheoryUmbr(a)Unconscious knowing and other essays in psycho-philosophical analysisUnderstanding Dissidence and Controversy in the History of PsychoanalysisUnderstanding PsychoanalysisUnfree AssociationsWalking HeadsWay Beyond FreudWhat Does a Woman Want?What Freud Really MeantWhen the Body SpeaksWhere Do We Fall When We Fall in Love?Whose Freud?Why Psychoanalysis?Wilhelm ReichWinnicottWinnicott On the ChildWisdom Won from IllnessWittgenstein on Freud and FrazerWittgenstein Reads FreudWorld, Affectivity, TraumaZizek
Taking an approach rooted in Lacanian theory, Dutch philosopher André Nusselder works in The Surface Effect "to think fantasy in its unconscious dimension" stressing that "the most intricate and interesting functioning of fantasy can be found where it already influences our identity, perception, and remembering without us being aware of it."(3) Nusselder clearly identifies his intentions and working positions throughout, noting "one line of argumentation in this book is that the strict opposition between reality and illusion is too narrow to understand the productive and transcendental function of fantasy."(92) While "the aspiration for immediacy is... a defining feature of Western visual representation" whereby in "the classical theory of meaning, meaning is a thing that exists objectively, independently of the subject and of the manner in which it is articulated." (10) Nusselder builds a case to stress that there is no such thing as pure immanence in human relations. "The human self is virtual because it exists at the level of representation."(100) Images of fantasy "are always related to others, so that the 'double' is included from the start in the signifying order of intersubjective relations." (1) Fantasy is "the primary medium for the subject of desire." (1) Nusselder insists upon treating fantasy as in a sense always already involved in our relation to reality and in our relations with others. Fantasy is always present in our notions of self identity and in the development of our desires, it is the "stuff" of our desires, the medium through which we engage our interests. The author takes us outside of discussions which would posit a clean distinction or moralization between facing reality and engagement the realm of fantasy. Using a different vocabulary, we may say that our "authentic" relations are always in some way "improper," never pure and unmediated. Object and intersubjective relations take place with an element of fantasy as a medium. Conceptually, we can distinguish between elements of fantasy and the objects of reality, yet experientially, we are only ever engaged in the world as filtered through various screens.
In relation to the Freud of Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Nusselder notes that fantasy images can be used as a protective defense against the traumatic confrontation with the Real. At times we may have compulsions which would, if left unmediated, lead us into painful and excessive situations. In such areas, fantasy is a vehicle through which we may both mitigate our excessive compulsions and yet experience a form of pleasure through enjoyment of the image itself. "Fantasy both closes and discloses; it protects us from the real and opens up our reality at the same time." (66)
Fantasy is operative throughout our lives as subjects of desire. As stated in the opening line of the volume, "We inhabit a world of surfaces." (1) He stresses that the "fundamental intuition" he has intended to follow in the book "is that the core of our psychic life is taking place at the surface, where each of use is a subject (of 'imagination') turned into an object (of fantasy)… fundamentally mediated by fantasy." (3) As such, this book is about understanding an integral facet of what it means to exist as a human subject. The ways in which we come to understand ourselves, in which we engage in relations with others and the manner in which we make sense of our involvements in the world are all involved in fantasy, for in the realm of fantasy we are dealing with a "doubling" of objects, a doubling of reality.
One of Lacan's more famous claims, often taken out of context, is the notion that "there is no sexual relation." Or rather, our sexual relations always take place through the medium of fantasy. We act with regards to images of the imagination, screens of fantasy, through which we posit ourselves and give meaning to the objects and actions with which we are involved. The fact of sublimation too means that our sexual energies and drives may be filtered in our "non-sexual" relations with others, through the transportation of drives into other venues. "In the reality of desire, I imagine how the other is and subsequently I imagine myself as the object that I am in the eyes of the other." (104)
I've found this book to be continually engaging, finding many points of interest for further thought. The volume should be readily appealing to many readers working in cultural and literary studies as Nusselder considers at various points popular engagements with "virtual selves" in computer gaming and social media. The texts also concludes with an appendix analyzing the role
This volume may be particularly useful for those coming to consider Lacanian thought from a philosophical background as the author relates key ideas through discussions of material from figures including Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Hegel and Derrida. While I have some minor qualms about the reading of the "allegory of the cave" proposed here, the author makes use of his interpretation and offers a very compelling illustration of Plato's conception of love as explored in the Symposium. The key points read from these philosophical references are laid out such that those without a strong background in these figures should find the material accessible and engaging.
The Surface Effect is an approachable volume (quite manageable in length at just over 100 pages) and may well be considered amongst those select works in the English language that can help to introduce readers into the general terrain Lacanian psychoanalytic thought. The treatment of fantasy is thought provoking and should be of interest to a broad academic audience. The treatment contributes also to a variety of conversations prevalent in 20th century and contemporary psychoanalysis and phenomenology. Overall I have found the volume to be accessible, engaging and perhaps a helpful gateway into Lacanian psychoanalytic theory.
© 2013 Michael Larson
Michael Larson, M.A. Instructor at Point Park University, Pittsburgh, PA. Primary interests: Continental philosophy, Foucault, Deconstruction, Social and Political thought, Modern and Contemporary art.