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Lacan at the SceneReview - Lacan at the Scene
by Henry Bond
MIT Press, 2009
Review by Daniel Hourigan, Ph.D.
Mar 2nd 2010 (Volume 14, Issue 9)

Henry Bond's Lacan at the Scene blazes a welcome trail into the intersection of photo theory and post-Freudian, ostensibly Lacanian, psychoanalysis. The volume handles an engagement with several series of crime scene photographs of murders committed between 1955 and 1970 using the lens of Lacanian diagnostic criteria: perversion, psychosis, and neurosis. Bond, it should be noted, is not a practicing analyst, and from the outset he cautions the reader that his discussion of these dark and sometimes gruesome scenes will be a 'wild analysis'. This methodological approach gives the volume an air of excitement and autobiography as Bond rethinks psychoanalysis and the history of photography from within and without creatively and simultaneously.

Bond's forthright honesty about the techniques he uses to reproduce the photographs reveals artistry at play throughout Lacan at the Scene. No individual image is left neutral, rendered simply, or coded as natural. This provides a uniquely direct exchange between the photographs presented and the theoretical edifice of psychoanalysis being deployed, spawning narratives of crime and space that are all too often overlooked or ignored in the history of photography.

Lacan at the Scene comes in the form of five chapters buffeted by a brief introduction, afterword, and a foreword by the series editor Slavoj Žižek. The opening chapters establish the foundations of the discussion and imminent analysis with precision and charm. The first chapter, Hard Evidence, signals Bond's intention to submit the lacuna of crime photography in the canonical histories of photography to critical restitution. Drawing on anthropology, sociology, and psychoanalysis, the opening chapter offers the reader an insight into art history and, in particular, the history of photography. Here Lacan at the Scene explicitly details the problem driving the analysis as the missing history and serious intellectual interrogation of crime scene photography.

The second chapter, Lacanian Detectives, then introduces the psychoanalytic framework to be used throughout the book and situates the discussion of Lacan at the Scene within this framework as the extra-clinical phenomenon of wild psychoanalysis. In Lacanian Detectives Bond gives us a view of post-Freudian psychoanalysis as it applies to his critique of photography's canonical history offered through his comedic opening thesis: "What if Jacques Lacan--the brilliant and eccentric Parisian psychoanalyst--had left his home in the early 1950s in order to travel to England and work as a police detective?" (1) But more seriously, this second chapter provides the sceptical and structural coordinates of Bond's analysis and establishes its importance. Bond is not merely adding to the pool of knowledge in art history, he is treating a symptom of the very comportment of photography as a medium with a history. Herein, Bond allows himself and his readers (thankfully), the chance to widen our gaze from the existential over-determination of the photographs' contents--i.e. murder--to the way that the photographs are contextualised and narrativised, given sense.

Bond follows these early chapters with three further chapters that are extremely well-crafted in their diagnostic, aesthetic, and psychic clarity. The Perverse Crime Scene, The Psychotic Crime Scene, and The Neurotic Crime Scene are discussions that demonstrate Bond's critical flare for engaging with a complex theoretical approach without indulging in bland revisionism. Herein we see just how highly attentive Bond has been to the archival material that confronted him at the National Archive as he draws together the seemingly disparate fragments of information and deploys psychoanalysis to put these fragments into clinical and extra-clinical readings. The most banal details recorded in the photographs and Senior Investigating Officers' reports quickly lose the guise of their mundane everydayness and become something other than their face value as in the psychoanalytic clinic.

It is here, however, at this point where it is at its best that Lacan at the Scene seems to ever so slightly slip away from the strength with which it began. Not all of the final discursive chapters are given to this criticism, but the initial engagement with the scene of perversion carries out what feels like a forced analysis at times. This is a danger for any intellectual work attempting to theorise an object, and it can serve to make the analysis less believable. Yet we might also read this criticism against itself recalling that Bond at times appears to be summoning the writing habits of Lacan himself: The Perverse Crime Scene chapter suffers but only for the perversion of all theorisation where a subject--Bond in this case--stands in as the tool of the Other's enjoyment. Clearly, Bond's innovative reading has to produce this structure at times because he is addressing an absence in a canon (Other). Nevertheless, readers unfamiliar with the tact of art theory may find Bond's critique unintentionally bordering on the re-representation of certain archival details.

The Psychotic Crime Scene is one of the best chapters in the book and shows that Bond's use of a psychoanalytic approach helps the discussion avoid the above representationalism through a sceptical awareness of the presentation of details. For the vast majority of the discussions in the more applied third, fourth, and fifth chapters, Lacan at the Scene enjoys a lucid and precise execution. The early chapters help to bring together the theoretical, discursive, and political elements that make these later chapters capable of pursuing such a rigorous and insightful project. And Bond must be commended for demonstrating how his approach can redress the exclusion of crime scene photography from both The New History of Photography edited by Michel Frizot and Ian Jeffrey's Revisions: An Alternate History of Photography.

Lacan at the Scene is a fascinating and sometimes gruesome read. Although some of the photographs Bond chose to include retain abject depictions these always remain objects of a most critical and tasteful engagement. Bond muses on the underlying problem for readers of Lacan at the Scene, which includes such potentially disturbing material, in a footnote: "The casual viewer should be prepared for these brutal, visceral documents." (202n47) And so in closing I offer this warning and highly recommend Lacan at the Scene for psychoanalysts, philosophers, legal theorists, criminologists, photographers, art historians, theoreticians, and any other reader that is looking for a new take on murder, psychoanalysis, and the history of photography.


© 2010 Daniel Hourigan



Daniel Hourigan teaches philosophy, psychoanalysis, aesthetics, and film studies at Griffith University, Australia. He writes on philosophy, psychoanalysis, ideology-critique, technology, and culture.


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