Spring 2020

PHIL789-1 Topics in Philosophy: Structures of Desire

Tuesday 2-5pm, Bowden Hall 216

Professor Noëlle McAfee

This seminar will take up structures of desire in works by and on Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, André Green, Cornelius Castoriadis, and Julia Kristeva. How do unconscious desires shape who we are? Are these desires our own or have they been deposited into us by the Big Other of our culture, history, and prior generations? Should they be embraced or expunged? Can they be transformed? Are we doomed to be forever wanting? To address these questions we will draw on psychoanalytic and phenomenological accounts of language, affect, and the unconcsious in the formation of subjectivity.

Major Texts:

  • Sigmund Freud, Three Essays on Sexuality, The Unconscious, On Narcissism, Mourning and Melancholia
  • Jacques Lacan, Desire and its Interpretation, Seminar VI
  • Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks
  • André Green, On Private Madness
  • Cornelius Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society
  • Julia Kristeva, Tales of Love, Black Sun, Powers of Horror

Supplementary readings by Nicolas Abraham, Drucilla Cornell, Shoshana Felman, Mari Ruti, Joel Whitebook, Maggie Nelson, Luce Irigaray, and possibly others, all TBD.


  • Two presentations
  • Annotated bibliography of primary texts and current scholarship on final paper topic
  • Final paper


Primal Scenes: Psychoanalysis & Literature

Wednesday 1-4pm

Professor Elissa Marder

In this course, we shall examine how the two fundamental insights of psychoanalysis (sexuality and the unconscious) put psychoanalysis into a primal relation to literature. Beginning with a close reading of The Interpretation of Dreams, we will explore how Freud derives his model of the human psyche through dreams by appealing to literary language, literary figures, theatrical spaces and events as he explains the complex operations of the dream-work. Paying close attention to the privileged place that Freud accords to hysteria (and feminine sexuality) as the bedrock of the human psyche, we will look at how Freud's feminine figures both define and challenge the very conception of the human. Throughout the course, we will focus on Freudian conception of the 'primal scene' as a way of examining how psychoanalytic theory challenges traditional conceptions of temporality, repetition, sexuality and desire, writing, mourning, cruelty, and the status of the historical event. 

Texts may include: Selections of major works by Freud (including: The Interpretation of DreamsCase Histories); selected works by Lacan (Seminar VII on Antigone); Theban Plays (especially Antigone); Phèdre (Racine); Madame Bovary (Flaubert); Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein (Duras); To the Lighthouse (Woolf); Marnie (dir. Alfred Hitchcock); Muriel (dir. Alain Resnais). Additional readings may include works by: Jacques Derrida, Jean Laplanche, Hélène Cixous, Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok, André Green, Shoshana Felman, Sarah Kofman. 

The course will be taught in English. Texts originally written in French can be read either in French or in an English translation.