Lacan and Queer Theory

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Lacan died before queer theory came into existence, though he surely would have engaged this new discourse - as he engaged so many others - had he lived to know about it. His psychoanalytic critique of ego psychology and of adaptation to social norms shares much in common with queer theory's political critique of social processes of normalization. Indeed, while queer theory traces its intellectual genealogy to Michel Foucault, it can be argued that queer theory actually begins with Freud, specifically, with his theories of polymorphous perversity, infantile sexuality, and the unconscious. Lacan's “return to Freud” involves rediscovering all that is most strange and refractory - all that remains foreign to our normal, commonsensical ways of thinking - about human subjectivity. Thus from an Anglo-American perspective, Lacan makes psychoanalysis look rather queer. By virtue of its flouting norms of all kinds (including norms of intelligibility), Lacanian psychoanalysis may provide handy ammunition for queer theory's critique of what has come to be known as heteronormativity.

The term “heteronormativity” designates all those ways in which the world makes sense from a heterosexual point of view. It assumes that a complementary relation between the sexes is both a natural arrangement (the way things are) and a cultural ideal (the way things should be). Queer theory analyses how heteronormativity structures the meaningfulness of the social world, thereby enforcing a hierarchy between the normal and the deviant or queer. In its understanding of how the categories of normal and pathological emerge in a mutually constitutive relation, queer theory draws on Foucault’s revisionary account of modern power and, more specifically, on Georges Canguilhem’s critical histories of nosology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Lacan
EditorsJean-Michel Rabaté
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9780511998720
ISBN (Print)9780521807449
StatePublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameCambridge Companions to Literature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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