Central Park as Optical–Extimate Unconscious: The Death Drive in All Its Glory

Authors: Don Kunze*, Pennsylvania State University, Sadra Tehrani, Penn State University
Topics: Cultural Geography, Environmental Perception, Field Methods
Keywords: Psychoanalytical landscape, Lacan, extimity, Central Park, diagramming
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Ambassador Ballroom, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

While psychoanalysis has appeared in landscape studies under some famous headings (abjection, the uncanny, etc.), psychoanalysis’s core ideas — the death drive and the unconscious — have resisted incorporation in materialist studies of landscape perception and use. Difficult even in clinical contexts, the death drive and unconscious are theoretically central to psychoanalysis’s history and intelligibility. We argue that they are critical components in Lacan’s most promising contribution to any theory of the “psychoanalytical landscape” — the idea of the extimate.
Although it is possible to work from Lacan’s landscape references, a more verifiable and expandable psychoanalytic landscape critique must incorporate the death drive and the unconscious, not associatively or interpretively but directly, in the role that both play in the “extimity” of placing the subject’s “innermost” concerns “out there,” in the “intimate object.”
We use New York’s Central Park as a reference site to develop a graphical basis for comparing conditions and examples from popular culture and ethnography — diagrams that, like the gapped circle of desire, allow a collation of optical dispositifs oriented by their relation to the death drive’s peculiar form of jouissance. Diagrams are consistent with Lacan’s own visualizations, which bridged between 2d schemas and dimensionless topologies (Möbius band, Klein bottle). Films made in Central Park (Manhattan, Portrait of Jennie) provide both historical understanding of the Park and its “ortho-psychoanalytics” in relation to a death-driven “optical unconscious.” In contrast to Rosalind Krauss’s famous optical unconscious, ours bypasses binary oppositions in favor of Central Park’s clear topological extimacy.

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