Umberto Eco's encounter with Lacan in the early 1970s

"Many thanks to Seve Laurent for sharing via Twitter the short account of novelist Umberto Eco’s encounter with Lacan in the early 1970s. Eco tells of his introduction to Lacan through Francois Wahl, editor of Lacan’s Écrits, who passed away last year. Eco had written about Lacan in a semi-critical (though – he is quick to point out – non-polemical) way in his La structure absente (The Absent Structure) in 1968, and had become wary that the enemies of Lacan at his French publisher Le Mercure de France were presenting him as an anti-Lacanian. He relates how Lacan invited him to lunch when the latter visited Milan in the early 1970s. When Eco had to decline on account of jet lag, Lacan delayed his flight back in order to reschedule the appointment. Eco relates that throughout their meeting they spoke neither about psychoanalysis nor semiotics, but simple “cosmic frivolities”, with Eco getting the strong impression that Lacan was eager to charm him. “Never had seduction met with such success”, he writes.

However what most impressed Eco was an intervention Lacan made in the course of the apparently light conversation. Without giving details of its content, Eco realised that Lacan’s intervention was on a different stave of discourse than these “cosmic frivolities” the two were ostensibly chatting about. “We were having dinner”, he writes, “I was talking about something else, perhaps I was talking too passionately about something else and Lacan, with an air of someone talking about something else himself, dropped a word which made me see in another way an experience that I was in the process of living through and to which I was certainly referring, while pretending to talk about something else.” This is a technique many of Lacan’s analysands recall him having employed – hearing a more pertinent resonance behind the apparently banal ‘empty speech’ someone recites. “Lacan had talked absent-mindedly and had invited me to eat my Dasein” Eco writes, in a reference to Lacan’s remark in the Seminar on The Purloined Letter (Écrits, 40). “My life had changed. Lacan never knew it. And yet I believe that with his animal flair for devouring souls he had understood that in speaking of something else it is about myself that I was speaking”. Eco’s fondness for Lacan is palpable, and he remained an acquaintance until the latter’s death. He finishes with the memory of the last time he saw Lacan: sitting in Harry’s Bar in Venice, sipping on one of its famous Cipriani’s Martini. “A wonderful being, enchanting, without pity. A seducer”, Eco sums him up."

Source: News – May 2015, LACANONLINE.COM

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