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Tarrying with Taboos & Totemising Therianthropes: The Supernatural, Impossible Things, and a Monstrous Lacan in Culture & Play!

WEBLEY, Stephen (2016) Tarrying with Taboos & Totemising Therianthropes: The Supernatural, Impossible Things, and a Monstrous Lacan in Culture & Play! In: 34th Standing Conference on Organizational Symbolism, 11-14 July, Uppsala University.

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Abstract or description

"A thing there is whose voice is one;
Whose feet are four and two and three.
So mutable a thing is none
That moves in earth or sky or sea.
When on most feet this thing doth go,
Its strength is weakest and its pace most slow."
Athenaeus – The Riddle of the Sphinx
Psychoanalysis obsesses over the origins of consciousness and the primordial psychic constellations organising culture. Freud was an avid collector of ancient bibelots, holding a special place for therianthropic supernatural gods and monsters; it is no coincidence that the myth of Oedipus and the Sphinx is central to psychoanalysis. Freud sought to exhume the psychic affects of totemic beliefs and taboo transgressions that haunted the subject as neuroses, creating ‘impossible things’ and insurmountable psychic embargoes. (Freud 1919) Jung saw humankind’s redemption in therianthropes; they represented ancient psychic animal-human synchronicity. Both men identified the Sphinx with the regulatory forces of the unconscious. (David 2014)
Lacan’s reimaging of Freud’s legacy owes much to the anthropology of Lévi-Strauss and the arcane structures of mythology and mysticism. (Zafiropoulos 2003) Through Lacan, the edifice of psychoanalysis became an epistemological network of occult-like knowledge. Lacan’s topology sundered the subject, via desire and the drives, from instinctual animal origins. However, Lacanian subjectivity connotes an unconscious relationship with the animal in the registers of the Real, Imaginary, and Symbolic, a deeply troubling rendering of an irrational animistic subject that is anti-theological, anti-scientific, and anti-metaphysical.
Animism was the first world system, an existence of spiritual fluidity where animal and human combined to create supernatural forms neither diabolic nor sacred, but symbolising an organising daemonic potential. (Freud 1919) It was the role of the shaman to regulate the permeable boundaries between the spirit realm and material body, administering psychically acceptable doses of this potential. However, as the sublimatory forces of ideology eclipsed animism, traces of these Impossible Things remained as debased demonic forms, insisting in the very foundations of our laws and systems of knowledge. (Freud 1919) For Lacan animistic vestiges were revenant, corporeal, and monstrous kernels of the Real. Created by and out of ‘something’ these revenants were formalised by Lacan in the discourse of the Mystic, a timeless phallic knowledge of Truth-In-Itself, functioning in the praxis of psychoanalysis to symbolise for the subject new organising potential from unconscious material.
Utilising auto-ethnographic research, this paper considers the combination of anthropological and psychoanalytic notions of fluidity and permeability to best account for the function of the unanimal within ‘ourselves.’ Moving from a case study of the earliest representations of therianthropes in prehistoric art, through their significance in mythological and theological world orders to the present day, this paper argues that therianthropes still symbolise the organising potential of animism in contemporary culture. From popular culture and our academic working lives, to the paranormal and experiences at the boundaries of consciousness, the animistic still structures our enjoyment of self and other. In the telling of myths such as Ragnarök, in our relationship with technology, work, play, and war the unanimal defines boundaries. Through the Sphinx we see that Lacan’s mysticism theorises what science, religion, and philosophy could not; how the unconscious functions. As for Oedipus, the Imaginary Sphinx symbolises the Real of our desires and drives as she playfully sits at the boundaries of prohibition and transgression organising the Symbolic potentiality of ideology.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Additional Information: For access to the PowerPoint slides please contact
Faculty: School of Computing and Digital Technologies > Games and Visual Effects
Event Title: 34th Standing Conference on Organizational Symbolism
Event Location: Uppsala University
Event Dates: 11-14 July
Depositing User: Stephen WEBLEY
Date Deposited: 26 Jul 2019 08:46
Last Modified: 24 Feb 2023 13:56

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