Visual Arts Research Volume 36, Number 2 Winter 2010

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(K)not an Impasse:Working Through Lacanian Theory as Research Methodology

Vicki Daiello University of Cincinnati

This essay illuminates key points in the development of a psychoanalytic theoryinformed case study of student writing in Criticizing Television, an undergraduate, writing-intensive art education course. The discussion describes the research context, including a select group of concepts that structure the inquiry: subjectivity and desite, tbe Otber, thick intetptetation, ctitical consciousness, and resistance. In addition, Lacanian psychoanalytic theory and methodology are briefiy explicated and problematized, providing a foundation for an exploration of Ellie-Ragland Sullivan's Lacanian Poetics and Carol Gilligan's Listening Guide, followed by discussion of an impasse metbod of reflexive data analysis. The impasse,firstperceived as an obstacle in the research, is linked with the concept of critical (un)consciousness, becoming the metaphorical, methodological (k)not upon which the case study and its data pivot. You tie yourself to what comes untied— to what unties you within your ties. You are a knot ofcorrespondences. — Edmond Jabès (içço)

In bet teseatcb of psychoanalytic bistories of learning, Deborah Btitzman (2003, p. 75) contemplates tbe tole of complexity and uncettainty in education, asking, "What happens when our pedagogy is caught somewhere between ignorance and knowledge, between not knowing what to do but still having to act, and between not seeing and seeing too much?" Considered tbtougb a psycboanalytic petspective on pedagogy, Britzman's questions sound tbe depths of an education discoutse,

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84 I Visual Arts Research Winter 2010

going directly to the murky, ambivalent nature of teaching and learning—the spaces and gaps where knowledge unravels, exposing uncertain origins, fragile suppositions, and unruly affects. The case-study research of student ctiticism writing described in this essay emerged within spaces of not knowing what to do but still having to act, and between acts of not seeing and seeing too much (Daiello, 2010). Like most efffbtts to signify unformulated expetiences (Stern, 1997), the research did not begin with logic, but emerged from a place of unknowing; a place of evocation, resonance, and questioning; and a desire to write the impossible.' Conceptualizing this study's research methodology through a Lacanian theory perspective is an approach that by tutns both motivated and undermined the writing of the research. This essay illuminates some key points in the trajectory of the psychoanalytic theory-informed approach used in the case study, identifying and explicating the shapes and textures of impasse as method. To this end, I discuss first the research context and significant concepts in the case study. Next, Lacanian psychoanalytic theory and related methodologies ate briefly explicated and problematized, followed by discussion of impasse, the metaphorical, methodological knot upon which the case study and its data pivot.
Contextualizing the Research: Desire for/as Disruptive Methodology

Lauren Berlant (2007) wtites "patience . . . is something to teach: it's related to pacing, and to taking the time to acknowledge being overwhelmed by, and to become scholats of the complexity of, the distillate that appears as the satisfying object" (p. 437). Like Berlant, I am drawn to, and take seriously, the impatience, anxieties, and uncertainties inherent in symbolizing an impossible-to-express "satisfying object." Not unlike the teaching expetiences that led me to develop the case study of students' ctiticism writing, the case study's methodology presented some significant challenges for my understanding and articulation of what counts as data: the satisfying object. The research methodology, then, is difficult knowledge,^ an impasse wherein significations are knotted with desire and twisted into the shape of a researcher's subject position that I could locate only retrospectively, and pattially, in the Symbolic register.^ This essay is not a definitive ot static picture of a psychoanalytic teseatch methodology,'* but is a glimpse of methodology as process of (k) not knowing—an opening into spaces that are amenable to methodologies to come. These are methodologies that, in their attempts to feel and articulate the contours of their limitations, gesture toward thicker, more textured awarenesses than ate possible in the present.' The decision to use a psychoanalytic approach in the research originated several years ago in my experiences with students' criticism writing while teach-

"[T]he puzzle is not the lack of meaning. it also pointed to an unnamable resonance. evocative strands of desire and resistance. Tyler (1986) makes a distinction between acts of representation and signification and the phenomenon of evocation. making the process of grading and giving feedback strangely unnerving. evocation is a gesturing toward the ineffable. I began to question how unconscious aspects of subjectivity were implicated in the development ofthe students' and my own critically conscious perspectives toward television and in relation to criticism writing. indirectly. Instead. clarity. Taylor (1997) observes. the circulation of unconscious desires for particular pedagogical experiences within the discipline of art education. these affects are nonetheless very . 38). I began to wonder whether my pedagogical desire for coherence. ambiguous passions. and. my perception of critical consciousness shifted from assumptions about its conscious cultivation to a belief in its existence as a knot of unconscious subjectivity comprised of unnamable. Eventually. nor does it bind meaning tightly to any signifier. As a result of my encounters with excess and disruption around the writing created in the course. 123). Referring to postmodern research as an evocative discourse. Eventually. Evocation does not contain a particular meaning. an evocative resistance.Vicki Daiello Lacanian Theory as Research Methodology | 85 ing the Criticizing Television course. I couldn't express with any precision where these feelings originated or what they meant. As philosopher Mark C. I encountered criticism essays that affected me deeply. Although evocation and resonance are not overtly visible in my interactions with the research data. Tyler's conceptualization of evocativeness describes not only my experience with the study and its data. anthropologist Steven A. Although I sensed disruption in my interactions with students' criticism writings. the concept of critical consciousness became overdetermined and conflictive for me. and my role in facilitating a critically conscious writing pedagogy. I could only perceive an uncomfortable excess that seemed to overflow and cloud my presumptions about the writing assignment objectives. then. the meaning of critical consciousness. but also my experience of conceptualizing and articulating the research. but its excess" (p. I began to question how my own subjectivity and desire. or that triggered in me unnamable resistances or unruly. emotional resistances around the notion of writing toward critical consciousness."^ During that time. I sometimes felt uncomfortably uncertain about how to respond to texts that were deeply personal in content. logic. and objectivity in relation to students' television criticism was at odds with the unconscious. "a coming to be of what was neither present nor absent" and a way of "making present what can be conceived but not presented" (p. Further. While the signifier critical consciousness represented particular learning objectives for the writing. might be implicated in theflowsof engagement and resistance within and around students' criticism texts.

criticism of a personally situated nature exacts demands of both the writer-critic as well as their readeraudience. as exemplified in the experience of one student whose perpetually angry father could only interact with him . While teaching Criticizing Television. the primary form of criticism in academic television studies. ways that television structures relationships among people. both the student writer and their instructor may intuitively disassociate from doing work that seems disingenuous. as I interact with the study participants and their writings. The collisions and collusions of students' writings and my responses to them are conceptualized in the study as dynamic relational spaces^ that originate in conscious and unconscious efforts to render the world visible for self and others. emerging as feelings of empathy and rapport. implicated in the development of self-image. written solely to fulfill assignment criteria. and also impact the way in which I consciously and unconsciously perceive and respond to these revelations. there is a paradox in eliciting a personally situated critique within an educational context that may well constrain responses to that critique. 175). withdrawals and resistances. I discovered that academic television criticism texts. the very structure of the assignment criteria and the discursive characteristics of the discipline often foreclose the possibility of addressing these sensitivities. especially when confessionaltype expressions "display an intimacy that their rhetoric forbids" (Crumet. Inscribed in a criticism text's repetitions.86 I Visual Arts Research Winter 2010 real. the invisible practices of the unconscious and the hidden structures of relational spaces leave traces throughout the writing created in the course and in the texts generated through the case study. p. An intersubjective phenomenon. disruptions. evocation and resonance are implicated in what and how participants reveal of themselves in their writing. Therefore. In the case of a writing assignment that is freighted with expectations about demonstration of critical consciousness. Thus. These sensitivities are often inexpressible in words—assignments and curricula do not typically offer opportunities for students or teachers to acknowledge and work through pedagogical attachments and resistances. and positioned within the physical and metaphorical landscapes of everyday life. I regularly encountered student criticism writing about personal experiences with television as it was situated within the dynamics of family relationships. yet remarkable. and affective resonances. while affects and uncertainties may permeate one's experience of an assignment. the experience of writing can become charged with sensitivities that engage and motivate or lead to disassociation. When students' critiques of yisual culture phenomena colhde with their attachments and resistances to visual culture in the relational space of a criticism writing assignment. 2001. In other words. sometimes missed the subtle. intuitions and enthusiasm.

Without the rebellious opinions of the "disenfranchised" youth. .Vicki Daiello Lacanian Theory as Research Methodology | 87 civilly when they watched certain television programs together. The experience of gathering up in language the hits and pieces of rememhered. in wording the world for ourselves and for one another through the produc- . 2009). "Critical Impenetrability. other students experienced criticism writing as a failure of presence and purpose. From a psychoanalytic perspective. enlighten you to the obvious. Or the experience of Calvin. You see. functioning as an extension of the self. I could write an equally "effective" or "productive" analysis of an empty plastic hag. . if capitalism is the ultimate enemy of every young punk in the USA then criticism is only going to help the enemy proceed as planned. . there would he no youth market. With the representation of their own subjectivities and desires at stake. Alix's essay. I only reveal this so as to eliminate the expectation that what I am trying to achieve with this will in any way expand your worldview. House (Daiello. even using the essays to work through amhivalence and suspicion ahout critical discourse. or watching forhidden television programming such as The Simpsons or A/7Vat a friend's house. failure of signification. the validity and writerly skill of written criticism is of less interest than the ways in which criticism functions as a manifestation of unconscious desire. . 2009) The Context of the Research: Seeking Pragmatic Paradox Relational spaces of criticism writing and their muffled or silent discourses are conceptualized in the study as sites oí pragmatic paradox where vagaries and failures of representation might serve as sources of realistic insight and practical pedagogical action in regard to the contradictory nature of critical consciousness. questions that became an impetus for the case study: The thesis at the end of this paragraph will prove the inevitable failure of this essay.^ a student whose reluctant identification with the wickedly sarcastic mannerisms of Hugh Laurie's physician character originates in the relationship he and his mother built around their mutual enjoyment of the medical drama. (Daiello. students took the writing seriously. mundane moments spent in front of Saturday morning cartoons. While Robert helieves that writing can be a substantive statement of personal involvement. Occasionally. was a form of personally resonant writing that most students had not experienced previously in an academic setting. nihilism and cynicism were palpable in students' writings. . or the invisihie. . In this perspective." is one of several student papers that caused me to question my motivations and expectations for the criticism writing assignments. the paradox of criticism writing arises from the reality that. and occasion of conflicted subjectivities.

and tesistances will tetutn again and again. teveal the points wbete cobetence may be most tenuous. the points de capiton is compatable to Altbusset's idea oí interpellation. distuption. yet the unruliness of the unconscious ensures tbat disruptions. 9) is an apt chatactetization of subjectivity and its constitution thtough desite and language. critical consciousness. Points de capiton translates into English as "quilting point" or "anchoring point. Thus. as pragmatic paradox. The points de capiton. Futthet. 192). allowing a glimpse of this study (and the researcher's subjectivity) to emerge. becoming knots that temporarily halt the play of signification. . Lacan. Working within the idea of pragmatic paradox means acknowledging tbat conflictual telationships among language. 1995. Points de capiton tefets to tbe way in wbicb tbe texts in this study attach to patticulat affects. or "capture and thereby totalize tbe field of meaning" (Atkinson. Pedagogical contexts of uncettainty. (K)nots ate connectors among signifiets tbat. the pedagogical spaces we've created fot tbese exchanges often deny or distract from the absences and excesses tbat circulate witbin language. thick interpretation." trace the ptimaty coordinates of a subject's identity. we are inevitably saying and heating mote and less than we know. Lacan's notion oí the points de capiton (Fink. also "nots" and subversions of cohetence. for facilitating awareness of ctiticism wtiting. and conttadiction are spaces where a psychoanalytic petspective on criticism may be of productive use. and ctitical consciousness do exist while creating conditions within curticulum (and teseatch) for exploring and learning tbtougb these relational spaces. As a mode of attachment ot sutute. Knots of correspondences ate analogous to "(k)nots" among conscious and unconscious aspects of subjectivity. sensitivities. in sttaining to securefixityand clatity of meaning." literally meaning a button tbat pins down the stuffing in upholstety. and resistance—are described in this essay. the Other. functions to fteeze tbe play of signifieds to "atticulate the truth of a particular ideological discourse. patadoxically. 1973) explains bow tbe knots of tesonant affect tbat I expetienced in my encountets witb tbe students' texts became botb tbe structure and the undoing of coherence in my perceptions of the study data. in patticulat. 2003. (K)nots: Identifying Key Concepts in the Research The knot of correspondences desctibed by Edmond Jabès (1990." A select group of concepts ftom the study—subjectivity and desire. leading to the genetation of key signifiets. ot expression in general. subjectivity. such as "impasse" ot the labeling of certain affects as "data. the ties that (seemingly) bind subjects into cohetent beings ate. a key nodal point among signifiets.88 I Visual Arts Research Winter 2010 tion of critical perspectives. which explains tbe way in wbicb subjects ate bailed ot called to take up particular subject positions. p. p.

discover where we fit into their schemes and plans. The phenomena of interpersonal intetactions called intersubjectivity ate knots of correspondences among many others. exptessed. desire is not a private affair but a social accomplishment. Problematic. constituted in a dialectical relationship with the perceived desires of other subjects. the Otherness of language and subjectivity (Lacan. and desire are conceptualized. because all words can have multiple meanings—not just among members of a culture. and who generates phenomenological experiences within particular sociohistorical contexts. needs. the most fundamental desire. For example. and alienating: Words cannot be fastened securely to meaning(s). he is referring to the longing that is woven into and is caused by anothet person's desires. and also subjectivity's raison d'êtte. 1997.Vicki Daiello Lacanian Theory as Research Methodology I 89 Subjectivity and Desire Subjectivity cuts across a variety of disciplines and qualitative tesearch discourses. subject and subjectivity tefer to the human person who acts and is acted upon in the world. Therefore. 2006). as an individual person and in relation to other subjects. perceived. particularly those aspects of writing that cannot be described or theorized empirically. when Lacan avers that desire is the desire of the other. is that acknowledgment. 2006) reinforces the relational . and find a niche for ourselves in their desire" (Fink. The Other Lacan's psychoanalytic discourse on the desire of the Other and. In this essay. As Lacanian theory posits. is the desite for recognition. woven from threads both conscious and unconscious. Having a sense of one's self as a force that matters in the world is a form of recognition (Bracher. subjectivity encompasses the multiple qualities and manifestations of what is perceived as the subject's self. p. and desires. and other times emerging through slips of the tongue or inconsistencies of expression. so as to be positioned better to be the object of their desire. the sense of being a "self" is inseparable from a desire to know what others want. but also across temporal and spatial contexts. sometimes sutfacing as feelings of emotional resonance.' In other words. by extension. psychoanalytic theory opens up an avenue for the exploration of writing. All that is not exptessible in language circulates and percolates in the unconscious. imprecise. and many selves. By inttoducing the unconscious into considerations of language. and lived through language—a symbolic structure that shapes us as subjects while also shaping our thoughts. Further. such as felt expetiences of evocativeness or inexplicable resistances and desires. Relatedly. Lacanian psychoanalytic theory conceptualizes language as slippery. Like subjectivity. 54). recognition. desire is never one's own but is the desire of the other. however. we want to know what the other person wants "in order to best satisfy ot thwart them in their purposes.

Writing. as act and as object. or a reflection and projection that is inscribed in the imaginary order (Evans. Building upon Clifford Geertz's (1973) concept of thick description. loosening my grasp on interpretive mastery. to language and the Symbolic order. metaphorically. the little other is what we know as the self. the little "other" is not another person. this meant relinquishing certainty. it is a reminder that interpretive closure is impossible. but is the internalized ego. and thus is a specular image. it never quite gathers up all ofthe meaning it is meant to express. 1996). then. As such. and allowing knots and wrinkles of perception to emerge in the process of (de)forming the shape ofthe research. Thick Interpretation In writing the research. the idea of thick interpretation is an admission of subjectivity's depth and vastness. writing the trajee- . Lacan began to distinguish between "other" with a small "o" ("little other") and Other with a capital "O" ("big Other") (Evans. at the same time. define and understand themselves as individual subjects (Lacan. In Lacanian theory. and its meaning has undergone development over time. For me. with the tools of language.90 I Visual Arts Research Winter 2010 nature of critical consciousness. 1968). Thus. it is a socio-Symbolic psychic structure that is internalized in the form of the unconscious. relational spaces of criticism writing pedagogies. Like the process of writing criticism in the Criticizing Television course. The big "Other" is also not a person but refers. In Lacan's perspective. The big Other. I sought ways of conceptualizing the dense stickiness of perceptions that flooded and stalled my attempts to signify the data. In the 1930s. in the 1950s. Pushing the study's data up against the unruly possibilities of a psychoanalytic unconscious punctured any illusions I may have harbored about the identification. is dual: It is the larger socio-Symbolic context that functions according to language-like rules and. Thick interpretation is difficult. the term Other is a complex concept. 1996). its concentrated intensities that gather strength and depth in relationship to others. and interpretation of data. The question What does the Other desire of me? and my struggle to understand what an ethical response to this question might look like within the context of teaching the Criticizing Television course became a pivotal focus that not only influenced my conceptualization and assessment of writing assignments. even uncomfortable. My use of the term Other invokes Lacan's conceptualization of the socio-Symbolic network within which subjects interact with one another and." however. but also sensitized me to the responsibilities inherent in the intersubjective. Lacan's use ofthe term referred generally to "other people. is a dance of thick interpretations. or self-image. description. within which subjectivity and the unconscious are constituted.

responses to. engaged education—one that stimulates the creative faculties of both students and teachers and stirs the desire to question and transform realities through the development of critical consciousness. and expectations for visual culture phenomena. Resistance Resistance is a familiar concept in liberatory pedagogies that seek to facilitate critical reflexivity and the development of agency in relation to dominating ideologies. There is a need for curricula that do not merely transgress current art education practices and sensibilities (Duncum. and resistances than most curricula are equipped to handle.Vicki Daiello Lacanian Theory as Research Methodology 91 tory of the case study is a process of stretching toward and grasping for coherence in the thickness of so many competing texts. Paul Duncum (2009) offers an updated perspective on Ellsworth's query with his questions about the silence of art education discourse in regard to the transgtessive pleasures that students sometimes experience with popular culture. repressions. critical consciousness is usually conceptualized as a conscious form of agency and perception. As Ellsworth and Duncum remind us. 2009). critical consciousness is not a monolithic concept. On the other hand. it may become yet another form of oppression. but are capable of translating the seductiveness of transgression into recursive reflexivity and of motivating sensitive. Embraced by educators who pursue social justice goals through pedagogical action. It is fraught with more contradictions. In contrast to a passive education that positions students to adapt to unjust. Critical Consciousness Critical consciousness is a reflexive awareness of the social. As Elizabeth Ellsworth (1989) asked over 20 years ago. Paolo Freiré (1970) advocates an active. repressed affects that are at . political contexts that constitute subjectivity and influence perceptions of. However. sustained engagement with others and civic life. the potential entwinement of the critical consciousness project with the reproduction of oppressive social practices cannot be overlooked. 2000). oppressive realities. whereas Ien Ang views resistance as a moment in an ongoing struggle (Butsch. while the pursuit of critical consciousness is usually perceived as a liberatory endeavor. Stuart Hall conceptualizes resistance as potential and beginning (rather than inevitable and the end). where critical positions on popular culture are often difficult to separate from designer capitalism's celebrations of cultural phenomena. resistance is conceptualized differently through psychoanalytic theory: As unconscious. historical. In a world flooded with images. "What diversity do we silence in the name of critical pedagogy?" (p. 299).

or traditional. Freud's daughter Anna (1895-1982). psychoanalysis disrupts the very assumptions of what counts as ignorance or knowledge. and a better life. particularly those aspects of learning and teaching that aim to transform subjectivities through the learning of critical perspectives. and psychoanalysis is no exception. psychoanalysis.1997. or what kinds of evocations. Shoshana Felman (1997) notes that one of the unique characteristics of a psychoanalytic orientation to education is its concern with information and experiences that are unavailable through any other mode of learning. hoth students and teachers "bring a host of idiosyncrasies and unconscious associations that compel them to resist. 1997. Felman. saw the revolutionary potential in an approach to education that acknowledged the complicated emotional knots connecting teachers and their students. In addition. in oneself and in the actions of others. neither students nor their teachers can predict exactly what may be of personal significance in a course. developed his now famous concepts over a period of many years. who was trained as a teacher hefore studying psychoanalysis. resistance occurs in situations where the unconscious. ostensibly leading to deeper understanding. 2009. within an intellectual and cultural milieu that prized the rationality and objectivity of scientific method. Sigmund Freud (18561939). bringing a new perspective to "the understanding of what 'to know' and 'not know' may really mean" (p. Todd. p. An example is when students act or respond in ways that they believe the Other (the authoritative representative of the Symbolic order—for example. Problematizing Psychoanalytic Theory Theories of sociocultural and individual experience often undergo revision and development over time. resonances. psychoanalysis appealed to educators who sought ways of understanding students and their behaviors. core aspects of self are at odds with the structure and expectations of the Symbolic order. As a form of scientific knowledge that held the promise of cultivating control over interior and external life. 436). Contemporary educators (Cho. Indeed. As a result. wisdom. 23). whose theories of the psyche are known today as classical. 1987. 2001) have employed psychoanalytic theories in various explorations of paradoxes and contradictions in pedagogy. 2001.92 I Visual Arts Research Winter 2010 odds with a subject's perception of their identity in the Symholic order. . 2009. The experience of resistance in an education context can be difficult to detect. or disturbances might result within the context of an assignment. Mayes. Science offered a solid framework and a system of control through which the chaos of life might be theorized and explained. transform and create symholic attachments which pedagogy cannot predict or control" (Todd. hecause it must remain hidden to preserve the coherence of one's symbolic identity. a teacher) expects of them.

or perbaps even at all given tbe ttencbant resistances of tbe unconscious" (p. care must be taken not to analyze reseatcb subjects themselves. nor make therapeutic results a goal of tbe study. For example. or irritation" (Hurst. ot a silent.Vicki Daiello Lacanian Theory as Research Methodology | 93 Although psychoanalysis offers unique perspectives on human bebaviots and motivations. Mary Thomas (2007) notes that "complicated psychic processes and bistories cannot be discetned from brief researcb encountets sttuctured. tbe teseatchet's focus should be "ditected towards her own responses" to tbe study itself and its patticipants. researcbers must face complexities of method wben using a psycboanalytic approach in nonclinical settings. It is instead a knot of multiple tensions. 628). a site of shim- . and leaps of logic within the teseatch telationsbips (Meek. Sociologist Claudia Lapping (2007) points out that. conttadictions. focusing especially on "sttong emotions like botedom. 5). a researcher cultivates conditions for thinking mote deeply and purposefully about absences. some see potential ptoblems in using psycboanalytic metbods in a nonclinical context. gaps. 544). identifying and articulating the unconscious components of subjectivity present a cballenge for tbe goals of validity. First. silences. questions of etbics must be considered: Migbt a pedagogy tbat aims to alleviate or "cure" tbe inttapsychic conflicts undetlying students' wtiting problems actually function to colonize and master students' subjectivities? Like educators. ethical issues can arise from the collection and analysis of data. one that permits tbe analyst to ask probing personal questions and to offet interpretations of the vety intimate matetial that may emerge" (p. by interviews. while one's research may be motivated by social justice goals. and teplicability in researcb. Lack of training as a psychoanalyst makes the goal of thetapeutic action impractical at best and inapptopriate at worst. para. In so doing. 125). an immovable object. Relatedly. as a clinical practice. 2009. love. instead of bringing analysis to beat upon a study patticipant. psychoanalysis operates under some specific assumptions about an analyst-analysand relationship—suppositions that ate not applicable in an education setting or other nonclinical contexts: "Psycboanalytic practice constitutes a vety particulat conttact between analyst and analysand. anget. particularly those data otiginating in relationships among the reseatcber and participants. Therefore. reliability. stony disagteement—an impasse is not synonymous with inaction. 2003). Theoretical Foundation of the Methodology: The Impasse Contrary to the images ot ideas that the wotd impasse may evoke—a stalled ptocess. fot example. while composition scbolat Mark Bracher (1999) connects the goals of psychoanalytic clinical ptactice and pedagogical ptactice explicitly witb the assertion that tbe "talking cure" of psycboanalysis can be "a basis for constructing a 'writing cure'" (p. Therefore.

unhappy with the realization that most research does indeed smooth out friction in order to suture coherent nattatives. I knew that vatious methods of qualitative discourse analysis could suffice as tools of intetptetation and explication of the study's data. each time I examined the texts with a meaning-seeking intent predicated on the goal of coherent reasoning and explanation. Pulling at one's deepest uncertainties about being and nonbeing. as well as confusions. restless energy pushing against a limitation. then. or blankness. The Magnetism Between Reader and Text: Prolegomena to a Lacanian Poetics (1984). ot events. The disruptions are not perceived as literal representations of objects. the impasse is comparable to the Lacanian concept of the Real—fot both can be understood only retroactively and in relation to signification within tbe context of tbe symbolic. I wondered whethet the themes I detected were located within the text or within my self. at some later point. Logically. yet it also has a palpable presence. the methodological impasse experienced in this research emerged through entangled desires and resistances around the role of logic and coherence in the generation and analysis of the case study data. However.'" Like Fteud's uncanny. A methodological impasse. and an even slipperier research method— its existence is predicated on absence. distupting their perceived mastery of signification. p. the impasse is a slippery concept. as well as my own desires to protect the messiness of the relational space created through my readings of the texts. the impasse is felt as a disturbance in the Symbolic order. Thick with possibilities. is an excess—an ettatic growth from roots both conscious and unconscious that blocks movement of signification. I felt I was somehow betraying the participants. Like evocation. an impasse is "a holding station that doesn't hold but opens out into anxiety. and Roland innhesspunctum. even impossible. to discern between the "data" of the study and the projections and desires of my own subjectivity. but are instead felt as affects that demarcate ruptures in the coherence of subjectivity.94 I Visual Arts Research Winter 2010 mering. and reflected on these writings in my research journal. As I studied the writings created by students in the coutse and the e-mail interview texts. ideas. a distutbance that disorients a subject. I also found it difficult. its shape becomes visible through rettospection and deferred action. emphasizes the relational. I became frustrated with my ability to eliminate the friction of my discordant perceptions. affective nature of readers' experience of a text by attending to magnetic attractions effected through . 434) until. 2007. Lacan's tuche. Locating (K)nots in the Impasse Methodology: Lacanian Poetics and the Listening Guide EUie Ragland-SuUivan's essay. logic and ittationality. that dog-paddling around a space whose contours remain obscure" (Berlant. From anothet petspective.

building a rich. Attuned to the multiplicities and silences inherent in voices. evocativeness. but instead acknowledges paralinguistic points of join between visible language and invisible affect. Carol Gilligan's Listening Guide (1982) method guided the generation and analysis ofthe data. 381). what I assumed to be the data twisted and changed position and shape in Möbius strip fashion. Further. p. however. I felt frustrated and paralyzed. This movement shifted what I assumed to be the data of the study—the essay texts. survey and interview content. the more I began to see difltrent patterns. repressed material. does not psychoanalyze texts or people. Unable to reconcile these divergent responses to the data. A Lacanian poetics. Ragland-SuUivan's idea of magnetism articulates metaphorically those feelings of inexpressible resonance. densely layered marks around the edges of a text I couldn't perceive clearly in the first place. What I had first perceived as my reluctance to locating meanings within the content ofthe text was actually the presence of a conflict between what I read—the literal words on the pages—and the affects stirred up by my readings. For example. and evocative resonances experienced in my interactions with the texts in the study are precisely where my subjectivity is and is (k)not most palpably present. and my reflexive writings about the study—to a slightly different position and meaning. These . and sensitive to the relational context of a dialogue. Ragland-Sullivan's/)o/«tó of join are analogous to the concept of (k) nots in the case study. then. Most Listening Guide analyses employ at least four encounters with the text.Vicki Daielio Lacanian Theory as Research Methodology | 95 eruption of unconscious. Multiple readings of selected critical essays and interview texts were noted in writings and line drawings that traced my affective responses to the texts. the Listening Guide differs from grounded theory and other methods of content coding and analysis in that it attends to the intersubjective constitution of multiple voices. Specifically. Wording an Impasse: Ragland-Sullivan's Lacanian Poetics and Gilligan's Listening Guide Method Along with the Lacanian Poetics approach. I resisted urges to suture the texts to my own narratives. eventually learning that my readings and attempted interpretation were merely scribblings. 1984. or disturbance that I experienced in my encounters with students' writings. the more I attended to my own resistance to assigning meanings to students' words and motivations. The magnetic pull of these resonant knots is an "allegory of the psyche's fundamental structure" (Ragland-SuUivan. the contexts and relationships within which an interview occurs are interpreted as part of the interview content. textured picture ofthe figure-ground dynamics of silent and spoken discourse in a particular relational space. magnetic attractions. Eventually. Thus. the strange disturbances.

and musings on criticism writing as a mode of visual culture critique. I felt compelled to share not only my responses to and questions about what he wrote. In othet words. the evidence of my subjectivity against (and because of) these texts. . nonsensical—composed of non-meanings— signifying elements" because. were comprised of childhood memories of school. but my perception of his text was that it was a cacophony. . but traces what is perceived to be "irreducible. that emerged. Robert's responses were always sharply articulate and sensitive. . A Lacanian analysis seeks not to identify literal meanings in a text. Becoming progressively thicker and denser in places. traumatic. . but also my deep ambivalence and uncertainty about how to respond. "for each subject there is a signifier that is 'irreducible. . an unbearably overwhelming rush of language straining to contain an excessive noise. there were themes. interview texts. Robert's responses to my e-mail interview questions always arrived in the early morning. non-meaning' to which they are 'as a subject. My ritual was to read the text once. usually several pages long. . Whenever I finally did respond to Robert. I instead found that the texts were actually "reading" and displaying my own subjectivity. As I worked through the case-study texts iteratively. subjected" (Parker. a momentary relief of whatever mental pain" (Daiello. blind spots. I winced at Robert's disclosure. criticism has always been a tourniquet for me . or points of join. Recording the affects I experienced around my interview correspondence with study participant Robert helped me to visualize a theme oí silence/cacophony. and my own research journal entries. recollections of other writing experiences in his life. and then close the message.96 I Visual Arts Research Winter 2010 "scribbles" are the tracings of my ego. . a thick torrent of words. hurriedly. in the way one might proceed in a grounded theory approach. Robert revealed how he handled the cacophony of signification: "Rare are the instances where I actually speak my mind . instead of discovering narratives and meanings in the texts. I would spend the next week or more trying to find space in my mind for the excessive affect-noise that I'd swallowed in the reading. writing and drawing in response to essays. the marks made in tracking and recording coherence among the writings of the study eventually revealed empty spaces. I began to wonder whether my focus on clarity and coherence was itself a constellation of (k)nots that belied an unconscious pedagogical desire. I couldn't bear the thought of removing the friction of these interactions. Stunned into silence. I realized that I am deeply familiar with the pressures and pleasures of writing-as-tourniquet. I think that is what people get out of constructing writing— embodiment of their excess . His replies. usually a few hours after I'd sent the questions to him. detailed reflections on his writing in the course. yet I felt an immediate connection to his sensitive observation. Recalling repeated attempts over the years to help students find clarity and coherence of expression. 2009).

As Paul Duncum (2008). at the time it was submitted for an assignment. and apathy. you just pretend that you don't find me attractive anymore. I suspected that one of the most critical. For example. I wondered whether the resistance and impasse I was currently experiencing in relation to the data of the study was similar to the resistance and impasses that I suspected students experienced and acted out in their criticism writing assignments. becoming instead a strategy of playing along with a . And I know that you get bored with me. in being the locus of the irrational. call me a whore. Riley's written rationale for a criticism sculpture project troubled me. it was the affective residue that clung to the (k)notted signifiers that emerged in the relational spaces and interactions with the texts and participants in the research. or frustration.Vicki Daiello Lacanian Theory as Research Methodology | 97 2005. 2009) The strangely amorphous violence of voice that I intuited in Riley's text is something I intuited in other student criticism texts over the years. aspects of critical consciousness was the role of the unconscious. and crucial. That's just part of our game. critical consciousness may have little to do with a student's growth and awareness. confusion. dissociation. meant that critical consciousness might he felt as an impasse. As my work with the research progressed. hut that's OK. And you know it's going to he good. hut even more uneasy ahout the suhject positions implied hy the voice of the television that addresses the reader: We hoth know that I am more to you than just some passing fancy. An impasse of critical consciousness. sometimes contradictory desires of the suhject. Use me. (Daiello. Violence/Nonmeaningvfzs a recurrent signifier pair in the study. I LIKE it. 168). it just keeps me on my toes. What has emerged in my analysis of affect patterns around these texts is the possibility of my collusion (in my assignment criteria and in my communicated and unspoken responses to the essays) with desires to subvert and resist clarity and civility of expression. Therefore. annoyance. and jan jagodzinski (2004) have pointed out. could he expressed hy students in a variety of ways. I know what you want. I began to think of critical consciousness not as a pedagogical goal. such as resistance. Based on my work with Lacanian theory. p. Thinking hack to my teaching experiences in Criticizing Television." rather. it was not the literal content of the interviews and critical essays themselves that were "data. I felt challenged hy the words in the essay. You know that I'm just thinking up my next surprise for you. I'm glad that you get bored with me. which. I know your intimate desires. hut instead as an entanglement of conscious and unconscious aspects of subjectivity within the indeterminate messiness of intersuhjective relationships. in an analysis of my interactions with Robert. Rehekka Herrmann (2005). Because I know you. and the accompanying discomfort. assignment outcome. Keep talking trash to me. or a coherent narrative.

an impasse is not a concession to defeat. and perhaps enlarge. 17) Working from Meeks's viewpoint. We tend not to recognize tbis information as messages from ourselves wbich have arrived in a disguised way and need to be decipheted. and othet educatots ate tbe collusive sttategies of tbe unconscious (botb insttuctots' and students')—^wbicb ate fotevet pushing at. We wotty about giving up conscious control. whethet we ate paying attention ot not. coherent sense of self. Rather. even for a little while. ot visual cultute. This is a methodology that unravels method and vice versa. tealistic. Impasses. Nor is it a toutniquet tbat stops the flow and slippage of signification. Hettmann. cohetent nattatives of ctitical consciousness.98 I Visual Arts Research Winter 2010 teacbet's ctitical pedagogy agenda to achieve a pardcular grade. rational self tatber tban an enlightened understanding of self. it is this certainty of uncettainty . As Harriet Meek (2003) teminds. and breaking down. the uncomfortable impasses I experienced in teaching ctiticism wtiting and latet encounteted in my wotk with the case study seemed somehow less of an obstacle and mote of a putposeful. is a sticky and messy failute of the illusions of a cobetent. wben teatticulated witb an acknowledgment of the unconscious otigins of subjectivity. tbe meaning and means of pursuing ctitical consciousness. The use of a psychoanalytic theotetical petspective in research subverts teplicability and generalizability of a data analysis. nihilism. . . Viewed in this light. an impasse is a call to rethink. or meaninglessness. Conclusion Tbe metbodological impasse in this case study exists because of tbe ptoblem of identifying and atticulating tbat wbich must be suppressed and unnamed to maintain one's unified. in the service of holding subjectivity togethet. for those aspects of data that appear as evidence or intelligibility are merely repetitive movements and scribblings around tbe edges of wbat cannot be named. (para. and evocations are symbolic placeholders that gesture towatd the crucial wotk of the unconscious in out telationships with one anothet and in out pedagogy and teseatch endeavots. Wbat might it mean for pedagogy if we do pay attention to such bteakages and impasses? Ctitical consciousness. and necessaty messiness—a pragmatic patadox. othet. but it seems likely tbat tbis may be exactly what is needed." Howevet. [M]any of the difficulties and blockages we encounter wbile doing researcb take place because we are not listening to information available to us. what is not addtessed by Duncum. Yet. . relational spaces. out beyond tbe centtality and smootbness of literalness and rationality. tensioning points. it is a reminder of whete insights might be perceived. As I have expetienced it.

5. and Sydney Walker's (2009) research of subjectivity and artmaking are strongly supportive to research of uncertainties and impasses around writing and critical consciousness. 2009: Midgley 2008:Todd. 75). relationship to the Symbolic ordering of subjectivity. and dizzying contradiction of intersecting discourses. 3.. We can never get off the hook by appealing to a transcendental Ethics. The concept "difficult knowledge" (Pitt & Britzman. between not knowing what to do but still having to act. 2002: Brooke. We must learn to live in the tension of conflict and confusion and possibility . 1997. The Symbolic register is Lacan's term for the way in which a subject's needs and desires are expressed through symbols/language. and incoherence. he compared and triangulated findings from one area of . The impossibility of writing. nonclinical uses of psychoanalysis are found in literary studies. I want something in and through writing that is more than writing. sometimes disruptive. 1997.2003: Cho. difficult knowledge is a bit of the subject's register of Real that exists in dynamic. (St. Freud was suspicious of building any theory on the findings of his investigations in only one field. 2009: Mayes. Pierre. the arts. all the time. We are always on the hook. are the (k)nots that keep critical consciousness in perpetual impasse. . in the assignments. intersubjective relationships in education (2006). Britzman. and the social sciences. Uncertainty and its concomitant slippage of signifiers and signifieds keep the questions moving and keep possibility in play while engaging desire to keep the movement going. 2009): I sense such (im)possibilities in writing—a leap beyond the sense of signification . 176—177) Notes 1. 4. If critical consciousness is a tensioning space "between ignorance and knowledge. Psychoanalytic theories are also employed in curriculum and pedagogy studies (Brachen 2006. . I want for students and for myself the experience of encountering the rough edges. in my classroom. solid ground. 2. we must become adept at making do with the messiness ofthat condition and at finding agency within rathet than assuming it in advance. ephemeral motion.. Instead. p. . 2003) refers to affects and experiences in the education process that resist expression. . 1998. In other words. From Researcher's Journal (Daiello. Jan Jagodzinski's study of teaching as sinthome (2004) and discussion of the ethical implications of complex. 1987). necessitating that educators constantly negotiate the challenges of a changing tetrain of irresolvable difference. or ruptures in education narratives that reveal traces of inconsistency fragmentation. responsible. pp.Vicki Daiello Lacanian Theory as Research Methodology | 99 and conflict—the impasse—that is the most realistic and pragmatic perspective on the paradox of wording the wotld for one another.2001 ) and research of writing (Alcorn. everywhere. then we must learn to live in the middle of things. . and between not seeing and seeing too much" {^úamzn. Well before the advent of contemporary qualitative research conceptualizations of triangulation. the beyond of identity where distinctions of self and other break down and what is familiar twists and slips into the unfamiliar I seek these leaps and breaking points in myself and in others—in my teaching. 2003. of wording the wotld fot one another. Although psychoanalytic theories emerge from the therapeutic practices originating in the work of Sigmund Freud.

Robert describes college essays as the "written language ofthe school. 188-198). and with a cautious eye toward the validity ofthe findings (Midgley 2008).100 I Visual Arts Research Winter 201 o study. Addison & L Burgess (Eds. P ( 1998). with research from other areas. (Murdoch. coiling around one another until some kind of stability emerges Knowledge is materialized in practice. 2003. Issues in art and design teaching (pp. D. ( 1999). Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. South Atiantic Quarterly. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.. Britzman. "(lnter)acting justly. demand the recognition of their needs. therefore.. they co-evolve in complex ways. explains why the assignment of significance to an experience is delayed. 8. In an e-mail interview. "[w]e. theory models could be built gradually provisionally. Bracher. London: RoutledgeFalmer Berlant. 758). second. L. such as neuroses. The writing cure: Psychoanalysis. desires. M. In N. 526). (2006). Deferred action. All students are identified by pseudonyms throughout this essay and in the case study 9. . and space mutually compose one another.Thus. such as research on jokes and dreams. necessitates that we develop a "fuller realization of our mutually constituted selves" and. forces. 6. no enjoyment was felt" (Daiello. Participants in the case study have admitted to this coping mechanism. Lost subjects and contested objects: Toward a psychoanalytic Inquiry of learning.). New York Palgrave Macmillan. and social transformation. Radical pedagogy: Identity. Atkinson. M. D. I Oó(3)." then. Powen knowledge. and. 10. and emergent qualities of conscious and unconscious relationships with television phenomena and criticism writing. 2009)." used to complete a task for a grade. I I. References Alcorn. (2007). The study population consists of undergraduate students from my Criticizing Television course (2005-2009). or revisions from earlier experiences. Brachen M. composition. in the process. (2003). "[the standard form of a critical essay] covers up the fact that nothing happened. Post-structuralist geographers derive the concept of relational space from the sociospatial relationships among people. jr (2002). the force or emotional resonance of an experience must be felt before it can be understood or expressed in language. p. 56) The concept of relational space provides a way of thinking through and talking about the sensitivities and nuances ofthe dynamic. A\bar\y: State University of New York Press. p. learn to speak and listen with an attentiveness to the responsibilities inherent in our interactions with others. generativity. practices. Second Level Writing and Social Diversity General Education Curriculum (CEC) credit offered in the Department of Art Education at a large Midwestern university 7. 2006. have a responsibility to respond to others by virtue ofthe reality that they like us. Forming teacher identities in initial teacher education. and the aims of education.. practice is materialized in the body and the body is immersed in modes of spatial organization that in turn 'perform' systems of knowledge. First. 2005. and perspectives" (North. Starved. Changing the subject in English class: Discourse and the constructions of desire. these understandings are always subject to affects. 433-444. p. and knowledge. no learning occurred. a psychoanalytic concept that refers to the way in which "emotional significance and new ideas are made from past and present experiences" (Pitt & Britzman. contingent.

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To contact the publisher: www.uillinois.edu .press.COPYRIGHT INFORMATION TITLE: (K)not an Impasse: Working Through Lacanian Theory as Research Methodology SOURCE: Vis Arts Res 36 no71 Wint 2010 The magazine publisher is the copyright holder of this article and it is reproduced with permission. Further reproduction of this article in violation of the copyright is prohibited.

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