Egon Schiele and the structure of desire

There was an extraordinary explosion of artistic creativity in Vienna in the early part of the 20th century – the very kernel of European culture with composers like Schoenberg and artists like Egon Schiele and it can’t be any coincidence that it was the birthplace of psychoanalysis – the discovery and work of Sigmund Freud. One of Freud’s insights was that we are motivated by two distinct psychic forces, drive and desire where drive is located in a psychic gap between the mind and the body and takes on the form of something that inhabits us, an omnipresent lack that Schiele evokes so directly and powerfully in his work.

Some people have been confronted by what they perceive to be explicit pornographic content, but pornography invites the viewer into the scene whereas the work of Schiele doesn’t offer that welcome – there is something troubling about his work.

Egon Schiele’s art explores the edge between the erotic and the aesthetic – a kind of anti-pornography and both Freud and Schiele challenge us to explore the edge between our anxiety and pleasure – both of them knew that they stem from the same source, a lack. Perhaps it wasn’t that Egon Schiele added something obscene to the work of art that makes his work troubling, but rather that he leaves something lacking in the work; the vortex that is drive and desire.

There is always a limitation in jouissance and desire guards that limitation: “For desire is a defence, a defence against going beyond a limit in jouissance” as Lacan states in The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire – and in his famous statement “There is no sexual relation” Lacan is talking about the void or the lack around which the sexual drive and desire in a sexual relationship circulates.20621328_1091865347613733_2579390164107035495_n

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2 thoughts on “Egon Schiele and the structure of desire

    1. If the unconscious is structured like a language, as Lacan claims, then I believe Lacan is to be read in a particular way rather than being understood – in a similar way that our unconscious is revealed with interventions by the analyst who is taking the analytic position within the analytic situation. The work of Balthus is clearly problematic because of the works viewing point, but the world of the unconscious has its own sense of logical time and the world of sexual fantasy also has a sense of vertical as well as horizontal time. The work of analysis by its very nature has its own set of coordinates – everything in analysis seems to spring from a largely unknowable, unconscious infantile sexuality, accessible through the work of analysis. I believe Lacan was influenced by Winnicott’s transitional object in the development of his ‘objet petit a’.

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