The footage above is from an extremely rare – and unexpectedly entertaining – video of the philosopher and psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (1901-1981), giving a lecture at The Catholic University of Louvain in 1972. The film is notable for a couple of reasons:
1. In France, Lacan’s rock star status owed much to his popular public seminars. The charismatic iconoclast had been giving free public lectures for decades, and those lectures were usually packed with students, colleagues, skeptics, young radicals … and fans. The video gives you an idea of what the fuss was all about. Even at 70, Lacan still owns the room, and he has the presence of a stage actor, complete with dramatic pauses, ironic self-reflection, and pitch-perfect storms of emotion (see minute 15:07)
2. At minute 21:37, a politically inspired heckler tries to ambush him. It’s a moment right out of a comedy show, if the comedy show were chic and grainy and edited by Jean-Luc Goddard. Note the grace with which Lacan neutralizes the poor guy, lights his cigar and then concludes the lecture, even though the fallout from their encounter is still stuck in his hair.