What Would I Do with Lacan Today?

Thoughts on Sartre, Lacan, and Contemporary Psychoanalysis

in Sartre Studies International
Author: Betty Cannon1
View More View Less
  • 1 Colorado School of Mines 123bettyjo@gmail.com
Restricted access


This article is a reply to Blake Scott’s discussion of the Sartrean critique of Lacan that I present in three chapters of Sartre and Psychoanalysis. Here I revisit those chapters, written 25 years ago, with questions about how I might approach Lacan today. I also discuss how I might approach recent developments in psychoanalysis, some of which are influenced by both Lacan and postmodernism. While I still think Lacan does not give an adequate account of agency and responsibility, there are definitely parallels between Sartre and Lacan and even a significant, though ambiguous, debt that Lacan owes to Sartre, similar to the often-neglected influence of Sartre on postmodern philosophy. The rest of the article considers the influence of postmodernism and existential phenomenology on contemporary psychoanalysis. Despite certain theoretical difficulties, the relational and intersubjective emphasis in much of contemporary psychoanalysis, combined with a rejection of drive theory, is in some ways surprisingly compatible with Sartre’s requirements for an existential psychoanalysis.

Contributor Notes

Betty Cannon, PhD, licensed psychologist, is the author of Sartre and Psychoanalysis and numerous articles and chapters on existential therapy. Her book is sometimes considered a classic in existential psychology. She is emerita professor of humanities and social sciences at the Colorado School of Mines, senior adjunct professor of psychology at Naropa University, and president of the Boulder Psychotherapy Institute. She is a member of the editorial boards of three professional journals: Sartre Studies International, Review of Existential Psychology and Psychiatry, and Existential Analysis. She is the founder of Applied Existential Psychotherapy (AEP), a Sartrean approach to therapy that interfuses the insights of existential philosophy and psychoanalysis with interventions inspired by Gestalt therapy, body-oriented psychotherapy, and other experiential approaches. She is the literary executor for Sartre scholar and translator, Hazel E. Barnes, and her book on Sartre and Psychoanalysis is dedicated to Hazel.

Sartre Studies International

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Existentialism and Contemporary Culture