Lacan, ‘The best image to sum up the unconscious is Baltimore in the early morning.’
The city just before it wakes up…. Lacan was in Baltimore to present a paper at a conference on structuralism. It’s a familiar situation. You have just pitched up at your hotel in a strange city. It is either too early in the morning or too late at night. You are jet-lagged and not a little nervous about tomorrow’s presentation. You are gazing out the window at whatever fragment of cityscape the window has to offer. The only thing going on are traffic lights, advertising signs, and electric clocks. All these signs going on and off, communicating to each other, because no one (except Lacan) is watching. The language goes on working, whether anyone is paying any attention or not, and that is what the unconscious is. It’s like that joke ‘Light’s on, nobody home’.
Jacques Lacan, ‘Of structure as an inmixing of an Otherness prerequisite to any subject whatsoever’ in Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato, eds. The Structuralist Controversy: The languages of criticism and the sciences of man (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1970/1972) p189. The conference, same name, comprised a stellar line-up of thinkers on philosophy, language, and the human sciences, also included Roland Barthes, Tzvetan Todorov, Jean Hyppolite, Jacques Derrida.
Gas & Electric Co., temporary location [night scene, exterior]; Lexington and Liberty Streets, northwest corner, Baltimore Maryland, ca. 1915; Hughes Company, 8×10 inch glass negative; Baltimore City Life Museum Collection, Maryland Historical Society, MC6815