Since 1999, the Sigmund Freud Foundation and the Austrian Fulbright Commission invite American scientists for a study visit which is combined with a visiting professorship on a university in Vienna. We introduce you to this year's grantee Jennifer Friedlander, who arrived in March and took office in Berggasse 19. Upon arrival, we asked her some questions:
What does it mean to you, working at Berggasse 19?
Even though I arrived with already high anticipation of how it might feel to work at this most special address, I must admit that I was surprised by how deeply moved I was to actually inhabit the space. I was struck by a palpable, almost overwhelming, presence of lack. The space is profoundly evocative of the richness of both Freud's life and work, but it also resonates as a monument of excruciating loss. A piercing emptiness is left by Freud's escape and the building's testiment to the names of subsequent inhabitants who lost their lives under Nazism. The space, in an almost Freudian sense, seems to call fittingly upon its vistors to thus produce - to "construct."
We know it is not your first stay in Vienna – what makes this city special to you?
I have been very fortunate to be able to consider Vienna an ocassional home of sorts for the last ten years, due to the wonderful friends and intellectual connections that I have made here. I could (and often do) go on at lengths extolling the wonders of this extraorodinary city--especially the eclectic and vibrant intermingling of Vienna's classical and contemporary culture and art, the way history lives in, among, and through the present. And this is not to mention the urban parks, Cafe houses, and fantastic public transportation system (which, having lived in Southern California for almost the last twenty years, occupies a top spot on my long Things-I-Love-about-Vienna list). But for me what is most special is somehow the more quotidian dimensions of Vienna daily life - something about the rhythms of the city. There is something distinctive about the way the creative sphere penetrates the mundane - the sense of possibility that I feel, for instance, when encountering a temporary art installation or pop-up music festival on my way to the laundromat or grocery store - is like nowhere else.
Why did you apply for the Fulbright-Freud Scholarship?
The possibility of spending my sabbatical working at the Freud Museum drew me immediately to apply for the Fulbright. My interest was further piqued by learning that I would also have the opportunity to teach a seminar on my research project. Throughout my career at my home institution, Pomona College, I have learned how valuable it is to cultivate a dynamic relationship between research and teaching.
How do you feel about teaching at the University in this very special (pandemic) situation?
I am very much looking forward to the start of teaching next week and the opportunity to work through texts related to my research with Master’s students at the Institut für Theater-, Film- und Medienwissenschaft (TFM) at Universität Wien, who I expect will push my thinking in unexpected and necessary ways. Even though we will be holding classes via Zoom, the faculty and staff at TFM have already created a strong sense of community and have made me feel very welcomed.
Can you tell us more about the research project you are pursuing during your stay?
My research project, “Powers of Pleasure: The Psychopolitics of Enjoyment,” aims to disrupt a key premise of racist logic: that external obstacles (often embodied by the figure of the immigrant/other) are responsible for socio-cultural disharmony. This racist logic depends upon a fantasy of society as an ideal totality, marred only by unwelcome intrusion from outside - a fantasy that works by protecting subjects from encounters with the threatening enjoyment (jouissance) of the Other. Through psychoanalytic accounts of examples from contemporary art, film, and politics, I explore possibilities for stripping back symbolic resources for regulating one’s proximity to jouissance, thereby exposing that the social order is inherently—not contingently - lacking. I wager that such encounters may pose both a challenge to racist structures and an opportunity for subjects to experience freedom “beyond the pleasure principle.“
Please let us know more about your general fields of interest as a scholar.
My scholarly interests are heavily informed by Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, critical theory, and the work of Roland Barthes. I have recently thought a lot about contemporary forms of "realist" art and media that play with different modes of deception. This project, which culminated in my book, Real Deceptions: The Contemporary Reinvention of Realism, tries to develop an approach to a radical aesthetic politics by arguing that rather than aiming to see beyond deceptions that distort reality, we should take seriously the reality that lies within the deceptions themselves. Before that, I worked in the area of feminist film theory. This project, Feminine Look: Sexuation, Spectatorship, Subversion, sought to intervene in traditional Film Studies accounts of female spectatorship, tracing a different path through the work of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan upon which scholarship in this area has developed. By contrast with dominant strands of feminist film theory scholarship, which tend to ask how spectatorship is influenced by sexual difference, I explored the question of how particular spectatorial encounters may facilitate different “sexuated” responses.My current project on pleasure builds in some ways upon these previous interests. It extends my thinking in the area of feminist film theory in attempting to resuscitate the category of pleasure, which has played an often villianous role in traditional scholarship in this area. Rather than see pleasure as the lure for abiding hegemonic narratives, I look for pleasure’s transgressive potential. In this sense, I aim to subject pleasure to a procedure similar to my earlier treatment of realism by investigating its potential for both undermine damaging systems of power and for consolidating communal social bonds.
Jennifer Friedlander is the Edgar E. and Elizabeth S. Pankey Professor of Media Studies at Pomona College in Claremont, California. She is the author of Moving Pictures: Where the Police, the Press, and the Art Image Meet (Sheffield Hallam University Press, 1998); Feminine Look: Sexuation, Spectatorship, and Subversion (State University of New York Press, 2008); and Real Deceptions: The Contemporary Reinvention of Realism (Oxford University Press, 2017). Her work has appeared in Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture; CiNéMAS: Journal of Film Studies; Subjectivity; (Re)-turn: A Journal of Lacanian Studies; Journal for Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society; Subjectivity; and International Journal of Žižek Studies and in several edited volumes. She is a founding and central committee member of LACK, an organization devoted to the promotion and development of Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. As the 2021 Fulbright-Freud Visiting Scholar, she will work on a new monograph, “Powers of Pleasure: The Psychopolitics of Enjoyment in Media and Popular Culture” and will teach a Master’s seminar in the Institut für Theater-, Film- und Medienwissenschaft at Universität Wien on this research topic.