Jamieson Webster (The New York Review of Books)
Read anything about Lacan’s life and you will find it punctuated by stories about cars and driving. Both Lacan’s son-in-law, Jacques-Alain Miller, and his patient and lover Catherine Millot considered Lacan’s way of driving as part of his ethical stance: one had to follow one’s desire and not give way to inhibitions or norms. If one had to stop, make it a choice; do not yield to an anonymous law or the whims of the other’s demand. This is always the story that one encounters about Lacan, part of the mythology of the courageous, disobedient, relentless man. But after 1968, the car completely disappeared from his teaching—and in his late seminars, Lacan’s thinking changed direction. Riding in Cars with Jacques Lacan
In the exhibition halls, the car on show is explored with an intense, amorous studiousness: it is the great tactile phase of discovery, the moment when visual wonder is about to receive the reasoned assault of touch (for touch is the most demystifying of all senses, unlike sight, which is the most magical). The bodywork, the lines of union are touched, the upholstery palpated, the seats tried, the doors caressed, the cushions fondled; before the wheel, one pretends to drive with one’s whole body. The object here is totally prostituted, appropriated: originating from the heaven of Metropolis, the Goddess is in a quarter of an hour mediatized, actualizing through this exorcism the very essence of petit-bourgeois advancement.
—Roland Barthes, “Citroën DS” in Mythologies (1957)
The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan drove a Citroën DS. What else? This car, Barthes tells us, was a truly magical object, a perfect fetish, the essence of freedom, movement, and power. And yet, cars are also a sign of our insignificance, like the problem of traffic jams, parking lots, and statistical casualties. The DS—or Déesse (a wordplay on the initials that justified Barthes’s calling the car his Goddess)—seemed to promise the ability to drive with one’s whole body—the broken promise of all technology. We can almost touch the future. Almost.