Chaka Khan and post-Freudian psychoanalytic thought

Margalit Fox on Facebook on the 29th:

Time to get my hearing checked. This evening’s dialogue:

Husband: “Jacques Lacan is the thinker who merged post-Freudian psychoanalytic thought with Structuralism.”

Me: “Chaka Khan merged post-Freudian psychoanalytic thought with Structuralism?? …”

Jacques Lacan / Chaka Khan — some phonological similarity (same accentual pattern, shared medial /k/ and final /n/, initial /ǰ/ vs. /č/, differing only in voicing, vowels similar but not calculable here because of dialect differences in their quality), but then there’s /l/ vs. /k/), but largely the connection is through their being two relatively exotic proper names of cultural significance.

Lacan. From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (article first published 4/2/13, substantially revised 7/10/18 by Adrian Johnson of UNM):

Jacques Marie Émile Lacan (April 13, 1901 to September 9, 1981) was a major figure in Parisian intellectual life for much of the twentieth century. Sometimes referred to as “the French Freud,” he is an important figure in the history of psychoanalysis. His teachings and writings explore the significance of Freud’s discovery of the unconscious both within the theory and practice of analysis itself as well as in connection with a wide range of other disciplines. Particularly for those interested in the philosophical dimensions of Freudian thought, Lacan’s oeuvre is invaluable. Over the course of the past fifty-plus years, Lacanian ideas have become central to the various receptions of things psychoanalytic in Continental philosophical circles especially.

Chaka Khan. From Wikipedia:

(#1) (photo from the San Diego Symphony site)

Yvette Marie Stevens (born March 23, 1953), better known by her stage name Chaka Khan, is an American musician, singer and songwriter. Her career has spanned nearly five decades, beginning in the 1970s as the lead vocalist of the funk band Rufus. Known as the “Queen of Funk”, Khan was the first R&B artist to have a crossover hit featuring a rapper, with “I Feel for You” in 1984.

The Jacques Lacan – Chaka Khan link. Margalit is far from the first person to have associated these two remarkable people. Three examples follow (no doubt there are more).

— the offspring. From ralphhipino’s blogspot site on 1/20/10:

what if chaka kahn had a baby with jacques lacan


— the graduate student’s confusion. This one takes some time to set up, but the background is a piece on the Hilobrow site on 4/13/11, “Jacques Lacan” by (UToronto philosopher) Mark Kingwell (I quote at some length because I enjoy it):

So much time, so few things to say! French psychoanalyst and performance artist JACQUES LACAN (1901-81) understood that the Freudian fifty-minute hour was just a species of game, an elaborate permission to defer. He countered with the idea of the “variable-length session,” a rendezvous between analyst and analysand that might last as little as five minutes and would distill the essence of a psychic breakthrough. Even though Lacan considered his work a recovery of Freudian orthodoxy, beating back the influence of object-relations theory, his other ideas are equally perverse. Pleasure is painful. Error, not correctness, is the site of truth. Desire seeks the Real but is trapped in the Symbolic order of language and representation. Lacan succeeds in occluding thought even as he reveals its mechanisms. His famous weekly seminar drew a generation of brilliant students but endlessly defied definitive interpretation; see it instead as an instruction manual for intellectual hypnotism, or a sly exercise in collective hallucination. Celebrated as a post-structuralist pioneer, derided as a charlatan and provocateur, Lacan was, in fact, the logical extension of the surrealists whose work he long admired. His lasting value is, in turn, that he is the condition of possibility for the existence of a devoted intellectual superfan who would link his name with Hitchcock, Highsmith, and Holmes.

And that provokes this comment from William Nericcio (which has the Chaka Khan gold in it):

Brilliant. Bracing. Cogent.

Words I usually reserve for gifted undergraduates (and not just because I don’t make the time to write out long soliloquies of praise), appear here to laud the prose of Mark Kingwell – this is one hell of a posting. Better even, dare I say, than renderings that used to appear in LINGUA FRANCA, the ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE for my generation of ivory tower denizens back in the day.

One last thing in this thinly disguised mash note: am I the only person in graduate school during the 80s to have confused, if only owing to the homonymics, Jacques Lacan and Chaka Khan? (ok, not JUST owing to the homonymics: “objet petit a” and “Father He Said” (1981) having unruly resonances).

— Chaka Khan + Jacques Lacan as doing “theory”. Again, a considerable lead-up, in a LA Review of Books article of 6/20/13, “Avidly Celebrates: Silly Theory, Or, The Second Time as Farce” by Jordan Alexander Stein:


Some years ago, I found myself at 24-hour vegetarian diner in a California college town, breakfasting with a dear friend.  We had ordered coffee, but the main course was psychoanalysis.  “You can’t read Lacan without Hegel,” I assured her earnestly.  She broke into a grin, paused for a brief, dramatic moment, and then sang my words back to me, to the tune of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” hitting the second syllable of “Hegel” in a flat F.

College was full of capital-T theory: that interdisciplinary set of literary and critical writings which blend Continental philosophy with qualitative sociology and theories of “the text.”   As generations of college students have noted, theory is often stylistically difficult and menacingly abstract, as obscure to the uninitiated as any other kind of heavy thinking, and yet way too cool to be called simply “philosophy.”  My friends and I were, in the parlance of the day, “theory heads.”

And then his conclusion:

The most valuable aspect of silliness, then, is that it works astride both theory’s aspirations to seriousness and realism’s aspirations to representational simplicity.  It reminds us that what is at stake in reading theory is not just what the theory says, but also what we do with it — whether that means penning a devastating critique or downing a Pink Freud.  In the act of mashing up Chaka Khan with Jacques Lacan, we’re doing theory; but, more specifically, we’re doing the work of making sense out of our less-than-theoretical world.  The silliness of theory makes that work less bracing, though no less urgent.  It enables readers of theory to relate theoretical ideas to the very world in which they encounter those ideas, to see how theory does and doesn’t illuminate their realities, and to begin to put the pieces together.  Here perhaps is the greatest lesson that theory can teach us about the world: some assembly is required.  And who knows?  It may be true that you can’t read Lacan without Hegel.  But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you read.

Downing a Pink Freud. An afternote. Stein just tosses off “downing a pink Freud”, as if there were a well-known drink with that punning name, but no; it’s another part of his joke.

On the  verbal/visual pun pink Freud, see my 9/11/10 posting “Pink Freud”. And now there’s Pink Freud, a wicked painting by Will Bullas (on this site), in which a cocktail figures:


No doubt a cocktail called the Pink Freud has been created on occasion, but it hasn’t gained any currency. Mostly, it’s a cocktail of the mind.

3 Responses to “Chaka Khan and post-Freudian psychoanalytic thought”

  1. julianne taaffe Says:

    Thank you for this posting! I read it first thing in the morning and it helped me face my day.

  2. Michael Vnuk Says:

    Another link between the two: They both have ‘Marie’ as a second given name.

  3. Lise Menn Says:

    Wonderful post, Arnold!!

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