spring 2012 friends lecture series

Art and Psychoanalysis: War in the Time of Peace

The Perpetrator Occult: Francis Bacon paints Adolf Eichmann

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

17.30 - 18.30, Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre

photo of partial view of man's leg in trousers with broom and bucket peaking out from doorway
‘Adolf Eichmann cleans his cell’. Life Magazine, Life Picture Collection. © Courtesy The LIFE Picture Collection

Speaker(s): Lyndsey Stonebridge (Professor of Literature and Critical Theory, University of East Anglia)

Ticket/entry details: Open to all, free admission

Organised by: Professor Mignon Nixon

Even though his postwar images of bespectacled men in glass boxes led many to assume he did, Francis Bacon never actually completed a painting of Adolf Eichmann. Yet if Bacon seems an irresistible artist to draw into contemporary discussions about perpetrators and their crimes, this is not simply because of the apparently compelling associations between his work, Holocaust iconography and postwar war crime trials. Encased behind glass, like Eichmann and his predecessors at Nuremberg, Bacon’s figures seem to look at us from within Hell itself. This is the perpetrator occult, an idiom that invites us to look, but not necessarily to reflect.

In this lecture, Professor Stonebridge uses Bacon’s painting as a hinge first, historically (with Hannah Arendt), to think about the different kinds of perpetrator occults in the Nuremberg Tribunal and the Eichmann trial, and second, interpretatively (with Donald Winnicott), to draw out a contrast between the kind of looking that keeps the perpetrator behind glass, and a more implicated looking that might allow us to think critically and creatively about the kinds of political judgements we bring to the perpetrators of atrocity.

Lyndsey Stonebridge is Professor of Literature and Critical Theory at the University of East Anglia, where she is also Associate Dean for Postgraduate Research in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. She is the author, most recently, of The Judicial Imagination: Writing After Nuremberg (2011). Other publications include: The Writing of Anxiety (2007), The Destructive Element: British Psychoanalysis and Modernism (1998), British Fiction after Modernism: The Novel at Mid-Century, edited with Marina MacKay (2007), and Reading Melanie Klein, edited with John Phillips (1998). She is currently working on a new project, Refugee Writing: States, Statelessness and Modern Literature.

This lecture series will complement the 2011-12 Research Forum/Andrew W Mellon Foundation MA on ‘Art and Psychoanalysis: Fifty Years of War in the Time of Peace, 1960-2010’, taught by Professor Mignon Nixon with Visiting Professor Juliet Mitchell (University College London Psychoanalysis Unit). The course is conceived as a dialogue between art and psychoanalysis on questions of war and war protest. The lecture series will offer cross-disciplinary perspectives on art, psychoanalysis and war.

Supported by Friends of The Courtauld.

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