Paul Kingsbury
Department of Geography
Simon Fraser University

In his eleventh public seminar on the “four fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis”, which took place at the École normale supérieure in Paris during 1964, Jacques Lacan (1981 [1973], 169) asserted that the spatiality of Sigmund Freud’s notion of the “drive” (Trieb) was a “montage” which “having neither head nor tail” could be compared to a “surrealist collage”.  Lacan further suggests that the resulting image of the drive

would show the workings of a dynamo connected up to a gas-tap, a peacock’s feather emerges, and tickles the belly of a pretty woman, who is lying there looking beautiful.  Indeed, the thing begins to become interesting from this very fact, that the drive defines, according to Freud, all the forms of which one may reverse such a mechanism.  This does not mean that one turns the dynamo upside-down—one unrolls its wires, it is they that become the peacock’s feather, the gas-tap goes into the lady’s mouth, and the bird’s rump emerges in the middle.

By using the montage metaphor, Lacan brings to the fore the disruptive partiality, plasticity, reversibility, and incoherence of the four components of the drive: the “source”, that is, a specific zone of the body, the “pressure”, that is, psychical stress, the  “aim”, that is, relief from somatic tension, and the “object”, that is, anything that the drive encircles around such as an idea, bodily organ, person, or everyday object. Very briefly, the notion of the drive refers to how human subjectivity is constantly buffeted and frequently tormented within the “borderlands” or “frontiers” (to use Freud’s terms) that stretch somewhere between biology and culture. That is to say, the drive takes place between the human subject’s living body of somatic excitations and her social circumstances that consist of language, technology, and cultural norms (see Kingsbury and Pile 2014). Because the drive’s components have about as much in common as a peacock’s feather, a gas-tap, lady’s mouth, and a bird’s rump, and because they continually undermine the Ego’s attempts to synthesize an imaginary sense of control and wholeness, psychoanalysis frequently “elicits a description of the human body so anarchic and fragmented that it makes surrealist anatomy appear positively classical” (Dean 2008, 132).  Furthermore, Lacan suggested in his famous “Mirror Stage” (stade du miroir) theory that the structure of the Ego itself was constituted through a disjointed montage comprised of the infant’s identifications with alluring and threatening specular images of totality that reflected but contrasted sharply with her fragmented and uncoordinated body.

Lacan’s associations with the Surrealist movement during the 1930s profoundly influenced the above formulations. Lacan published several articles on paranoia in the Surrealist journal Minotaure, attended James Joyce’s inaugural public reading of Ulysses, and was friends with Georges Bataille, André Breton, Slavador Dalí, and Jacques Prévert.  Lacan was also Pablo Picasso’s private physician. Given Lacan’s life long passionate attachments and pedagogical commitments toward the shocking, scandalous, and flamboyant (all of which helped propel his twenty seven public seminars) it is useful to think of Lacanian psychoanalysis as concomitant with many of the goals of surrealism. By asserting the lived realities of the drives, Lacan asserts that life is lived through the structures and logics of montage. Put differently, from a Lacanian perspective, reality is inherently surreal.


Dean, T. 2008. An impossible embrace: Queerness, futurity, and the death drive. In J.J. Bono, T. Dean, and E. P. Ziarek (Eds.), A time for the humanities: Futurity and the limits of autonomy. New York, NY: Fordham University Press.

Kingsbury, P. and Pile, S. 2014. Introduction: The unconscious, transference, drives, repetition, and other things tied to geography. In P. Kingsbury ad S. Pile (Eds.), Psychoanalytic Geographies. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

Lacan, Jacques. 1981 [1973]. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. New York: Norton.

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