Year 1936 at Marienbad - Lacan and Modernity

When I visited my Austrian curator friend Walter Seidl’s exhibition “Psychoanalysis” at Tokyo Wonder Site, I suddenly started to wonder why a philosopher Masato Goda intentionally wrote the part that the presentation of Jacque Lacan’s “Mirror Stage” was held in year 1936 in Marienbad. Then, I started to think that in the film “Last Year at Marienbad” by Alain Resnais, the word “Last Year” may refer the year “1936”.

The original name of Marienbad, a spa town in Czech, is Mariánské Lázně. The city became German speaking area between World War I and World War II, and the city had been called “Marienbad”. Therefore, the setting of the film “Last Year at Marienbad” supposed to be in this period.

In the film “Last Year at Marienbad”, truth and fiction are difficult to distinguish, and the temporal and spatial relationship of the events is open to question. The screenplay may have been based on “The Invention of Morel”, a science fiction novel published in 1940 by an Argentine writer Adolfo Bioy Casares, since the review of the French translated version of this book was written in 1953 by Alain Robbe-Grillet, the scriptwriter of the film.

As we can read in the novel “The Invention of Morel”, the metaphors of dream and mirror are repeated often, which also appears in the film. These metaphors create the characteristics of trick novel, and show fictions in fictions such as nest box.

When Jacque Lacan did the first analytic report of the “Mirror Phase” at the Congress of the International Psychoanalytical Association in Marienbad in 1936, Ernest Jones, the chairman and the Freud’s biographer, interrupted and ended Lacan's reporting. Lacan left the congress with anger, and it became his trauma for quarter century.

In the novel, the part of dreams show the symbolic phase of the story, which is almost such as a footnote. As story continues, these dreams started to create the dramatic impact, such as.

1. I was at the mental hospital.
2. At certain moment, I was the director of the hospital.

In the novel, the storyteller Morel’s “self” and the “other” became unstable, and it became similar to the one of “Mirror Phase”. In modernity, the self and the other is divided, therefore the topic of “love”, to be united with others, became the special topic. The Invention of Morel is the answer to this dividend as a novel, and the self, which is inside, was absorbed into outside, and only the outside continues to exist permanently.

In conclusion, I think Masato Goda metaphysically tried to show the challenge of Europe for overcoming of modernity, and this challenge was well curbed in the film, in the setting of Marienbad during World War I and World War II, where Europe reached the zenith of the contradiction of modernity, and lost its otherness.


  1. Thanks Watanabe,
    I wasn't aware Ernest Jones interrupted Lacan in '36. So I'd thought I'd share that Lacan spent the 1950s teaching a critical and creative angle to Frued's work (seminars Lacan called "Return to Freud").
    How interesting that you say he was cast away by a Freudian enthusiast (Jones) and then spent decades atoning back with Freudian psychology 0_O

    Maybe Lacan had his own modern 'other' to recollect after speaking in Marienbad, just as the city Marienbad had its other to recollect after WW I ... :) Spooky

  2. Hi Spooky,

    Thank you very much for your comments. I heard that Lacan started to show the symptom of aphasia later, and it might be related to the recognition of "the other".

    He also left some interesting comments on Japanese language, and said that it is nonsense to have psychoanalytic approach to Japanese people, since in Japanese, there is no divide between conscious and unconscious. For him, psychoanalysis is a method to show someone's unconscious, but for Japanese, the unconscious already emerged on the surface of society.

    Japanese philosopher/psychiatrist Bin Kimura also left many interesting comments about subject and object, and the unique recognition of time frame in Japanese.

    Thanks for your comment!