Most helpful positive review
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant, but use with caution
on December 21, 2002
In many respects Silverman's _Subject of Semiotics_ is a brilliant introductory work to post-structuralist approaches to semiotics. First, Silverman's style of exposition is exceedingly clear and provides numerous examples from literature and film to support her claims and aid the reader in discerning how structuralist principles can be applied. Moreover, Silverman displays extensive knowledge of both structural linguistics and Freudian psychoanalysis. If the book limited itself to Freud and structuralism I would unhesitatingly give it four stars, however Silverman's presentation of Lacan suffers from serious misrepresentations. For instance, in reference to Plato's myth of the three sexes, Silverman writes, "One of these assumptions [that Lacan shares with Plato] is that the human subject derives from an original whole which was divided in half, and taht its existence is dominated by the desire to recover its missing compliment. Another of these assumptions is that the division suffered by the subject was sexual in nature-- that when it was "sliced" in half, it lost the sexual androgyny it once had and was reduced to the biological dimension either of a man or a woman. This biological dimension is seen by Lacan, if not by Plato, as absolutely determining the subject's social identity. Finally, Lacan shares with Aristophanes the belief that the only resolution to the loss suffered by the subject as the consequence of sexual division is heterosexual union and procreation" (152). For those familiar with the work of Lacan, these claims are absurd. While it is true that Lacan argues that we spend our entire life looking for that missing piece of ourselves, nowhere does Lacan claim that this lack results due to biology. Moreover, for Lacan the differentiation of the sexes is not a biological fact, but a cultural fact. Finally, Lacan claims that "there is no sexual relationship", thus effectively undermining the suggestion that he believes that heterosexual love is the solution to our malaise. Now, I do not feel that Silverman is to be blamed for the assertions she here makes. _The Subject of Semiotics_ was written in 1983, when many of Lacan's seminars-- notably seminar XX on feminine sexuality --were not yet available. Consequently, there is a great deal about Lacan that she could not have known. However, in the case of a text as important as Silverman's for introductory purposes, one would expect that new editions would be written correcting claims that are blatantly false and misleading. Silverman's text is careful and thorough, yet it is important to read the materials with which she is working and not rely on her analyses as completely authorative.