Stealing the Mona Lisa by Darian Leader
Darian Leader is that very rarest of things: a populariser of Lacan! Jacques Lacan (his Ecrits [Routledge; 0415253926] is the key text) is psychoanalysis's most abstruse and arcane thinker but, especially in France or amongst circles affected by French structuralist and post-structuralist philosophy, his work has been highly influential. Leader has written a cartoon book brilliantly Introducing Lacan (Icon Books; 1840461683), a book on the history of the different psychoanalytical traditions (Freud's Footnotes [Faber and Faber; 0571195857]) and two books passed off as almost self-help books (Why Do Women Write More Letters Than They Post?  and Promises Lovers Make When It Gets Late [Faber and Faber; 057119379X]). With Stealing he turns his attention to art and gives us an excellent introduction to Lacanian art theory.
Lacan. Well, its all absence/presence! The other always has another other. "Who is that third walking always beside us" (Cecil Day Lewis) ... We are predicated on lack. To become human we lose, we have to lose: lose our polymorphous pleasures; our connection to our mother; our womb. And all our emotional/human problems and difficulties are, in truth, about us dealing with and negotiating these absences that structure us. And structuralism (via Sausurre's linguistics) is key here: words don't mean anything they only make sense within a system, a structure.
Pleasurably and lightly we are walked through these contentious difficulties (and even so clearly and amusingly presented Lacan's ideas are still tough - if not occassionally very counter-intuitive [although that is rather the point!] and seemingly absurd) and their relations to art. He begins (and ends) his book with an account of the 1911 theft from the Louvre of the Mona Lisa and wonders what the fact of the huge crowds gathering to see the empty space where the Giaconda had so recently hung tells us about art and what we seek from it. Art points beyond. But what is this beyond it points to?
Stealing the Mona Lisa is a denser book than it at first seems. Leader writes fairy fluidly and its easy to let a number of pages pass without pinning his argument down. And Leader says a lot, asks a lot of questions, problematises art and simple reductive assertions about what it means, questions the very notion of meaning.