Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy


Theory and Criticism


Pero, Allan


“Dancing beyond the Mirror Stage” brings Lacanian psychoanalytic theory and dance into conversation and explores what each can offer the other. Jacques Lacan, a French psychoanalyst, argues that James Joyce prevented psychosis by creating, via his writing, what Lacan terms a sinthome. Lacan defines psychosis as the separation of the rings that comprise the psyche—the real, the imaginary, and the symbolic—in which the imaginary ring threatens to slip away. Lacan argues that this sinthome is a fourth element in the psyche that works on the body (which shapes the imaginary) by contacting the real, keeping the imaginary in place and the psyche connected. At the end of his seminar on Joyce, Lacan comments that dance does not work on the body in the same manner. This dissertation scrutinizes that statement; intuitively, dance seems to involve the body more than writing does. I begin by unravelling Lacan’s understanding of the sinthome to show the key element for Joyce is how his writing plays with and binds elements of the real. I then to turn to theories of dance, looking at what dance is and arguing that contrary to Lacan’s statement, dance can be sinthome. In fact, dance may be the art most likely to produce a sinthome because it is more closely connected to the imaginary (via the body) and the real. In other words, dance, like psychoanalysis, can help people contain intrusions of the real, then teach people who cannot play (because they feel intruded upon), how to play, producing a space of creativity. Thus, not only is dance like psychoanalysis but psychoanalysis might be more like (or need to be more like) dance. Therefore, having established dance can be a sinthome, I look at the implication of this conclusion—and the possibilities this offers—for both dance and psychoanalysis.

Summary for Lay Audience

When it comes to psychosis, psychoanalysis and dance work the same: both teach someone who cannot play (because they feel intruded upon), how to play, by helping them contain those feelings of intrusion. Jacques Lacan, a French psychoanalyst, identifies the author James Joyce has having prevented psychosis through his writing; that is, Lacan argues Joyce’s use of language helped him maintain a “normal” existence despite showing tendencies towards psychosis. I argue that writing was only the method through which Joyce worked, but the key element was play. For that reason, contrary to a comment Lacan makes suggesting dance cannot operate on the body in the same manner as writing does for Joyce, I argue dance may work similarly to Joyce’s writing in that Joyce uses his writing to play with metre, tone, rhythm, and cadence; in other words, Joyce employs the elements of language that go beyond words and meaning to create order in the chaos of his mind. These elements not only exist within dance, but dance is also the art that both contains the elements Joyce plays with and teaches someone how to play if one cannot. Having determined dance can function similarly to the way writing did for Joyce, I then look to what this can tell us about—and the possibilities for—both psychoanalysis and dance, ultimately concluding that psychoanalysis and dance both offer the chance to open to possibilities that might otherwise seem impossible.

Available for download on Tuesday, August 01, 2023