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Meme-work: Psychoanalysis and the alt-right

Knapp, Ivan; (2021) Meme-work: Psychoanalysis and the alt-right. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This thesis attempts to elaborate the psychic dynamics of the alt-right by reading certain of its visual objects, in particular memes, as well as artworks which touch on alt-right sensibilities, through psychoanalytic theories of dreams, the group and male hysteria. Presented as a series of case studies, it asks: What can the psychoanalytic vocabularies these theories provide surface of the ‘work’ these objects perform, participate in, or contest? ‘Work’, in this context, refers to the operations by which the representation of ideas encode psychic processes. Thus, the thesis considers how certain historical figurations of online sociality on the one hand, and novel modes of mediating subjecthood on the other, are legible to frameworks which address the pathological dimensions of everyday life. The thesis ends by calling for critical theory which makes use of the tools psychoanalysis offers to seriously re-engage with digital cultures and their discourses. Beginning with a sketch of the shared characteristics of memes and the Freudian conception of dreams and dream-work, the thesis pursues this analogy through an analysis of a small sample of alt-right memes. It explores how a psychoanalytic understanding of dreams might help surface in memes a register of latent or hidden fantasies which are both individual and collective, personal and political. The thesis then turns to the way various popular and theoretical iterations of horizontality can be posed both to Juliet Mitchell’s work on a lateral axis in psychoanalysis, and to the alt-right’s claim to have appropriated certain historically situated avant-garde strategies. Finally, suggestions are offered as to how narcissism and the death drive might be apprehended in their social forms through the alt-right’s exploitation of memetic image infrastructures. Using the languages of psychoanalysis alongside those of art history, this research forwards theorizations of gender and the group that entangle new technological affordances and their digital ecologies.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Meme-work: Psychoanalysis and the alt-right
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2021. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of History of Art
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10121017
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