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The question “why a journal?” is perhaps not so difficult to answer. As Mao Tse-Toung said, “if you have an idea, it’s necessary to divide it in two.” Thinking and political action are alike in that they both divide consciousness – between instances of enunciation and instances of reception. To think, then, is to enter a public space; or: true thoughts are only those that return to us in an alienated and thus invigorated form. In embracing this collective project, we mean to stave off a certain trend toward archival terrorism – we might even say, archival racism – that would short-circuit any address to the other in favor of some misguided notion of “mental privacy.”

Our commitment to psychoanalysis goes hand-in-hand with our commitment to this division in two. We will make ourselves the champions not simply of diversity – which is always more or less visibly in cahoots with what the Feks (in Russia, during the teens) call the “factory of kisses and doves;” that is, the machinery of consensual servitude – but of that subjective division which makes dissension inevitable. Our pages will be open not to any idea that happens to come along, but to rigorous debate.

This openness to debate extends to the issue of psychoanalysis itself. We intend to be as contentious on this score as Freud himself always was. Recall, for example, his quarrel with Jung, whose modification of psychoanalysis, Freud argues, produced the equivalent of the famous Lichtenberg knife: “he has change the hilt, and he has put a new blade into the instrument as the original one.” Not every approach that calls itself psychoanalytic is so. The correctness of this reproach to Jung is deceptively easy to grasp, given its phrasing. For what the father of psychoanalysis really meant to say was: “sometimes a knife is still the same knife, even if you change the hilt and put a new blade on it.” That is, it is what is in psychoanalysis more than its terms, more than its vocabulary, that is worthy of being preserved. It’s not for nothing that we call ourselves UMBR(a); we seek in the shadows the object of psychoanalysis and we will try to remain faithful to Freud not by parroting his words but by looking after his desire. This makes the question of fidelity much more difficult and much more essential.

Brecht said: if it’s not funny, it’s not true, and Lacan: communication makes you laugh. Obviously, neither was interested in academic discourse and its humdrum pursuit of knowledge and failure: knowledge as/through failure. They prized instead the surprise encounters with truths beyond knowledge. In order to avoid, as far as possible, the inevitable misfires of academic publications, we have conceived of UMBR(a) not as a periodical, but as an unpredictable. It has no schedule of publication, no regular format, and no set columns. Since the journal will also have no staff writers, we ask all of you who are interested in psychoanalysis to become our sites of “floating attention,” and to contribute to future issues of UMBR(a) whatever and whenever you can. We would like, in the manner of this inaugural issue, to publish long and short essays, translations, film and book reviews, conference reports, photos, photograms, jokes – any evidence of the unconscious. We also invite your responses to issues and articles.

-joan copjec
Editorial Introduction, Umbr(a): One (1996)


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Umbr(a) was one of the most important US theory journals of the 1990s and early 2000s, publishing work by some of the greatest philosophers, psychoanalysts and theorists of our era. In every regard, it was ahead of the curve - in content, design, and style - often introducing thinkers who have subsequently become globally influential. This anthology presents a selection of the very best of Umbr(a), including contributions from Joan Copjec, Sam Gillespie, Juliet Flower MacCannell , Charles Shepherdson, Russell Grigg, Alenka Zupancic, Slavoj Žižek,Mladen Dolar, Catherine Malabou, Tim Dean, Steven Miller, Dominiek Hoens, Petar Ramadanovic, Sigi Jöttkandt, Colette Soler, Jelica Sumic and A. Kiarina Kordela.

Cover of "Porn Archives".


While sexually explicit writing and art have been around for millennia, pornography—as an aesthetic, moral, and juridical category—is a modern invention. The contributors to Porn Archives explore how the production and proliferation of pornography has been intertwined with the emergence of the archive as a conceptual and physical site for preserving, cataloguing, and transmitting documents and artifacts. By segregating and regulating access to sexually explicit material, archives have helped constitute pornography as a distinct genre. As a result, porn has become a site for the production of knowledge, as well as the production of pleasure.

The essays in this collection address the historically and culturally varied interactions between porn and the archive. Topics range from library policies governing access to sexually explicit material to the growing digital archive of "war porn," or eroticized combat imagery; and from same-sex amputee porn to gay black comic book superhero porn. Together the pieces trace pornography as it crosses borders, transforms technologies, consolidates sexual identities, and challenges notions of what counts as legitimate forms of knowledge. The collection concludes with a valuable resource for scholars: a list of pornography archives held by institutions around the world.

Contributors. Jennifer Burns Bright, Eugenie Brinkema, Joseph Bristow, Robert Caserio, Ronan Crowley, Tim Dean, Robert Dewhurst, Lisa Downing, Frances Ferguson, Loren Glass, Harri Kahla, Marcia Klotz, Prabha Manuratne, Mireille Miller-Young, Nguyen Tan Hoang, John Paul Ricco, Steven Ruszczycky, Melissa Schindler, Darieck Scott, Caitlin Shanley, Ramon Soto-Crespo, David Squires, Linda Williams

Cover of "War after Death".


War after Death considers forms of violence that regularly occur in actual wars but do not often factor into the stories we tell about war, which revolve invariably around killing and death. 

Recent history demonstrates that body counts are more necessary than ever, but the fact remains that war and death is only part of the story--an essential but ultimately subordinate part. Beyond killing, there is no war without attacks upon the built environment, ecosystems, personal property, artworks, archives, and intangible traditions.

Destructive as it may be, such violence is difficult to classify because it does not pose a grave threat to human lives. Nonetheless, the book argues that destruction of the nonhuman or nonliving is a constitutive dimension of all violence--especially forms of extreme violence against the living such as torture and rape; and it examines how the language and practice of war are transformed when this dimension is taken into account.

Finally, War after Death offers a rethinking of psychoanalytic approaches to war and the theory of the death drive that underlies them.

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Ewa Ziarek fully articulates a feminist aesthetics, focusing on the struggle for freedom in women's literary and political modernism and the devastating impact of racist violence and sexism. She examines the contradiction between women's transformative literary and political practices and the oppressive realities of racist violence and sexism, and she situates these tensions within the entrenched opposition between revolt and melancholia in studies of modernity and within the friction between material injuries and experimental aesthetic forms. Ziarek's political and aesthetic investigations concern the exclusion and destruction of women in politics and literary production and the transformation of this oppression into the inaugural possibilities of writing and action. Her study is one of the first to combine an in-depth engagement with philosophical aesthetics, especially the work of Theodor W. Adorno, with women's literary modernism, particularly the writing of Virginia Woolf and Nella Larsen, along with feminist theories on the politics of race and gender. By bringing seemingly apolitical, gender-neutral debates about modernism's experimental forms together with an analysis of violence and destroyed materialities, Ziarek challenges both the anti-aesthetic subordination of modern literature to its political uses and the appreciation of art's emancipatory potential at the expense of feminist and anti-racist political struggles.

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Slapstick comedy landed like a pie in the face of twentieth-century culture. Pratfalls and nyuk-nyuks percolated alongside literary modernism throughout the 1920s and 1930s before slapstick found explosive expression in postwar literature, experimental film, and popular music. William Solomon charts the origins and evolution of what he calls slapstick modernism --a merging of artistic experimentation with the socially disruptive lunacy made by the likes of Charlie Chaplin. Romping through texts, films, and theory, Solomon embarks on a harum-scarum intellectual odyssey from high modernism to the late modernism of the Beats and Burroughs before a head-on crash into the raw power of punk rock. Throughout, he shows the links between the experimental writers and silent screen performers of the early century, and explores the potent cultural undertaking that drew inspiration from anarchical comedy after World War Two.

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From German idealism onward, Western thinkers have sought to revalue tragedy, invariably converging at one cardinal point: tragic art risks aestheticizing real violence. Tragically Speaking critically examines this revaluation, offering a new understanding of the changing meaning of tragedy in literary and moral discourse. It questions common assumptions about the Greeks’ philosophical relation to the tragic tradition and about the ethical and political ramifications of contemporary theories of tragedy.  Starting with Friedrich Hölderlin and continuing to the present, Kalliopi Nikolopoulou traces how tragedy was translated into an idea (“the tragic”) that was then revised further into the “beyond the tragic” of postmetaphysical contemporary thought. While recognizing some of the merits of this revaluation, Tragically Speaking concentrates on the losses implicit in such a turn. It argues that by translating tragedy into an idea, these rereadings effected a problematic subordination of politics to ethics: the drama of human conflict gave way to philosophical reflection, bracketing the world in favor of the idea of the world. Where contemporary thought valorizes absence, passivity, the Other, rhetoric, writing, and textuality, the author argues that their “deconstructed opposites” (presence, will, the self, truth, speech, and action, all of which are central to tragedy) are equally necessary for any meaningful discussion of ethics and politics.