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Laurence Arthur Rickels - Biography

Laurence Arthur Rickels, Ph.D., is a theorist, psychotherapist and professor. Larry Rickels was born on the December 2, 1954 in Cherokee, Iowa. Professor Rickels did his B.A. in English Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, which he finished in 1975. Very early in his career in 1972, Laurence Rickels received Second Place for the Morton Prize for his work on inhibited mourning as a pathogenic force in Nazi concentration camp survivors. This was the result of an independent study he did just south of Princeton at The Lawrenceville School. During the time Rickels was enrolled at the UPenn he spent over a year in Germany at the Free University of Berlin. There he succeeded in 1973 at taking the admission exam for graduate studies in German literature. In 1980 he completed his Ph.D. also in German Literature and in German studies but back in the US at Princeton University. After that Rickels did a Masters degree in the 1990s in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University Santa Barbara and did his residency as a psychotherapist in the same city as well. Dr. Rickels was trained by the psychoanalyst Lawton Smith.

Dr. Rickels is the Sigmund Freud Chair at the European Graduate School. Since 1990 Professor Rickels has been teaching at UCSB (University of California, Santa Barbara). Dr. Rickels is not only a Comparative Literature Professor but also a German professor, both in the Germanic, Slavic, and Semitic Studies Department. There he is also an adjunct professor in the Art Department, as well as in the Film and Media Studies Department. Amongst many others, he has taught graduate seminars on Goethe, the Frankfurt School, Haunted Thought, and Hegel. Professor Rickels shares his time his time between California and Europe, notably Germany and Switzerland.

Laurence Rickels’ interests are in the intersections between psychoanalysis, technology and Nazis. Strongly influenced by psychoanalytic theory, Laurence Rickels’ work is formed in the interrelationships of psychoanalysis, the Frankfurt school of critical theory, and deconstruction. There is a clear commitment throughout his writing on processes of mourning, notably his first book, entitled Aberrations of Mourning: Writing on German Crypts (1988). Furthermore, his work challenges traditional literary studies by bringing a mode of reading to the table that willfully exceeds the boundaries of usual academic textual analysis. Dr. Rickels has engaged in fascinating discussions at the European Graduate School with Judith Butler, Avital Ronell, Slavoj Zizek and others on such various subjects as psychoanalysis, continental philosophy but also Martin Heidegger.

Laurence Rickels is the author of numerous books in both German and English, including: Der unbetrauerbare Tod (1990). In 1991, The Case of California, in which he writes about California’s representation, which through social phenomena apparently distinctive to there, is ever-changing. Cultural phenomena such as group therapy, suicide cults, bodybuilding, milk-carton images of missing children, teenage slang, and surf music, constitute the social artifacts through which Rickels can trace the changing history of the symbolic object called California in the twentieth century.

The Vampire Lectures (1999), which is a collection of lectures from a course Rickels taught in at the UCSB in 1986. The book systematically explores the beliefs about vampirism in legend, literature, and film, telling a “psycho-history" of vampires. Indeed, the narrative seamlessly invites the reader to examine issues associated with the supernatural. Ulrike Ottinger: The Autobiography of Art Cinema (2008), which gives original and careful analyses of Ulrike Ottinger’s films and photographic artwork. The book not only commemorates the death of what used to be a vibrant and contemporary art form, but it also shows Ottinger’s affirmative change of direction towards the format of documentaries as a way to address the tension between the traditional and the modern, as well as also between the localized and the globalized.

In The Devil Notebooks (2008), he continues the work from his influential book The Vampire Lectures, making a case for our obsession with Satan in his various forms. Rickels here takes us on a trip down the darkest corridors that film, music, theater, and literature have most probably ever provided the audience with. “The Devil represents the father," Rickels writes, thus challenging traditional interpretations of Freudian psychoanalysis.

Professor Rickels is also well-known for his authorship of the three-volume study entitled Nazi Psychoanalysis (2002). In this seminal work, Laurence Rickels traces the interstices of psychoanalysis and National Socialism, examining the works of Franz Kafka, Theodor Adorno, Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan, as well as Martin Heidegger, to describe the constructs and conjunctions within twentieth-century political thought. Drawing widely on such influences as the Frankfurt School and Walt Disney, Laurence Rickels attempts to make a case that the human psyche and the World Wars of the last century are closely and intimately joined.

I Think I Am: Philip K. Dick, published in 2010, is as the title indicates focuses on the writer Philip K. Dick. It is a deep experiment in thinking that examines the until then tacit and largely unexplored intellectual relevance Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi novels. For a long time, Dr. Rickels had been compared to the novelist Philip K. Dick, even though Rickels had never read any of Dick’s science fiction work. When he finally started reading Philip K. Dick’s novel for his research for his book The Devil Notebooks, it encouraged him to immerse himself in Dick’s writing. I Think I Am: Philip K. Dick resulted from such engagement. The book explores Philip K. Dick’s reflections in his science fiction novels on such topics as modern spiritualism, psychic reality and psychosis. Rickels’ work brings Philip K. Dick’s books to the next level and make them accessible to scholars. Dr. Rickels does this by making a convincing case for the philosophical and psychoanalytic relevance of Philip K. Dick’s popular science fiction novels.

Professor Rickels also edited the following books: Looking After Nietzsche (1990), Gottfried Keller's Jugenddramen. Poetry Poetics Translation: Festschrift in Honor of Richard Exner, edited together with Ursula Mahlendorf (1994), Die Kindheit überleben. Festschrift zu Ehren von Ursula Mahlendorf, edited together with Thomas Kniesche (2004) and Acting Out in Groups (1999).

Laurence Rickels is the authors of numerous chapters in books as well, including: “Veil of Tears" in What Does the Veil Know? (2009), “Pet Grief" in Diana Thater: gorillagorillagorilla (2009), “Sounds of Satan" in The Dreams of Interpretation: A Century down the Royal Road (2007), “Dem Schleier gleich" in Äther: Ein Medium der Moderne (2007), “The Body of His Work" / "Il corporo della sua opera" in Meneghetti. Opere/Works 2000-2006 (2006), “Devil Father Mine" in Lust for Life. On the Writings of Kathy Acker (2006), “Twelve Films" in Ulrike Ottinger. Image Archive (2006), “Zwölf Filme" in Ulrike Ottinger. Bildarchiv (2006), “Haunts of Assimilation" in Photographs/Paintings (2005), “My Last Interview with Ulrike Ottinger: on Southeast Passage and Beyond" in Subtitles: On the Foreignness of Film (2004), “Eran Schaerf: All of the Above" in The Promise, The Land: Jewish-Israeli Artists in Relation to Politics and Society (2004).

Professor Rickels has also written a number of articles, including: “Who’s Watching, Who’s Dying Now?" in artUS (2009). “Lonely Ghosts. On the Sense and Direction of ‘Reenactment’" in Text zur Kunst (2009). “By Mourning’s Light. Laurence A. Rickels on True Blood" in Artforum (2009). “Wishful Needs" in Expenditure (2008). “Politics and Psychosis" in The Germanic Review (2008). “Dem Schleier gleich" in Äther: Ein Medium der Moderne (2007). “Endopsychic Allegories" in Postmodern Culture (2007). “Second Death" in Between Two Deaths. Hatje Cantz (2007). “Going Ape: On Ulrike Ottinger’s Prater" in artUS (2007). “Katy Crowe" in artUS (2007). “Devil Father Mine" in Lust for Life. On the Writings of Kathy Acker (2006). “Zwölf Filme" in Ulrike Ottinger. Bildarchiv (2006). “Totem Taboo" in artUS (2006). “The Case of Oscar Wilde" in Le Voyage Interieur (2005). “Alle-Gory" in Alle-Gory (2005). “Sue de Beer: Visitation Rites" in artUS (2005). “David Askevold" in artUS (2005). “The Portrait Under Surveillance" in artUS (2005). “Haunts of Assimilation" in Photographs/Paintings (2005). “Brad Spence" in artUS (2004). “Metropolis, California" in artUS (2004). “Alexis Smith" in artUS (2004). “Memory and Disappearance: Recent Thai Art" in artUS (2004). “Satan and Golem, Inc." in parallax (2004). “Eran Schaerf: All of the Above" in The Promise The Land. Jewish-Israeli Artists in Relation to Politics and Society (2004).

Laurence Rickels is the Sigmund Freud Professor of Psychoanalysis at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, where he conducts an Intensive Summer Seminar.