An Introduction to Critical Theory through Cardi B’s ‘Bodak Yellow’

If you know any college students, or if you know the strange mixture of pleasure and horror of being one yourself, you may be aware that for most of us, exams are coming up in only a few months. That’s certainly not a pleasurable sentence to read, nor to write. Exams are a strange thing: we like to pretend they’re thousands of years away and don’t concern us in the slightest, and yet they’re always somewhere in the back of our minds. I am now approaching the end of my first year as a New Media student, which I tremendously enjoyed. Because of that, I should be overjoyed with the idea of getting to prove how much I learned over the course of this year, but this prospect is unfortunately overshadowed by the fact that this will also be the first time I go through college exams — both an exciting and slightly paralyzing perspective.

Indeed, while I have always been generally good at studying, I can’t help but feel anxious about the months to come. I am unfortunately one of those deeply uncool people that have a ridiculous amount of trouble detaching their worth as a person from their worth as a student. As a result, for me, exams have always felt like more than a simple evaluation of my knowledge: going into these austere rooms, I couldn’t help but feel like I was the one about to be judged.

All the same, exams remain a necessary part of life, and one I will have to deal with again and again over the course of the following years: it had become a necessity to find some tricks to make the experience easier for me, and keep myself as far away from my brain’s panic zone as possible. Following generic tips such as taking deep breaths or a short walk only worked for so long — I had to find my own way of doing things.

Like it is so often the case, I found the answer to my problems where I least expected it. I realized that throughout the navigation of life with my anxiety-filled brain, one thing had been surprisingly constant in calming me down, as ridiculous as it sounds: chart-topping pop hits. Indeed, while my music taste generally rather lies in the slightly more independent scene, as soon as my heartbeat goes up and my thoughts start racing, I find comfort in the mainstream. This is why I’ve always defended it with all my heart, from the silly one-hit wonders to the critically acclaimed powerhouses. No matter how much I love listening to Sufjan Stevens or Mitski put my feelings into words when I’m down, once the anxiety decides to strike, nothing has helped me fight it as much as pop has.

As a result, I’ve always viewed my unapologetic love for mainstream music and my need to study as two complete opposites that should never have anything to do with one another. However, I recently came to a realization: what if it didn’t have to be this way ? What if I could make learning easier by making my comfort musical zone expand all the way into my study notes ? What if I could make Cardi B meet my Introduction To Critical Theory Module ?

Why these two in particular ? Well, while I am one of the rare students in my course to actually enjoy critical theory classes, I’m the first to admit they can be a little abstract. For those who may not be familiar with the term, critical theory can be broadly defined as the critique and analysis of various domains of society, such as media, education, psychology, or religion. It is an approach that was mainly developed during the twentieth century and which often put an emphasis on voices that had been marginalized or ignored by history (such as women in Feminist theory, colonized groups in Postcolonial theory or the working class in Marxist theory). Critical theory is the exact opposite of a liberal humanist approach and even a rebellion against it: we are not focusing on the consistency of human nature and on close analysis of the subject but always admit changing outside contexts and circumstances.

Some broad notions that remain constant throughout all the critical theories we will encounter over the course of this article are:

that human nature itself is a myth;

that politics always have an influence (even over the things that claim to be apolitical);

that language constitutes and shapes the world rather than passively describes it;

that any search for the truth is pointless as it doesn’t exist;

and consequently, that there is no single meaning to anything.

Not exactly the most joyful outlook on life, but that’s the way critical theory does things ! You don’t need to fully understand these principles right now, but it might be helpful to keep them in the back of your mind as we go on.

As for Cardi B, why her in particular ? The answer is not particularly exciting: I just really like her ! I had Invasion of Privacy on repeat for many months last year, and still enjoy coming back to it quite often. Her music is genuinely exciting, her lyrics way more clever than people give her credit for, and dancing along to her songs a perfect anti-anxiety tool. Seeing her thrive both financially and critically could not delight me more. She’s also one of the most popular celebrities right now, and “Bodak Yellow” was pretty much impossible to escape when it was at its highest popularity. It ensures me that if you don’t know anything about Critical Theory yet, at least the material we’re using to get the points across will be familiar to most.

Through the course of this article, I will use some lines out of “Bodak Yellow”’s hook to explain four theories: psychoanalysis, marxism, structuralism and post-structuralism. Whether you’re completely clueless about any of these or would simply enjoy a reminder of the basics, this is for you.

How is this song still not getting old ? Or is that just me ? Yeah, it might be just me.

‘Said “Lil bitch, you can’t fuck with me if you wanted to”’ — PSYCHOANALYSIS

In this introduction, Cardi gives us the opportunity to talk about one of the most widely known, yet seldom understood, critical theories: psychoanalysis. Most people are somewhat familiar with this theory because of its enduring influence on psychology, and, let’s be real, its emphasis on sexuality. Nothing surprising or shameful about that: I firmly believe that 95% of humans are five years old at heart, so of course that when we hear some guy say that everything in life is essentially about dicks, well, it’s kinda funny.

The man responsible for these theories is this jolly fellow:

Doesn’t he just look like a bundle of joy ?

The face might look familiar, and the name probably will as well: the man you are looking at is Sigmund Freud. He worked both as a doctor and a philosopher — his theories having a longlasting effect on both of these fields. Freud’s work and his influence is often questioned nowadays, especially his views concerning women which can at the very least be considered controversial (looking up the Dora case and its many readings might be of interest to those interested in the complex relationships between feminism and psychoanalysis). Nevertheless, it is a theory worth exploring, if only to break down some false impressions that some might have. Of course, you are welcome to have any opinions you want about any theories that will be explored, and take everything that follows with a grain of salt if you choose to. In the end, that is what critical theory is all about: questioning the status quo and things we consider as facts. Jürgen Habermas is probably looking at you proudly every time you skeptically raise an eyebrow.

Freud has often been criticised, but he couldn’t be blamed of any lack of productivity or diversity in his work: he wrote about dreams, illnesses, sexuality and many case studies prompted by his long career as a psychotherapist. His impressive bibliography might throw you into a panic and prompt you to close this page in a hurry; but do not be afraid, for my goal here is not to make you a Freudian scholar (even if I tried, I’d probably jump off a bridge first). For now, we can easily introduce his work through his one Big Bad Idea: the concept of the unconscious mind.

To make it as simple as possible, a Freudian reading of the mind admits a conscious, what we are aware of in the present moment (sometimes this definition is extended to information we are not thinking about now, but that is easily accessible to us if we try to recall it), and an unconscious, thoughts that have been repressed and are inaccessible to us, and only come out inadvertently through dreams, slips of the tongues or jokes. There are sometimes other elements added into this structure of the human mind, such as the superego or the preconscious/subconscious — however, as we’re only just starting to get into ideas which can be a bit hard to comprehend, I won’t try to bombard you with too much information. Freud used many different ways of describing these principles throughout the course of his life, but since this is only an introduction, the conscious/unconscious binary is the only thing you need to remember for now.

What Cardi’s opening lyric brings us to talk about is directly linked to this key idea of the unconscious. Indeed, as we’ve established, the unconscious is built out of repressed thoughts and drives: however, these thoughts have not always been repressed. There had to be a certain process that brought us to reject them and form the scary, indistinct mass that is the unconscious. This process starts fairly early: almost right from birth, in fact. According to Freud, babies are polymorphously perverse beings, solely motivated by their own desires and sexual drives. If these little sex monsters want to turn into complete human beings capable of participating in society, they have to go through a series of steps.

You may have heard the name of this process before: Freud calls it the Oedipus Complex. If you even have a vague understanding of what the Oedipus Complex is all about, you may be cracking a smile already — and indeed, this is where things start to get funny. That’s right: the absolute mad lad that Freud was thought that basically everyone wanted to fuck their mom at some point. God, there’s truly no right way of phrasing this, is there ? This is exactly why I’ve already decided to avoid psychoanalysis on my exam paper. I’d just lose the little that’s left of my sanity.

Where was I ? Oh, that’s right, fucking your mom. So, to put it very simply, Freud believed that all babies (indifferent of their gender, as Freud believed that all infants are born male — you can see why certain people started to take issue with his work later on) directed their desire to their Mother, because she is the first figure to directly bring pleasure to them. The infant then realizes that their Mother already has their Father, and consequently becomes jealous of him, even wanting to kill him. However, the Father figure is powerful and can punish the child, who becomes afraid of him and of a potential castrating punishment. This castration anxiety prompts him to repress these early feelings for the Mother, and eventually, once the male infant reaches puberty, he will identify with his Father and transfer his desire onto other women.

Freud also developed an alternative model for female infants, named the Electra complex or negative Oedipus complex. The first few steps are the same, until the poor little girl realizes that she doesn’t have a penis. She blames her Mother for her lack and turns her desire to her Father, developing penis envy in the process. It’s more or less the same road as for the little boy from here: she has to repress these desires, and once puberty comes, she is attracted to other men. However, there is a catch: the realization of her lack of penis traumatizes the young woman so much that she can’t form a strong superego, the part of the mind that keeps our instinctual thoughts and drives under control. She will spend the rest of her life with her penis envy, which she can only satisfy by having sex and/or producing a baby. Essentially, Freud just said “bitches be crazy” and everyone just went along and accepted it as a valid theory for decades.

This is of course a gross oversimplification to get the main points to stick, but to sum these theories up in a sentence, Freud believed that the reason you are now able to act like a normal person is because you wanted to fuck your mom and kill your dad when you were six months old. If that sounds bananas, that’s probably because it is. You will most likely be able to see where Freud is coming from if you dig deeper into his work, and maybe find things to like in later psychoanalytic critics, but for now you have the basics of the Oedipus Complex. In this scenario, Cardi is the mother: you can’t fuck with her, even if you wanted to.

Other key terms to look into: id/superego/ego; oral/anal/phallic/latency/genital; repression; transference; libido; condensation; sublimation; parapraxis; displacement.

If you found this interesting and want to know more: If you want to know more about Freud, his most accessible book is considered to be the Psychopathology of Everyday Life. If you’re interested in other psychoanalytic approaches, you can look into the works of Anna Freud (Freud’s daughter), Carl Jung, Erich Fromm, Karen Horney and Jacques Lacan.

If you thought this was a whole bunch of bullshit: It still might be worth giving a chance to other psychoanalysts. You can read criticism about Freud in books such as In Dora’s Case (by Charles Bernheimer and Claire Kahan). You can also read the works of Karl Popper, Michel Foucault and Luce Irigaray for scientific, post-structuralist and feminist critiques of psychoanalysis. Or you can just move on to the next section.

This is Jacques Lacan. We’ll come back to this funky little French dude later on.

‘These expensive, these is red bottoms, these is bloody shoes’ / ‘I’m a boss, you a worker bitch’— MARXISM

This right here is a perfect introduction to Marxism. This is another one that might sound familiar to most of you; however, most people are in fact more familiar with communism as it has existed in the world than with the theories that inspired these nations, and tend to confuse the two. As a result, the idea of what constitutes the principles behind Marxism as a theory tend to be distorted — which is why it might be worth coming back to the basics. It is also a fairly easy theory for beginners as it is a materialist philosophy: it explicitly seeks to change society, and therefore rarely relies on abstract ideas.

As most are aware, Marxism does have a lot to do with money. The father of the movement, Karl Marx, was an economist, and much of his early work relates to the study of economic models. However, Marx was not a single dad: although he tends to be sidetracked, Friedrich Engels is just as essential to the birth of one of the most essential works of the movement: 1848’s The Communist Manifesto. Economic theories were extended to societal and philosophic spheres, eventually becoming what we know nowadays as Marxism.

Just like psychoanalysis, there is not just one Marxism. The original marxist theories of Marx and Engels differ from those of the Frankfurt School (a German school of thought funded under the Weimar Republic which partially draws upon Marx’s findings), which radically differ from those of Leninism or Maoism. We can however safely say that all forms of Marxism concern themselves with the idea of class, which is what we will explore in this introduction to the theory.

A Marxist view of society broadly divides it into two big categories: on one hand is the proletariat, and on the other is the bourgeoisie. There are of course questions of where those two start and stop, especially once we reach the complicated, muddled territories of the middle-class. Essentially, this world view implies that the workers or proletariat are always exploited by the bourgeoisie or upper-class. This is a view that is directly linked with the development of the industrial revolution, where more and more poor people worked in environments that were exhausting physically and mentally and where they weren’t adequately compensated for their labour.

From this stems one common misconception about Marxism: the idea that it is against the idea of work as a whole. It is a quite ridiculous idea when we think about it for more than one second —the truth is that Marx and Engels denounced the conditions of work, rather than work itself. If you thought that Marxism wants everyone to sleep all day while the government gives out money so we can buy ourselves bath bombs, you’re sorely mistaken.

It is in fact quite the contrary: Marx believed that “pure” production is what allowed human beings to realize their full potential, and therefore emphasizes the importance of work, but only when it is fulfilling for the worker and/or necessary to the society as a whole. As a result, he particularly valorizes artistic, intellectual, educational, artisanal and medical production. The industrial revolution and the capitalist view of work that stems from it is seen as the opposite of this view. Workers in factories are stuck with repeating the same tasks over and over again everyday, which leads them to eventually losing their humanity and being turned into things: a process called reification. To summarise, Marxism sees the conditions under which the proletariat work as inadmissible because it makes them lose what made them human in the first place.

In a Marxist analysis of ‘Bodak Yellow’, the shoes that Cardi wears aren’t just bloody through their colour; they also carry the injustice of the conditions under which they were made. The red bottoms referred to are of course those of Louboutin, a very expensive brand definitely marketed towards the upper class. While the bourgeoisie wears these shoes with pride, they ignore the blood on their soles. Depending on the Marxist reading of the lyric, we might take it as a denounciation of these conditions through the use of the word “blood”, or, on the contrary, a glorification of material possessions from the bourgeoisie itself.

Once you get this idea of the bourgeoisie/proletariat divide down, it’s actually easy enough to move on to deeper understandings of Marxism. As I said before, it is one of the critical theories that leans the less on the abstract side of things, and therefore a perfect place to start for complete beginners. If you forget about what it entails, just remember Cardi’s bloody shoes.

Other key terms to look into: base/superstructure; interpellation; hegemony; ideology; discourse; economic determinism; New Historicism; Cultural Materialism; repressive and ideological state apparatuses.

If you found this interesting and want to know more: You can start with the basics with Marx and Engels’ work, then move on the works of Louis Althusser, Antonio Gramsci, Theodor W. Adorno. If you want a Marxist analysis of a particular field, you can try Terry Eagleton for literature, Angela Davis for feminism, or Sergei Eisenstein for film theory. Once you’re familiar with the basics, you can come back to “Bodak Yellow” and analyse it through a Marxist point of view, since Cardi does talk a lot about wealth in it. Or you can also stop being such a nerd.

This sucked and I want a refund: I can’t give you a refund. I’m a college student. If you want to read people slamming Marxism, you can turn to Milton Friedman for an economist takedown, Jean-Paul Sartre for a questioning of the “class” system or Gayle Rubin for a critique of Marxism’s lack of analysis of sexism under capitalism. Or you could just move on to the next section.

You probably already know what Marx looks like, so here’s Engels instead. What a guy. What a beard.

‘Hit the store, I can get ’em both, I don’t want to choose’ — STRUCTURALISM AND POST-STRUCTURALISM

This is where we start to dive into more abstract territories, yet ones that are deeply necessary to critical theory as a whole. This line introduces the key idea of binaries, which are essential to two theories in particular: structuralism and post-structuralism. As the names suggest, both are connected, and as such, they can be discussed in the same section.

Let’s start with the earlier one: structuralism. Although it is the first of our theories to lean into the abstract, its main principle isn’t that hard to understand. Basically, structuralists believe that meanings lie in… You guessed it, structures. No matter the text that is being analyzed, there is a drive to move away from the text itself and look for meaning in the wider structures they are a part of. For example, a structuralist could analyze “Bodak Yellow” in the context of Cardi’s discography, or in the context of rap as a genre, or even in the context of music as a whole.

The work that influenced structuralism the most is a 1916 book called Course of General Linguistics, written by a friendly chap named Ferdinand de Saussure.

This guy. Just look at him. He’s so cool. That’s the look of someone who will keep influencing sociology, psychology, linguistics and semiotics for decades after his death and who KNOWS it.

As you may have guessed from the title of his book, Saussure was a linguist, and indeed, structuralist theory is heavily connected to the study of language. We are here talking about all forms of languages: English, French and Spanish are languages just as much as literature, architecture or fashion are. All of these are built on codes and conventions that we need to make sense of in order to understand and participate in them.

Saussure made a point to describe language as something that is completely socially constructed. There is no inherent link between a word and what it means: for example, a tree looks nothing like the word “tree” and there is no real reason why the word “love” should be used to describe the feeling of love. A bit trippy, isn’t it ? Meaning therefore has to be shaped through other means. Saussure and later theorists like Lévi-Strauss essentially said that meaning is built through difference: words only make sense because they are in relation with other words. To put it simply, the word “joy” wouldn’t make sense without the word “sadness” and we wouldn’t know what a “palace” is if we couldn’t contrast it with a “house”. Structuralism is therefore heavily based on these ideas of binaries, which, as I said previously, is a key concept for critical theory in general.

I understand that these ideas might be a bit too abstract without a concrete text to apply them to. This is where Cardi comes in. Coming back to “Bodak Yellow”, a binary is explicitly given out to us just a few lines into the song:

‘I don’t dance now, I make money moves / Say I don’t gotta dance, I make money move’

The binary is not hard to spot: on one side is dancing and on the other is making money moves. This is a particularly appealing line for the structuralist critic, as it is a very clearly defined binary: you either dance OR make money moves. The song doesn’t admit any overlap between the two extremes.

Why is this particular binary so attractive to the structuralist critic ? Well, that is because structuralism has the ultimate goal of proving unity in every text that is analysed. The structuralist analyst looks for clear-cut and recurrent binaries, patterns, motifs, repetitions, parallels… in order to prove that the text that they are analysing is coherent both within itself and with outside structures.

How did the structuralist critic procede to do this ? As always, an example might be the best way to go to explain abstract ideas. I’ll use this opportunity to introduce a structuralist critic (and absolute legend) to you: Roland Barthes.

Roland Barthes was a French philosopher, theorist and critic who had a huge influence on critical theory. He studied symbols, literary theory, linguistics… Simply put, he’s the real deal. His early work focused on the idea of myth, which he used to analyse everything from boxing to soap. For quite some years Barthes had a structuralist approach to his fields of study, but it is important to note that he eventually turned towards post-structuralism with the publication of his crucial essay Death of The Author in 1967. What we will focus on in this example stems from his book S/Z published during his structuralist phase, where he analysed Sarrasine by Balzac.

In S/Z, he considered the overall narrative of Balzac’s book could be divided under 5 general codes that gave broad indications about the text (the mysteries that inhabit it, the actions that drive it, the connotations and symbols hidden within it, the outside cultural knowledge necessary to understand it) and 571 units of meanings that give precise information about the text itself. It is a very scientific and cold approach to narratives that not everyone will like (the structuralist analysis of narratives is so frequent that it has its own name: narratology), as it tends to exclude all emotional response from the reader or the author. As you will understand, structuralist writing isn’t concerned with feelings but rather with the careful unpacking and classifying of elements, with the ultimate goal of proving unity.

However, all of these ideas are far from being absolute, and as such they can be debated. That is exactly what post-structuralism did. As the name of the movement indicates, it is a continuation of structuralism, and you will notice that many of the same themes will be explored; but in more than one aspect, it is also a rebellion against it.

Post-structuralism is quite the complex theory and can definitely be intimidating at first, so don’t be afraid if you don’t fully grasp what it’s about right now. To make it as simple as humanly possible, we can start by saying that post-structuralism admits just like structuralism that language is constructed: but instead of accepting that fact and moving on, post-structuralists completely lose their mind over it. Indeed, if language is constructed, then we can’t ever truly express anything, and then how can we ever reach any truth ?

Post-structuralists take this deep anxiety and basically decide that since nothing matters, their own writing included, it might as well be time to FUCK. SHIT. UP. Quite the inspiring stance indeed. Now, remember how structuralism was concerned with unity ? Post-structuralists, being the cool rebellious kids they are, take the completely opposite approach and decide to prove disunity in everything. This method/goal even has a name that a cool French-Algerian dude named Jacques Derrida came up with: deconstruction.

In a post-structuralist outlook, texts can’t be considered united anymore since they are built out of a system that doesn’t make any sense in the first place. As a result, meaning is multiple, hidden, and ultimately and perhaps more importantly, meaningless. It is not uncommon at this stage to get a headache from all of this deconstructive talk. Because of this, you might be tempted to ask the post-structuralists to chill the fuck out — but alas, it is my duty to tell you that they never do.

Let’s come back to what brought us here in the first place: binaries. Here’s the thing: post-structuralism HATES THEM. As in, “I will shit on your grave” hate. To them, binaries can’t ever be pure because they always have to contain their opposite: for example, “light” can’t exist without “dark”, and because of that, “light” does contain the concept of “dark” within itself, and therefore “light” IS “dark” in some way. Confusing, ain’t it ? Binaries keep melting into one another, which further negates any possibility for definitive meaning. To quote Cardi again, post-structuralism “can get ’em both” — and they certainly won’t choose.

The reason he’s not looking at the camera is because he’s too busy thinking about how much he hates binaries.

Structuralism and post-structuralism are hard theories to wrap your head around, so don’t be too sad if what you just read felt like a bunch of mumbo jumbo. If you need to remember just one thing, it should be that for structuralism, dancing and making money moves are clear opposites of one another, while for post-structuralism, Cardi could not be making money moves without the dancing, and therefore these two actions do not have clear boundaries, and are of course, you guessed it, ultimately meaningless.

Other key terms to look into: parole/langue; signified/signifier/referent; play; différance; logocentrism; readerly/writerly text; intertextuality; panopticon.

If you found this interesting and want to know more: I already mentioned most of the big names over the course of this overview: Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes are definitely great places to start. If you particularly liked the idea of binaries and want to see other types of deconstruction it can offer, see Hélène Cixous’ The Newly Born Woman for a poststructuralist feminist approach or Edward Saïd’s Orientalism for a postcolonial perspective.

What the fuck was that all about ? Fuck if I know.

BONUS ROUND!

‘If I see you and I dont’ speak, that means I don’t fuck with you’ — LACANIAN PSYCHOANALYSIS

Or, according to Jacques Lacan, not speaking means that you are still in the Imaginary phase of your life. As we saw, language is essential in many critical theories. Over the course of this article, we’ve talked about psychoanalysis and its emphasis on slips of the tongues, and structuralism/post-structuralism and their emphasis on linguistics findings. It would feel wrong to not take a moment to talk about someone who took elements from all of these theories in his work: this is where Jacques “my boy” Lacan comes in.

Lacan was a French psychoanalyst who heavily drew upon the Freudian concept of the unconscious mind, but simultaneously decided to bring some of that much appreciated post-structuralist spice into it. What that means concretely is that for Lacan, the unconscious is constructed like a language. However, it is not language as we, basic bitches, see it, as a practical system to communicate with the world: it is language as post-structuralist theory sees it. To put it bluntly, the unconscious is a whole bunch of shit that makes no sense whatsoever. Isn’t that just neat ?

Here is Michel Foucault, another important figure of post-structuralism. He’s angry here because all the paper behind him has been used to print a bunch of shit that makes no sense. And now I’m angry too because I can’t figure out what his hand is doing.

But luckily for us, human beings themselves are also a bunch of shit that make no sense! Yay! And so, where Descartes said “I think therefore I am”, Lacan responds “I am where I think not”. Disregarding the fact that Lacan is essentially dissing some poor lad that’s been dead for centuries, which isn’t super cool, what he means by that is that our being, our real self, actually lies in the unconscious. The reason we can’t express it is because we unconsciously recognize that language is insufficient. Language for Lacan is a big thing full of contradictions: it is a lackluster system, and yet we must use it in order to become socialized subjects.

The Lacanian take might be an easier approach to accept for those who are unfamiliar with psychoanalysis, as there’s no fucking your mom involved whatsoever. There’s still some stuff about dicks in there, though, but that’s just part of the fun, isn’t it ? I just love that “everything is a penis” is legitimate academic discourse and that we’re all just cool with that. Intellectuals are WILD, you guys.

While I was complimenting academic penises, you might have found yourself asking another question. Don’t panic, for I have the answer prepared right here for you. Indeed, if you don’t want to fuck your mom at any point, and therefore don’t go through the Oedipus Complex, then how in the world do you form your sense of self ? The Lacanian approach is actually quite different from Freud’s, and in fact easy enough to get even from the perspective of a complete beginner. We can divide it into three handy steps:

First, the baby is part of what Lacan calls the Imaginary. It is a stage where he is incapable of differentiating between himself and the rest of the world, and especially his Mother, since she is the closest figure to him. The baby consequently has no sense of identity and can’t participate in language, because he’s, you know, a baby. (unless you’re the baby in Ali Smith’s The Child, a short story I read as part of the same Critical Theory course I am talking about and that I can’t recommend enough. I promise this message isn’t’ sponsored. Just read the story.)

Then, at around six months of age will come the Mirror Stage. The baby will see a reflection of himself and begin to conceive of an identity separate from the rest of the world and develop the idea of a self. This is when the child starts to participate in language and makes his first steps towards becoming a social being.

Once the child is fully socialized, he has reached what Lacan calls the Symbolic. He is now fully present both physically and linguistically, and although he unconsciously recognizes the “lack” that language entails, it is the only way for him to be a social being, and therefore he will just have to keep living this way.

Clear enough to you ? That’s clear enough to me. Despite making two of the most complex critical theories meet in his work, Lacan’s basic concepts are surprisingly easy to grasp for beginners. If you want to dig deeper into his work, some things might be a bit more complicated, but for now these ideas about language are good enough to get you started. Throughout “Bodak Yellow”, Cardi uses language to assert her power, perhaps to compensate the lack that it unconsciously makes her feel. Or maybe because, you know, she’s just really awesome.

Other key terms to look into if you want to know more: phallus (ha!); phallogocentrism; Other; the Real; Name of the Father.

If you found this interesting and want to know more: If you want to dig into Lacan himself, starting by the transcriptions of his seminars is considered the easiest way to get into what he’s saying. If you want to read other theorists that have been influenced by his ideas, you can look into Slavoj Zizek, Luce Irigaray or Julia Kristeva.

This SUCKED. Is this over yet ? Yup.

Here we go folks — we’ve looked at our three theories for the day. It was of course only an introduction and plenty of theories would also have deserved to get their spotlight — but I still hope that you’ve learned one or two things. As for me, I’ve learned that if I can write this unprompted, well, I can probably pass my exams as well. I’ve also learned that “Bodak Yellow” is still an absolute banger after all this time — but is anyone truly surprised to hear that ? If anyone comes out of this thinking about buying either Invasion of Privacy or Dialectic of Enlightnment, I’d probably consider this the height of my writing career.

probably napping

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store