Marcel Duchamp, Etant donn?©s: 1¬? la chute d’eau / 2¬? le gas d’?©clairage, 1946-66
As you may begin to notice, the 2006 Artist of the Month competition is just an excuse for me to think and write about an artist every month. And, as such, there are no rules about who I may chose: they may be from any corner of the world, using any medium, old or new, alive or dead…
March’s artist is a dead painter and, in a way, also a painter of the dead. The body of works of Giorgio Morandi mainly comprises still lives made of bottles, pots, jugs and trinkets found in and around his studio.
It was Jorge Oteiza, a Basque sculptor, who first brought Morandi to my attention. In 1957, Oteiza received the International Grand Prize for Sculpture at the fourth Sao Paulo biennial. True to his personality, Oteiza publicly stated that he would not accept his award should Morandi not win its painting correlation. Luckily for him and the biennial organisers, Morandi did win the painting award.
Some years ago, as a painter, I was in awe of Oteiza’s vigorous sculptures and wondered who was this Morandi that inspired such feelings in him. I was surprised to find delicate, small scale paintings. One of the things that most impressed me of Oteiza’s oeuvre, was his Chalk Laboratory, where, with small pieces of the material teachers use to write on blackboards, he thought of space and matter.
Oteiza’s Chalk Laboratory. Oteiza’s museum, Alzuza, Spain
This was the first time I encountered art for thought’s sake, instead of for gallery’s sake. The same attitude is visible in Morandi’s bijou paintings. The first time I had the chance to see one life (it is an imperative to experience Morandi’s paintings life) was after Tate Modern’s opening in 2000. The gallery was crowded with people, art and space symbolism, famous and infamous pieces cut out of modern and contemporary art books, people crammed in front of them awaiting for an osmotic phenomenon to occur, crowds looking at high ceilings and long floors… Morandi’s painting, small in scale, empty, tragic, honest, devoid of spectacle, representing the existential questions still lives’ tend to do, were revelatory in comparison.
Geirogio Morandi (1890-1964) Still Life, 1946. Oil on canvas, 37.5 x 45.7 cm, Tate Gallery, London
Years later, Tate modern opened a retrospective of Morandi’s work. In the repetition of his architectural motifs (I got to know his trinkets as if they were mine), and their placements in the real and pictorial space, I found new depths in the meaning of the word pathos. When one of the objects got overturned or the corner of a table appeared it was as if a violent, dangerous thought, a vast precipice, an incomparable void and existential chasm had happened.
For more information on Giorgio Morandi, visit The Museo Morandi
ARTIST OF THE MONTH COMPETITION:
Even if it may sound predictable to Mr Evans, the best words for describing how I feel after reading his paper From Lacan to Darwin are saddened and shocked.
You may remember from my First entry on Psychoanalysis that I thought his reference book, ‘Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis’, apart from being incredibly well written, was essential to the understanding of Lacanian theory. Every time I mentally uttered ‘what?’ when reading any Lacan or Lacanians, my doubts were dissipated by Mr Evans, who led me to understand what the concepts and ideas meant.
On the back of the book, on a short biographical note about the author, it was mentioned that he was pursuing a PhD. Thinking so highly about the dictionary, I thought his PhD output must be of interest to my research and set about finding the information. I stumbled upon his webpage and went straight for the biography pages, where, to my surprise, I read:
Eventually, my doubts about the efficacy and validity of psychoanalysis became so great that I realised I could not go on working as a therapist any longer with a clear conscience.
I quit all my clinical work and decided to do a PhD to grapple with the questions that had been forming in my mind during my clinical work. Was there anything about psychoanalysis that was worth saving? What alternative theories of mental disorder should we look to instead?
He further explained his journey from Psychoanalysis to evolutionary psychology in the paper From Lacan to Darwin, mentioned above. It is one of the harshest critiques of Lacanian theory I have ever read, coming from a man who was certainly knowledgeable about them, as proved by his reference work. However, there were a couple of points that just didn’t add up to me. This, and not the issue of the critique (of course Lacan is criticable; even his followers are ready to admit his writing is full of bulls**t!) is what saddened me.
Those points can be summarized as follows:
1) His main criticism of psychoanalysis is the lack of evidence (read here scientific evidence) for its claims and the fact that, when treating patients, his training didn’t help. Dylan seems to adopt a purely positivist view, concerned with truth, instead of knowledge. I know this view was already permeating in his dictionary but, closer readings of Lacan’s texts made me realise that he is not about truth, but about knowledge. In his journey, he describes how the discovery of scientific thinking was a turning point, as he understood that this was a better explanation of how the mind worked.
I would place Lacan, however, more on the philosophy side than on the science side. When I met Dany Nobus, one of the first questions he asked was ‘what is psychoanalysis?, is it an art or a science?’ and he concluded that it was something that encompassed all of them, essentially, a practice. Applying purely scientific and positivist principles to Lacanian theory is, in my opinion, floored because, although it may share some elements, it does not belong to the category of ‘science’.
In my own research, I don’t claim to be a psychoanalyst, nor that my original contribution to knowledge will be in the area of psychoanalysis. I do, however, want to avoid applied psychoanalysis as much as possible and that’s why am considering undergoing therapy, to avoid situations like the one Evans encountered in Buffalo, which I also despise:
Yet most of the Lacanians in Buffalo had no understanding, nor any personal experience, of that method. They read Lacan entirely within the context of literary criticism, and rarely, if ever, thought about its clinical foundation. No wonder they were so unconcerned about the consistency or accuracy of Lacan’s ideas. They had completely misunderstood the whole of Lacan’s project.
2) In From Lacan to Darwin, Evans writes:
The qualities admired in writing here were clarity and concision, not empty rhetorical flourishes and baroque digressions. And above all, people demanded evidence. No matter how obvious (or how weird) your opinions seemed to be, they were worth nothing unless you could back them up.
The paper, however, is written in a truly introspective and journey-like way. The claims made are enormous and no textual evidence is provided to back them up, apart from his own experience. The whole of Lacanian theory, apart from a brief spell when he first presented his mirror stage paper in Marienbad, is rejected in one go, instead of carefully considering each term as objectively as possible. He talks about a fundamental flaw in psychoanalysis, being the lack of scientific, quantitative evidence (Philosophers of science had been debating the evidential status of case-histories versus statistical analysis in general, and the value of Freud’s vignettes in particular, for decades.). This argument strikes me to be guilty of positivism and science-centrism (if there is such a word!)
He talks about Lacan’s obfuscated and obstructive text, which he rejected in favour of a more clear Popper-like style. This claim is not new, as it has been already voiced by Sokal, Roustang etc… I admit that Lacan’s text is not easy to penetrate but neither is Kant’s or Plato’s or Merleau Ponty’s if one approaches it without a generic understanding of the main concepts, principles and aims. One must remember that the Seminars are not Lacan’s writings but Lacan’s speech, which is a different thing.
All in all, I am very happy I came across Evans’s paper as I need to be aware of problems and criticisms in Lacanian theory, mainly as a preparation for writing the thesis and answering questions at the viva. He didn’t deter me, though, because in the same way he thinks the whole of Lacanian theory is flawed, I think his criticism of it is. He is a true positivist that just took a long and complicated road (with a few blind alleys) to get where he needed to be.
With thanks to Al for the pictures and the introduction.
The image of former Ukranian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, certainly feels like finding a palm tree in the desert. With her hair (which she had to demonstrate was real), her symetric face and her dress sense, she breaks the continuum of political / parlamentary life. At the same time, she infuses it with an unsettling, slightly gothic element that perverts the greay suit qualities of its environment. Just look at the dress…
Seductive? Possibly. Especially if seduction estems from a particular way of being itself…
I find that, in order to read and understand psychoanalysis, one needs to dispense of normal processing modes and adopt a different way of understanding. The only other time when I have been faced with a similar intellectual proposition has been during my second attempt at reading JoyceÄôs Ulysses. Psychoanalysis works in associative ways, in hyperlink ways, in repetitious ways, in non-linear waysÄ¶ ThatÄôs why Dylan EvansÄô Introductory dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis is my best friend, at the moment: from Objet Petit a to specular image, to part-object, to neuroses, to perversion, to passÄ¶ in a chain that will, hopefully, never really end but instead will go down and deeper. Another of my friends is Ubu.com. Being able to listen to Lacan on the iPod, to go back and forth and listen to the same inflections in his tone, his peculiar emphasis and the articulation of his ideas in French have made all the difference. That, and soundÄôs particular way of getting into the unconscious. I begin to understand not knowing how I am understanding, ThatÄôs why I am so looking forward to JÄôs recordings of SharonÄôs ÄòArt and PsychoanalysisÄô seminarsÄ¶
I abhor applied psychoanalysis and will try as best I can to stay clear of it. I want to take a psychoanalytical perspective on the seduction problem instead of simply picking and choosing concepts. After talking to C, R and N yesterday, I feel undergoing analysis is the thing to do. How otherwise am I meant to understand the praxis of psychoanalysis? I would not trust (I do not trust!) any theorist that claims to talk about the practice of art without getting dirty with paint. Art canÄôt be fully understood through books; artefacts need to be experienced directly, in the moment, in the flesh. How is any psychoanalyst going to respect my approach if all the knowledge I gather is through books?
According to Lacan (through Evans) psychoanalysis is not a therapy, but a search for knowledge:
The end of analysis is not the disappearance of the symptom, nr the cure of an underlying disease (e.g. neurosis), since analysis is not essentially a therapeutic process but a search for truth, and the truth is not always beneficial (S17, 122)
Gathering knowledge about myself though becoming an analysand, I may understand the theories and then methods (like I understood the highway code better once I started driving). It may also make me more sensitive to my surroundings, which, hopefully, will help me pick up my introspective writing with a renewed vigour. It may not make any sense for a while, but, with time, fruit matures and the knot is undone.