There is a genre called psychoanalytic fiction and I have recently read two examples. The first one was Jed Rubenfeld’s The interpretation of murder; the second Brenda Webster’s Vienna Triangle. These two are as far apart as the category of genre allows. Rubenfeld’s is a skillful whodunit, with a rich ambiance, setting and narrative sense whereas Webster’s story surroundings are diluted by her masterful account of what psychoanalysis is (away from received ideas), and how it works. Freud appears in both, yet, it is quite a different Freud. The first reenacts a famous case history while dealing with a deranged Jung (to which the Viennese Freud resembles); the second is found in the middle of a seriously disturbing Oedipal drama (Tausk, Salome, Deutsch). Of course, psychoanalysis and its founder, lends itself to such narratives. When I asked my students to tell me why they had chosen my Psychoanalysis in Art and Culture course, to tell me what they wanted to learn, how I could help them, the whiteboard showed a list of topics focused on pathologies, dark sides, seediness. The myths persist in time as the abandonment of seduction or Tausk’s suicide (which Webster seeks to understand) show.
I must also thank Webster for answering a question I had asked myself many times during my analysis (and which I got a glimpse of at the APCS conference I attended in 2007): yes, analysts are also humans, despite my resistance to believe so. This also goes for Freud. We put them in the position of subject-supposed-to-know. Supposing to know is not knowing, however, and, as human beings, they have the same chances of being as flawed as us. In that sense, Webster’s is a truer account of the practice of analysis.
Another point in her favour is the mother-daughter relationship she depicts through Kate and Emily, and perhaps also through the Kate-Deutsch (as mother substitute) pairing. Many times, when reading before going to sleep, I had to put the book down perplexed at the accuracy of her description of encounters I had had with my own mother: the different standards within which I judge her, the guilt, the strange love towards her that gets manifested as aggression or exasperation. My anxiety rose at those moments to the point of having to find something else to read and to calm down with. Are these contradictory feelings for one’s mother, this cognitive dissonance, universal? And if so, why nobody had told me before?
Her unraveling of mystery is also psychoanalytic in construction, which is to say coherent. Not that Rubenfeld’s Frau K isn’t, but he maintains a comfortable distance, that of an author rather than one involved in a psychoanalytic encounter with narrative fiction. There is resistance in Rubenfeld. In Webster, there is an insight that can only be gained by actually engaging closely with the practice of analysis. I am not sure if this makes one of these books more appealing to the wider audience than the other but what I do know is that, in terms of psychoanalysis, one has to do it as well as talk about it with mastery.
In order to do more than just talking the talk, I joined a Burlesque class. If you have participated in such activities before, you will know that one of the first tasks of the Burlesque student is to come up with a name. Our teacher (Viva Misadventure) does not want to know our birth names at all, only our stage names, so there’s a bit of pressure in the decision, as I don’t want to be known as “the-little-one-in-red-who-should-bend-her-knees-more”. I can’t title my chapters for the life of me and have a terrible experience of being haunted by a horrible Capoeira name. So this is a chance to put things right for me.
I have been using Femme Letale for around 10 years but I feel bad because it is stolen from Almodovar’s High Heels and now that I am going public, it just won’t do. My dream name is Agent Provocateur but, given it is a high end lingerie shop, you understand the copyright issues.
Tim and Neil helped me last week: they came up with Spanish Fly and Catty Devine (in honour of my favourite jewellery designers). They are good, but not yet it. I have …de Vivre, …Rouge/Noir, Désir… as beginnings and ends but not much makes sense on the whole.
So, in the Spirit of reality TV and user generated content, I invite suggestions. Think of it as a phone in. Here are the parametres:
1. French (I like —eur and —que endings, especially)
2. Mysterious (as in detective novels or spies)
* extra points for psychoanalytic references
I will send the winner a picture of me taking my gloves off. And I mean my gloves, because I don’t yet know any more moves.
The other day, someone accused me of lack of engagement. This was mainly directed at my online life but also had a bearing in what I do in real life. Lack of engagement is not a good thing when you are trying to study seduction, which needs mindfulness. I was engaged when I took my photographs, I was there 100% and remember every action, every thought related to my fall for the object.
I am writing chapter 2 of my thesis. I have finished the first draft of chapter 1, written bits of chapters 3 and 4 and have chapter 5 in my head, in embryonic form. All this makes me withdraw into myself, even more since what I am trying to tease out with words is something I call self-reflective methodology (don’t ask just yet). It is very much like looking at myself in the mirror, playing a film of certain actions in my head. I have become a character in my own narrative, I have doppelganger but I control the strings. No wonder I am not engaged. It is her that does all the engagement. She has super-powers, much like a second life character and to play her is draining. I have to withdraw, to hide, wearing my camouflage cloak, to look and listen, to predict and to let go. I have to become invisible, transparent, which, of course, does not mean passive. This invisibility, with its champagne bottle effect (it will explode, don’t worry, just not yet) has consequences for my writing here. At the moment, I can only see things within the grand 5 chapter structure I have created. If it doesn’t fit, I find myself at pains to make sense of it. Is this a normal consequence of writing a PhD? Is this what creating new knowledge does to you? I don’t dislike it. I love my topic, but I wonder what would have happened to the world when/if I come out of my stupor. You know what it is like to come from a holiday abroad and look at the news, how little sense they make. This is the extent of my so-perceived lack of engagement. And if in the 18 months I have left of writing we meet, please excuse me looking at your jewellery, your shoes, your accessories, forgive me for perking up when you talk about a moving work of art or even literature or film, make allowances if I seem to wake up at the mention of Freud. That is the language I understand.
I really like the Freud Museum. For those of us interested in psychoanalysis, it is a magical place. I will always remember when I first stepped inside the hall, the strange feeling of being somewhere I knew. Was that because it looked like a London detached house I perhaps remembered? Maybe. What I thought was just similar to what happened to me when I first visited New York: I knew it, yet, I hadn’t been there before. At the Freud Museum, however, any such feelings got quickly dispelled; in fact, as soon as caught sight of the couch in the consulting room on the ground floor. The closest I can come to describing what happened is that I went back in time, that I confronted some sort of history in front of me, I was there, but I was not there now. Nachträglichkeit, or something.
The thing I love the most of the Freud Museum is that it has contemporary art exhibitions, engaged with the Freudian artefacts. What a phenomenal space to show work! Not any work, of course, as whatever one places there enters a dialogue with the house, with the rooms, with psychoanalysis itself. Nothing further away from a white cube situation. This, however, is how I like art best. I am the one who exhibit in lifts, shop windows and urban underpasses. Sophie Calle, Susan Hiller, Sarah Lucas and Tim Noble/Sue Webster’s names are only some of the few I remember showing there from the top of my head. The list – and the displays – are very impressive, and I have often thought of pieces I wanted to create should I be invited to show there. The space provokes though, like couches, it make me free associate.
Sarah Lucas / Sophie Calle at the Freud Museum, consulting room display
It was the issue of free association that made me write this entry. I was happily siting at my desk, procrastinating about this methodologies chapter I am writing, when a corner of a much-handled piece of paper, hanging out of my filing pile caught my attention. I pulled it from from the middle of the mountain and saw what it was: a Freud Museum bag, from when I bought a book I couldn’t get anywhere else. The bag had a text printed that read:
(1856-1939), the founder of psychoanalysis, left Austria in 1938 to escape Nazi occupation. He was able to bring his antiquities and library to England, where he continued his work and died at 20 Maresfield Gardens, London, which is now the
Well, it did not just read like that in my head, it read more with this voice:
Now that is a funny free association, don’t you think? I’ll just leave it there for now.
When I first read, many years ago, Titian, nymph and shepherdby John Berger, I discovered the strange power communicating by letters can have. I find there is something mesmerising about them. Not only in their physicality, which of course counts (the things themselves, the handwriting of the loved one, the journey through the postal system…) but the voice. Blogs are usually written for a multiple audience, but one not intimately known; emails are, well, work-like; micro-blogging (facebook status, twitter) can be poetic but does not carry the soul. Letters, on the other hand, are from me to you. Choderlos de Laclos could not have written the intrigues of Les liaisons dangereuses if not using an epistolary style. P.G. Wodehouse thought there was such power to letters that he did an experiment where he threw stamped addressed letters out of his London window, certain that people would post them (a practical and literal demonstration of Lacan’s maxim ‘A letter always arrives at its destination’) . Then there is Lacan, again, and what is at stake in Poe’s The Purloined Letter.
Titian, nymph and shepherd is even more dear to me because it also contains a letter to me, one written in its second and third pages (it is a long letter) by my brother. I keep all the personal letters I have received (not the cards, letters are usually not cards. I have even written conference papers in the form of letters, plan to write my PhD conclusion as a letter to my examiners and asked students to write them, to anyone, to everyone, to their perplexity… I think about letters almost constantly but this little reflexion on how much they mean to me started after reading Belen’s story. She had been teasing us on the forum, saying she had a story to tell about letter and, when she told it, it was as wonderful as an astonishing sunset. You know what I mean, a mini sublime. Belen and I used to share a studio when we studied for our Bachelor’s degree in Spain. We shared thoughts, meals, books. We expanded to the small community that El Guindo has become today. We shared a baffling but charming sculpture teacher who showed us to love Lacan and, above all John Berger. We couldn’t get enough. At lunch, we would sit under our cherry tree (el guindo), eating soup and croquettes while we read our favourite And our faces, my heart, brief as photos. We would buy his novels to our boyfriends and let them into our private circle only if they passed the initiation rite of having read them AND loved them. Well, Belen was going through a rough patch a couple of years ago. She was in Madrid, where Berger was exhibiting (he takes photographs, like many of us) and something within her made her write him a letter telling him the lot. After that, she thought nothing more of it. Maybe it did not even get to him. Then, earlier this week, she revealed in El Guindo that he had replied to her with a short, handwritten message, the end of the note bidding her farewell in Spanish, her mother tongue. HE HAD REPLIED. The dream of every letter writer is to get a reply. Belen’s story made me think that, a letter is only second to a kiss.
I am an artist and writer. My recent practice performance, film, dance, photography and text, and my work has been performed, exhibited and published in many venues in Europe and the US. I have spoken at numerous conferences and events, including the Museum for the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, the Medical Museum in Copenhagen, College Arts Association and the Association for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society. When I am not following Freud, Lacan and Marx’s footsteps with my camera or creating performance works as part of my Athenaeum Research Fellowship at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, I teach postgraduate students at Transart Institute.