Reading dates: 11–22 February 2018
As Hildegard knew from her own experience as a stigmatic fraud, blood, once let loose, gets all over the place. It sticks, it flows, it garishly advertises itself or accumulates in dark thick puddles. Once it gets going, there is o stopping blood.
Dr Hildegard Wolf, a psychotherapist in Paris finds herself with two patients confessing to being Lord Lucan, the English Earl who murdered his nanny, mistaking her for his wife. They blackmail her, as they both discover that, in her past Hildegard was Beate Pappenheim, a fake stigmatic. Anyone who knows me would know that this plot line is 100% written for me and the book did not disappoint. Granted, it does not, perhaps, have the vigour of ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ or some of her earlier novels, but ‘Aiding and Abetting’ is still written with all the Sparkian charms I adore. It is very short and to the point, with no plot padding and some resolution (although this is extremely banal, which kind of goes with the premise of the book), the characters are as interesting as human nature is when observed closely and with flair and curiosity. She is my favourite writer, what can I say, and 2018 is her centenary. I have read about 10 of her 22 novels (below, noted with *) and this year seems to be the perfect time to complete the set.
*1. The Comforters
*3. Memento Mori
*4. The Ballad of Peckham Rye
5. The Bachelors
*6. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
*7. The Girls of Slender Means
8. The Mandelbaum Gate
9. The Public Image
*10. The Driver’s Seat
11. Not to Disturb
12. The Hothouse by the East River
13. The Abbess of Crewe
14. The Takeover
15. Territorial Rights
*16. Loitering with Intent
17. The Only Problem
*18. A Far Cry from Kensington
20. Reality and Dreams
*21. Aiding and Abetting
*22. The Finishing School
Reading dates: 24 January – 28 March 2016
Reading Dora’s case history, reading it with real attention, is the first step of my ghosting method, the one I adopted to develop a one to one durational piece, Ida, which I showed as part of Buzzcut festival on Friday 8 April 2016. What happened when I performed it is for another post.
Reading in this way, trying to find Ida’s voice in between the lines of Dora is exhausting. It is like tracing every single letter with my hands and questioning each word’s meaning. I had read Dora before, but never like this. I feel I embroidered the whole book (maybe that’s my next piece). But the story is fascinating. I let her live in me, I lent her my mouth to speak her words, my body for her to breathe again. I was possessed by this story and when the spirit left me, I was limp, empty. But I had to let her speak. Her analysis, as we have it, is only a fragment, it is incomplete, and often Freud’s interpretations infuriated me (oh the reticule, so easy, so so easy!). I wrote him out of my piece. I listened to him, but like one listens when one is paying attention to something else that is more important.
While reading, I distilled her voice, and wrote her words by hand. This is very important. By hand, with my hand. Then I typed them and then I recorded them, with my voice. Then I listened to them and put my own voice back in my body, through my ears. I looked for Ida in Freud’s words. I found her, recorded her her voice, made it mine. We mixed, to the point that I lost the sense of where she was and where I began. She was not in me. She was like adding salt to water. The water becomes something else and I think she transformed me forever. Reading is one thing, but reading with one’s whole body is something that I know I need to take sparingly and with care, for I offer myself, I give myself up to an other which, in this case, is disturbed by betrayal (a disturbance I also share). I now need to find a way of taking the salt out of the water without evaporating. Is that even possible? An exorcism?
Reading dates: 19 February–26 March 2016
There are two elemental forces in the universe. One draws matter toward matter. That is how life comes into being and how it propagates. In physics, this force is called gravity; in psychology, love. The other force tears matter apart. It is the force of disunification, disintegration, destruction. If I’m correct, every planet, every star in the universe is not only drawn toward the others by gravity, but laos pushed away from them by a force of repulsion we can’t see.
I seem to be on a path of awarding 3 stars to every crime novel I read, yet, these stars are given (or two taken away) for very different reasons. The Death Instinct is a very competent novel, set in New York in the 1920s at the time of the Treasury bomb. The narration is very well research and fact and fiction merge seamlessly, coherently and in a very dramatic way. Freud as a character is again joyous to read (as in Rubenfeld’s previous novel ‘The Interpretation of Murder’) and well researched. Even the resolution to the mystery is reasonable. It is certainly better that the Frank Tallis novels I read. Yet, it is just that, literarily just above average. Good research, interesting characters, reasonable writing and a vibrant story don’t make a book I want to re-read. There is something missing here, some flair, some risk, something. Perhaps it is the point of view. The narrator is omniscient so we don’t know anyone very well. Perhaps it is the construction, acceptable but also standard. And Freud was anything but those things: omniscient or standard. He deserved a little better I think.
Reading dates: 01–28 January 2016
This is a delightful graphic novel which, although necessarily simplifying the many facets of hysteria according to Freud, is also able to give a glimpse of its complexity and its problems. I liked the focus on cases, the historical narrative intermingled with ghosts from the past and the future. It is beautifully written and drawn, literary but, as ever with hysteria, also romanticised. This is especially evident in the choice of giving the ghost of Princess Diana a voice and I wonder if more could have been done with it and with Freud’s own hysteria. My main problem with it is the glaring omission of Dora, one of Freud’s most important patients and his Irene Adler. I suspect this might be because she gets a book of her own, eventually. Even with this thought, she should be at least alluded to in this work. Drawn or mentioned, pointed at. But, of course, this is a graphic novel about Freud, and not hysteria, isn’t it? The process, the method, the research get the time and space.
Don’t Say Anything, a durational performance piece as part of the exhibition ‘This House has been Far Out at Sea’, Laurieston Arches, Glasgow. 2-4 May 2015, 12–6 with a late night on Sunday.
I will return to Frau Emmy von N. the words Sigmund Freud wrote in his famous case history about her. She will tell you her story of hysteria in the first person, just as Emmy would have told it to Freud in 1889.
As part of Glasgow Open House Festival.
Reading dates: 1 – 4 January 2015
How wonderful to start the year with a superb book. My dear friend Ian Macbeth gave me this for my birthday a couple of years ago. Many people had mentioned it to me but he did not hesitate: it was a book for me, and he was right. I could have read this in a single sitting but my mind whirled around too much. It is an intense graphic novel, a raw memoir of discoveries and insights. It is very sensitively put together – and I mean put together because the drawings tell the story as much as the words. Bechdel weaves her autobiography and family memories, making parallels with books and writers. The echoes of Oscar Wilde, Colette, and more importantly, Joyce’s Ulysses made me not only enjoy this book but also want to read and re-read some of the ones she mentions. What would I do without books … Together with my own body (and I am not sure about this one for every cell in it is renewed every seven years), books feel the only constant in my life. I have always read, I always return to books. This love of reading is evident in Fun Home and it made me feel very close to the narrative. Perhaps even closer than the main theme, Alison’s relation with her father. Although that was very resonant too, for we all come from a father, known or unknown.
I read Are you my mother? first, the story of her other progenitor. Lovers of Fun Home kept telling me they found the maternal line heavy handed. I enjoyed both, but I agree that the paternal story is closer in identification, more fluid, less reasoned. Dare I say, more loving? The two together, with their green and red hues, are a good example and satisfactory resolution of the Oedipus Complex, rigorously exemplified and tenderly drawn.
I could write a lot more about her theory of his suicide and his homosexuality but I don’t want to reveal too much to those I know are reading this and the book at the same time.* For Fun Home is that kind of book: the kind you lend as soon as you finish.
*If anyone wants to, though, I am happy to go into it, preferably with a glass of wine, for it might long and precise. Write below!
A paper I wrote with the wonderful Christopher Danowski has been published in issue 0 of ELSE, an international art, literature, theory and creative media journal. The image on the cover is also a hybrid, like the writing: Chris’ head and my décolletage. Thank god there is a fair amount of Lacan in our paper to analyse that. Have a look at this smart publication here (free but needing registration) and consider submitting. The deadline for the issue on contemplation is 1 January 2015.