After attending the Literature and Psychology conference in Lisbon, and meeting a whole bunch of renowned psychoanalysts, the creative vibe is high. Here is a tableau. My husband and I are sitting at our kitchen table enjoying our morning coffee. Dressed in a silk brocade robe that I gave him years ago, and exuding a strong sensuality as he peels a grapefruit for me – the way he always does in the morning – recalls for me one of Boccaccio’s drawings called Lady Fortune from an edition of his De Casibus Virorum Illustrium (On the Fates of Famous Men). I praise my luck. What we have between us is an understanding that is based on combining style with trust in each other’s aesthetic intelligence. I tell him that I’m considering going into practicing psychoanalysis. He tells me that I suffer from analyst envy. He is right. Of the two of us, he is the better Freudian. I tend to go with Lacan, for whom every act of memory is an act of desirous and disastrous imagination.

The last session at the conference, which was a celebration of Norman Holland’s work, was quite a feast. Illustrious scholars such as Murray Schwartz, an intriguing and fascinating Shakespearian, and Jeffrey Berman, author of Risky Writing and promoter of the pedagogy of self-disclosure in the classroom, did a good job at entangling psychoanalysis, creative writing, autobiography, and academic writing that guides itself according to the principles of know thyself – also the title of Murray and Norm’s latest
collection of essays. Norm responded in kind, yet his call for seeing an identity theme (one of his major concepts) shape itself through style in literature was almost at odds with itself. Norm has always been a believer in unity, but as far as style goes, for me at least, it’s all about construction. Style as the reduction of unity to fragments, to the bare essentials scattered in the frame of different contexts, clashes with the rather essentialist notion that texts exhibit an identity theme which we can uncover and which makes us wiser about an author. As the audience responded mainly by bringing in Heinz Lichtenstein's work, esp. The Dilemma of Human Identity, all I could think about was Georg Lichtenberg’s aphorisms that take issue with the dilemma of human style. Following the good old psychoanalytic tradition of free association – one Licht was replaced by another Licht – I offered at the reception one of my favorite Lichtenberg quotes from his The Waste Books: “three smart remarks and a lie make a writer”. It was a good contribution.

Back at home, looking at my husband and trying to guess not only what he has in mind, but also what his affect lets me read into, I’m thinking about style as it relates to our being in the world. Mind-games are language-games. Wittgenstein knew all about it. I’m particularly attracted to his idea that it is not the certainty of propositions that we have to trust, but the way in which others respond to our agency. I’m leafing through Gabriel Josipovici’s book On Trust, and I read these lines: “suspicion has to follow trust, not precede it […] to begin with suspicion is to condemn ourselves to solipsism” (274). His book ends with a famous quote from Eliot: “last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice”. Until next year’s conference, I think I’ll let my husband cure me of my analyst envy by following Wittgenstein’s introspection: “If I don’t trust myself here, why should I trust anyone else’s judgment? Is there a why? Must I not begin to trust somewhere? That is to say: somewhere I must begin with not-doubting; and that is not, so to speak, hasty but excusable; it is part of judging” (On Certainty, 150). Indeed “it is our acting which lies at the bottom of the language-game” (204). I let my language go on holiday. I reserve my seeing to the appreciation of silk, art, and fortune.


Bent said…
Know thyself, indeed! If Norm is a lumper and happy to be one, you are a splitter to the core (from the core, sorry!), and happy to be one. Some of us less fortunate ones think we are splitters but are really just lumpers in denial...

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