One of the best things about the conference on Literature and Psychology, held annually in different European cities, and which I have attended with faithful regularity for some years now, is the fact that it enforces two things for me. First: Freud still comes across as fresh and exquisitely brilliant as ever especially in respect of his concept of the death-drive formulated in his fabulous essay: “Beyond the Pleasure Principle.” Second, yes, Lacan is still a good read before bed (well, Plato used to think that one should read some math before bed to avoid what he called illegal thoughts, but I find that idea ludicrous especially in light of the innocent question, what’s wrong with having erotic dreams?)

But apart from having some personal opinions and positions consolidated or relishing the opportunity to meet some of the best Freud and Lacan interpreters around, the conference always manages to put some things in perspective for the scholar who, after a whole term of teaching ‘down to earth’ stuff, gets to reflect on the meaning and implication of creative activities.

What I’ve just realized today, while listening to Nancy Blake’s talk on Ian McEwan, is that the best literature around is the literature that tests the limits of language by making recourse to testing the limits of its protagonists and readers alike – as if when asking the question: if a writer makes his characters do unbelievably bold things, but things we can believe in nonetheless, how are we going to handle it? (Off the top of my head I hurry to suggest here: make sure you enjoy being in a state of astonishment, rather than run away, close the book, and curse the author). Nancy, who is one of the best Lacanian ‘translators’, suggested that while the main female character in the story becomes a successful violinist, even though only through sublimation, she fails as an agent in her other relations that involve the consolidation of her subjectivity because she is unable to pose the most important question at last: what has the price for creativity been?

Anne-Maria Mazzega-Bachelet later suggested that all good literature (her example was Kafka) goes through 4 movements in relation to the way in which it depicts the trauma that a creative act necessarily involves: intensity, sexual content, nonsense and silence, and repetition. On this list I particularly like the last two: when the author establishes intensity by reference to sexual symbolism, 'nonsense' takes over and articulates itself forcefully which necessarily brings forth silence: characters and readers alike are baffled, so they 'say' nothing. Because silence is instituted, there is thus a need for the repetition of all the other movements. This repetition is what constitutes transgression. While this transgression often comes close to being interpreted as a form of obsession, it also ensures that something interesting happens between the author of the stories, the protagonists in the story and the readers of the story.

The brilliant insight is that because transgression is what it is, a site of struggle and tension with language and ideas, it cannot per se also be the vehicle for communication as a result of precise readings (across and between the agents involved). In other words, everybody misreads everybody else – but not entirely. An author may estimate a reader’s response quite accurately, but not because she is able to read her opponents (characters and readers alike) with infallible precision, but because there is always a chance that she is wrong precisely and inasmuch as she is also right. I like this idea, especially as it relates to an ethical question: how much responsibility do writers have to show to their readers (the sources of inspirations are included)? Here the correct answer must be this one: none, if creativity is to stand a chance of survival in its intense, ravishing, illuminating, and for the most part violent mode. Words are bodies, poststructuralists such as Judith Butler have taught us: they can be hurled at others; they can be made to caress others; they can be served as dishes for others to swallow, enjoy, or vomit (as Avital Ronell also put it); they can be made to transgress others’ limits of being in the world by enhancing their eloquence, craft, articulation, calculation, communication, and creativity.

I’m going home soon with this lesson in mind, which brings forth a self-imposed and self-enforced imperative: if you want to keep writing, keep doing what you’re doing, read some Lacan for good measure before sleep or sex, and dream of dying with some damned good book in your hand.


Anonymous said…
I think I know what you mean, but I know I love what you mean. Here I am in the Northeast of America waking up early to see if the absence of my wife next to me in bed could possibly be substituted by a message on the screen, but no, she's working, while sleeping down in Florida, of all places, so I reiterate my love by rereading the poem which found her, Philosophical Question which jump-started the piece with a dream, a very, very erotic dream of her, which I show in the piece only through the language of the dream, as opposed to the visual of the dream, which might be scene as betrayal, if revealed, so no, she's not here, but I write to her in the silence of the World Wide Web, then check out how my friends Bent & Camelia are in Lisbon, & find they're more than fine, what with Camelia inviting the Death Drive & erotic dreams, I read her blog, & no kidding, mis read the word which this response to "Transgressive Acts Exquisite Facts" won't let me return to right now without losing like the top edge of the screen of the magic writing pad, but wherever she, Camelia, mentioned the word "successful," I read, granted at 3:39 in the morning, "succulent," so proving the thesis of her entire tract, which is such a fine substitution at this hour, on this day, when I have to return to work in a few short hours, thinking of my wife, Freud's utter essential worth, Lacan's added spirit to the enterprise, & Camelia's recent reinterpretation of both so full, so full, so full of understanding.
Bent said…
Who to blame for your nightmares, then?

Perhaps you feel guilty for saying in plenum about Freud: "That is not my father"?

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