Monday, April 5, 2010
just received a cream letter from Graywolf Press that Book of Mutter was in the final four manuscripts shortlisted for their Graywolf Nonfiction Prize (which is like major $ and I never thought for a second I would have the slightest chance). And that they felt the manuscript was "very strong." I am struck by this. Like a slap but not an unpleasant one. Is this marvelous or terrible news? This is the first real sign of recognition about the manuscript I've ever received. I've submitted it to like 60 places. seriously. except for John who's always loved it. The only one I think who's ever loved it, like I love it (because it's my mother, it's about my mother, my mothers, the manuscript in which the title of this blog was born). John who keeps on saying "fuck" right now. Publishing not like horseshoes. I guess this goes back to Lacan & V. Place - jouissance being a surfeit or surplus.
The glorious, formidable Vanessa Place and I are having a bit of an argument in the comments section of the last post, where she is being brilliant teacher and I am purposefully being a bad student carving in my buts...buts...buts... But I have been writing a long meandering answer to her last comment, and it cut me off once, erasing everything, fool me once, then I wrote it again, and it erased everything again, it said everything was an error, yes, perhaps that's true, but I will post it now, my answer, you will have to go back to read the preceding, if you're interested, you can just read VP's comments and ignore my answers, and I guess this is the way I'm beginning my reading of Nightwood, here, walking in ass-backwards. Watch out for queasy capitalizations, because in comments section I suddenly abandon capitals, perhaps I am saying: Here, Now, Don't Take Me Seriously! or perhaps I am writing herenowdonttakemeseriously (but oh, all i want is to be taken seriously! says Dora to Sigmund.)
I think first I need to state my position that I don't identify as a capital-S Scholar (and so far no one has dared to validate me as such! And I am best I think my fury fierier when I am invalidated, the illegitimate bastard child). This is not a way out. This is me saying that I approach texts emotionally, viscerally, and I use theory only when I think it's interesting, and I use theory madly, wildly, liberally. Thinly and thickly. I spread it on or dot or layer. I read Old-Freud and Lacan-man like a feral child, and I will go down to my death repeating, smearing on walls: A Phallus is Just Another Word for A Cock, A Phallus is A Glorified Cock. OR, is it really, that not a Phallus is a Cock, but a Cock is a Phallus. I am joking. As Gertrude Stein famously wrote, a Cock is a Cock is a Cock is a Cock.
But that said I read psychoanalysis constantly, and I don't invalidate all of Lacan's or Freud's positions, no no, but... I don't think I need to read a text through psychoanalysis or any theory for that matter and I kind of shirk from that assignment, as I'm not sure I want to be a good student. And I am sometimes more interested in the phenomenon of psychoanalysis, the history behind it, as opposed to the prescriptions.
Anyway. The point I would I think take issue with, although find interesting, is that it is necessary to read Nightwood in a Freudian light because that was the hysteric du jour (this would be a dark light yes for a dark continent?) I think it's imp. for that matter that although psychoanalysis was practiced at this time (H.D.'s ardency for the man himself, Anais Nin was popping psychoanalysts like pills, and it shows up in both of their prose texts, the language, the "lack" and "desire", etc.) It was certainly not only or mainstream in terms of the discourse of mental illness at this time. VDubs herself although her press published Freud's translation was distanced from the language of psychoanalysis. And she was treated by nerve doctors. It was all the language of nerves, neurasthenia. Her famous two hysterics in Mrs. Dalloway, clarissa herself and septimus smith, were given the rest not the talking cure, they were not freud's hysterics. Their medicine man would have been silas weir mitchell or george savage.
If there's any medical language used in Nightwood it is about neurasthenia not neurosis (Dr. o connor diagnoses nora with such). But thinking of the doctor, the babbling glorious Dr. Matthew O'Connor in Nightwood, he is not the law, he is a patient himself, like a crossdressing schreber, a Tiresias figure, a prophet/mystic. That is what is so fucking marvelous to me about the text, everyone is fucking mad, they are the creatures of the night, of the unconscious (but does it have to be freud's unconscious?) Except for Felix the baron there is no Law, no master (and he is a nervous, fraudulent master, a false nobleman, a wandering Jew, a hysteric too (fuguer)). It is a feminine world, I think perhaps that's why Bracha Ettinger's matrixial borderspaces (which you turned me on to) would be more interesting to look at for nightwood, these pre-oedipal figures in a landscape of loss and trauma and desire, meeting in a sort of strange world of the night. Or Kristeva on love or the borderless world of the abject or even Kristeva on poetic language. Those would be the theorists I would more likely turn to for Nightwood.
But to me Barnes is her own philosopher! No other text has dealt so powerfully for me with desire, with abjection and love. I don't know whether Freud would have fuck all to say about Nora or Robin Vote, as he felt female for female desire was misplaced (Dora and Frau K, I do read the case studies like glorious terrible Harlequin romances). Her characters would be diagnosed, yes, I'm sure Lacan would be interested in Robin Vote, who he would diagnose as psychotic like Duras' Lol Stein, although for me I don't think Lacan's seminar on psychoses and the feminine says much for me, I am more interested in critiquing it. And I'm wary of diagnosing characters, although it is a sticky situation as I'm interested in glorifying madness or hysteria in literature (and to me they should be unmedicated! madness in literature should be untreated! My glorious erotomaniac of Nora, Robin Vote the fuguer, Jenny the wounded narcissist).
And also. I think, if Barnes was dealing specifically or even unconsciously with any medicine marvel man it would have been Charcot, as her hysterics could be characterized as the grande and not petit variety, and so much of Nightwood is about the public spectacle, and her lovely circus freaks even mirrors Charcot's language for describing the acrobatics of hysteria. To me Nightwood is the glorious world of the grotesque, of the carnivalesque, the circus performers are countesses, the Untermenschen are false Barons, everything is turned topsy-turvy and upside, dizzyngly down, laws and leviticuses thumbed at, the only voice of authority (the doctor) a con artist. For me, in Nightwood, the patients are running the institution.
also, a quibble. you write:
And it's not patriarchy per se that the hysteric challenges, but the fleshier embodiment of the father/master in all its guises
is there a difference? isn't patriarchy manifested in the Law made flesh, in the normalizers, the masters?