The Queer Psychoanalysis Society

Archive for August, 2012|Monthly archive page

Five Prose Poems as Psychological and Therapeutic Objects

In Art, Freud, LGBT, Literature, Poetry, Queer Theory on August 27, 2012 at 8:11 am

By Don Adams

Author’s Forward

When I look back on it, it seems to me that I have spent a significant part of my conscious adult life in the active and sometimes arduous process of being gay.  The prose poems below have been a part of that process.  From a personal and perhaps generational perspective, these poems, written over a period of years, seem to me as much historical documents as aesthetic objects.  For generations of the future, being gay may well seem, one hopes, a mere fact of life, like being American or Chinese, tall or short.  But for young men and women of my generation, and in many situations of course still today, being gay was and is a predicament.

Psychology can help.  In graduate school I pored through Freud and Jung and their disciples in an effort to explain to myself my inclinations and identity.  Modern psychology admittedly has a long and sad history of being used in the service of bigotry and oppression.  But at its best, psychology is an effort at understanding, and “to understand is to pity and forgive,” as Somerset Maugham, a once celebrated and now critically neglected gay writer, assures us in his nearly forgotten autobiography.

Maugham is a case in point in regards to the at times torturous evolution of gay identity in recent history.  When he was writing his drama and fiction in the first half of the 20th Century, Maugham was compelled by societal prejudice and indeed legal stricture to omit any direct reference to homosexuality.  But when we read him by today’s standards and assumptions regarding sexual identity and awareness, his work all too easily appears the product of a hopeless closet case.  To comprehend that work sympathetically, we have to recreate in some measure the assumptions and prejudices of the society in which it was appreciatively received, and which it in no small measure condemned and critiqued.  For in its broadest existential sense, to understand is not only to pity and forgive, but to accept that one has an ethical duty to challenge and attempt to change.

Maugham’s work takes up the challenge of changing a bigoted world in a courageous but necessarily coded way that requires some teasing out.  The poems below, written in a less dire time for sexual minorities, are correspondingly less circumspect, but they exhibit nevertheless many signs and symptoms of the cultural and psychological closet from which they were attempting to emerge.  When I read them now, some years after composition, and from the relative security of a less bigoted world, it seems to me that they were attempting to compel an ignorant, indifferent, or even hostile reader into sympathetic comprehension.  Perhaps they were addressed in some sort of unconscious way to my parents (who conspicuously appear in them but never to my knowledge read them), kind-hearted individuals who were compelled into psychological cruelty toward their gay son by religious stricture and societal prejudice.  But the crucial audience for the poems as psychological and therapeutic objects was even closer to home.  For it is true, as Maugham said as well, that there is no one in greater need of one’s sympathy, or for whom it is more efficacious, than oneself.

WHEN I WAS A CHILD

I thought like a child, a simple fact.  At the dime store once, my hippie cousin bought us hats.  I chose a floppy denim number with orange and yellow flowers embroidered on the crown.  When I got home with the prized purchase, my mother, glancing up from her recumbent position on the couch, pronounced a casual curse upon it, “Why are you wearing a girl’s hat son?”  Seeing my face tragically altered by the fact, she said to my cousin, “You know what he is going to do now, don’t you?”  And there were tears beneath the brim.

Some years later the young man’s mother, driven to distraction by repeated rebuffs, took the matter in hand one night while riding home with her son in the car, “You think you’re better than us now, don’t you?”  She got, as usual, no significant response.  His thoughts on the matter he was keeping well under the ubiquitous brim of his hat. Read the rest of this entry »

Blundering Aloud, Pondering Aloud: On Becoming a Lacanian Analyst

In Instinct for Research, Lacan on August 9, 2012 at 11:15 am

By Albert Herter

“What is realized in my history is…the future anterior of what I shall have been for what I am in the process of becoming.” –Jacques Lacan

I am still in the beginning.  The beginning is very genteel, friendly, civilized.  A theoretical discussion, nothing on the line really.  Nothing I couldn’t step back from.  I have put concepts on the table which are worthless.  The first time I saw my analyst, whom i will refer to as Venus, I was walking behind her into a lecture hall, and she suddenly turned around and said hello, smiling.  I said hello and smiled and she turned around and we continued walking in.  A pleasurable and surprising first encounter. The next contact I had with her was three years later when I emailed her about entering analysis.  In her email back she mistook me for a mutual friend of ours I had mentioned as way of introduction.  I don’t think I responded to that email.  Before our first session I was struck by a long wait that imposed some feelings of anxiety.  Later I would learn to love this long wait.  We talked about her situation for a while, some troubles, and then she said “That’s my story. What’s yours?”  The first words that came out were “I’m an artist.” A few sessions later she mentioned that in many countries people don’t say “I am an artist.” That it’s an adjective.  I think we continued to speak about art and various shows and one in particular at the New Museum.  I said I thought conceptual art had a tendency to be too cute.  I asked her if this particular show was old.  She said it’s older than JESUS.  I bare some resemblance to Jesus (I’m tall and had long brown hair at the time, maybe even a bit of beard) and so I thought this was some sort of message. I thought about it for a while. Later I found out that was the actual name of the art show we had been speaking about.  Many misrecognitions.  I remember her opening her legs a bit which I also thought was some sort of maneuver.  It sounds a bit adversarial.  I thought of it later as being called to an appointment, not knowing why, and knowing that one had made the appointment oneself.  I referenced Lacan’s statement on beginning from a point of not understanding.  And then the session was over, a friendly introduction.  We had faced each other.

The next session continued in the same vein, art, aspects of Lacanian analysis and it’s present developments.  I began to feel frustrated that we weren’t talking about what I had come here to talk about.  Towards the end I said I would like to speak about my “personal problems”.  Venus asked if I would like to start now or next time.  I said we could start now.  I said “I tear the skin around my fingernails. My cuticles.  I tear them till they bleed.  I lie in bed and read my book and play with my penis or tear my cuticles.”  She stopped the session there and said I had named it and said it well, that often it could be hard for men.

I enjoyed my own bewilderment when friends asked me about my analysis. I recounted things I’d said and my analyst’s responses, letting the words hang without any anchoring points.  My most intimate formulas delivered to a stranger.  I felt like analysis accentuated the absurdity of all other intersubjective contact.

I missed one session, out of absent mindedness.

I recounted a dream of driving a Porsche into a giant pile of laundry.  She said it reminded her of my sculptures and cut the session.

She asked me what the mandate was and I said “Economic and to sleep with lots of women.” She said “But it’s a mandate so you know you don’t have to do it.”

Everything was infused with meaning. It’s a realm I invested with power and knowledge.

“You’ll find some way to tell me.”

She said something about a “Narcissistic world where there is no desire.”

“I don’t know what words mean. I need to understand my words before I say them.”

“You postpone yourself.”

Sometimes I noticed her perfume.

“Look at you” she said.

I said “I say ‘You know, I don’t know.”

She said “You say that?”

I said “That’s something I say.”

You can see I simply dictate words I heard while in analysis.  I haven’t yet threaded them into any larger fabric.

At one point I said “This isn’t exactly a doctor’s office.”  Defending myself against any power she might have over me. Read the rest of this entry »