Posts Tagged ‘Psychoanalysis’

Ryder is a multi-voiced, multi-faceted novel, a roman à clef by Djuna Barnes about her trauma, her family, her polygamist, free-loving father, her scamming, enabling grandmother, her sexual abuse as a child, and female oppression. “It covers fifty years of history of the Ryder family: Sophia Grieve Ryder, like Zadel a former salon hostess fallen into poverty; her idle son Wendell; his wife Amelia; his resident mistress Kate-Careless; and their children. Barnes herself appears as Wendell and Amelia’s daughter Julie.” (Wiki)

Barnes' own illustration for Julie Ryder

Ryder functions as a set of Matryoshka Dolls, the Russian Dolls. Each layer nests, and masks what I think is the heart of the story, Julie. Each layer moving inward, towards the center, towards Chapter 24: “Julie Becomes What She Has Read.”

The fantastic range of styles and voices may be merely a fan dance to distract the reader from the passages concerning sexuality and sexual abuse, or the plot in general.

As mentioned, Julie is based on Barnes, but the reader is only given little bits about her, creating a tremendous amount of distance between us and the character. And in 24, it is the only time we are given a Ryder event without a beginning.

If we are to look at Ryder with a psychoanalytic lens, we can uncover the language of a traumatized child, forced to fragment and flower her prose in order to censor the content, not only from the censors, but possibly from herself. These fragmented pieces, clipped memories, which she fled from, reoccur in her mind in an emotional order, a hierarchy of impact versus a hierarchy of time.

The subject of rape gets an entire chapter. “Rape Re-pining”. To pine is to suffer a physical decline from a broken heart, but to re-pine denotes some form of hope squeezed in between each occurrence of loss. Possibly meaning, multiple rapes. And when the specific sentences are closely looked at, deconstructed, the mystery of Wendell and Julie’s sexual congress could be extracted from the text.

(Within the parentheses are my interpretations, more interpretations like this below.)

“Yesterday (the previous chapter, “Wendell is Born”) swung upon the Pasture Gate (A reference to the Garden of Eden, a child’s genitalia) with Knowledge (Sophia is Greek for knowledge) no-where (to protect her as she tried to in Ch. 24), yet is now, to-day, no better than her mother (Amelia, whom Wendell clearly sleeps with).”

Assuming that Barnes is unveiling a scene of molestation within 24, the child Julie is faced with a contradiction, she must repress or she will go mad, and she must emotionally and intellectually deal with this, speak about it, or she will die. And in order for her to accomplish this, she splits herself and becomes Arabella Lynn, who’s destined for death, but then she also safely remains Julie. Barnes is using dream sequences to dramatize how the trauma of molestation results in a splitting off and disassociation within Julie’s psyche.

Julie also does this psychic trick with her father, who is split into God and Dog. And though in the end these two symbols seem to be interchangeable, the idea is to protect the good father from contamination from the bad.

To further this feeling of dislocation, Julie dislocates the reader, makes them feel ashamed at their confusion and anger towards the break with unexpected relationship between reader and text.

But this feeling of dislocation is not reserved for Julie’s chapters alone. Because the book is wrapped in veils, in layers, the reader is constantly kept at arm’s length.

The novel opens with a Biblical opus. Genesis. The Father was there from the beginning. To a child, the parents, the family and the home are the child’s only world they know. Just as in “The Coming of Kate-Careless, a Rude Chapter,” Wendell appears to his family, to Kate, naked, astride the opening to his log’s cabin second floor, his three legs form the Holy Trinity, the tripod over the trapdoor, as he says: “Look that you may know your destiny!” From the Bible to bawdy folklore.

Ryder incorporates the sermon, anecdote, tall tale, riddling, fable, elegy, dream, epitaph, vision, parable, tirade, bedtime story, lullaby, satiric couplet, parallel structuring, ghost story, debate, sentia or aphorism, and emblem or epitome activated as epiphany.

These stylistic juxtapositions, bring about an intense irony, one that unfathers the Father, questions the allotted gender roles, and turns the traditional values of the patriarchy on its head.

Ryder was written during a time when the social construction of motherhood was deteriorating, and the ideas of mothers and child bearing were in transition. Excessive childbearing was thought to be an epidemic. 23,000 women died through childbearing in 1918 alone. Just as Sophia’s mother did, and as Amelia threatened. In 1920 Margaret Sanger published Woman and the New Race, which presents the revolt of women against sex servitude; urging the benefits of limiting reproduction by voluntary motherhood. As a result, American women who married in the 20’s produced fewer children than those marrying in any decade between the 1880’s and the 1950’s. Because Julie Ryder is the only character that changes, thinks outside of the family, she serves as a sketch for the contemporary female in revolt, one who questions the traditional roles of Mother and Father assumed so self-consciously by Wendell and Sophia.

To do this, Barnes must bring the idealized Mother and Father down to earth. She must represent these archetypes as they are, their grotesque bodies, back down to the womb and the tomb. Barnes does this by epitomizing eating and shitting, sex and pregnancy, childbirth and physical decay. This puts the body in direct opposition to the classical canon of literature, the canon that Barnes is parodying.

In chapters like “What Kate Was Not” when Kate pours her chamber pot onto a police officer, or when Dr. Matthew O’Connor pontificates on his profession and his desires, “staring down into and up through the cavities and openings and fissures and entrances of my fellowman, and following some, and continuing others, and increasing many, and them swelling and opening and contracting and pinching like the tides of the sea, and me a mortal like the sea with my ebb and flow, and my good heart, and my thundering parts and my appetites and my hungers.”

This is Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of the Carnivalesque. It refers to a literary mode that subverts and liberates the assumptions of the hegemony though humor and chaos. Named because during the Annual Feast of Fools, every rite and article of the Church, no matter how sacred, was celebrated in mockery.

Barnes was always a lover of the spectacle, of the carnival and the underbelly of society, and I’m suggesting that she’s setting out to do exactly this within her prose by taking the power of the father, be it Wendell, or God, or a conflation of the two, and subverting it by bringing down the idealized sexuality of the female body to the womb/tomb metaphor.

For Bakhtin, such images convey a sense of life in a vital, holistic relation to the world. Each character would then be fully open, an incomplete body, never a closed and complete unit, but in constant connection with the earth, within its process of change and renewal. Just as Amelia talks about in the A-Dunging chapter.

This also coincides with Wendell’s desires to break down the barriers between human and animal, celebrating the abundance and fertility of the earth itself, but this is a utopian ideal. To Barnes, for the woman, the emphasis falls on decay, pain, debasement and death.

The contradictory images of birth and death, and sexuality and childbirth are concentrated in Wendell’s story of Thingumbob. The female gives herself in love and undergoes birthing and death within the same moment.

The illustration of the beast and his bride, illuminate Bakhtin’s Carnivalesque. The beast is conglomerate animal, extending from the clouds, from above, from ideals, while the female is one with the earth. He is upon her, her which is predominantly a woman body, but with ten breasts and hooves instead of feet. There is then emphasis on the maternal breasts, ten breasts, ten babies, and there is a de-emphasis on the individuality of the woman, who has no face, no eyes, no feet, and as Sophia places a great emphasis on feet: “large feet and small feet have played a great part on the history of man.”

Together, the beast, and his bride convey the porous quality of the grotesque body. He as the rain, she as the harvest, tied to the earth, part of the renewal cycle which betrays the woman, using their bodies for pleasure, maternity, physical suffering, and death.

Barnes’ language is modernism at its best: gorgeous, pregnant, obscured, and alienated: Joycian, if Joyce were a woman. Both richly veiled and devastatingly deep, it’s down right shocking that she’s isn’t more well known.

Anaïs Nin writes to Djuna, “I have to tell you of the great, deep beauty of your Nightwood . . . . A woman rarely writes as a woman, as she feels, but you have.”

Here, below, is what I think Nin means when she says this. Here, below, are more examples of the genius behind Barnes’ layered prose.

Again, within the parentheses are my interpretations.

“Arabella Lynn, coming down the cold and pillared (death by phallus) stair, past (skips) the potted, odiferous, cyclomen (A Cyclamen Woman is one who has too frequent and too profuse of menstruation with the flow of black, clotted blood.)” 132

“Yet no sooner is Arabella laid beneath the unthinking sod than the thunders roll! The rain bursts in all its fury! … The heavens crack asunder, and the valleys are inundated! The fig tree fattens on the rain, and the fruit is whelmed.” 136.

“So Danae endured, the beautiful,

to change the glad daylight for brass-bound walls,

And in that chamber secret as the grave

She lived a prisoner. Yet to her came

Zeus in the golden rain.”   -Greek Mythology

“Did I not her de-riding me?” 138

Deride. To insult. To not ride. To not be ridden. Not Ryder.

Which can only be a response to “Not I, not I, not I.”

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Or… How Beckett Became Beckett by Abandoning Beckett.

Passages, and notes from Beckett and Bion by Kevin Connor.

Samuel Beckett and Wilfred Bion. 1934. Beckett was 27, Bion was 6 years his senior.

Beckett left Bion in 1935 and completed Murphy.

It has been said that these two were “imaginary twins” because they were both concerned with the possibilities of understanding and communication against the background of psychotic denials of meaning and human communication.

The originality of Beckett’s narrative writing derives from the attempt (unacknowledged and probably unconscious) to transpose into writing the route, rhythm, style, form, and movement of a psychoanalytic process in the course of its long series of successive sessions, with all the recoils, repetitions, resistances, denials, breaks, and digressions that are the conditions of any progression.

We may say of Beckett’s analysis perhaps what Bion says of the material uncovered by analysis: “In the analysis we are confronted not so much with a static situation that permits leisurely study, but with a catastrophe that remains at one and the same moment actively vital and yet incapable of resolution into quiescence.” In other words, the repetition of trauma. Usually because one cannot understand their own death, or birth[1]. So in order to understand one repeats these traumas, or traumatic images, as a mechanism of coping, but really, just reliving.

Traditional psychoanalysis functions like a nineteenth-century inheritance plot, in which the forward movement of the narrative is defined by the desire to retrieve the past, and this forward movement culminates and concludes with the reappearance of that past, the kind of analysis proposed by Bion would inhabit the looped, interrupted, convoluted duration of the modernist or postmodernist text, in the form represented by Beckett’s Trilogy.

While Beckett was writing the Trilogy, Bion was working on his Attack on Linking of the second “psychotic phase.” Both works explore the experiences of negation and negativity. Bion reports on patients who display in their attitude towards the analyst and the analytic session a hostile inability to tolerate the possibility of emotional links. The essay begins with taking the “phantasied attacks on the breast as the prototype of all attacks on objects that serve as a link and projective identification[2] as the mechanism employed by the psyche to dispose of ego fragments produced by its destructiveness.”

Under these circumstances, the failure of the link constituted by projective identification then gives way to an angry denial of the link by the patient. Because the mechanism of splitting keeps open the possibility of a relation to what is split off, it is the activity of splitting that is thus itself denied. This can only take place through the primitive process of the original splitting.

In The Unnamable, this process of disidentification becomes both more urgent and paradoxical. The speaker begins by claiming that he will do without projective identifications’ imminent extinction: “All these Murphys, Molloys and Malones do not fool me…They never suffered my pains, their pains are nothing, compared to mine, a mere tittle of mine, the tittle I thought I could put from me, in order to witness it. Let them be gone now, them and all the others, those I have used and those I have not used, give me back the pains I lent them and vanish, from my life, my memory, my terrors and shames.”

The speaker discovers that to dissolve, or attempt to dissolve these phantoms, is to reintroject them. The analyst is involved in this process since he is called upon to play the part of the mother prepared to introject the negativity projected into her by the anxious child. If the mother comes under attack so does the analyst, and the process of analysis itself. The particular form which this attack often takes, Bion suggests, is an attack on language as the medium of symbolic and cognitive linking.

The possibility that Beckett’s own discontinuation of his analysis was associated with an attack upon language is suggested in a letter he wrote to Axel Kaun months later: “It is indeed becoming more and more difficult, even senseless, for me to write an official English. And more and more my own language appears to me like a veil that must be torn apart in order to get at the things (or the Nothingness) behind it. Grammar and style. To me they have become as irrelevant as a Victorian bathing suit or the imperturbability of a true gentleman. A mask. Let us hope the time will come, thank God that in certain circles it has already come, when language is most efficiently used where it is being most efficiently misused. As we cannot eliminate language all at once, we should at least leave nothing undone that might contribute to its falling into disrepute. To bore one hole after another in it, until what lurks behind it – be it something or nothing – begins to seep through; I cannot imagine a higher goal for a writer today.”

The struggle against language is identified with a struggle against a series of mysteriously oppressing tyrants, whose motivation appears always to be to force a coherent ego or human nature upon the speaker of Beckett’s fictions. These figures begin Molloy, to the one who demands Molloy’s narrative, and progress through to the tyrannical Youdi and his agent Gaber, who extort Moran’s report; and harden at last into the figure of Basil/Mahood and the “college” of tyrants which the speaker in The Unnamable evokes at various points through his monologue.

He then turns on and others (splits) his own body. He represents his language in bodily emissions, he grounds himself in the muck of mammalian existence. Bion sees such processes or phantasms in psychotic patients as an intensified form of splitting, in which undesired or uncontainable feelings and ideas are not so much fragmented as pulverized. All abjections become bad. For the speaker in The Unnamable the process of logorrhoeic outpouring is the reflex of a process of unwilled introjection.

The terms of Beckett’s fictional verbal-corporeal economy in The Unnamable perhaps sums up some of the features of his own psychosomatic suffering, or the sufferings he was persuaded to see as such. Beckett’s own boils, cysts, and dermatological lesions led him to seek psychoanalysis, they also suggest the importance of the relations between contained and container. A Bionian interpretation would suggest that the pulverization and moralization of the ejected contents of the psyche seek a form or receptacle. It’s as if Beckett’s psyche collided with his body, and this kind of representation excited Beckett, as is apparent with his grotesque characters in the Trilogy.

As a text full of grotesque bodies, it is uncertain whether or not “the speaker” truly is alone, trapped inside his mother’s womb, or speaking with two even more grotesque figures. What is certain is that “the speaker” is at the heart of the narrative, and that whether or not these creatures (Mahood and Worm) are real or imaginary, he is never alone because he has othered his own body.

I think, the solipsism of the Trilogy derives its energy from alterity, its otherness. The aggressive purging of the other from the self reveals that the self will never glimpse or grasp itself except through the openings of its inauthentic others. “The battle of the soliloquy” as Beckett described it, is a battle with and against these others, a speaking to oneself via their speech. Like psychoanalysis, it demonstrates “How little one is at one with oneself” (in Moran’s words) as both Beckett’s and Bion’s final works show, it is a battle that is played and won, or successfully lost, but only and always in company.

[1] Late in the analysis, Bion suggested to Beckett that he attend a series of lectures being given at the Tavistock by C.G. Jung. In the lecture, Jung spoke of the mechanisms of splitting and dissociation within neurosis and psychosis. There he told the story of a young girl afflicted by premonitions of death who, Jung said, had never properly been born. This haunted and fascinated Beckett.


[2] The term comes from “Evasion by Evacuation” by Melanie Klein: projective identification’, which Bion defines as “a splitting off by the patient of part of his personality and a projection of it into the object where it becomes installed, sometimes as a persecutor, leaving the psyche from which it has been split off correspondingly impoverished.”

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