When we were living in Antibes our daughter went to school with an American girl whose parents were missionaries to “post-Christian” France. The girl’s mother — I’ll call her Mary — writes what she calls literary fiction but which to my tastes seems more like adolescent Christian chick lit. Anyhow, as I was reading her first published novel I got to a wedding scene that seemed to call out for psychoanalytic interpretation. So I sent Mary an email, parts of which I excerpt here:
Maranatha loves [her father’s brother] Zane but killed him, or at least took away his potency (= psychic castration?). She hates Georgeanne, who is a competitor for Zane’s affection. On her way to the wedding she ruins her dress. She goes home, finds her mother’s white dress, and wears it to the wedding. She looks like a bride; she looks like her mother. Zane’s getting married; Zane loved Maranatha’s mother. Maranatha is twice doubled as Zane’s bride here: as Geogreanne, and as her own mother who should have been Zane’s bride.
The wedding march plays a few times but still no Georgeanne — maybe this twice-doubled girl will be the one to walk down the aisle after all? Alas, no: Zane has to marry Georgeanne, who is just a substitute for the “real” bride, who is Maranatha’s mother, who is also Maranatha. Georgeanne’s father died too: Georgeanne = Maranatha. From the back Georgeanne looks like a princess (= Maranatha). Maranatha fantasizes about the wedding cake: she becomes Georgeanne, Zane becomes [her black friend] Charlie.
The wedding is over, the cake is cut, Maranatha gets bloody stains on the front of her wedding dress, to the skin, “forever stained.” She straddles the bar, Charlie holds her by the handlebars, they nearly kiss. All very intense, very sexual, very Freudian-Lacanian.
Then there’s this old lady, Mabel. With her good eye Mabel watches the wedding, then turns and sees Maranatha as the double of her mother. Maranatha wanted to die (= her dead mother). Mabel’s spare glass eye rolls onto the floor: it’s staring at Maranatha from under the pew. She picks up the artificial eye with an aritificial flower. And now I recall Freud’s essay on “The Uncanny,” in which he recounts one of the Tales of Hoffman, the one about the Sandman, who throws sand in children’s eyes until they jump out of their heads bleeding. This too is a story of doublings, of a dead father, of a wedding gone awry. There are artificial eyes. The eye, says Freud, is the castrated phallus of the father. (Maranatha’s flower: isn’t it the female genitalia that grasps the phallus?) The Sandman is a story is built around themes of uncanniness. Freud elaborates:
These themes are all concerned with the phenomenon of “the double,” which appears in every shape and in every degree of development. Thus we have characters who are considered to be identical because they look alike. This relation is accentuated by mental processes leaping from one of these characters to another — by what we should call telepathy –, so that the one possesses knowledge, feelings, and experience in common with the other. Or it is marked by the fact that the subject identifies himself with someone else, so that he is in doubt as to which his self is, or substitutes the extraneous self for his own. In other words, there is a doubling, dividing, and interchanging of the self. And finally there is the constant recurrence of the same thing — the repetition of the same features or character-traits or vicissitudes, of the same crimes, or even the same names through several consecutive generations.
So I’m having a good time with this. Authorial intent? Who knows? Am I really a Freudian? When I read an event like Zane’s wedding I am. Over the top? You decide.
So what is Mary’s authorial response to my analysis?
Wow. That was a lot to digest. I loved your analysis! I have no idea if I thought through all you highlighted here (perhaps you’re making me smarter than I am), but I found it fascinating. When I write a novel, I feel like I’m translating what I see. The story plays itself out in front of me, which makes for very visual books (and hopefully a screenplay someday).
Yesterday a side conversation at Cultural Parody Center touched briefly on Sam Shepard. Jonquille said this about one of Shepard’s plays:
But ‘True West” is great and I’m sure Arpege Mess [nickname for another blog personality] could decipher it till it disappears. That’s what I loathe about her and traxus’s endless hermaneutics of whatever–the work disappears once it is touched by their corrupt hands…and even then they keep going… Clysmatics [that’s me] lub dat, though.
You may recall from yesterday’s post that Traxus and I engaged in a lengthy “deciphering” of David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises. Erdman wondered whether after all that interpretation I actually liked the movie (I did, very much). While I was watching I pretty much settled into the cinematic world that Cronenberg had established, not really thinking about the critical-analytic matrix in which it could be embedded. Not until a couple people wrote blog posts about the movie did I begin thinking about it in theoretical terms, and not until I had occasion to think about differences between Lacan and Deleuze did I really feel inclined to delve into serious deciphering. Once I got started, though, and in response to Traxus’s contrasting views, I found it easy to continue — one idea led to another, which brought me back to other scenes in the film, which triggered another theoretical elaboration, and so on. I stuck entirely to psychoanalytic constructs, never even touching on issues of aesthetics or politics or cinematic technique. I see Jonquille’s point: it would be possible to subject the film with so much deciphering that the film itself disappears. It’s like the photographer in the late great Antonioni’s Blow-Up trying to figure out what happened at a crime scene, only to find the scene itself transformed into an abstract matrix of photographic pixels. So if I were to watch Eastern Promises again, would my appreciation be enhanced or stifled by my having subjected it to conscious scrutiny? Would my own fiction writing become grander or more pretentious if I were to psychoanalyze my own text as I was writing it? I already do it to an extent, but certainly there are writers — like Mary — who cultivate an unconscious, non-reflective writing style. I responded to her reply thusly:
Freud presumes that a lot of our imaginings take shape beneath the level of conscious awareness. As a writer of fiction you’d hope to be able to tap into this unconscious source of creativity. Lots of writers go through lots of liquor trying to get to that level. I’m also aware that my own unconscious is shaped in part by images and ideas presented by others. Even Freud’s discussion of the uncanny is based on an analysis of Hoffman’s short story — a crafted text rather than the spontaneous verbalizations of his patients. Hitchcock movies are great examples of Freud’s death-and-doubling theme. I think especially of Vertigo, where the Jimmy Stewart character doesn’t find someone who just happens to remind him of a dead girl — she really is the same girl. So when Hitchcock creates this story is it a work of creativity, a manifestation of his own subconscious self, or the unconscious influence of outside voices like Hoffman’s and Freud’s? Anyhow, I thought the wedding scene was particularly powerful and overflowing with meaning.
And Mary said:
Maybe I’m a dry drunk! I don’t really know how to explain it other than I’m happiest when I’m writing stories. And I can tell when I’m in the zone. It’s a thrill, really.
As if I stand in awe of her creative genius. As if I’ve never written any fiction. Mary asks me to tell my wife that she’s been reading her blog — she never said anything about reading my blog. I read her book; she never asked to read my book. So that was the end of our little email exchange. And now that my blog is dead I can put it up here.