…book-ends, or parentheses…

Earlier this summer, I went to meet a distinguished Israeli psychoanalyst, M.. I traveled by train from Herzeliya, where I was staying with my brother, and walked from the station in Tel Aviv to M.’s office, about a mile and a half away. The purpose of my visit was to discuss with M. the possibility of giving a presentation to psychoanalysts in Israel about my book-in-progress, A Certain Gesture: Evnine’s Batman Meme Project and Its Parerga!. The book defies easy description; it is a strange, genre-crossing work that mixes graphic art, self-writing, and philosophy (understood in a very broad sense). I was to explain to him what the connections were between my book and psychoanalysis, connections which I was sure existed and about which I was prepared to talk fluently. M. is a little older than me and of course a very experienced psychoanalyst as well as a very knowledgeable philosopher.

Perhaps you can imagine how this felt. I am myself in analysis and I was acutely aware, as I entered M.’s office, that this was a place where psychoanalysis was conducted. The office was small, but there was the iconic couch in it. And two chairs, into one of which M. ushered me, stating (quite unnecessarily, you can be sure!) that this was the ‘patient’s chair.’ I was petitioning this older man for the chance to address a group of analysts. Petitioning this man who was vastly more knowledgeable about one of the subjects I wanted to speak about than I am; this man who was an analyst, in his own office, while I sat in what we had openly acknowledged was the patient’s place, but who even before entering the office was already investing this meeting with a lot of transferential feelings (as if it were a chance to have a friendly chat with my own analyst). If you guess that these were not propitious circumstances for me, you will not be wrong.

I will not attempt to describe the contents of our conversation. M. was friendly, gracious, receptive… but skeptical, as it seemed to me; in any case, I felt I had not risen to the occasion, that I had come up short in my attempt to explain how my rather unusual project was connected to psychoanalysis. I left M.’s office and set off by foot back to the train station, stopping on the way for a bite of lunch. About 15 minutes away from the station, I noticed that the sole of my right shoe was flapping at the front! I had to adopt a careful gait not to aggravate it but despite my best efforts, with still about 5 to 10 minutes to go, the sole detached entirely and the symbolic castration was complete. I limped to the station, and from the station in Herzeliya to my brother’s home, where I threw out the shoes and put on a new pair.

A month or so later, back in Miami, I was recounting this story to my analyst and was reminded of an incident that happened to me some 35 years ago, when I was about 22 and still living in my native London. I had studied music as an undergraduate but then became interested, more or less at the same time, in philosophy and psychoanalysis. I was able to enroll in an M.A. in philosophy (my very first philosophy teacher was the husband of Edna O’Shaughnessy, and Richard Wollheim and Jim Hopkins were also important presences), but not having studied the subject as an undergraduate meant that I was initially quite at sea and in need of guidance. At the instigation of a mutual friend, I arranged to see someone to get advice about what direction my studies might take. This person was an older man (though he was then younger than I am now) who, like M., combined interests in psychoanalysis and philosophy. In fact, he had trained at the Philadelphia Association and was part of the circle around R.D. Laing.

I barely remember the meeting itself now. I’m sure this man was affable and offered whatever advice he could. But I know I came away with a sense of dissatisfaction, feeling that somehow, I had not done myself justice. One detail of the whole incident, however, remains strong in my memory. To get to this man’s office, I had to take a train and then walk some distance. At the outset of the journey, as I waited on the platform for the train, a bee flew up my trouser leg and stung me on the calf! I was in a lot of pain and would have postponed the meeting but I really had no easier way to get in touch with this man than to go find him, so I persevered.

These two incidents mirror each other. Each included a longish journey that involved both train and walking. In each, I felt I had failed, perhaps having sabotaged myself, in an encounter with an older, more experienced man who embodied the intersection of philosophy and psychoanalysis. And in each, like the club-footed Oedipus, I had to limp – to the first encounter and from the second. These stories of defeat (or should I say, of “da feet”) are like book-ends, or parentheses, and I am trying hard, so far without success, to think what precisely is enclosed by them, to understand of what period or process they are the termini.


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