Siri Hustvedt – Inside the Room

Siri Hustvedt – Inside the Room

Ingeleid door Ria Walgraffe en gevolgd door de Apostrophe van Lucien Mélèse, vragen aan Siri Hustvedt door Ingrid De Muynck en antwoorden van Siri Hustvedt.

(Lezingen op het Jubileumcongres van de Belgische School voor Psychoanalyse – Mei 2015).

Psychoanalyse en kunst : tussen partituur en uitvoering – inleiding door Ria Walgraffe-Vanden Broucke

Momenteel enkel in het Frans, zie Franse versie.

Siri Hustvedt – Inside the Room

I first read Sigmund Freud when I was sixteen. Did I understand what I was reading? Probably not, but I was fascinated, and by the time I read The Interpretation of Dreams a few years later, my life-long curiosity about psychoanalytic theory had begun. I thought of becoming an analyst for a while, have immersed myself in the problems of neuro-psychoanalysis, the brain-mind conundrum, and wrote a novel with an analyst hero, The Sorrows of an American, but I was fifty-three years old before I found my own analyst. I landed in her office because I had a symptom, “the shakes.” The symptom became a book. The shaking has returned as a theme in our sessions, but it has not been not central to what I now think of as an internal revolution wrought in therapy.

For six years I have been in psychoanalytically based psychotherapy twice a week, and I have been changed by it. How this has happened remains mysterious. I could tell you a story now, different from the story I arrived with on that first day, but the dynamics of how one story supplanted another, how talk, often repetitious, circling, speculative, even nonsensical has achieved this shift in me, I couldn’t explain to you with any precision.

I know this: I feel freer. I feel freer in my life and in my art, and those two are finally inseparable.

Here is a point. I am deeply familiar with psychoanalytic theory, but I wonder if my knowing it has made any difference in my own therapy, in untying knots and opening doors.

It is good that my analyst knows theory. It has surely guided her treatment of me, but her particular beliefs, the intricacies of her positions on this or that are entirely unknown to me.

I have always loved Freud’s quote of Charcot: “Theory is good but it doesn’t prevent things from existing.”

Every philosophical system, every model of the mind-brain-self-body, of consciousness and unconsciousness is incomplete. There is always something that escapes it – a thing that exists without explanation, a monster that cannot be brought into the system.

But then ideas are never any good unless they are felt and lived. Otherwise, they are just “dry letters,” as Dickens wrote. A good deal of theory is desiccated and corpse-like. In her novel L’Invitée, Simone de Beauvoir’s character Françoise says, “But to me, an idea is not a question of theory, one experiences it; if it remains theoretical it has no value.”

Art can speak to what falls outside theory, and it can also embody felt ideas.

Psychoanalytic theory comes alive inside the room. It has to live between analyst and patient.

Anna Freud called intellectualization a defense.


Edmund Husserl used the word Leib as opposed to Körper.

The room is always the same. Every time I go, it looks the same. Were I to arrive at a session and find that the room had been remodeled or substantially altered, I’m sure I would feel alarmed. And yet, for a long time I didn’t look very closely at anything in it. After about three years, I did. Why? I felt free to do so. A Change. But it is the repetition of the room’s sameness that counts — the sense that the room doesn’t change. My analyst looks the same. Her voice is the same. She is there when she says she will be there. When I have to wait an extra couple of seconds before she buzzes me into the waiting room, I used to worry, not a lot, but a little. Now that is over. I recognize the sound of her steps when she leaves her office to walk toward me where I sit in the chair until she comes to get me. She has a light step, neither slow nor hurried. Mostly, however, she belongs to the room. She and the room go together, a ritual return to the same space with the same person inside it. If I couldn’t depend on their sameness, I might not be able to change. I can only change because the room and my analyst are fixed.

The time in the room is not the time outside the room. Behind me is a large clock with numbers that tells the time for the session, but it is a clock time that is not quite clock time because the world slows down in the room. Sometimes I know in my body when it is almost over — sometimes I don’t.

This is the constant reality: two people in a room who speak to each other. One speaks more than the other, and through that dialogue, there is internal motion in the patient. The analyst may be moved, too, must be moved, but it is the change in the patient that counts. The dialectical shifting between me and you, the story telling, the associative leaps, the descriptions of dreams, and the intense listening that occur in the analytic space is Freud’s greatest legacy, his greatest invention, a codification of a particular kind of dialogue. Bertha Pappenheim’s “talking cure” goes on in myriad forms, and what is interesting is that there is no ultimate or final technique. What happens in the room is guided by theory, but the world forged between patient and analyst is also an intuitive, unconsciously driven, rhythmic, emotional, and often ambiguous undertaking.

This is why doing analysis is something like making art.

Somehow, repeated sessions of talk between two people can unearth what was once unknown and bring it into the light of the known. It is a kind of remembering, certainly, but a remembering with feeling or a remembering about feeling. The memories that appear do not have to be accurate or literally true in any documentary sense. Our conscious autobiographical memories are notoriously unreliable. Freud called this instability Nachträglichkeit. He first mentioned it in a letter to Fliess in 1895. Memories are not fixed, but mutable. The present alters the past. Imagination and fantasy play an important role in remembering. Memories are creative and active, not passive. In his Outlines of Psychology (1897), Wilhelm Wundt writes, “It is obvious that practically no clear demarcation can be drawn between images of imagination and those of memory… All our memories are therefore made of ‘fancy and truth” [Wahrheit und Dichtung]. Memory changes under the influence of our feelings and volition to images of imagination and we generally deceive ourselves with their resemblance to real experiences.”

And memories are consolidated by emotion. Feeling undergirds all memories, whether they are accurate or not. There is accumulating neurobiological evidence that the same systems of the brain are at work in both remembering and imagining, in not only recollecting the self, but projecting it into the future. Memories are often fictions. We do not mean to make them up. We are not lying, but their truth is not documentary truth.

Last year, I received an email from a fellow writer whose book I had read. She seemed dissatisfied with me, distressed by my response. I recalled sending her a long enthusiastic note about her novel, which I had loved. And I remembered explaining at some length why I had admired it. She seemed not to have received it. I checked my messages and found the email I had sent to her. I had written: “It is a beautiful book. The seamless motion from inside to outside, psyche to place to other. And the exacting prose…Bravo”. I imagined I had written two full paragraphs. In fact, I had only thought them and felt them. What I had wished had come true, but only in my mind, not on the page.

In my last novel, The Summer Without Men, my character Mia says, “I will write myself elsewhere”. This is the motion of the imagination. I won’t stay here. I’ll move away in my mind, become someone else, enter another story. This is the work of conscious memory, too. I recollect my old self in the past and shape a story for her. I imagine myself in the future and have a story for that projected self, too.

When I write a novel I always feel as if I am dredging up old memories, trying to get the story right. But how do I know what story is right? Why one story and not another?

Sometimes with my analyst I try to remember. I look back at my childhood. I search my mind for a memory, a clue, a something to help, to clarify, to illustrate, to demonstrate, something warm or cold – and there is nothing. Blankness. White, not black. Maybe it’s the white of a page, but there is nothing on it.

When I am stuck in a book, the feeling is similar. I ask myself what is supposed to happen now? Why is this wrong? Why is what I am writing about this character a lie? How is it possible to lie in fiction? Believe me, it is. When I find the truth, I know it. What is that knowing? It is not theoretical. It is emotional.

The sentence on the page feels right because it answers a feeling in me, and that feeling is a form of remembering.

Art is always made for someone else. That someone is not a known person. She or he has no face, but art is never made in isolation. When I write, I am always speaking to someone, and the book is made between me and that imaginary other.

Who is the imaginary other in art?

I don’t know. Another self?

Is the analyst an imaginary other in therapy?

The analyst is partly imagined and partly real, but then probably every other person is also both real and imagined. The difference is that the imaginary other for whom I am writing my novel cannot talk back.

Transference takes place in the zone between patient and analyst. Freud’s ideas about transference evolved bit by bit. In Studies in Hysteria, he attributes his patient’s desire to kiss him to “a false connection”, a case of mistaken identity. The patient doesn’t really want to kiss the doctor, but an old love object. In Freud’s postscript to the famous Dora case, transference evolves into something more complicated. Transference may involve a “sublimated version” of the old love object, the father or the mother, for example, but it may also borrow some “real” quality from the analyst. In Remembering, Repeating and Working Through, the reader is told that transference “represents an artificial illness.” The phrase “artificial illness” is lifted from Jean-Martin Charcot, who described his hypnotized hysterical patients in the Salpêtrière Hospital as being in an “artificial” state of their illness. Suggestion haunts the word artificial. Transference begins to look like an un-induced form of hypnotism. And yet, Freud stresses that the strong feelings that move between patient and analyst are nevertheless “a piece of real experience,” and they have the character of “genuine love.”

Transference partakes of the fictional and the real. When we fall in love with our analysts, we may be in the throes of an old love affair with a parent, but the high emotion we feel is not false. I think the best understanding of transference love is through emotional reality. As Freud points out in The Interpretation of Dreams when he quotes Stricker, “If I am afraid of robbers in a dream, the robbers, it is true, are imaginary — but the fear is real.”

In 1931, Lev Vygotsky made the same point in a paper on “Imagination and Creativity in the Adolescent.” “When with the help of fantasy, we construct some sorts of unreal images, the latter are not real, but the feeling which they evoke is experienced as being real. When a poet says, ‘I will dissolve in tears over this fiction’, he realizes that that this figment is something unreal, but his tears belong to the realm of reality.”

Emotions cannot be fictive. If I am afraid or joyous when I dream or when I read a book or when I am inventing people and their stories in my novels, the love and fear I feel is real even though the characters are not. This is the truth of fiction.

Sometimes my analyst talks back to me, and I cannot really hear her. And then one day, she tells me what she has told me before, and I am able to hear her. No, this is not quite right. I have heard the words before, but they did not mean then what they mean now. Now they resonate inside me like a tuning fork. I feel them. They hum. They are alive, and something is different. It is as if the words have attached themselves to my nerves and skin and muscles, even to my bones. It is as if they are now anchored, not floating away into the air of the room.

Martin Buber believed that genuine dialogue between a real “I” and a real “you” can create a third region, an ontological reality of the Between that did not exist before. He believed that two people can create a form of communion that is the “embodiment of the word dialogue.” Buber wrote about psychotherapy, and his thoughts influenced Carl Rogers among others; he understood that his concept of “the between” was deeply relevant to what happens between therapist and patient.

This is the zone of transference and counter-transference. It must be felt. The words must be embodied.

In The Ego and the Id, Freud famously wrote, “The ego is first and foremost a body ego.” And the ego, he argued, has conscious and unconscious parts. It is through this body ego that we distinguish between ourselves and others. The French phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty also believed in a body ego. For him the “I” was always embodied. We are body subjects. “Between my consciousness and my body as I experience it, between the phenomenal body of mine and that of another as I see it from the outside, there exists an internal relation which causes the other to appear as the completion of the system. The possibility of another person’s being self-evident is owed to the fact that I am not transparent for myself, and that my subjectivity draws my body in its wake” (PP, 352).

Merleau-Ponty understood that the mystery of the other is echoed by the mystery of the self. These two are not identical; I feel myself in ways that I cannot feel you, but neither one of is transparent. Strangeness exists in you and in me.

The world of I and you, the between, is often called intersubjectivity. An infant engages in a musical, gestural, tactile back and forth with her mother, primary intersubjectivity. The baby has proto-conversations, a pre-reflective, pre-conceptual, embodied relationship to another person that is not yet reflectively self-conscious or, as Hegel would have it – the infant is not yet für sich but an sich, not for itself but in itself. These early interactions are crucial to brain development, to the neocortex, which develops hugely after birth, but also to the emotional systems that are primed by these interactions. As infans we begin to link feelings to experience, to what Freud called the pain-pleasure series. And through repetition, those links between feelings and experiences create expectations about the world. The authors of a study called Rhythms of Dialogue in Infancy, analyzed vocalizations between babies and their mothers. They discovered what they call a pattern of “temporal expectancies” that provide the cognitive and emotional foundations for the developing personality.

I am a being made by temporal expectancies. I am not aware of how they have shaped me, and I will never be able to articulate perfectly how that story unfolded, but I can begin to see the patterns of repetition in my own life every day and in the here and now of analytic time and space, sealed off from ordinary temporality and the ordinary rooms in which I live.

When I write I am always feeling the rhythm of the sentences in my body – a relation between my fingers on the keys and the words on the page. I know when a rhythm is right and when it is wrong. Where does that come from? It is a form of bodily memory, of kinetic music that has emotional resonance.

Most of writing is unconscious. I do not know where the sentences come from. When it is going well, I know less than when it is going badly. In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud quotes Schiller’s letter to a friend. “[…] where there is a creative mind, Reason – so it seems to me – relaxes its watch upon the gates, and the ideas rush in pell-mell, and only then does it look them through and examine them in a mass.”

Reason is in the editing, not in the rush of making. The making takes place underground, and that underground was created and is still being created between me and others.

Before the words “primary intersubjectivity” appeared in any book, D.W. Winnicott explored the back and forth relation between infant and mother. “What does the baby see when he or she looks at the mother’s face? I am suggesting that ordinarily what the baby sees is himself or herself. In other words, the mother is looking at the baby and what she looks like is related to what she sees there.”

Vittorio Gallese, the neuroscientist, who was on the team that discovered mirror neurons in pre-motor cortex of macaque monkeys in 1995, the neurons that fire when an animal performs an action, but also when another animal watches the same action, has continued his research on mirroring systems in the brain. Unlike some scientists he is interested in the philosophical implications of his research. He proposes that we all have a “we-centric” space, part of “a manifold of intersubjectivity”, which creates an avenue for empathy, for reading the intentions of others, and for multiple acts of the imagination.

When I look at you, I see myself. Your face supplants mine while we are talking. I cannot not see my own face. A philosopher friend of mine, Maria Brincker, asked her five-year-old daughter if it wasn’t amazing that newborn babies could imitate other people’s faces, and the little girl said, “No, Mommy, that’s easy. The baby has your face.”

When I am in an analytic session, I find myself in the analyst. By working through endless neurotic repetitions, the unnoticed patterns of experience and feeling that have been in me seemingly forever, I slowly revised my view of me. How has it happened? And what does it have to do with making art?

Are characters in novels “sublimated versions” of old love objects? Is making fiction another form of transference?

Surely Freud is right that transference cannot be confined to analysis. We are continually in the grip of various kinds of transferences and counter-transferences out there in the world. I may experience a person as intimidating or repugnant or attractive because there is some quality in me, derived from my emotional-cognitive memories, which have become part of how I personally interpret the world.

Sublimation is a murky concept. It always involves psychic mobility, desire, and its objects. In his New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, Freud writes that the relation of an instinct or drive to its object is open to alteration. “A certain modification of the aim and change of the object, in which our social valuation is taken into account is described by us as sublimation.”

Human beings sublimate. Rats and bats don’t. The idea is one of transformation. Primal erotic instincts or drives are redirected into creative work of all kinds, intellectual and artistic. But is making art a defense? Freud wobbled on this. Hans Loewald turned sublimation in another direction – toward symbolic formations. This seems more accurate to me. Writing fiction is something like dreaming while awake or as Susanne Langer wrote, “art is the symbolic forms of human feeling.”

Why do some people live in worlds of their own making? Why are some people driven to populate the pages of books with imaginary beings?

“Those for whom the world is not enough”, wrote Josef Joubert, “philosophers, poets, and all readers of books”.

Creativity is never simply a matter of purely cognitive manipulations or mental exercises. It comes from deep within the self/psyche/body. It is directed by memory, by subliminal knowledge and emotional realities. Writing is hard, but I want to do it. Sometimes it is harder to do than at other times. I have never been entirely blocked for very long, but I have been slow, very slow. Slowness, in my case, is always about fear. It is always about an inability to face the material that must be written.

Hilda Dolittle was an American imagist poet who came to be known by the name H.D. In 1933, when she first began her analysis with Sigmund Freud, she was forty-six years old and had suffered many losses. She had lost two infant sisters, her mother, her brother, her father, and she had miscarried a daughter. The horrors of the First World War had traumatized her. And she couldn’t write. H.D. was completely blocked.

Their first meeting interests me.

Freud’s chow, Yofi, is in the room with the two of them. When H.D. moves toward the dog, Freud says, “Do not touch her – she snaps – she is very difficult with strangers.” But H.D. does not back away, and the dog snuggles her nose in the poet’s hand. “My intuition”, she writes, “challenges the professor, though not in words… she snaps, doesn’t she? You call me a stranger, don’t you?”

H.D. did not want to be a stranger, not even at the very beginning of her analysis. She wanted to be known and recognized. She wanted to see herself in the professor. I may not be able to articulate this challenge to you, she thinks, but I am someone with special gifts. The dog and I have an underground ability to communicate that you, the great professor, were unable to sense, and so I am correcting you.

H.D. loved the professor. Together they created a change inside her, which she took away from the analysis, and that is why she wrote her Tribute to Freud and why she was able write much more after her time with Freud than before. Still, her text is oblique, and the twists and turns of the analytic work are not obvious. There is no way to reduce it to a coherent narrative, to a technique or theory. There is a refrain that runs through her text. It makes me smile: “The professor was not always right.”

Resistance? Yes, of course.

Resistance is something I recognize. I resist when I am afraid. I am deaf, blind, dumb, and I cannot remember anything except a blank white page.

All the words that emerge from my mouth are dry – dry letters. Intellectualizations – my defense.

When something is wrong with a book, it is similar. What is supposed to happen now? Who is this person? My mind is empty. I am trying to remember what really happened, but I can’t. I try to remember. There are no inscriptions. The sentence that arrives is bad. I strike it out and begin again.

No one is always right. The analyst is not a god, except when the patient makes him or her into an immortal, and this is usually temporary. The analyst is never an objective third-person who looks down on the proceedings from the heavens. What came to be called “neutrality” in psychoanalysis is a direct import from the natural sciences, born of a fear that subjectivity and suggestion might muddy the transactions between the two people in the room, but that is exactly where the magic lies.

H.D. arrived in Vienna grieving, but she also came with a stubborn self-assurance. H.D. was a mystic. In Corfu, she had had a mystical, hallucinatory experience. She saw writing on a wall – enchanted hieroglyphs of deep meaning. In Tribute, she makes it clear that what Freud regarded as a “symptom,” she regards as inspiration.

Agreement on Weltanschauung is not a condition for analysis.

H.D. remained a mystic throughout her analysis, and she was one long after it had ended. But are symptom and inspiration at odds? Over and over again, my “symptoms” of one kind or another have become inspirations. Migraine auras, auditory hallucinations, seizures, and far more obscure pains and symptoms are written into books, reinvented in stories, embodied in my characters in one way or another. The symptom and the inspiration are one and the same.

But some symptoms block creativity.

Some symptoms are strangling. They terrify. They impede a person’s life and work.

Writing blocks are symptoms. Why have I shut out the truth?

H.D. hated writer’s block, but she loved her hallucinatory vision. She clung to it as I have clung to some of my symptoms – my hallucinations and auras and tingles and lifting feelings. These are finally benign symptoms because they become integrated into a creative narrative of the self.

Peter Wolson wrote a paper called The Vital Role of Adaptive Grandiosity in Artistic Creativity. With the exceptions of Rank and Kohut, Wolson writes, most analysts have argued that grandiosity is infantile and interferes with creativity, but he disputes this truism. Adaptive grandiosity is “the artist’s exhilarating conviction of his potential for greatness, the extremely high value he places on the uniqueness of his own feelings, perceptions, sensations, memories, thoughts and experiences.” It is there in H.D. from the very beginning. She never let go of her “grandiose” conviction.

My daughter is a singer, musician, and composer. Not long ago, she said to me on the phone “Of course, Mom, I couldn’t do this if I didn’t believe in myself, didn’t believe that the work was good and that I can contribute something to music.” I said, “No artist can live without that belief.”

Every artist needs adaptive grandiosity to face rejection, criticism, misunderstanding, and the many forms of unhappiness that a life of making art brings. And for girls and women, a strong dose of grandiosity is needed to face the endless sexism—which arrives as patronage, condescension, fear, and prejudice. But most importantly, this inflated sense of self creates urgency, a need to work hard, to do what has to be done, and the perverse belief that it will all be worth it.

Emily Dickinson wrote poems alone; radical, brilliant verses that burn my consciousness every time I read them. She sent some of her poems to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, an important literary critic of the day. He was not unsympathetic to her work, but he did not understand he was reading the work of a genius, someone who had reinvented the English language. His impulse was to correct her, smooth out the wrinkles. He told her she was not ready to publish.

On June 8th, 1862, she answered. “You think my gait ‘spasmodic.’ I am in danger, sir. You think me ‘uncontrolled.’ I have no tribunal.”

Dickinson did not change her poems. There is irony in her response to Higginson, irony veiled in her obscure reference to judgment. She has no tribunal, no court of justice to take her side, no power except in her imagination. She is a solitary woman in a literary landscape inhabited mostly by men. Every tribunal in her day was composed of men. And yet: “The professor is not always right.” Without adaptive grandiosity Dickinson could not have gone on writing.

But it is clear she did not write for herself alone. It is important that Emily Dickinson sought out Higginson. Her work is fundamentally dialogical. She forever poses questions and answers them, not directly, but at a slant. Internal dialogue is always a doubling of the self, the work of reflective self-consciousness. I can conceive of myself as an other to myself, and so, let’s talk. My own internal narrator is forever arguing with a partner, an agonistic other who usually disagrees. I am often two people in my inner speech. By its very nature as symbolic representation, language alienates the self from the self. The other is always hiding in the “I.”

Higginson was a real other, but he was a disappointment, a witless tribunal.

I am drawn to these stories of H.D. and Emily Dickinson because they resonate for me, because they are alive with my own identifications, projections, parables of the new story I can now tell in my analysis. They serve my “working through.”

I have opened a box and let the raging monsters fly out.

I could not have known that opening that box would bring with it a sense of triumph.

There is a myth about artists and psychoanalysis. If the artist loses her craziness, she will lose her art. It is Romantic. Mental illness and genius are coupled. To lose one’s mad part means to lose creativity. When I taught writing to psychiatric patients, I discovered that psychotic patients were more verbally gifted than non-psychotic people, so the myth holds some truth. In psychosis, the clichéd speech of everyday life drops away. But only a few who suffer from psychosis are also artists.

Psychotherapy has not robbed me of creativity. It has unleashed me to my art.

Reason relaxes its watch upon the gates.

Is it reason that lets go? Fictions are not made by logic, although they must follow their own logic, a logic fueled by emotion.

Relaxation is vital to creativity. The best work is done when the whole body is relaxed, in a state of openness to what lies beneath. Schiller knew this. Tension, anxiety, fear inhibit the release of essential material – the dream work or a kind of dream work – which comes to light during the day rather than at night.

I believe art is born in the world of the Between, that it is bound up with the rhythms and music of early life and its temporal expectancies, as well as in a form of transference that moves from inner life out onto the page, from me to an imaginary other. My story tells emotional not literal truths.

I know the truth when I feel it.


Georges Perec wrote The Scene of a Strategem after his four-year analysis with Jean Bertrand Pontalis. Perec’s text is not explicit about the turns in his analysis. It is not theoretical either. There is dullness, repetition, boredom. Talk, talk, talk. Perec talks. I talk. We are endlessly clever, but cleverness is never a turn.

He writes: ”Something has simply opened and is opening: the mouth in order to speak, the pen in order to write; something has moved, something is moving and is being traced out, the sinuous line of the ink on the paper, something full yet slender.

Of the actual movement that enabled me to emerge from these repetitive and exhausting gymnastics and gave me access to my own story and own voice, I shall only say that it was infinitely slow: it was the movement of the analysis itself, but I only found that later on”.

My analysis has not ended, but I am feeling its arc. I can see how far I have moved, how much is behind me now. I see the end.

Some images from the analysis:

A dream from the first year: I am strapped to a gurney for an operation. The doctor is not there.

My parents are two Lilliputians sitting on my analyst’s shoulders.

I hold out a tray of objects for her. On it are dirty stones, lumps of clay, bits of wire and rope. The things were once inside me. The image is accompanied by a feeling of relief.

She has never pushed me. I hate to be pushed.

And she has waited.

I have felt myself bound and unbound.

The other day I said to her, I am enjoying my strength. I am playing with, thinking about, finding, and taking my authority.

Authority is more than grandiosity. Authority is worldly.

I have written what I could not have written before.

I dance, romp, howl, whimper, rage, lecture, and spit on the page now.

All of this is of the room, from the room, inside the room. It is where I found freedom in her face.

Lucien Mélèse – Apostrophe[1]*

Beste Mevrouw Hustvedt…

Aan mij de beurt om mij tot u te richten, beste Siri, omdat u zich ook vaak tot mij hebt gewend, al was dat zonder het te beseffen. Als een stem die zich manifesteerde doorheen uw teksten.

U maakte op mij een grote indruk, in de zin dat onze ontmoeting een sterk merkteken heeft nagelaten. Hoewel ik hier niet ben om over mezelf te praten, kan ik zoals elke analyticus slechts voor mezelf spreken, over wat deze ontmoeting bij mij teweegbracht. In onze klinische praktijk is het enkel via de eigen overdracht dat een analyticus kan hopen om de patiënt te ontmoeten. Het gaat hier weliswaar niet over het ontmoeten van u als persoon, hoe aangenaam dat ook moge zijn. Eerder trachten we om de invloed van uw werk – fictie, essays, artikels of blogs – in te schatten, op de lezer en bij uitbreiding op een heel cultureel gebeuren.

Bij Freud bleef altijd een spanning aanwezig tussen het aspect ‘deloyale jood’ in hem en de toen nog heersende humanistische en universalistische cultuur. Zijn werk kwam tot stand vanuit deze spanning. Kan de psychoanalyse dan beschouwd worden als een artistieke creatie? Niet zozeer het geheel van teksten dan wel de praktijk zelf. Het is een ‘tot crisis brengen’ van de psychische en existentiële componenten van een subject, met het risico van een vernietigende, perverse uitkomst ofwel een scheppende, vernieuwende uitkomst. Hoe dan ook vermijdt deze praktijk zowel Il Gran Commendatore als het proza(c)-ische van gelukspillen.

Dat is het perspectief waarin wij u lezen; het standpunt dat ons toelaat om veel van u leren. Daar plaatst u zich op het voorplan – voor zover om het even welk verhaal oprecht is…?? Freud deed het ook bij het ondervragen van zijn eigen dubbel, ook al werd die een tijdje geïncarneerd door Fliess. Aan ieder zijn eigen Doppelgänger: u biedt ons uw ongeneeslijke passie, die welke u ‘het stevigst in zijn greep houdt’ – het schrijven, uw manier om u over te leveren aan wat u het meest onbekend is. Waar de empathie en een rijke verbeelding iemand verder kan leiden dan eender welk feitelijk verhaal of onderzoek.

Wanneer ik keer op keer stilsta bij het ergste, in het heden zowel als in het verleden, wanneer ik in mijn eigen seminarie voortdurend deze kaarten herschud, gebruik ik dit rumineren dan als een drug, als een poging tot self-holding, bij gebrek aan een dragende omgeving? Waarom steeds weer reflecteren over beelden van horror – eerder dan over beelden van tederheid?

Zou het een poging kunnen zijn om te ontsnappen aan de schaamte? Schaamte om te hebben bestaan, in deze wereld te hebben geleefd, overleefd, niet als slachtoffer of als beul, maar steeds in levensgevaar?

Dit zou een verklaring kunnen zijn voor de niet aflatende residuele effecten van “die wereld”, oneindige archieven aan de ene kant, het herrijzen van fascistische regimes aan de andere. Maar ook die weerkerende nachtmerries waaruit men tijdelijk kan ontwaken, tot de volgende overspoelende vloedgolf. Hopen om terug te kunnen komen, hier te blijven, opnieuw verbinding te maken met het leven van vroeger. Als een analyticus tenminste die overtocht kan doorstaan.

Jorge Semprun en Charlotte Delbo zijn hierin geslaagd, voortdurend aanwezig blijvend bij hun eigen leven, hun leven van vóór de horror – merk op dat zij geen van beide Joods waren. De ene koos als anti-Franco-militant het leven boven het schrijven, de andere greep terug naar haar passie voor het theater.

Met dezelfde bedoeling creëerde een joodse jongen van 8 jaar, na de moord op zijn ouders op de vlucht in het woud, bijna altijd alleen en soms nog erger dan dat, een uitweg door het toespreken van zijn ouders, “elders” aanwezig (Aharon Appelfeld).

Bij allen verscheen het geschreven woord pas na decennia, ondanks vroege geschriften.

Te veel sporen zonder ondersteuning, is mijn verklaring voor de tekenen van kramp, of in dit geval een crisis van het denken, een situatie waarin ons klinisch werk vereist dat we de archaïsche genealogie en historische erfenis niet over het hoofd zien, zodat we bij elke analyse een kans hebben tot het creëren van een eventuele nieuwe holding. In termen van overdracht is de vraag, hoe de mislukkingen zich manifesteren die leidden tot het rijk van de “ontmenselijking”, en wat we ermee doen, wij psychoanalytici, in deze turbulente tijden?

Hier biedt degelijke fictie niet alleen wat ons ontbreekt aan verbeelding, maar ook de kubistische ruimte van een nieuwe holding om ons lijden angst in onder te brengen, en, belangrijker nog, onze “fault lines” (Nancy Huston). U schrijft mij het volgende: “De ‘esthetische barrière’ van de grenzen van een schilderij, van de omslag van een boek, van het in de tijd begrensd beluisteren van muziek, waarborgt een veilig bezoek aan gebieden dat we in het reële leven misschien zouden ontvluchten. Zodoende verruimt ons leven zich, maar binnen de beschermende barrière van de kunst[2] (privé-correspondentie, 2014). Dit is de ruimte die ik steeds opnieuw aantref in alle, werkelijk alle teksten van Siri Hustvedt. Voor mezelf openbaren ze een veelheid aan verspreide sporen die u hebt achtergelaten, uiteraard zonder ze ooit te benoemen, want uw kaartspel is het mijne niet, maar u zet het mijne wel in beweging. Op voorwaarde dat ‘ik’ die hier aan het woord is, eender wie van uw lezers is, die ik nederig vertegenwoordig.

SIRI HUSTVEDT biedt ons verhalen die op zoek zijn naar coherentie, zelfs naar hun eigen overleving. Haar gebruik van fictie weerspiegelt de onvolledigheid van het verhaal voor de lezer; juist deze confrontatie is zo levenskrachtig in de werken van Siri Hustvedt: het onvolledige en het paradoxale. De lezer krijgt een ‘onmogelijk’ relaas gepresenteerd, met andere woorden, het reële, volgens de boutade van Lacan. De onderneming van het schrijven is oneindig (unendlich), zoals de analyse van de analyticus, die op zijn weefgetouw een doek weeft zonder begin of einde, en waarvan de steeds verdwijnende vorm bestaat uit onhoorbare maar beklemmende tonen. Hoewel de verhalen en essays van Siri Hustvedt zelden verwijzen naar de muzikale ruimte (die voor mij de meest intieme is), insisteren de stemmen in haar werk. Ik las in het Engels The Blazing World, een polyfonie van discordante stemmen, die de liefhebber en beoefenaar van concrete muziek die ik was, in verrukking bracht; discordant, beangstigend en soms komisch (laatste hoofdstuk, of eerder, epistel!). Variaties en contrapunten, segmenten en fragmenten, die van de lezer een “vrij vlottende” aandacht vragen, zoals het gelijkzwevend luisteren van de analyticus (gleichschwebende).

Ik zou kunnen opperen dat dit een “traumatische” lezing was, de wijze waarop iemand spreekt over onderliggende trauma’s veroorzaakt door beproevingen tijdens elke fase van het leven, door de eb en vloed van de tijd, vanaf de kindertijd tot de oude dag. Deze fasen, die ik crisissen noem, worden optimaal geschetst in de ruimte van de fictie, die de beste manier is voor het ontrafelen, in de culturele ruimte zowel als in de analytische kabinetten. Heb ik voldoende hulde gebracht aan de creativiteit van Siri Hustvedt die, zoals alle grote kunstenaars, onze eigen creativiteit uitdaagt, opwekt, laat openbloeien, een creativiteit die zo vaak braak blijft liggen?

Nota’s voor de discussie

U behoort tot degenen die het eigene van de psychoanalyse verdedigen tegen een doofstom sciëntisme. Ik, vanuit mijn wetenschappelijke achtergrond, weet de vooruitgang in de neurowetenschappen te waarderen. Maar u, als een go-between, kunt ons iets bijbrengen over het enigma van de psyche vanuit een dubbel perspectief. Kunt u daar iets meer over zeggen?

Schrijven is altijd een artefact dat het ‘‘ondenkbare” blootlegt via haar functie van ‘heterobiografie’. Bijvoorbeeld: toen ik zeer jong was schreef ik De woorden (mots), de arme woorden die enkel ons hebben om hen tot leven te roepen”; er waren decennia van psychoanalyse nodig vooraleer ik in die woorden “de doden (morts), de arme doden” zou horen, precies wat, zonder dat ik dat wist, verdrongen was in mijn familiegeschiedenis.

Het is ook mogelijk dat een artistieke ontmoeting een geleefde ervaring doet ontwaken die verdrongen of zelfs verworpen werd; ik heb u daarvan privé een voorbeeld gegeven in verband met mijn angst als verstopt kind, wiens leven bedreigd werd. Heeft u dit ervaren in uw artistieke ontmoetingen, met inbegrip van uw eigen geschriften?

U refereert naar hallucinaties, aura’s, tintelingen die deel zijn gaan uitmaken van uw creatieve identiteit. Dit komt tegemoet aan mijn (Ferencziaanse) begrip van de nachtmerrie als een fragment van het reële dat “draagbaar” is geworden. Kent u het woord transhumance? ik heb het in dit verband over het herplanten van dit “reële” in een meer vruchtbare aarde, rijker aan humus, de root zelf van “human”?

Enkele vragen aan Siri Hustvedt door Ingrid Demuynck

Geachte mevrouw Hustvedt,

Dank voor uw inspirerende lezing die zowel herkenning als vragen oproept.

De herkenning is er wanneer u zegt dat de psychoanalytische kuur u heeft veranderd, maar dat deze verandering iets mysterieus blijft. Ook ik heb dit aan de lijve ondervonden .

Herkenning ook wanneer u het heeft over de adaptive grandiosity van de kunstenaar. Inderdaad moet de kunstenaar ervan overtuigd zijn dat hij/zij iets unieks te zeggen of te tonen heeft. Hoe zou hij:zij anders genoeg moed kunnen verzamelen om zijn:haar kwetsbaarheid te kunnen overwinnen? Willem Kloos, een beroemd Nederlands dichter, stelde al dat kunst de aller individueelste expressie was van de aller individueelste emotie. Hoe kwetsbaar moet men zich dan niet voelen? En om althans de grandiosity wat in de verf te zetten begon zijn beroemdste sonnet als volgt: “Ik ben een god in’t diepst van mijn gedachten. En zit in ’t binnenst van mijn ziel ten troon”. Het is een prachtig gedicht, maar het bracht wel een schandaal te weeg. Men betichtte hem van blasfemie.

Niet alleen kunstenaars maar ook wetenschappers hebben deze overtuiging nodig om tegen de stroom in te roeien en een omwenteling teweeg te brengen. Denken we maar aan Galilei.

Mijn vraag hier is wat het adjectief “adaptive” in deze context betekent. Mij lijkt het net dat een verzaken aan adaptatie noodzakelijk is om iets nieuws tot stand te brengen.

Herkenning onder andere ook wanneer u benadrukt dat de psychoanalytische kuur of therapie de kunstenaar niet berooft van zijn/haar creativiteit. U verwijst deze populaire opvatting naar het rijk van de mythen.

Maar hierbij aansluitend heb ik dan een eerste bedenking. Deze gaat over het begrip sublimatie. Freud stelt in de Drie Verhandelingen over de theorie van de seksualiteit dat zin voor schoonheid een reactieformatie kan zijn tegen de geslachtsdrift. Een afweermechanisme dus. En ik citeer Freud: “De cultuurhistorici schijnen unaniem van mening te zijn dat door deze afbuiging van seksuele drijfkrachten naar andere dan seksuele doelen – een proces dat de naam sublimering verdient – krachtige componenten vrijkomen voor alle culturele prestaties”. Kunst is een vorm van sublimatie.

Is het maken van kunst dan een verdedigingsmechanisme, vraagt u zich af. U zegt dat Freud hierover toch twijfelt. De theorie van Freud over de sublimatie is erg ingewikkeld. In uw lezing verwijst u naar Hans Loewald en Suzanne Langer die kunst beschouwen als het omzetten van gevoelens in symbolische vormen. Maar ontsnapt men dan aan de vraag of kunst een afweermechanisme zou kunnen zijn? En is het omzetten van gevoelens in symbolische vormen altijd kunst? Om het wat concreter te maken: als ik mijn liefste op Valentijn een onhandig getekend rood hartje toestuur heb ik dan kunst gemaakt? Het rijmende liefdesgedicht van een verliefde puber: kunst? Het gaat hier wel om het omzetten van gevoelens in een symbolische vorm.

Maar indien we van de veronderstelling uitgaan dat kunst een afweermechanisme is of in sommige gevallen daartoe te herleiden is, dan zou natuurlijk een psychoanalyse of psychoanalytische therapie een gevaar kunnen zijn voor de kunstenaar.

Hoe kunnen we volgens u, kunstenares, schrijfster, nadenken over het verschil tussen sublimeren en symboliseren?

Mijn andere vraag betreft de verhouding of vergelijking die u maakt tussen het maken van een kunstwerk en het doen van een analyse, als analysant dan.

U zegt dat wat er in de werkkamer van de analyticus/a gebeurt wel geleid wordt door een theorie maar dat het smeden van een wereld tussen analyticus/a en de analysant ook een intuïtieve, onbewust gedreven, ritmische, emotionele en vaak ambigue onderneming is.

En gaat u dan verder: daarom is het doen van een analyse zoiets als het maken van een kunstwerk.

Mijn vraag is nu kan men deze vergelijking ook omdraaien? Kan het maken van een kunstwerk zoiets zijn als een psychoanalyse? Of op zijn scherpst gesteld zou het schrijven een psychoanalyse kunnen vervangen? Er is het associatieve, het ritmische, het emotionele, de herinneringen die veranderen, het fantaseren en men schrijft zoals u zegt altijd voor iemand anders. Men zou dus kunnen zeggen dat er ook een vorm van overdracht in zit. Mijn vraag wordt onderbouwd door een interview dat ik hoorde op de radio met de schrijver Dimitri Verhulst. Deze man, een bekende hedendaagse Vlaamse schrijver, die een zeer problematische jeugd had, verwerkte zijn ervaringen in een roman.

Op de vraag van de interviewer of hij op deze manier een aantal dingen van zich kon afschrijven (een soort kathartische manier), antwoordde hij dat hij eerder een aantal dingen naar zich had toegeschreven. Al schrijvend kwamen een aantal herinneringen terug boven. Zoals men zich in de psychoanalyse al sprekend herinnert. Een vergelijking is geen gelijkstelling, het is niet hetzelfde. Maar ik vroeg me af, en ben uiteraard nieuwsgierig hoe u er over denkt, of men al schrijvend ook een aantal dingen zou kunnen verwerken zoals wanneer men een psychoanalytisch proces doormaakt. En ik bedoel dus hiermee niet op de ”kathartische manier” die mensen wel eens doen om een bepaalde traumatische gebeurtenis te beschrijven en te verwerken maar op de manier waarop u de act van het schrijven in deze lezing naar voor heeft gebracht.

Deze vraag houdt me in bredere zin bezig. Kan men in therapievormen zoals beeldende therapie, muziektherapie of op de manier die u beschrijft in uw roman Een zomer zonder mannen met de schrijfgroep voor de adolescenten, een vergelijkbaar proces door maken als in een psychoanalyse?

Answers by Siri Hustvedt

Dear Congress Team, I hope I have not garbled your French. I am waiting for a very late plane tonight and writing on an iPad. Please accept these spontaneous responses. Best from Siri Hustvedt.

These are not easy questions, but I am glad that I have a chance to respond.

Adaptive grandiosity?

As for adaptive grandiosity, I am using the word in its Darwinian sense, as in – it helps the organism to survive.

Adaptive grandiosity is not about talent. There are many people who are gifted, but lack an essential feeling that what they are doing is vital, important – that it matters. This is why I brought up Dickinson, who had NO support from the literary world, who published almost nothing in her life time, and yet became, after her death, the greatest poet the United States has ever produced. Without that sense of herself, she would have stopped writing. She answered Higginson, the greatest literary critic of her time, with ironic disdain. Adaptive grandiosity is the opposite of CONFORMITY. It is not, as Kierkegaard said, becoming “the crowd”. Art is hard. Opposition is strong. Adaptive grandiosity means thriving and working despite opposition and criticism. Kierkegaard had a large dose of adaptive grandiosity himself, by the way. He was subjected to painful ridicule, but never lost his belief in his work. Scientists, philosophers, artists – I don’t think they are any different in this regard. It is a quality necessary for anyone who hopes to buck the crowd. Freud wasn’t lacking in this quality either.


I am not sure what sublimation is or how art is produced. I can honestly say I am the least dogmatic person I know. I am uncertain about a lot! Freud wasn’t sure about art either. As every reader of Freud knows, he kept revising his ideas. This, to me, is his great strength. He never stopped thinking. Of course there is sexual energy in art turned elsewhere, but I prefer the Winnicottian expansion of Freud’s intermediate zone, Tummelplatz, of the transference into play, play that is necessary and normal for all human beings, a playground which is not located wholly in the child nor in the outside world but somewhere between, a transitional reality that becomes in the adult cultural and creative activities of all kinds. Freud, as you recall, also said that before art and artists, psychoanalysis must lay down its arms. Art and artists puzzled him. He knew there was an oceanic feeling but he didn’t have it himself. I have had it ever since I can remember.

Art uses symbols. Artists try to make those symbols sing with the depths of human feeling. Feeling includes sensations of cold and hot, thirst, hunger, and fear. I don’t find any of these feelings “neutral”. Sexual feeling is among the most powerful feelings mammals have, but it isn’t the only one.

I simply have never felt that my art is a defense, which doesn’t mean I am right. I feel that when I am defended in my work, it is exactly the moment when it isn’t very good, when I haven’t been brave enough, when I have to throw those pages away. Langer understood the musicality of all art, how bodily rhythms, emotions, and indefinable thoughts became symbolized. She was influenced by Cassirer, of course, and Cassirer located what we now call art in much older forms of human expression – myth and ritual.

Is a badly drawn valentine art?

There is no consensual definition of art. It seems to me anything a person proposes as art is art. It might not be interesting or good or admirable, but if it is offered as art, it is art. How on earth would we define it? Is art what museum curators and scholars of literature and professors of music have decided is worthy? Is it really what history has decreed we should worship?

I have no doubt that there are great works of art that have been lost because they were ignored and never recovered for all kinds of reasons. Art begins in childhood. It begins in the mud, in dreaming about stories, in playing shipwreck or house or pirates. It is an urge toward transformation.

Can making art replace an analysis?

I will speak for myself. I have been writing since I was a girl. My art has always known much more than I do. I can see that now very clearly in my early books. Parts of my unconscious that appeared in the fabric and shape of the books I wrote (and am still proud of), have found their way to consciousness with the help of my analyst, and a turn became possible that has affected both my life and my work. I would not write my early books now, but then I am much older and not the person I was. I think you need the real analyst for those turns because the defences have become rigid. Perhaps I should say that I have needed a real analyst for those turns. I have not needed an analyst for the catharsis that can arrive from working well, for that glorious sense of having exploded my depths onto the page.

Discovery is the essence of writing. Why write if you don’t discover worlds along the way? Your writer with the difficult childhood who remembered while he was writing must have found what he had been looking for. It was part of his adventure. But there may be other parts of himself that he may never find without help of a real other.

Art as Therapy

I was recently appointed a lecturer in psychiatry at Weil Medical School in New York. I am giving a seminar for psychiatric interns. But my involvement at the hospital began with my teaching psychiatric patients for four years as a volunteer. I came to understand that writing did have therapeutic benefits, that it did help the patients. For people who have various forms of ego disintegration, writing seems to make it possible to see the self from the outside, as a foreigner in print. This alienation seems to oddly beneficial, to make further thoughts possible, especially when a respected and sympathetic teacher is running the show. In The Summer Without Men, my heroine, Mia, understood that the girls in her class had to move into one of the other girl’s position. Each one had to play another part – something young girls are good at – and by taking on the persona of the other, they were able to see themselves from another perspective. This proved cathartic, if you will. The novel is about becoming the other. It’s joy comes from that mobility, but I think in psychoanalysis, too, I have been able to see aspects of myself from another place, to be uprooted through my analyst’s interpretations and find myself elsewhere. I ask my young psychiatrists to first write a dialogue between a doctor and patient and then to rewrite the same material from just one point of view, either the doctor or patient. Then they have to switch perspectives again. I guess my point here is that the loosening of point of view is enlightening, even exhilarating. Yes, there is a similarity now that I think about it. In analysis, I have not just found another story for myself, but I have found that story because I have adopted another position toward

  1. * Uit het engels vertaald door Claudine Vanderborght.
  2. Oorspronkelijke tekst: “the ‘aesthetic barrier’ of the paintings limits, the covers of the book, the temporally limited listening experience of music all provide a safe excursion into a territory we might flee from in real life, hence expanding our lives but within the protective barrier of art » — privécorrespondentie, 2014).

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