Coping with challenging theories
We live in a wonderful world that is full of charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.’— Jawaharlal Nehru
Writers come from all walks of life and choose many different paths to achieve their dreams. My way turned out by chance to be an academic pathway. I have never regretted the change of direction or the journey that unfolded. However, I constantly worried whether I could achieve my creative writing dreams. I soon discovered all I needed to do was embrace the fear and enthusiastically accept the challenge.
When I began my Masters by coursework and minor thesis at Melbourne university I did not have the university based background of many students. Returning to study after leaving school at fourteen and still working as a hairdresser meant taking evening courses. I began VCE at TAFE followed by a Bachelor of Arts at Monash. By the end of the BA I had discovered my passion for writing. From there, instead of doing the usual Honours year at university, my priority became to complete a diploma of Professional Writing and Editing back at TAFE. Therefore, when I decided to tackle a Masters of Creative Writing at Melbourne University I did not have the required research background.
Writing the Unconscious was a seminar-based subject that explored the implications of theories of the self and how the unconscious affects modern artists and the creative process. Thank goodness this subject’s lecturer was Dr Dominique Hecq. She is a talented, nurturing and understanding soul and I tested every ounce of her patience. We were studying philosophers such as Donald Winnicott, Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) and Jacques Lacan I had never heard of them, leave alone studied them. My decision to give my presentation on Lacan was because it was just before the Easter break and I would have the four day holiday to recover from my hairdressing job and constant study. Little did I know what I was letting myself in for. One student said, ‘How brave of you to choose Lacan’ and I wondered what she was talking about, but my knees quivered. Here is an extract from my writing journal
Lacan, plus Freud, dash de Saussure, accent Levi-Strauss
A spotlight bold and bright highlights my desk. In the shadows papers festoon every inch of the floor and the filing cabinet is a hanging garden of paper. Outside, the sun is rosebud pink under dark clouds and will soon rise above them, lost to me for another day. Why am I doing this? Why study until my eyes won’t focus and my head tips towards the computer screen hoping for some support? The only time available in this busy life is between three and six AM and today I’m giving a presentation on, who else but that poet/theorist Lacan, or Lacoh as the French would say.
I look at what is written on the computer screen. Scratchy figures slash and divide. The hieroglyphics of a distorted mind, my mind that grapples with the Rebus puzzle of The Agency of the Letter…since Freud.
In a Rebus puzzle often attention is drawn to some part of the picture, often by an arrow or underlining, indicating that this is where we should be looking for the clue. Here the arrow points to the first AID, and thus the answer is first aid.
Snores, loud and sonorous. Sound sleep at last. A cough. He will soon stretch, yawn and reach for me. In pyjamas and ski socks I must slip back to bed and pretend that I haven’t moved, not a muscle, not a twitch for an entire night. “Want a cup of tea?“ I watch the wisps of steam rise and feel acid gnaw at my insides. Today. Today I give my presentation. A week of intense study, a week spent locked up with a dead Frenchman who wants to tease me, taunt me, frustrate and fascinate me. He has become more intimate more real, and I possibly know him better, than the body in the bed. And best of all? He can’t answer back.
My brain feels like melting jelly. It slops within my cranium. If I tip forward the top of my head will fly open and a river of words, theories, algorithms and metaphors will spill over the kitchen floor, into the laundry and out into the yard. Steady girl, you’re losing it. You still have until 3:pm before you have to catch that train. Plenty of time to pull it all together. Nothing is working, John Muller is not helping. Joan Gallop is taking me down the feminist path. I’m fascinated with her thoughts on the Name of the Father, and is that what she really feels about the phallus? Maybe….tick, tick, tick Back to Muller. Has he got the key? I flip pages, faster and faster looking for the door to the secret garden. The black lump in the base of my stomach drops even further. If I had a penis it would be petrified by now. No makeup, still in my socks and clutching my oldest cardigan around me I open the door.
“Come in, come in, how is your new home? Do you miss Victoria.” They are unexpected, uninvited. “Not putting you out are we?” “Not a scrap. The house is a mess but I’m sure you can cope with that.Toasted sandwiches? Cheese and tomato?”
“Goodbye. See you next time you’re down.”
Print the presentation. Where is he? Where has he gone? I wasn’t away that long. Couldn’t Lacan wait? Instead, he has slipped into the shadows, buried deep in an unconscious inaccessible to me. Nothing makes sense. Signifier, signified, symbolic system, simmering symptom. SSssssss. Es in German means the Id. Lacan all over the bed, rocking my beliefs, spinning in my head and dragging me down on the floor. To weep, to moan, to curl up in the foetal position. beaten, betrayed. Too late, too late. Calls from downstairs. Pain that transcends my own, that call me back, to caress, to care. Can I go? Can I leave my husband for Lacan? Husband insists, he will be okay. Go girl go. I catch the train just in time. Signifier, signified, symbolic system, simmering symptom. He has returned. Out of the shadows leaps Lacan to bless, to inspire, to invigorate and lead. Giving my presentation on Lacan at Melbourne university was a turning point in my life. I learnt to overcome fear and ‘go for broke’ as the saying goes; that nothing is as bad as I think it is going to be. But most of all, I learnt to take a chance and no matter what the outcome, I would survive. The world opened up for me and I now live by that philosophy. Accept the challenge, face the fear and go for it. .