“… it is the horror we can’t conquer
Pushing itself against the pane of dailiness… ”
—Jorie Graham, “Miscellaneous Weights and Measures”
There is a “deep and somber unity” when the different impressions of our senses enter into “correspondence.” So writes the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard in his seminal book The Poetics of Space. It is this “correspondence” that allows us to receive and transform the immensity of the world into the intensity of our intimate beings. There is an intimate “everydayness” that runs through all the essays in ROOM 10.22. And much as residual impressions from the day are transformed nightly into dreams, the synergy of these writers forms an unsettling social dreamscape.
Svitlana Matviyenko’s day began at five in the morning on the 181st day of the war, a day before Ukrainian Independence Day. “Everything here is now immersed in a complete silence that you can only encounter in a small town like mine…The rocket attacks are most typical at this hour. When they are detected by our national radar system, the entire river canyon is filled with the wailing sound of air raid alerts.” In her essay, August 23, 2022—Kamianets-Posilskyi, Matviyenko recounts the events of a day laced with horror and anxiety. “Many of us here in Ukraine are bracing ourselves for tomorrow,” she writes. Her accompanying soundscape brings the birds, the river canyon, and the crescendo of the early-morning air raid from her window straight into ours.
Writing weeks before the crisis in Iran and weeks after the reversal of Roe v. Wade in the United States, Adrienne Harris, like Matviyenko, is also “bracing for tomorrow.” But the event that was seared into Harris’s soul happened over sixty years ago. “What am I wearing?” she writes. “A surgical gown? Perhaps just a slip and underwear.” She has relived the shame, the fear, and the pain of that day many times in her imagination. My Back-Alley Abortion is the first time she has written it down. “Something of the return to the nightmare of illegal abortions requires me as a witness…I feel the interwoven strands of hatred and fear of women and sexuality, of the haunting that accompanies action.”
Elaine Zickler’s August 27, 2021: Philadelphia and Roa Harb’s Feeding are elegiac and haunting. Eighteen months into the pandemic, Zickler writes, “I am an old woman now, and the city has been ravaged even more than I have been, by death and sickness, by neglect and violent desperation, so I have the sudden realization that it has always been the city itself I have loved, the city itself that has been my friend…And now, suddenly, I see it as fragile and as mortal as myself, not eternal, but finite.” Also after an eighteen-month-absence, Roa Harb returns to Lebanon only to find that “In the interim, the financial crisis, compounded by COVID-19, had hit the country like a sledgehammer…On August 4, the explosion that rocked Beirut obliterated any remaining hopes for change, for a future, and for normalcy. Almost a year after the date, most of the people I met were in varying degrees of shell shock. My parents and relatives were also gripped with a fevered obsession for watermelons.” Reentering their shattered cities, Zickler and Harb, both gripped by loss, are suffused in memories of the everyday.
Haunted from childhood by his gay forebears, the unfolding monkeypox epidemic in midsummer 2022 gave Kevin Barrett purchase to turn them into ancestors. Ghosts in the Bathhouse is a tribute to the men who paved the way, with their lives, to his. “I find myself longing for their past,” he confesses. “A past when owning one’s queerness was subversive. When camaraderie was found in secret gatherings. I’m ambivalent about the present—queer engagement parties, adoptions, and the sharing of last names. You can view this history through a lens of excitement, belonging, solidarity in fighting for one’s rights, and you can view it through a lens of suppression, danger, trauma, and death.” Like Adrienne Harris’s, Kevin Barrett’s essay is a psychoanalytic exploration of that which has been occluded or repressed: the power of sexual shame to cast its shadow over a single life—over multiple generations.
Sebastian Thrul’s essay Psychoanalysis at the End of the End of History also shines light on what has been shadowed over for “a generation of analytic grandchildren who have grown up in an era of predominant conceptual relativism and a generalized suspicion of grand narratives.” Thrul is not longing for the rigid, good old bad days of an authoritarian “Freud knows best” approach to clinical work and psychoanalytic training. Nor does he espouse an ironic postmodern “shopping-mall approach,” where all resides within the “here and now” and is tailored to the needs of the market. “The simple truth,” he says, “is [that] psychic change at the deepest level takes a lot of time and a lot of dependable care. What we really need,” Thrull pleads into the future, “are passionate psychoanalysts in public health settings to drive this point home again and again and again.”
Jiameng Xu, Isaac Tylim, and Michael Eigen each write of moments where individual psychic realities and everyday life collide, collapse, or connect. Jiameng Xu’s Will You Go to the Bank with Me?, is reported with the dispassionate objectivity of an ethnographer. It is the story of what they see as they escort a schizophrenic man on a day pass from a psychiatric ward. As disjointed realities begin to blend into one another, a poignant sweetness emerges in the telling of the tale. There is nothing sweet in the disjointed realities that collide in Isaac Tylim’s The Comfort of Fake News. In this clinical encounter, Tylim turns a psychoanalytic lens inward to expose how the convergence of incompatible psychic realities creates fake news that begets more fake news. Magnified by technology, the implications of this psychic dynamic pervert not just the sanctity of the therapeutic space but the world at large. For Michael Eigen, his patient’s bleeding psyche is part and parcel of the bleeding heart of today’s world. His Touching Psychic Fibers lands like a prose poem.
ROOM 10.22 begins on the traumatic surface and ends in the deepest recesses of our psychic world. Like psychoanalysis, it is a space where the inside and outside meet. “Pushing against the pane of dailiness,” ROOM is a social dream catcher.
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