Report ICLO-NLS Seminar

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Dublin, 20th October 2012


On Saturday 20th October, ICLO-NLS held the first of its two open seminars for this year on Lacan and the Arts. The title of this event was “All Our Fathers: Literature and Psychoanalysis in Dialogue” with Carlo Gébler. The event was held in the Dublin Writers Museum and it was very well attended with many people participating in the dialogue. Indeed these open seminars have been specifically organised qua structure and content with the larger public in mind.

Florencia Shanahan (chair of ICLO-NLS) opened the seminar. She began by asking the question what psychoanalysis can learn from the artist. She explained that based on Freud and Lacan it is indeed important to ask the question what psychoanalysis can learn from the artist rather than how psychoanalysis can be applied to art. In introducing the day as an exploration of the functions of the father and of writing, she quoted J-A Miller on ‘reading one’s own unconscious’: “…that book of which only one copy has been printed, whose virtual text you carry everywhere with you and where the script of your life is written, or at least its rough draft”. She thanked the artist Clodagh Kelly for providing the painting for the poster.

Then the writer Carlo Gébler spoke about his life, his work, his relationships with his parents, more especially his father. He spoke for well over an hour. His was a dazzling performance that fascinated everyone in the audience. Particularly outstanding was his openness about his experiences and his vulnerabilities. He said that his writing had a lot to do with being recognized by his father; he wrote for his father. Carlo had been introduced by the psychoanalyst and Trinity College scholar (emeritus) Ross Skelton. After Carlo’s enthralling talk Ross conducted a brief interview with him dealing with such questions as the relationship between analysis and writing. After this interview a lively conversation took place between Carlo and the audience. In this conversation what was explored, amongst many other things, was the question of writing as a form of therapy. Carlo had mentioned that he had been in analysis and made the point that for him writing was very much of therapeutic value, as he called it.

After the coffee break everyone returned for a session called “Psychoanalytic Perspectives on the Father”. This section of the seminar was chaired by Lorna Kernan. Three ICLO members presented papers on the question of the father. Claire Hawkes presented an overview of Freud’s ideas on the topic, whereby she especially concentrated on The Oedipus Complex, Totem and Taboo and the Father from Moses and Monotheism. She finished her paper by referring to Irish writer Frank O’Connor’s beautiful short story “My Oedipus Complex”. The second paper in this section was presented by Joanne Conway. She spoke Lacan’s perspective on the crucial problem of the father. She argued that there is still an element of anatomical/biological reductionism involved in the Freudian conceptions of the father. Rather than considering the real protagonists Lacan emphasized the structure that is at stake in the question of the father, at least that was the case of the Lacan of the 1950’s with his emphasis on the Name-of –the-Father and the paternal metaphor. She said that in terms of the drives the operation of the paternal metaphor imputes a mediating effect permitting other pathways the child can enjoy. However, she also mentioned that already as far back as 1938 Lacan was concerned about what he called then the degradation  of the paternal imago; an idea that would be taken up by the third and last speaker Alan Rowan. He spoke about the changed idea and function of the father in modern society. He outlined a number of contemporary changes, such as mothers increasingly participating in work, single parent families and other socio/cultural/economic factors. In place of the paternal function we are nowadays talking about a parental function. He argued that the changed role of the father has consequences for the way we suffer. He also brought to our attention the crucial idea that “our question concerning fatherhood in the twenty first century cannot be separated from the question of the symbolic in the twenty first century”, i.e., we live in a globalised world and one the side effects of this is, as J-A Miller has pointed out, that the subject is today, more than before, without a compass. Towards the end of his presentation he said that it is in this context that we must pose the question of the nature of a fatherhood that can no longer rely on an ideal or grander narrative.

It was this last point that became the starting point of a lively discussion with the audience after Carlo Gébler and Ross Skelton had been invited back to the podium for a panel discussion with the presenters and the audience. Amongst the many themes that were discussed and debated was the idea of parenthood and the changed reality of what fathers and mothers are for – and how they relate to – their children. Questions were raised and debated as to how this related to feminism and even how the changed father-role could have possibly be one of the factors that contributed to the rise of fascism in the 20th century. I will leave the last word to Carlo Gébler: “If there is anything that determined me as a writer and as a person, it is the voices of my parents”.


Rik Loose (ICLO-NLS)


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