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Interview with Jamieson Webster

Jamieson Webster serves as a torchbearer for a field out of popular favour. Her practice, psychoanalysis, was last century’s therapeutic craze. These days, we prefer to treat our mental ailments with gluten-free diets, astrology as self-help, mindfulness apps, and big pharma, the latter of which Webster, a Freudian with a private practice in New York City, elegantly critiqued in The New York Review of Books last year. To commit, as psychoanalysis asks of you, to multiple sessions a week for an indeterminate period of treatment, is so uncontemporary, it’s due for a comeback. If anyone can make that happen, it’s Webster, who is taking an on-the-ground approach to psychoanalytic advocacy, regularly publishing, lecturing, and performing in local academic, art, literary, and even fashion contexts.

 

At the last New York Fashion Week, Webster, alongside philosopher Chiara Bottici and Professor of Visual Culture Melissa Ragona, performed a panel discussion inspired by Batsheva Hay’s modest dress as part of the designer’s Spring 2020 presentation. For the occasion, Webster wore a flouncy powder pink Batsheva frock; risking infantilising femininity, the look rather reaffirmed the analyst’sand femaleauthority. Ten months earlier, Webster donned a white clinician’s coat, clipboard in hand, for the ‘immersive theatre’ performance Sick! The Psychoanalytic Field Hospital. Led by Webster and philosophical investigator Todd Altschuler, alongside poet, lawyer and performance artist Vanessa Place, this ticketed event invited participants to subject themselves to a realistically-abusive fictitious mental hospital hosted in a former limousine garage. At the end, the audience of some eighty-odd patients were applauded by the doctors for having survived, as the hospital transformed into a kitsch tiki-bar Valhalla. The play was a launch for Webster’s second book, Conversion Disorder: Listening to the Body in Psychoanalysis. (The Life and Death of Psychoanalysis: On Unconscious Desire and Its Sublimation was her first.) Webster has also co-authored Stay, Illusion!: The Hamlet Doctrine with Simon Critchley; Figure Out with Marcus Coelen; and has an essay in the John Currin: Men monograph.

 

The cover of Conversion Disorder features a wisp of smoke on black, as if a match or torch were just blown out in the dark. It could be a ghost, the substance looks almost spiritual. I see a veiled nun praying and the alien from Alien, a Rorschach test in a disappearing medium. Is this what the unconscious looks like? Webster’s writing in the book is similarly mysterious. Case studies, memoir, and referentially-heavy theory (Lacan, Foucault) accrue, and I think I follow, or I enjoy the pursuit. ‘Conversion disorder’ was Sigmund Freud’s original term for hysteria, a transformation of psychic energy into somatic symptoms.

 

Whether lecturing on ‘New Fascism, Mass Psychology and Financialisation’ at The New School, writing poetically on anality in Spike Art Magazine, or being interviewed, one can always expect, from this young, current analyst and author, thoroughness, humour, and a commitment to her chosen tradition, including the tradition of making it public.

Q

The White Review

— When and how were you first introduced to psychoanalysis?

A

Jamieson Webster

— I thought I was going to be a parapsychologist. That’s a person who studies ghosts scientifically. It was an obsession I had in middle school and early high school with a best friend. I realised recently it goes back to seeing this ridiculous movie called The Entity with Barbara Hershey. She’s raped by a spirit and these parapsychologists are the only ones who believe her. I was young, this must have been a rape fantasy of mine. Maybe it had something to do with understanding sexuality and trauma, history of sexual violence, things that are inherited and looming around. I think it is the origin. The Entity. Somehow this bled into psychology which bled into psychoanalysis.

Q

The White Review

— Was another vocation ever ideated?

A

Jamieson Webster

— For a long time I wished I had the courage to be an artist in the greatest sense imaginable, meaning someone who really pushed their work to the limit. I guess I didn’t feel up to it, so I went to school.  

Q

The White Review

— What kind of artists did you admire?

A

Jamieson Webster

— Certainly it was writers, for the most part. I have zero visual imagination, in terms of plastic visual imagination. Writers, poets.

Q

The White Review

— I like that you consider writers as artists. I was recently with someone who was hosting a show of mine in his gallery, and he asked if I’d considered ‘making art.’ I was showing a video of people reading, alongside stacks of books, stamps, and poetry I’d tapped to the wall. To me, these gestures were, in part, about situating writing, or the writing I am interested in, as art. Because a lot of my contemporaries only think of visual art as art. Where did you grow up?

A

Jamieson Webster

— Miami, Florida. Very hot. Edge of the great phallus of the United States. It feels like it’s sinking into the sea, or turning into South America. It was a great place, then. I sometimes think of Miami as the unconscious of America, like Koolhaas calling Coney Island – in its absurdity, diversity, and delirium – the unconscious of New York City.

Q

The White Review

— Where and when did you receive your training, and what was it like? What kind of student were you? What kind of patient?

A

Jamieson Webster

— I did my PhD in Clinical Psychology here in New York. At the same time, I was studying with the French Lacanians, and then eventually went into ‘proper’ analytic training with the Freudians. Everyone always says I’m such a good student, which is probably true, even though I think of myself as having almost half lost my mind. I did go to school for a billion years… twenty years? I did my reading, but I was always pissed off at everybody, and short-circuiting into other places – in order to do deal with psych grad school, I would study philosophy, in order to deal with studying with French people, I had to run away to an American institute. I couldn’t stay anywhere. I cut out of a lot of places.

 

What was I like as a patient? My first analyst was really tough. I went to see him when I was nineteen. He tolerated a lot. Sometimes I’d bring friends to wait for me, they’d be talking in the hallways while I was in session. I brought a dog once. She was a puppy. She peed all over his office. That’s not the worst of it. That’s the edited version.

Q

The White Review

— So you were quite young when you started attending analysis as a patient. What compelled you to start?

A

Jamieson Webster

— Oh forget it, I was a mess. I was really suffering, and didn’t understand why. I didn’t understand how I could survive. It really saved my life.

Q

The White Review

— Is that a common origin story for psychoanalysts?

A

Jamieson Webster

— I don’t know, I don’t have that sense. I think some will talk about it, but most act as if it was only part of their professional lives. Why? For some, you don’t talk about it because of the importance of analysing a fantastical desire to save others that is wrapped up in having wanted to be saved oneself. So, this should all, poof, be gone, once one is a psychoanalyst. But, this is part of the story, maybe even the most banal part, because we are saved by our analysis, not necessarily by the analyst as a kind of guru, but the method, the work, the unconscious.

 

Wilfred Bion, who was a total freak, fascinating, wrote about how he was deeply traumatised, especially after serving in WWI as a tank commander. Everything he understood about insanity, he said, came from having gone insane himself and then having had analysis. Later he became Samuel Beckett’s analyst and helped him leave Ireland (and his mother) and write. You go to the brink, and if you come back and have the desire to be an analyst, good. You understand something about how someone can accompany you there; the difficulty of it. Does it scare potential patients to know this? Maybe. Maybe not. Isn’t this what we all secretly want? 

Q

The White Review

— You do a lot of public appearances or performances. Do you consider them appearances or performances?

A

Jamieson Webster

— I think everything is performative. Even being an analyst is performative to the extent that you are not being ‘yourself’ – certainly not your social self. You force yourself into different positions, different voices even, to meet the patient where they need to be encountered. I’m a totally different analyst from one patient to another, and from one part of a treatment to another, which can make patients angry because they think this means you’re being inauthentic. I don’t make that distinction between performance and authenticity.

Q

The White Review

— What has happened at some of your favourite public performances?

A

Jamieson Webster

— The Hamlet book that I wrote with the philosopher Simon Critchley (who was my husband at the time) was very funny because everyone has a private theory of Hamlet, and sometimes these private theories are quite crazy. This was the first time I ended up in bookstore talks, a bookstore in a mall in wherever, and people said the most incredible things to me, about incest, and rape, and their crazy Hamlet theories. There was one guy in Massachusetts that told us that he thinks that Hamlet’s mother was sleeping with Laertes and this was the whole reason for the drama of the play – that that was the incest, his mother sleeping with his girlfriend’s brother. Finally I understood why Hamlet fought Laertes instead of the usurper King!

Q

The White Review

— Does Freud write at all about sibling incest? Or has anyone?

A

Jamieson Webster

— I don’t have any siblings, and I have been bowled over by their importance in my patients’ lives. It’s also a displacement of the Oedipus in some sense – whatever is going on with the siblings is a screen for whatever is going on with the parents. But siblings can track each other throughout a lifetime… It’s not just, your parents got divorced when you were eleven, and your child suddenly starts having trouble at eleven, these kind of mystical psychoanalytic things that I actually believe in, but that a sibling gets married, and the other sibling has to get married very quickly – they’re watching each other unconsciously forever. Maybe that’s one way to define incest: surveillance.

Q

The White Review

— What’s the relationship between publicness and performance in psychoanalysis, now and historically? What does ‘the psychoanalytic community’ think about performing and publishing popularly or conceptual/artfully, as you sometimes do? 

A

Jamieson Webster

— Freud was popular. The Interpretation of Dreams was a smash hit. People don’t realise that it would be like what happens now when someone writes about all their friends. Even though he tries to disguise things, he’s writing about his dreams, and he’s dreaming about everyone in his milieu. Everyone knew who everyone was. So it was like a Viennese soap opera, an exhibition of his community and all of their little petty grievances and sexual intrigues. It is both this incredibly theoretically rigorous book, and it’s melodrama, a beautiful chaotic collage that’s also accessible. What an amazing public performance!

 

The professionalisation of psychoanalysis is one of the things that I lament, which is one of the reasons that I take the leniencies I take. Probably I’m pretty frowned upon, because you’re supposed to be hidden as an analyst. The idea is that you don’t show too much, because you’re destroying your patient’s capacity to have fantasies about you. My perspective is that nothing destroys anyone’s capacity to have a fantasy, and certainly not about their analyst. I was at a talk last week and the psychoanalyst, who is a bit obsessional, said that the analyst cannot be an artist because an artist always puts on display their enjoyment, which is obscene. An analyst cannot be obscene. I thought, huh? I didn’t realise analysts were so against enjoyment of any kind. We might have to slice into someone’s enjoyment in order to create a shift in psychoanalytic work, but God forbid we elevate asceticism to the lofty heights of a numb moral ideal yet again. Psychoanalysis isn’t worldview; certainly not a religion, nor even a general philosophy of life or living.  

Q

The White Review

— I remember hearing stuff like that in university. It was baffling to me that ‘Sexuality Studies’ had to be so not sexual, not sensual, rather hyper-rational and cold. And I remember it was expressed by one professor that they were worried it would be taken away, that they had to be extra-cool for fear that the field wouldn’t be taken seriously.

A

Jamieson Webster

— Like that they were in charge of overcompensating for the field, so if you’re going to talk about sex, you have to be hyper-rational or everyone’s going to accuse you of –

Q

The White Review

— Being a pervert.

A

Jamieson Webster

— See, this is my feeling that this desire for ‘neutrality’ is still a desire, so what you end up showing is your fear, which is going to turn people off, or on, or whatever. But if you think you are simply acting ‘neutral’ or ‘correct’ without understanding it as a desire in-itself, you certainly can’t analyse it for its failures. There were women analysts in France who were some of my models for their capacity to put themselves on the line: Catherine Clément, Michèle Montrelay, Julia Kristeva, Maud Mannoni, Hélène Cixous, Anne Dufourmantelle. Rosine Lefort wrote about her analysis with Lacan and starting to analyse very ill children – I mean practically babies since they were between one to three years old – and having a mental breakdown. She felt she had to choose between Lacan and a child she was trying to save who wouldn’t eat and was going to die. Lacan, on the other hand, didn’t divulge anything personal in too-strict of a sense; though he did play the hysterical clown week after week in his seminar. It was the women who would show themselves more, and they would imbricate themselves in their work in a way that I admired. Why was it the women who did this? The critics said it was narcissism, even a particular brand of female narcissism, though from my perspective, the less autofictional (as it is now called) writing, and the avoidance of exposure, can have the flavour of maintaining one’s narcissistic skin intact. These women psychoanalysts, I think, didn’t want to pretend they were worshiping at the ivory tower of knowledge, and so understood that what can be said comes from a lived life, especially what is singular about one’s life lived as a sexual being. For them, this was a fundamental psychoanalytic truth.  

Q

The White Review

— This is a tendency in literature as well – women and queer writers masking themselves less or using themselves more candidly than cis male greats. My novel, Exquisite Mariposa, could be considered as exhibitionistic, self-exploitative even. But what it’s doing is returning stuff that I never wanted in the first place. The ‘personal’ material feels impersonal to me. My narrator’s like, I want a full refund and additional credit for all these cultural constructs that were projected onto me since puberty, for the lame experiences tailored to my genetic lottery that I assumed as mine and let waste my time. It should be adapted at the fifth movie in The Purge franchise. Speaking of purging, you asked me about writing on menstruation. Why? Does Freud write about menstruation at all? Will you?

A

Jamieson Webster

Conversion Disorder ends with this case of a patient losing a child that I folded into some self-analysis. One book always sets the next book up. I want to write about what it means to have a sexual body and the search for sensuality. I don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like, but I feel like we’ve forgotten about how wonderful and dangerous sexuality is, or the feeling of being sexed. We’re certainly in the middle of it in terms of thinking about sexual violence and misogyny, but I want to push the question past familiar heteronormative deadlocks in the direction of the body – so not just AIDS, but hormones, pregnancy, miscarriage, infertility, menstruation, ED {erectile disfunction}, vaginismus, polycystic ovary syndrome. This biological cycle leading up to menopause, 1000 eggs dying in order for one egg to be produced in a cycle of pure attrition, cells bursting, dividing. Women are thinking about this all the time. Science knows so little, or hasn’t cared to know, while we refuse to know that science doesn’t know. It’s amazing that it’s been eviscerated so thoroughly (though Freud has an article where he talks about the primal fear of blood and the taboo on virginity). That’s why I asked you: Is there anyone writing about menstruation or is it just taboo?

Q

The White Review

— There was a really obnoxious young feminist trend of arty pictures of menstrual blood on cute panties and things like that were supposed to be transgressive, pink haze, recently…

A

Jamieson Webster

— Like a Thinx panty ad?

Q

The White Review

— Yeah, but more cutesy. My friend Steven called it My Little Pony feminism. They call it art. I don’t know.

A

Jamieson Webster

— This is the danger of writing about this – that you can end up in such un-transgressive territory, reinforcing banal stereotypes.

Q

The White Review

— To me the blood is the least interesting part about my cycle. It’s the moods, the thoughts and feelings, and the power of those things.

A

Jamieson Webster

— How do both women and men write off these seismic shifts that can be quite profound as simply ‘premenstrual’? I had a dream recently after reminiscing about the cascade of sadness that can come from hormonal states. I was on one of those slides from an amusement park that are wavy, but it was a tube and it was filling up with water. By the time I made it to the bottom I would drown; woke up taking the final breath. Thinking about the dream later I realised that the name of this ride must be ‘suislide’.

Q

The White Review

— At a reading you did at Swiss institute recently {with Alison M. Gingeras and Alissa Bennett}, you showed a diagram drawn by Freud about different expressions of anality. I remember you said something like, ‘the way out is through defiance’ that it’s through defiance that one can address… something… I can’t remember but I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

A

Jamieson Webster

— It’s his graph from his paper, ‘On the Transformation of Instincts as Exemplified in Anal Erotism’ – what a title! If you look at the graph: at the top it’s baby, penis, man, and then, as you move down, you’re moving past narcissism towards the castration complex. The link is the ‘lumf,’ and ‘lumf’ in German is both a baby and faeces. Freud says faeces can be transformed both into money and into the gift. Which is also why the baby is part of this: the baby can be the gift. The faeces is the second object that we lose, but it’s the first object of our own body that we lose (we also lose the breast, but the breast never belonged to you to begin with).

 

So I realised how beautiful this diagram was. He’s got Man-Baby-Penis at the top in terms of narcissism – the fantasy of the whole thing, all alone – Wham, Man, Wang. And what he then diagrams is the loss of the object as the destruction of this narcissism. It’s only through the lost object – shit – that you can get closer to Reality and to other people. If you give something, you lose something. And if you receive something then you have to admit it’s something you didn’t have to begin with. And so that kind of exchange at the bottom of the graph is what’s important to Freud. Including the aspect of anality that’s really defiant against this idea that we are told to lose certain things or keep others, put some things in certain places and not others, and this defiance is the exit point in the graph.

Q

The White Review

— What’s on the other side?

A

Jamieson Webster

— I don’t know, he doesn’t say. {Laughs} But what I think he would say – and I think he would say this is part of all artistic production – is that defiance pushes back against what civilisation takes from us. It’s not the creation of a narcissistic illusion, it’s a defiance against the pleasure that civilisation wants to take from us, from our bodies. Through defiance we can create something Real.

Q

The White Review

— And how does the faeces relate to money and gift?

A

Jamieson Webster

— It’s the old shit into gold…

Q

The White Review

— That’s what I thought, I just wanted to hear it.

A

Jamieson Webster

— And also that: money is nothing. It’s literally nothing. It’s pieces of paper. It used to be gold coins, but not anymore. Not for a long time.

Q

The White Review

— I want to talk more about money. I loved this bit you spoke that I read in a transcript online. I’m going to quote you: ‘…the multi-generational question of how families handle money, the violence of what is passed down from generation to generation with regards to money, is like a final frontier in analysis… we can talk about sex, and yet we can’t talk about money… and the neurosis, the pleasures and displeasures, what can be thought and what simply cannot, the horror of poor people who are the figure of the abject detritus of the world – and whom we treat like trash to be got rid of – and who bind us around this object, money, so strange in its imaginary contours. It is the site of our deepest melancholia… and there is so much work to be done, it is overwhelming.’ I was wondering if money serves both as totem and taboo in American culture? It’s an identity, a means of belonging to tribes or castes of class, and also something that we can’t talk about?

A

Jamieson Webster

— The totem in Freud announces what tribe you are in. But it’s also important to the extent that the belonging is not necessarily hereditary. Some linguistic element can stand in for your person or peoples, and this can be anything. So on the one hand, I can imagine that it can be class. But what a poor signifier! So if it is, we’re in really big trouble. Money as taboo, certainly. There’s something so taboo about money. More than sex at this point. It’s like this Presidency. It’s everywhere. This problem of privilege, and this family, and corruption. But somehow it doesn’t break the screen, and that’s when you know something is really taboo – it can be in your face, and somehow you can’t touch it at all. I think it’s very, very hard to get to money in an analysis. It can be something you’re trying to help someone deal with in terms of the immediacy of how this is affecting their life – whether they have money or don’t have money, and what this is doing to them – but the real unconscious roots of it, in terms of what has been passed down, and what might be in the family’s history, either in terms of poverty or in terms of corrupt wealth – it’s as if I can only get there with my patients who are four times a week, eight years in. I wish I could talk about details, but I can’t for obvious reasons. But I can say: find the crime. Either crimes that were committed because of desperate situations, or crimes that were committed in non-desperate situations, that made other people desperate. 

Q

The White Review

— Do you have a sense of when money became a greater taboo than sexuality? Or what forces were at play?

A

Jamieson Webster

— I wonder… It wouldn’t have been in my generation. So it’s just speculative at this point. I wonder if it’s a post-60s situation. Because there was the Sexual Revolution, and yet the Sexual Revolution did not have the revolutionary implications that we wanted it to have on the level of economic equality, or a change in our relationship to corporate capital. The Sexual Revolution was always bound up with the dream of a democratic ideal, but we’re living through the total failure of that ideal. And this must be very confusing, because we have certain liberties that were inherited from that period of time. Greater access by women and minorities to education and work, the legalisation of gay marriage, a certain loosening of sexual morality and the puritanical focus on the heteronormative nuclear family. And yet… It’s hard to square where we are as a generation.

Q

The White Review

— So many images of sexual liberty have been co-opted and packaged alongside products. I think my generation are overworked and stressed in ways that aren’t conducive to having a playful sexual life.

A

Jamieson Webster

— When I started writing Conversion Disorder, I wanted to focus on bodies in pain – on the expression of sexual life as bodily pain in my patients, at a moment in time where we’re supposed to be so grateful for sexual liberation, and all the possibilities or choices we can supposedly make concerning what kind of person we want to be in the world. I felt that the body held this contradictory image: a feeling of ‘openness’, but also one of being hemmed in by the demands of modern life, especially the demand that we show ourselves to be productive and flourishing 24/7. Everyone feels terrible for not living up to the supposed gifts of the contemporary world. We are saturated with guilt.

Q

The White Review

— Are you familiar with the artist Cady Noland? She has one published text: Towards a Metalanguage of Evil.In it she writes about ‘glamour deaths,’ ‘actions deaths,’ and ‘glamour action deaths,’ honorific suicide or accident-on-purpose deaths, willful deaths, that are glorified in our culture, or were in the 20th century, especially for artists. She also writes, in this essay, ‘the psychopath shares the societal sanctioned characteristics of the entrepreneurial male…’ This all reminded me of some stuff you’ve referenced about the Death Drive in America… About the American belief system that we are Darwinian, aggressive, competitive people and that is keeping us from reckoning with what is actually Death Drive. You referenced Lacan’s ‘scathing critique of this moment in psychoanalysis, American psychoanalysis in the 1950s is that basically what they seem to want is the aggressiveness of the American lawyer. Aggressive enough to get what you want. That this was going to be the sort of paragon of health.’

A

Jamieson Webster

— Either you’re successful or you’re trash. This brutality in America has always been there. But I think that brutality is appearing as success at all costs in a way that weighs on people’s lives, because if you’re not in the public eye, you’re nothing. Maybe this is part of this new reality where the only real export that America has at this point, because we don’t make anything, is culture.

 

One of the things that struck me about melancholia  – which I’ve found myself writing about more and more  – is the obsession with what isn’t being counted, or what doesn’t count. I wonder about the collapse of belief in the American Dream and the melancholica that’s already present, like 70,000 opioid deaths last year and suicide skewing for the first time in history towards women. The melancholic cry is – ‘I’m with them’.

Q

The White Review

— In this Spike article with Alison Gingeras you I assume or maybe both write: ‘…Lacan called melancholia moral cowardice, which is a good definition of the Left shorn of magical thinking. Where are our courageous hysterical-heretical witches?’ Could you elaborate on that a bit?

A

Jamieson Webster

— People were really angry that Lacan said that being melancholic was cowardly – it seemed to rough ride over what in it might be an ethical or legitimate response to loss. But he felt this was too much Romanticisation. The thing about the melancholic is, even if they have the courage to strip through the veils (there’s this idea of the melancholic seeing the truth and not being blinded by the usual illusions, especially the fear of death), this doesn’t mean that does anything for them, and it doesn’t mean that they’re doing anything creative, or having another vision of the world. The real destructiveness of melancholia is to refuse to do that, to only lament what’s wrong, to only have that criticality that gives them a lot of power and a lot of enjoyment. I think the Left right now has zero energy for invention. It’s thriving off of criticising the Right. Which is the conundrum we’re in: Trump is good for Leftist business.

Q

The White Review

— Like punditry as entertainment. What’s going on with the Left’s libido? Compared with the Right? Or with Anarchists? Can we think of different political movements or orientations in terms of how they are processing and enacting libido?

A

Jamieson Webster

— A real anarchist, which I don’t know if I believe in, is libido as pure movement at all costs. It’s appealing, especially in this paralysed phallic political paradigm. You either have the Right phallic male or you have the Left impotent male, but they’re the same thing. And maybe within that you have some phallic women.  Trump vs. Biden, and for good measure, throw in Ivanka and Nancy Pelosi.  All will-to-power.

Q

The White Review

— I’ll never forget what my musician friend Rivington Starchild said, after I asked what he thought of Trump’s election, ‘Politics? Politics are vulgar.’ Can we transcend phallocentrism? What could a feminine or queer libido be to politics? (Who are the queer psychoanalysts?)

A

Jamieson Webster

— To my mind, psychoanalysis was always queer. Freud spoke about universal bisexuality as early as 1905. The US has a long history of activist queer psychoanalysts (and psychoanalytic theorists) in reaction to homosexuality being included in the DSM until the 1973. One of the most important thinkers is Judith Butler. When Judith used Lacan’s notion of the phallus as a signifier for thinking drag and queerness in the nineties (the performance of the copy of the copy of the copy shows there is no original), it felt like she had so thoroughly deconstructed gender and the nuclear family we had to be moving on to something else, something more inventive, ethical, and inclusive. Sometimes, I still believe that; that what is happening now is a last hiccup. But I also sometimes feel this is naive, especially when I listen to the ubiquity of the phallic dream of totality and its grip on psychic life. 

Q

The White Review

— Could there ever be psychoanalytic group therapy?
A

Jamieson Webster

— Leigh Ledare did an art piece called ‘The Task,’ which is about The Tavistock Group Experience, which I’ve done. You go for sometimes 3 days, sometimes 7 days, to group therapy boot camp. A lot of shrinks go, but anyone can go. It’s really wild. You are in and out of small and large groups. The analysts act really robotic, interpret as if they are robot analysts. They go: ‘It appears that the group would like to put all the power into the hands of Fiona today,’ and then go silent and dead-faced. They also try to interpret class, race, and gender dynamics. Like: ‘Is the group allowing only the males to speak today?’ Leigh only filmed the large group. The whole experience probably would’ve been about five hours, and Leigh condensed it to movie length. The interesting thing about the movie is that he breaks the fourth wall and enters the group and freaks out the analysts. The analysts actually implode. They can’t handle him usurping the power, and Leigh shows their problematic relationship to power. This then played out beyond the film, which is a very Leigh Ledare thing. They tried to sue him, take the rights to the movie back, and he used those documents as part of his art project. It’s interesting that they wanted to control it as much as they did.
 

 


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ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

Fiona Alison Duncan is a Canadian American artist, writer and organiser. She is the founding host of Hard to Read, a lit series, and Pillow Talk, community organising on sex, love and communication. She lives in New York City and Los Angeles.



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