Dating from the late fourteenth century the noun ‘inhabitation’ denotes the ‘act or fact of dwelling;’ but also a ‘state of being’ and a ‘place of lodging’ or ‘abode’ from the Old French habitacion or abitacion ‘a dwelling or act of dwelling’ (12th century). It might also come directly from the Latin habitationem, the nominative case of habitation, ‘a dwelling,’ a noun of action from the past participle stem of habitare whose common Latin root is the past participle of the verb ‘to live, inhabit, dwell,’ the frequentative of habere ‘to have, to hold, possess.’ A most unstable term which must have arisen when the need was felt for an abstract term to express the ideas of making a home, and, by extension, populating. It is a rich word, conjuring as it does notions of occupancy, residence, ownership, control, possession, but also antithetical ideas of pre-occupancy or co-occupancy or post-occupancy, as in the fact of haunting and the state of being haunted. Like Freud's ‘Unheimliche’ (2001 [1917-1919]), ‘inhabitation’ highlights the unstable boundary between the familiar and the strange as well as the porous nature of the membrane between the inner and the outer. This paper will approach the following question: as a writer, do I inhabit language, or does it inhabit me? I will do so with specific reference to ‘Air: Dreamwork of a novel’ and ‘Masks,’ two works concerned with dialogical authorship and heteronymy.
Keywords: Inhabitation – language – writing – psychoanalysis – poetics
A multitude lives in us – Pessoa 2009: 49
A stench of piss and cold tobacco. The arcade across from Di Piú is clearly reserved: army blanket, backpack, paper cup. The skyline sinks in the sea. I cross the road. Cross the Promenade des anglais. Skip down the stairs: water, pebble, air – Plage de l’Opéra. A voice summons reason: prends garde à toi … You lay down and watch the stars burn the night. Feel the waves lap your skin, gather your hair, slap your face, sting your eyes. Soon the water covers your nose. Your mouth. Wraps you around. You roll away ever so slightly into some novel cosmogony, lulled to sleep with salt on your tongue.
There is nothing to see but the efflorescence of the branching foam on the surface of the waves. Blind. Blubbing. Orgiastic. Opaque. There is nothing to remember but wind: blue, light, eluding time. There is nothing to feel, but parched lips ... Are they mine? Air, fire, dust on water. An ear listening for the pulse of the world. The skyline singing at the hem of the shore. The wind whistling, cutting through convoluted crests of water, dust, fire, air. I am this multitudinous nothing. Froth, spray, spume. A plume afloat on this sublime panache-drained body. Wavy, nebuly, evanescent blue Schimmel running into the open throat of the night.
Voices. Voices foaming, churning. On a trouvé une femme sur la grève! A woman on the shore? Vite. Mais nom de dieu Marie, bouge ton popotin. Get your arse into gear. Il faut appeler les pompiers. Fire, police, ambulance. Pomp and Circumstance. Elle est tout écorchée, mais en vie. Scorched, but alive. Sea-foam. Shellfish. She sells sea shells on the seashore.O Porca Madonna,Botticelli, where are you when we need you? No, folks, your shell fish will not raise Venus from the Sea. A seared plume afloat on a bed of pebbles at the most, this creature. Mais c'est affreux elle est toute brȗlée. She is scorched. Touchez-pas. Sirens shrieking, almost hectoring: a mantra calling for the milky body of an organism, not calcinated germ-cells or germ-souls.Allez, les mecs, dégagez. Doucement, doucement. Slowly, almost tenderly, they scoop me in a cool concha. I loll on the raw nakedness of the shell, feel its steely softness, imagine its mother of pearl patina. Foam-born. Steel-born. Peel me a lotus... Feed me drops of rain...
I open this paper with three vignettes from ‘Masks,’ whose central axiom is the phrase ‘A multitude lives in us’ by the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (2009: 87) because Pessoa will be our guide through this imaginative quest. As a set, the excerpt highlights three enduring preoccupations in my work: i) our relationship to language; ii) our relationship to language with regard to place; iii) our relationship to language with regard to communication. Lined like caskets, these preoccupations directly bear upon the question I want to explore here: As a writer, do I inhabit language, taking in the smog that surrounds its vocables; or does it inhabit me, breathing the substance of writing through me? I will do so with specific reference to ‘Air’ and ‘Masks,’ two recent works at different stages of completion concerned with authorship which expand on the concept of the fugue explored in Hush (Hecq 2017). Thus, the paper builds on the intimations of its abstract to tease out the etymology of inhabitation as productively unstable and mobilises, like Lacan’s Moebius strip, the thesis and its obverse: language as both pre-occupying and inhabiting the subject as well as becoming the subject’s extimate.
The excerpt works like a dream. You will have noticed how it departs from realism and enters a geography of the mind where the narrating persona is destabilised, perhaps even destabilising. It also works as a kind of metaphor for the writing process – one filled with evocations and possibilities, including those of inhabiting different worlds and visiting regions where residents might speak other languages and abide by other reference systems. Above all, the excerpt highlights the problem of non-communication. Or the incongruity of communication. In the context of the fugue experienced by the protagonist who will reinvent herself as Yvette, verbal nonsense also signals some ‘Other jouissance’ (Lacan 1998 [1972-73]: 69), i.e., some non-phallic enjoyment that might entail ‘the relief of escaping from the false dominion of words which have acquired an absolute value’ and that are perceived as ‘no longer functioning as a bridge between internal and external reality’ (Milner 1987: 30). In this dream, Yvette inhabits language as much as she is inhabited by it – indeed, to the point of subjective invasion and … suspension.
Dating from the late fourteenth century the noun ‘inhabitation’ denotes the ‘act or fact of dwelling;’ but also a ‘state of being’ and a ‘place of lodging’ or ‘abode’ from the Old French habitacion or abitacion ‘a dwelling or act of dwelling’ (12th century). It might also come directly from the Latin habitationem, the nominative case of habitation, ‘a dwelling,’ a noun of action from the past participle stem of habitare whose common Latin root is the past participle of the verb ‘to live, inhabit, dwell,’ the frequentative of habere ‘to have, to hold, possess.’ A most unstable term which must have arisen when the need was felt for an abstract term to express the ideas of making a home, and, by extension, populating. It is a rich word, conjuring as it does notions of occupancy, residence, ownership, control, possession, but also antithetical ideas of pre-occupancy or co-occupancy or post-occupancy, as in the fact of haunting and the state of being haunted.
Some writers strive to inhabit a place. Others seek to inhabit language. Yet others would say that language inhabits them. It would be an act of bad faith on my part to claim that I belong to the first group: all of my writing speaks of displacement – indeed revels in the comforting discomfort of displacement: most of my characters reinvent themselves in other places and often in other languages. So, do I seek to, or do I, in actual fact, inhabit language? Until 1999, I would have answered ‘yes’ to that question. I believed, with Heidegger, that ‘language is the house of being’ (1946: 248). At that point, I believed that all writers were specific agents distinct from other people by dint of their particular, if not peculiar, use of written language as well as relationship to geographies, histories and mythologies. With examples from my fictions, I could have demonstrated how I wrote between selves and places, how I honed my craft in the multiplicities I inhabited in terms of imagination, language, dialect, gender and style as a French-speaker who had travelled through English-speaking countries and now resided in Australia. In 1999, I wrote ‘The gaze of silence.’ It was a scary experience: as my hand moved, I realised that something other was also writing me.
Had I gone mad? Versed in the teachings of Lacan, I had to address the question: though Lacan’s views change many times over the span of his career, he does state in his third seminar that ‘[if] the neurotic inhabits language, the psychotic is inhabited, possessed by language’ (1993 [1955-56]: 250). The question of structure aside, it is true to say, though that I was mad with grief. The journey through mourning has been instructive, though far from complete.
By questioning the literal meaning of the term inhabitation, I now want to work out how my writing has, since then, increasingly oscillated between two modes of inhabiting language – one active; the other immersive and recuperative. I will suggest that this shift, or shifting position, though unconscious at first, has become increasingly conscious and deliberate over the years. Experimenting with form and working on and through Lacan’s concept of suppléance as expounded in his seminar on Joyce (2005 [1975-76) are partly responsible for this shift, which in turn has led me to challenging Freud’s distinction between mourning and melancholia (2001 ). In particular, the lessons gleaned through the writing of Hush: A fugue (2017) have enabled bolder experimental work with ‘Air: Dreamwork of a novel’ and ‘Masks: Letters of Orpheus.’ While I sought an iterative doubling of authorial personae in ‘Air,’ it is the splitting and splintering of autonomous personae that interests me in ‘Masks.’ I therefore speak of a shift from a dialogical to a heteronymous approach to authorship. Further, I do not think this is accidental. It is predicated upon the symbolic fabric of our times and on my reflections on what it means to be sane or mad in a mad era. I have written about this process at length elsewhere (Hecq 2008; 2010a; 2010b; 2015) and will therefore refrain from repeating myself. I will, however, link back suppléance to an earlier concept introduced by British psychologist, psychoanalyst and painter Marion Milner, that of ‘framed gap’ (1987: 225).
Mad with grief, I wrote a book about the death of a child mainly at night when his surviving siblings were safely tucked in bed. We live up high. To cross the threshold of my fiction room, you need to climb 39 steps. Facing you is my back. Facing me is a window open onto the night. There is quite a drop. A gap, you might say, where the theatre of my imagination beckons. In that theatre, Eros and Thanatos vie for air. It is not a benign space. Mind the gap. Then frame it.
Framing the gap is one of the concepts developed by Marion Milner (1987) in relation to the analytic process whereby the experience is framed in time by the scanding of sessions and by the space of the analytic encounter itself. Milner extends this understanding of what analysts call the setting to other cultural expressions of this experience of a boundary. She writes of the framed gap provided by the ‘blank piece of paper’ (1987: 225), where the blankness of the space allows the emergence of representational activity from the subject's own ‘blankness,’ i.e., the amnesia that protects the ego from the assaults of the unconscious. Dreams, however, Milner suggests, are also framed in sleep by repression. The frame is a representational relationship that marks a subject's ability to change their relationship to their unconscious through the creation of a third term: a space that is constructed as other. The frame marks an imaginary line which demarcates an internal from an external space. This can be used as a metaphor for other processes of delimitation, demarcation and definition within the subject, especially as regards play whereby the mother provides the ‘framing’ or ‘holding’ (Winnicott 1971: 69) environment. Milner’s most popular account of the liberating function of this framing occurs in her study of the capacity to shift attention in her essay On not being able to paint (1981), where she shows how doodling enables her to disengage her mind from conscious intentionality and thereby render it receptive to other, less conscious states of experience. Milner's concept of the framed gap provides a variation on what post-Freudians would describe as a form of ego functioning, or as pre-requisite to entering the representational world of symbol formation. It is therefore no accident that I encountered a crisis during the writing of Hush and became aware that what Milner meant by ‘framing’ was incomplete, or at least invited less benign elements to enter the frame of composition.
Milner relates the kind of ‘absent mindedness’ of doodling on the white page to what Winnicott called the ‘reverie’ of maternal preoccupation (1971: 9) corresponding to Freud’s ‘free-floating attention’ (2001 : 500). Artists across disciplines report a similar, necessary creation of a ‘framed gap’ within which something may be found that is not available for encounter anywhere else. It is this uniqueness of the encounter with oneself as unique that may be being unconsciously sought. It is this uniqueness of the encounter with oneself as unique that may also open the door to unwanted ghosts, ghouls, and other phantoms and phantasies.
Mad with grief in the gap where Eros and Thanatos vie for air, I learned that writing is a double-edged sword. If it could relieve anxiety, it could also induce it. Milner’s imaginary line was too thin. It needed fleshing out. It called for a pound of flesh: my real and imaginary body reined in by the symbolic order. Contained by language. I learned to do this as I wrote Hush. Fiction broke into poetry. Narration split into fragments, making full use of figures of speech, blanks and typography. The narrative voice splintered into narrating instances which permitted me to feign to be other (Hecq 2010b).
‘O poeta é um fingidor / The poet is a man who feigns’ says Pessoa (2009: 39). Elsewhere Pessoa retracts his statement and writes: ‘Não. / Eu simplesmente sinto/ Com a imaginação / No. / It’s simply that I feel / With the imagination’ (2009: 34). It is then this one of Pessoa’s heteronyms, Ricardo Reis, who mouths: ‘Vivem em nós inúmeros/ … Sou somente o lugar / Onde se sente ou pensa / A multitude lives in us / … I am no more than the site / Where something is thought or felt’ (2009: 49). A poet is but a pretender. But a site. A place. A position. In the symbolic scheme of inhabitation.
Yes, ‘Inhabitation’ is a lovely word. Like Freud's ‘Unheimliche,’‘inhabitation’ highlights the unstable boundary between the familiar and the strange; it reveals the porous nature of the membrane between the inner and the outer. Like Freud’s ‘Unheimliche,’ too, it evokes a doubling: that which I inhabit, and that which inhabits me. It rings of the ambiguity, if not ambivalence, that has vanished from its synonym, ‘dwelling.’ In the context of writing, it conjures up some irrevocably lost thing that insists on being written. It calls to mind sung and unsung melodies with their cadences, rhythms and inflections. The plenitude and the caesura is implicated in a loving encrypting lack, out of some originary loss. For you can picture your fiction room as a crypt. While Beckett (1934; 1951) might make a rapprochement of tomb and womb, the crypt is neither; it is an enclosed space with cracks and crannies where the work of death is everywhere present. About to be birthed. About to be murdered. ‘The function of the text,’ writes the French psychoanalyst André Green, ‘is to resuscitate all that has been killed by the process of writing’ (1986: 320). And yet, the process of writing entails a symbolic recuperation of some loss, whether one calls it ‘object’ (Freud), ‘thing’ (Kristeva) or ‘objet a’ (Lacan). ‘If there is a pleasure of the text,’ Green reminds us simply, ‘it is a substitute for a lost satisfaction that we are seeking to regain in indirect ways’ (323). At the intersection of the symbolic, the imaginary and the real.
I see life as a roadside inn where I have to stay until
the coach from the abyss pulls up – Pessoa 2013: 13
Few writers would disagree that there is a link between creative expression and loss, whose punctuation includes key moments such as birth, access to language, reiterated relinquishments of love objects and, at the last crossroad, death. ‘All writing of the narrative kind, and perhaps all writing’, writes Margaret Atwood, ‘is motivated … by a fear of and fascination with mortality – by a desire to make the risky trip to the Underworld, and to bring something or someone back from the dead’ (Atwood, 2002: 156). The Greeks had a beautiful myth to account for this desire – the myth of Orpheus, son of the muse Calliope. Both Hélène Cixous and Julia Kristeva have written about the creative transmutations of personal loss, be it born of actual bereavement, exile, illness, or other perceived injury registered as narcissistic wound or subtraction of (self) love. Drawing on the metaphor of the world as house, Cixous writes:
In the beginning the gesture of writing is linked to the experience of disappearance, to the feeling of having lost the key to the world, of having been thrown outside. Of having suddenly acquired the precious sense of the rare, of the mortal. Of having urgently to regain the entrance, the breath, to keep the trace. (Cixous 1994: xxvi)
It is ironic that ‘to regain the entrance, the breath, to keep the trace’ is what Cixous does urgently and relentlessly in Homère est morte (2014), a poignant tribute to her late Homeric mother whose signature is everywhere in the daughter’s work.
Kristeva, on the other hand, more boldly links loss with ‘literature,’ claiming that the language of death, like love, is ‘impossible, inadequate, immediately allusive when one would like to be straightforward. It is a flight of metaphors. It is literature’ (Kristeva 1987: 1). The arts are testimony to such inhabitation by ghosts, something which perhaps literature has best articulated since antiquity. But what insights, beyond writing as catharsis, might we acquire by scrutinising the spooky relationship between loss, love, lack and creative production? A subsidiary question, borne from texts actualising loss, is whether Freud’s distinction between mourning and melancholia is tenable? And further, given that for Lacanian psychoanalysis ‘the I think of being is split by the real – unrepresentable – of Freud’s Es’ (Ragland-Sullivan 1996: 46) would the ambiguity and ambivalence at the heart of the term ‘inhabitation’ not be enhanced rather than erased at a time when madness is more the norm than the exception (Miller 2008)?
Roland Barthes’ Journal de deuil (2009) is a fragmentary record of seven months of mourning dedicated to his mother. Unlike Camera Lucida (1980), where all intimate traces of attachment to the mother are erased, the journal was written on dated filing cards at first not intended for publication. It contains three fragments concerning mourning and melancholia on the one hand, and sorrow and writing, on the other, which, considered together, are quite striking:
Non, le deuil (la dépression) est bien autre chose qu’une maladie. De quoi voudrait-on que je guérisse ? Pour trouver quel état, quelle vie ? (2009: 18)
No, mourning (depression) is obviously something else than an illness. What would I be supposed to get cured from? To reach what state? What life?
La dépression viendra quand, du fond du chagrin, je ne pourrai même pas me raccrocher à l’écriture. (2009: 72)
Depression will come when, from sorrow, I won’t even be able to cling to writing
Je ne veux pas en parler par peur de faire de la littérature – ou sans être sûr que ce n’en sera – bien qu’en fait la littérature s’origine dans ces vérités. (2009: 33)
I don’t want to talk about it for fear of making literature out of it – or without being certain that’s not what it’s going to be--though in fact literature originates from these truths.
Though well-versed in psychoanalysis Barthes appears to conflate ‘deuil / mourning’ and ‘dépression / depression’ (18) only to separate them again when writing throws a salutary, albeit fragile, life-line (72). He would have known Freud’s classical essay ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ (2001 [1914-1916]). He would also have been familiar with Lacan’s playfully titled seminar on James Joyce, Le Sinthome (2005 [1975-76]) where Lacan fleshes out his thesis that Joyce may have been psychotic, but never went mad thanks to the place and function of his writing. Best of all, he would have known intimately Julia Kristeva’s work on mourning, madness, melancholia and avant-garde writing. We might say that Barthes accidentally questions not only the validity of Freud’s distinction between mourning and melancholia, but also the validity of the sublimatory potential of symbolic activity, whilst paradoxically affirming his belief in both.
What is at stake here is the question of the loss of a real love object, which, it should be stressed, is also the first love object for all human beings. As Ruby Todd suggests, ‘everything Barthes wrote following his bereavement – whether published posthumously or while he lived’ is motivated from and suffused by the loss of his mother (Todd 2016). Todd perceptively adds:
Whatever his misgivings about the enterprise, ‘making literature out of it’ appears to be exactly what Barthes did, with great drive and vision. This late output of death-haunted philosophical work, which includes Camera Lucida (1980), might in fact constitute Barthes’s most powerful work. Ultimately, these writings stand as a palpable demonstration of Barthes’s own intimation that the ‘truth of loss is intimately connected somehow to the germination of writing, the origin of literature’. (Todd 2016)
Todd’s conjecture conjures up sentiments expressed by both Cixous and Kristeva, and even myself, when ‘mad with grief’, I started writing.
Here, in parenthesis, I wish to make a clear distinction between the mother object and a woman’s subjective difference from this object. The mother object is literally the use to which a pre-oedipal child puts the mother. As the primary object, the mother is the representational limits of the world to the child, and indeed mediates the world for the child who identifies with her to the extent of seeing through her. As psychoanalysis demonstrates, this erasure of the mother-object is a psychical necessity. But, because no adequate cultural symbology exists to represent the separation of woman and mother-object, (Lacan 1998 [1972-73]: 7), or woman ‘quoad matrem’ (35), this erasure also ensures both the representational sacrifice of woman’s subjective difference and the deletion of the ‘holding’ environment of the mother-object. Therefore, the most privileged cultural perspective is that of the pre-oedipal child who mistakes the word / mother for themselves, and for whom the admission of mother as either woman or matter is tantamount to its own erasure. In this either / or model, identity politics is haunted by a fierce battle between mother and child for sheer representational space, indeed symbolic existence. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Freud’s notion of ‘Fort! Da!’, in the second chapter of ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’ (2001 ), where he describes and interprets a ritual invented by his grand-son Ernst at the age of 18 months to symbolise the disappearance of the mother and the threat this may cause to the infant’s ego. Perhaps all writing, indeed, all creative work is but a complex variation on this theme.
Many psychoanalysts have voiced their views on the matter. But as regards the act of artistic creation, it is paramount that we revision our own positioning. Madness is no longer a privilege. After all, Beckett once said: ‘We are all born mad. Some remain so’ (2006: 149). Jacques Lacan went further: ‘Everyone is mad, that is, delusional’ (2013: 7). Faced with the absurdity of life, the fetishisation of trump cards and the disarticulation of signifying chains we had, until recently, no choice but to construct meanings either related to established discourses or private inventions. Both choices involved a delusion. Once upon a time, one was on the side of neurosis; the other on the side of psychosis. Nowadays, nosologies and structures are blurred. Lacan’s son-in-law, Jacques-Alain Miller, who also contends that madness is universal invented a new term in the late 1990s: ordinary psychosis, which covers the spectrum of untriggered psychoses. There is no space here to go into detail, but I will say that in a society where the Oedipus complex has become obsolete, where the Name of the Father and the Phallus are bogus, where the Other does not exist, madness is general and solutions singular.
You see where I’m coming from and, no doubt, going. We are all mad. In a world ruled by excess consumption and compulsory jouissance, love, empathy, compassion are depleted. The madness at stake is not psychotic – though it could be – Lacan writes: ‘One can believe only that about which one is not sure. Those who are sure … do not believe. They do not believe in the Other, they are sure of the Thing. These are psychotics’ (1965: n.p.). Above all, what is at stake is ‘a disturbance at the inmost juncture of the subject’s sense of life’ (Lacan 2006: 466) and the inventions that a subject can bring to bear on his or her own life: the bricolage. In ‘Air’ and ‘Masks’, psychic disturbance is accidental, even existential: it arises because both other and Other have been replaced by machines. Inventions are a response to disturbance, and therefore they are transitory phenomena. These are also of a linguistic nature – not quite epiphanies, though they could function as such. These inventions are produced by a ‘know how’ that Lacan first articulated in his seminar on James Joyce with respect to Joyce’s life-long ‘work in progress’ which, Lacan suggests enabled Joyce to prop up a wonky ego through a specific mode of jouissance most markedly and consistently deployed in Finnegans Wake.
The question at stake in an era where the One, and indeed the Other of the symbolic, does not exist, rests on the question of invention, that is of how each of us can cope as social being. This statement can be approached from two perspectives. On the one hand, the universal collapse of traditions and social values apparent in the way modernity shattered the consistency on which ideals and lifestyles were created. This would mean that speaking beings are thus left to their own devices in their search for anchoring points and means of identification. On the other hand, the idea that the Other of the symbolic is a pure invention, which cancels the idea that the subject is the effect of the signifier as articulated in the Other.
To profess the non-existence of the Other of the symbolic, or to argue that it is an invention suggests that we are conditioned to become inventors and that language has become extraneous to subjectivity. We have to find the private function of language in order to inhabit it. In other words, language determines the subject but it is also plugged into the subject like an apparatus for which there is no book of words. The function of language is no longer regulated by some transcendental locus, some ‘treasure trove of signifiers’ (Lacan 2006: 682) and needs to be discovered anew so that it can be made use of by each one of us.
Hush: A fugue acknowledges the ways in which language itself can be inhabited by thought, meanings, emotions and ideas. It suggests that the ‘I think of being is split by the real – unrepresentable – of Freud’s Es’ (Ragland-Sullivan 1996: 46). Writing, and poetry in particular, is conceived of as bodily matter ascribed to hosts of meanings often haunted by ghosts, locatable as these are through, but beyond memory, history, and word presentation.
The focus on writing and poetry making continues in ‘Air: Dreamwork of a Novel’ and ‘Masks,’ where the fractal character considers the speculations and formal experimentations of poetry as being inherently psychogeographical, a wandering into unfamiliar spaces and across languages. Conflating space and text, creativity occurs here as a mode of active fugue-like responsiveness amid shifting appearances where the wandering self is an eavesdropper at large: libidinally observant, participant and subtractor.
On the surface, ‘Air: Dreamwork of a novel’ recounts how two people fell in love because of the books they had read about the sea and fell apart because of their divergent connection to it, teasing out the theme of ambivalence at the heart of the work whose central question really is the relationship between anxiety and writing. ‘Air’ is also about authorship. Here is how Professor Richard Hommelet, from the Free University at Haddon, whom we meet at the close of this fiction writes:
As the blurb on the back cover announces somewhat preciously: The various intertextual relations deployed in AIR, in which a series of autobiographical subtexts run through, like the breath of the living author, allude to the process of self-creation at work in the writing-process. It explores the kinship between textuality, origin and originality and informs us as to the ways in which texts are made, transmitted and received while uncovering both unconscious and social forces at work in this process. Its strength lies in the ways it probes the dialectic between transgression and the law, thereby questioning anew notions of authority, authorship and discourse. The book also assembles some evidence against writers and calls for debate on the topic of the (non)existence of the Freudian unconscious, positing as it does a surface understanding of the creative mind based on the author’s lived experience and the creative process. The author means to debunk several concepts dear to writers and academics alike that, following the narrator’s underground quest, might eventually prove to be myths. (Hecq unpublished: #165)
One of these myths is ‘the author’. The book is therefore written by Anonymous, or purports to be: Blanche Philippe, née Scarlett Philippe Seymour (30 May 1961–30 April 2017), was an Australian poet, writer, literary critic, translator, and psychoanalyst, described as one of the most indefatigable explorers of genre and form after postmodernism. She also wrote in and translated from French, Spanish, German and Dutch, often using a nom de plume. Her writings constantly remind us that we inhabit literature, with its suspensions of disbelief, its themes and structures, contexts and intertexts, symbols and metaphors. And that literature partakes of life. Philippe was a prolific editor, too, mainly under the name Anonymous: she felt that she could better ghost herself in the consciousness of the authors whose work she championed using that signature. She taught at a number of Australian universities, including in Western Australia where, towards the end of her brilliant career, and before the events that unfold in this book, she is said to have spent more time in the company of the white peacock with whom she used to share her lunch than in the company of her esteemed colleagues. Although brought up a Roman Catholic, Philippe was an atheist and remained so until her death. Air: Dream work of a novel is her fifth book of fiction. And so you see how one can deconstruct oneself to the point of expelling oneself from the realm of language …
Not quite: authorship is distinct from voice, but not necessarily from intertextuality (and therefore the symbolic), for Anonymous reconsiders what constitutes point of view and hence other technical matters such as interior polylogue, where there is often (as in this text) a confusion between the agency orienting the narrative, the narrator’s point of view, and who actually speaks. ‘Having attempted to apply and extend Genette’s taxonomy of narrative discourse to the dream work of this novel as I lay dying’, Anonymous writes in the last paragraph, ‘I am inclined to leave the last word to the reader.’
‘Masks: Letters to Orpheus’ takes up at the point at which Eurydice, now anonymous and anachronous pursues her quest ‘between two deaths.’ This new work in progress pushes the limits of the concept of fugue and exploits heteronyms: the main protagonist, who is also many in one, experiences fugues and adopts different names and different personalities as she moves from country to country. She also speaks different languages and uses different voices as she enters states of ‘fugue.’ As suggested above, the prototype for this character is Eurydice, but she transcends time and space as she seeks the dark object of her desire. Unsurprisingly, water is the dominant motif linking the protagonist’s fascination for fractals and waterways, the main theme being ‘the choices we did not make.’ Here, we are approaching what Freud called ‘that Oceanic feeling.’ Here ‘inhabitation’ is radically abstracted:
But you did turn back one time too many. I, on the other hand, eyes fixed on the receding horizon, walked on into the setting sun taking in the scent of wattle. I felt no loss, no hope, no grief. Nothing.
In a world beset by alienation, it seems that we exist in a recurring dream of disillusionment. The history of reason – history as reason – poses itself at the beginning of the 21st century as a congenital madness. And if reason is the symptom of an irrational problem, we are left with the solution intimated by the schizophrenic who is inhabited by language. We have to invent ways of working with language in order to inhabit it.
Hold a bird in the palm of your hand. Unfurl your fingers. Watch the bird take to the air. Higher than words.
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