11 QUESTIONS TO VANESSA SINCLAIR
Vanessa Sinclair, PsyD, is a psychoanalyst and clinical psychologist in private practice in New York City. She is one of the founding members of Das Unbehagen: A Free Association for Psychoanalysis. Together with artist Katelan Foisy, she explores the magic and artistic expression of the cut-up method and the third mind (). Her first book of cut-up poetry Switching Mirrors was recently published by TRAPART ()
Vanessa Sinclair, photo: Carl Abrahamsson
JÚLIO MENDES RODRIGO Since you are a North-American psychoanalyst, I would like to start this interview with the theme of Psychoanalysis: sailing into New York Harbor, Sigmund Freud stood on the deck with his disciple Carl Jung and stared at the Statue of Liberty, when Freud turned to Jung and whispered “They don’t realize we’re bringing them the plague.” In your opinion, does this sentence translate hubris or prescience?
VANESSA SINCLAIR I think this is a great statement, and so true. What Freud did not realize is that society would ultimately repress his psychoanalysis, or do its best to. However, to me this just proves the the theory even further. If Freud was mistaken in his theories, there would not be such a backlash. But the depth at which so many vehemently oppose his theories and have gone out of their way to persecute psychoanalysis and its practitioners, to me shows that he was on to something. There was a period when psychoanalysis was en vogue, but it has not been for decades now. At least in North America, pharmaceuticals and cognitive behavioral “evidenced based” theory is king. It’s unfortunate, as they just scratch the surface, or worse, actually shore up one’s ego, actually making it stronger, rather than scratching the surface at all! Even in American psychoanalysis (as opposed to mainstream psychology/ psychiatry) ego psychology is the most pervasive. This is the CBT of psychoanalysis and was developed by Freud’s daughter, Anna, who also became a psychoanalyst and mostly worked with children. She’s the one who delineated all the defense mechanisms, along with her father, who was nearing the end of his life at this time. And it’s no surprise that she was obsessed with defenses, as her father was the one who analyzed her.
JMR Jung once said that “gods are without doubt personifications of psychic forces” and in 1936 he even explained Nazism as a mystical collective possession of Wotan (Essay on Wotan). Archetypes, as metaphors, may be useful to explain our Zeitgeist. Do you agree with this assumption? If so, in your opinion, which is archetype that is now ruling Trump’s America?
VS Interesting. I haven’t read this essay but would like to, and will, as it is obviously pertinent for our times. I actually tend to disagree with the notion that gods are projections of our minds. Earlier in my career as a psychologist, I absolutely believed this. I assumed it was self-evident that gods, spirits, ancestors, land spirits, were all projections or the personification of our own internal worlds. However, as I have grown older and worked with more and more patients, met more and more people, friends, colleagues, etc, including not only psychologists and psychoanalysts, but also artists, occultists, and shamans, I have decided that it is quite a narcissistic position for humankind to assume that all of these beings are just projections of our minds, unless we greatly expand the conceptualization of what our mind is. At this point, I believe that there are absolutely beings outside of ourselves that have their own sentience, and that we interact with them. I do think that our understanding of them is greatly influenced by our upbringing and our culture. This could be why some practitioners tend to work with spirits of the land, or ancestors, or spirits of the day, or certain gods and goddesses. And, for instance, I would tend to believe that we do personify them and give them more human characteristics than they likely have. But this is understandable has the human lens is the only lens we have to look through.
JMR The German word Unbehagen can be translated to English as discontents, discomfort, malaise, unease, uneasiness, anxiety, discontent, discomfiture, bother (Portuguese translation is desconforto). This is the word that names Das Unbehagen – A Free Association for Psychoanalysis, an organization co-founded by you. Can you explain us its aims and mission?
VS Sure, the word Unbehagen comes from Freud’s Das Unbehagen in der Kultur (1930), which has been translated into English as Civilization and its Discontents. In this book, Freud discusses the discontent or sense of malaise or even nausea that we all endure as a result of living within a civilization, the price we pay for society. We are inhibited and constrained by it, so that we might all get along. However, it doesn’t work. Freud saw society as fundamentally not able to work, and the family is like a mini-society. One of Lacan’s early papers is called Family Complexes in the Formation of the Individual (1938), which basically describes the family as the first institutional structure. The original paper was simply titled La Famille. So, basically my colleagues and I – specifically Jamieson Webster and Michael Garfinkle, but there were about 20-30 of us total the first year I would say – were dissatisfied with our institutional psychoanalytic training and decided we could learn from each other and outside of the formal system of training, and frankly, have a much better experience and do a better job. We were living within the societal structure of the psychoanalytic institutions, which was full of bureaucracy; rigid, inert, dead, discouraging any creativity whatsoever, very authoritative, demanding compliance without question. This is all completely antithetical to the practice of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic theory. Lacan knew that and went through a similar trajectory himself. He was frustrated with the institutionalization of psychoanalysis and left to form his own training, which he then had to leave again. Similar to Marcel Duchamp when he formed the Society for Independent Artists here in NYC, and then ended up leaving his own organization. I wrote a piece about it here: http://dasunbehagen.org/vanessa-sinclair-in-divisionreview/
The basic idea is that in order to become a psychoanalyst, one needs three components: one must undergo one’s own analysis, one must see analysands while being supervised by an analyst, and one must study psychoanalysis, take didactics, classes, attend lectures, etc. It’s a field in which there is lifelong learning, and if you are passionate about it, that seems obvious. So these training institutes offer these three components in a formal, organized way, but they aren’t actually necessary. Most people who tread the path towards becoming a psychoanalyst already have a clinical degree, whether it is a PhD, PsyD, LCSW, MD, at least in this country. Other places are more open about training what are called lay-analysts or psychoanalysts that may come from a non-clinical background. They may have a degree in literature or something of the sort. Freud himself didn’t require any of this by the way, he would analyze and train anyone who expressed a passion for psychoanalysis and desired to become an analyst. He understood that that passion and drive is what is actually essential. So anyway, these formal training institutes offer a certification in psychoanalysis after one jumps through the endless series of hoops they’ve lined up. But their certification is not necessary or required. As long as one has the three basic components, one can become a psychoanalyst. So after 3 years of formal training I left the institute and found a psychoanalyst I want to work with, a supervisor I wanted to learn from, and began attending classes and lectures around the city, in various disciplines and from a variety of theoretical orientations, which I was not getting from formal institutional training.
JMR Do you consider yourself a Freudian, Jungian or Lacanian practitioner?
VS Well, my goal is to really integrate and bridge all three. If I had to choose, I would say I’m a Freudian at the core. But I have definitely been influenced by Jung and Lacan and have studied all three extensively. Most of the psychoanalysis that I read that are writing currently are Lacanian, but of course Lacan’s whole idea was that the field of psychoanalysis had lost its course and we needed to return to Freud, so most Lacanians have studied Freud extensively, but through a Lacanian lens. Neither Freud nor Jung nor Lacan are taught in typical doctorate level psychology programs in North American, which is a shame. Lacan is popular in philosophy and humanities programs, but not really even known in psychology programs. Hence making the case for why we really need lay-analysts. All the schools of thought are so divided from one another. That was one of the goals of das Unbehagen, for the different schools of thought to speak to one another. We want Lacanians speaking with Kleinians and relational analysts. The way it stands, each school of thought has its own institute and they rarely cross-pollinate or speak to one another. Everyone stays in their own schools and talks to themselves. The Jungians are the most split off, which I find frustration. And even then, the Jungians here in NYC split from the Jungians and now there are two Jungian institutes here that don’t really speak to one another. I think this is all a real shame and part of the goal of my work is to bridge the gaps and bring these ideas together. All of these theorists and schools of thought have something valuable to contribute, and we should focus on what is useful, rather than picking each other apart. I don’t understand when analysts discount a theory because it doesn’t mesh with part of another theory. But they are all just theories. They don’t have to agree. They can contradict each other and even themselves. And psychoanalysts should understand this, as it is well known that anything and everything exists within the unconscious, and contradictory material may co-exist side by side. People can feel more than one way about a situation. Also, some theory may apply more to one patient than another. Or a certain theory may be useful in one part of a patient’s treatment but not as useful in another. People change. People are different from one another. That doesn’t make one stance more valid than another. To think it does, just doesn’t even make sense to me.
Vanessa Sinclair & Carl Abrahamsson, photo: Katelan Foisy
JMR In May 2016, in London, you have co-hosted, together with Carl Abrahamsson, the conference/symposium Psychoanalysis, Art & the Occult. Seven months have passed and I would like to know how you evaluate this initiative? Can we expect a next edition in 2017?
VS Yes, that was such a great event. An Event, in the Badiouian sense. There will definitely be more to come. Currently, Carl and I are editing together volume 9 of the Fenris Wolf (TRAPART), which will be a collected volume of the papers from the conference, plus a few extras. We are both very excited about this, as it is proving to be a truly great edition. Our plan is to have a book release party for FW9 in the spring, here in NYC, and to invite many of the presenters, most likely those who live locally to present their work here, as the original conference was in London, in conjunction with the release of the book. This will likely be in May 2017, which would actually be exactly one year from the original event.
It’s been great to see the bonds that have been made and working relationships that have developed from this conference. So many projects and collaborations have come from it, which really makes me happy, as I love to bring worlds together. I’m glad everyone had a great experience. Personally, I hosted a series of lectures at Morbid Anatomy Museum here in Brooklyn, NY, throughout 2016 on Psychoanalysis, Art & the Occult, exploring the integration of the fields and their intersections.
JMR You used to host a lecture series on Psychoanalysis, Art & the Occult at Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, NY, which is now closed. Are there any other similar structures in NY where you can develop in the future this kind of initiatives?
VS Exactly. Yes, it’s unfortunate that the museum had to close, it was such a wonderful place, and we all met so many magical people there. I’m assuming it had something to do with the rent prices here, that seem to rise exponentially with no end in sight. I’ve begun working with ARAS (The Archive for Research of Archetypal Symbolism) and the Jung Foundation actually. Otherwise, I’ve been working with the Rubin Museum for many years, which is focused on Himalayan culture and art, and where Gen recently had an exhibition. I’m personally planning to take it a little bit easier this year, as I am moving to Sweden in August, so am going to try to enjoy NYC while I still live here, and work a little less. So, an event series and another psychartcult conference will likely pick back up in 2018, after I’ve moved and settled in.
Vanessa Sinclair & Katelan Foisy, photo: Katelan Foisy
Adding another subject to the previously one on psychoanalysis, the one of Literature and the Arts. Would be great to know about the artistic projects you are involved with.
JMR You have a common project with Katelan Foisy that deals mainly with Cut-ups. Can you tell us about your creative process and source of inspiration?
VS Sure. When Katelan and I met, we quickly became fast friends, and soon realized that we were basically doing the same work, or exploring the same concepts albeit in different ways. So we decided we should pool our efforts and start collaborating together. It was then that we truly began to understand the third mind developed by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin. Katelan is obsessed with Burroughs and I with Gysin. So it’s perfect fit. Even though we were both very familiar with their work, especially their work The Third Mind (1978), I don’t think either of us understood it to the depth we do now until we had a collaborator. In the dedication of that book, they state “To and for all third minds at all times everywhere”. This shows that Burroughs and Gysin understood the timelessness of the mind and the malleability of the space-time continuum. They are both physically deceased, but they still exist, each as an individual, as well as does their third mind. And we are working with them. You can see a similar phenomenon with Breyer P-Orridge. Lady Jaye is physically deceased, s/he has dropped he/r body, but s/he is still around. S/he has become a spirit with whom people are working. He/r consciousness remains. Genesis is physically present. They are individuals, but their third mind, which they deemed the Pandrogyne and through the physicality of their work deemed a third being, remains. And we can work with either of them, or both, or the combination or intersection of the two.
I have watched countless videos of Burroughs reading and giving talks. I thought I understood his work before. However, now when I view these, I see how adamantly he is asking everyone to go home and work with cut ups. It’s like he’s saying, “Don’t just look at me and what I’m doing and think it’s cool, go home and try it yourself. It is life altering. It will alter your life! And anyone can do it. Do it!” And everyone nods and think Burroughs is super cool but hardly anyone tries it themselves. So that is something Kat and I are focused on, encouraging people to create cut ups themselves. Whenever we give a talk about cut-ups and the third mind, we find a way for the audience to explore cut ups themselves during the time we are present. We have audio recorded everyone reading cut ups and played it back and looped it. We have brought a box of cut ups and passed it around so the audience can create their own. We show people that all of life is a cut up, memories are bringing a piece of the past into the present and future, little cuts in time, time travel. We show that bringing together what we typically think of as daily items, like in cooking, or even magic, the blending of herbs and plants, etc; all of these activities involve pulling a piece of something out of its prescribed position and bringing it together with something else, cutting it out and reconfiguring it, thereby creating something new. This is a cut up. This is magical.
JMR Could you please explain, in your work, the intersection between Dada Movement, Psychoanalysis and Cut-up technique?
VS Well I’m planning to write a book about this actually… about 6 years ago I was writing a review for a book on the IPA (International Psychoanalytic Association) for its 100th anniversary, and also happened to be writing a forward for a piece on Dada – specifically cut up poetry – by my friend Adel Souto for a piece he was working on for Abraxas (FULGUR). Here are some links: https://fulgur.co.uk/books/edited-by-christina-oakley-harrington-and-robert-ansell/abraxas-issue-3/
While I was working on these pieces I realized that both Dada and psychoanalysis was developing not only at the same point in time but in the very same epicenters as one another; Vienna, Zurich, Berlin, Paris, New York. This fascinated me and honestly has become the trajectory of my life’s work. I ended up writing a paper called simply Dada and Psychoanalysis, which ended up in the 7th volume of the Fenris Wolf (2014) https://store.trapart.net/home/11-fenris-wolf-7.html and things have unfolded from there. I am interested in the idea of scansion, which is a Lacanian concept, but is basically the cut. The analyst cuts the analysand’s narrative by either cutting it off, disrupting it, or highlighting a specific word that stands out. I am interested in different artists from all modalities and how they use the cut in their work, and how it ultimately can lead to much the same insights as an analysand might gain from analytic work. The cut can be seen in the cutting up language literally as Burroughs and Gysin did, but they also cut up images and sounds; the cut up is present in collage, montage, assemblage, the editing of film, the cacophony of noise music, the fragmentary experience of dreams, the cutting of the skin in ritual; the list goes on and on…
Switching Mirrors by Vanessa Sinclair
JMR You have recently published a book with a collection of cut-ups and mind-expanding poetry – Switching Mirrors (Trapart Editions). Are you planning to present this book around Europe?
VS Yes. The book is comprised of collection of cut ups that I created in my own personal process and work. What we have been doing at the book release parties and events has been to work with local artists in an improvised manner. Local musicians create the sound and then I come in and read poems or fragments of poems from the book over the music. Carl has joined me at times, whether in creating music or reading with me, as he and I have been collaborating on a series of cut up albums. The first CUT TO FIT THE MOUTH is on NYC label Arcana Machine and is due out in the spring. The second is comprised completely of cut up poems from the book and is aptly titled Switching Mirrors as well, and is being pressed by EROTOTOX DECODINGS and should be out in the fall. I’m sure we will be touring the audio work in 2018.
JMR I know that you are just about to release a spoken word record. Can you unveil anything about it?
VS It’s great how your questions lead one into the next so well! We have the two I’ve just discussed, as well as two more so far. The third album, is created entirely from cut ups that I created from an article Carl wrote about the moon. It is titled LUNACY, which feels appropriate nowadays. It’s just been mixed so I’m unsure of which label it will be on at this moment but will know soon. And the fourth is actually a tribute album we are creating for Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge, as this October marks the 10 year anniversary of he/r dropping he/r body. S/he was a close friend of Carl’s, and I work with he/r as well. That one is just in the beginning stages of being mixed and produced.
JMR Any other future plans that you would like to share with us?
VS Well, I am excited to be delving more into creating art and music, in addition to lecturing and writing and of course my clinical work. I can only reiterate and emphasize how the practice of the cut-up method has altered my life, as has the practice of psychoanalysis and witchcraft honestly, but the cut-up method gives the most immediate result, is quick and easy for anyone to do. So I suggest if you are a writer, print out some of your own papers and cut them into pieces and rearrange them. It’s fascinating to see your own ideas arranged in a new way, in a way that you may never have thought of otherwise. I keep a shoebox full of cut up pieces of writing from all sorts of authors I admire, and I pull out and arrange cut ups spontaneously whenever I am moved to. For a year, every day upon waking I wrote down my dreams and created a cut up from this box. It was amazing how the dreams and cut up poems would reflect one another. It’s difficult to explain, and really something everyone needs to experience for themselves. It’s Uncanny. So try it!
Vanessa Sinclair & Genesis P-Orridge, photo: Carl Abrahamsson