INTERVIEW WITH VANESSA SINCLAIR
Vanessa Sinclair is a psychoanalyst, poet, writer, publisher, and cultural theorist, who has a new book out, Scansion in Psychoanalysis and Art: The Cut in Creation, published by Routledge. Her work and practice combines different disciplines to create unique pieces of art, visions and psychoanalytic insights, and links to the variety of mediums she works in can be found at the end of the interview.
So your new book Scansion in Psychoanalysis and Art: The Cut in Creation recently came out. How did the work come about?
This book has been a long time in the making. In 2011, my friend Adel Souto asked me to write an introduction to a piece he was creating in Dada style. So I began researching and reading a lot about Dada. At the same time, I was asked to write a review of a book that had just come out celebrating 100 years of the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA), so I was reading 100 Years of the IPA: The Centenary History of the International Psychoanalytical Association 1910-2010: Evolution and Change edited by Peter Loewenberg and Nellie Thompson. In this book, representatives from all the various IPA psychoanalytic institutes around the world contributed a history about their specific institute. So it was really interesting to see how the IPA institutes formed and spread around the globe. And as I was reading, it became clear to me that psychoanalysis and dada were forming and spreading around the same time and in the very same cities. It was one of those moments where it all seemed to come together in this wonderfully synchronous way, and I was really excited about this discovery. I wrote a paper about it and submitted it to this candidate contest at the psychoanalytic institute I was attending at the time. But of course that went nowhere. They didn’t appreciate what it was I was going on about. But then in 2013, I met Carl Abrahamsson at a talk he was giving in NYC about his first novel Mother, Have a Safe Trip, and he invited me to contribute to his anthology series The Fenris Wolf. He said the deadline for submissions for the next book had already passed, but that if I had a paper already ready that needed a home he’d be happy to take it. So my first paper on psychoanalysis and dada found its home there.
Also in 2013, I was hanging out with Genesis Breyer P-Orridge a lot. I’d be co-teaching a class on Gender, Sexuality and Perversion at The New School for Social Research with Jamieson Webster, and had invited Gen to be a guest speaker in the class. That was quite an experience in itself, introducing all these undergrad psychology students to Gen and h/er work, as most of the students weren’t even familiar with industrial music, let alone Pandrogeny. Anyway, Gen and I became fast friends after that and were pretty inseparable for a while there. During that time, I started writing about psychoanalysis and pandrogeny. So those were the two anchors for the book: Dada and Pandrogeny.
It began to occur to me that most of the artists and musicians I enjoy use the cut or scansion in their work in some way, whether it be in the cutting up of language, collage work, the cutting of the body, or the disruption of sound. So I began to immerse myself more and more in the cut-ups of William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, the Beat poets and filmmakers, performance artists and actionists, and artists who make life itself into a work of art. While I was watching a lot of videos of Burroughs on Youtube, I started hearing him differently. I began to notice that when he’s giving talks he’s always encouraging the audience to try cut-ups for themselves. “Go! Cut up!” He doesn’t want people to just watch him and tell him how cool he is and how great his art and writing are. He wants people to try it for themselves, to see how life changing it is. So I started cutting up my own writing, specifically the writing I’d done about artists who cut up. The first piece I cut up was the paper on polymorphous perversity and pandrogeny. Then I cut up a piece about John Zorn, and so on. This is the result of that first cut-up I did.
Also around this time, in 2013-2014, I’d been hanging out with a lot of occultists, tarot readers, and so forth. I met Carl, for example, at Catland Books in Brooklyn, which at the time was owned by Phil English and Joe Petersen. And all the tarot readers and occultists I spoke to kept telling me I was working on a book, or there was a book that was going to come out. So after 4-5 years of immersing myself in cut-ups and rearranging my entire life, getting married, moving from New York to Stockholm, etc. I decided it was high time I get back to that book I was apparently working on. And by then I found that with all the talks I’d given on the subject of cut-ups and psychoanalysis and magic over the years, I had a good outline or base for the book. Of course I left the overt magical aspects out of this book and focused on psychoanalysis and art for this one, which is published by Routledge. I made sure to write it in a way that’s accessible both for people interested in psychoanalysis and for those interested in the artists therein. I’m a big believer in making psychoanalytic concepts accessible, as they can really be useful for people in their lives. And for the analysts, I hope they’ll be exposed to some artists whose work they may not have been aware of. I love Freud’s saying that wherever he goes, he finds a poet had been there before him. The same is true for these artists. They may not use the same language or terminology, but they are exploring these concepts way before the psychoanalysts and theoreticians get to them.
Ballard was obsessed with his obsessions as a means of writing. What are your obsessions/themes?
Well cut-ups, definitely. Even when I was writing the Scansion book, I got to a point where I was feeling overwhelmed and stuck with it and wasn’t sure how to best order or sequence my points to create the best narrative arch for the reader, so what did I do? I cut up the book itself! I printed out all the chapters and cut them up and rearranged them that way. It’s a great way to put the theory into practice and really helps me get my neurotic ego out of the way so the unconscious can come through. The unconscious always knows best.
Who is Jacques Lacan to you?
I discovered Jacques Lacan rather late compared with a lot of people I meet and people I interview for the podcast. Most, it seems, discover his work in grad school, but I went to a clinical psychology program in Florida. I have a PsyD, and what I learned in that program was really how to work in mainstream psychological settings: clinics, hospitals, schools – institutions, really. There was little Freud, no Jung, and definitely no Lacan. I actually first came upon Lacan when I was in formal psychoanalytic training in New York City, and Jamieson Webster invited David Lichtenstein to come in and teach a short course on Lacan at the institute. Jamieson was fortunate to go to a psychoanalytically-oriented grad program in NYC in which David was one of the supervisors. That course changed my whole trajectory. After reading Lacan there was no way I could sit through the courses at the institute any longer. I was already bored before then, but studying Lacan was an epiphany. He brought psychoanalysis back to focus on language and dreams, which was really what it was all about initially, hence his “Return to Freud,” whereas what we were learning at the institute was all ego-psychology based, and really as I see it now ego psychology, which is what psychoanalysis largely turned into in the United States, is all about the analysand learning to make their ego stronger so they can keep going to work and have a nuclear family and be a good little cog in the massive machine of capitalism. To me, that’s exactly the opposite of what psychoanalysis is or should be. Psychoanalysis is a process that can help people break out of those structures and the stifling mind-frames that we’ve internalized from living in these capitalist empires. Psychoanalysis is a way out. Or it can be. And that’s what Lacan showed me.
How has the cut up method shaped your work?
Cut-ups have changed my life. As did psychoanalysis. As a practice, they have helped me break out of the bonds of so-called normality, so that I can feel more free to be myself and be more creative. And it’s like a butterfly effect. Once I started, I can see the reverberations. And it seems to resonate with other people, and they start cutting-up and seeing the magic in their lives, too.
Israel Regardie advocated that therapy is required before beginning magical practice. Do you agree with this and what do you see as the relation between the two?
I think Regardie’s idea that everyone should undergo a year of analysis/therapy before delving into magical practice is a great one. But I think everyone should delve into analysis, whether they practice magic or not. It’s a great way of getting to know oneself or at least understand oneself better. Contrary to popular thinking, it’s not necessarily a way to “fix” yourself or solve all your problems, but just by better understanding why you are the way you are, why you might be procrastinating, for example… maybe you’re not “lazy”… maybe you’re trying to force yourself to do something that you don’t really want to do or don’t really give a shit about but you’ve internalized some authoritative voice that tells you what you “should” or “should not” be doing. Maybe you don’t need to listen to that voice anymore. By figuring out whose voice that is, you can better set it aside and learn to listen more to your own voice rather than these internalized voices of others. I think the psychoanalytic process can help one learn to do this, as can the creative process and magical practice. They are all processes that you go into with one idea or intention in mind, and then through the process of creating/ psychoanalyzing/ practicing witchcraft, you learn a lot about yourself and your true desires, but après-coup, sort of after the fact. You learn by doing. The process is the product.
Transgression in the arts has become an idea that arises throughout history. How do you see/understand the need/desire for transgressing the norms of society as being integral to making art?
I think in line with what I just described, creating art is a way of identifying, working with and breaking down these norms that we’ve internalized, in order to create something new. That’s why I’m not such a fan of overly-thought-out artist statements, or overly conceptual art. I don’t want the ego or the conscious mind of the artist creating their work. I much prefer art that the artist creates in a sort of trance, and then when it’s all done, steps back from and takes a look at to then understand what s/he’s saying in the piece. I want the unconscious. That’s why I love Francis Bacon’s work, for example.
Artists also have this sort of pass from society wherein they can do or say things that the average person won’t dare to do or say, yet. “It’s art!” Artists are allowed to be weird or eccentric. That’s why when I created the first Psychoanalysis, Art & the Occult conference in London, 2016 (www.psychartcult.org) I made sure to have the “art” in there. Because psychoanalysis and occult alone is a big leap, but if it’s art, it’s ok!
Is there anything further you’d like to add?
I’d just like to thank you for inviting me here. These are great questions and it’s been fun answering them. It was wonderful having you on the podcast. You’ll have to come back again soon!
Vanessa’s bio and links to her work
Vanessa Sinclair, Psy.D. is a psychoanalyst based in Stockholm, who sees analysands internationally. Dr. Sinclair recently authored the books Scansion in Psychoanalysis and Art: the Cut in Creation (Routledge, 2020) and The Pathways of the Heart (Trapart Books, 2021). She is the editor of Rendering Unconscious: Psychoanalytic Perspectives, Politics & Poetry (Trapart Books, 2019) and co-edited Outsider Inpatient: Reflections on Art as Therapy (Trapart Books, 2021) with Dr. Elisabeth Punzi, On Psychoanalysis and Violence: Contemporary Lacanian Perspectives (Routledge, 2018) with Dr. Manya Steinkoler and The Fenris Wolf, vol 9 (Trapart Books, 2017) with Carl Abrahamsson. Dr. Sinclair is the host of Rendering Unconscious Podcast and is a founding member of Das Unbehagen: A Free Association for Psychoanalysis. www.drvanessasinclair.net
Art available via www.trapart.net
Music available via https://highbrowlowlife.bandcamp.com
To follow the more creative side of her practice join her at www.patreon.com/vanessa23carl