The International Conference

    As a member of the board of editors of the Dutch Journal for Psychoanalysis, I am writing an article about the conference, which I have been attending since 1993, so you might say I jumped on board halfway. This is why Norm and Andy asked me to say a few words on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the International Conference on Literature and Psychology, also called International Conference on Literature and Psychoanalysis or International Literature and Psychology Conference, and also referred to by the die-hards of this annual event as “the International”, which have a nice and unexpected Marxist connotation.

     Sending me the list of the conferences, Andy remarked: “What a long, strange trip it’s been!” Those most directly involved in the early, heroic years, were Norman Holland, David Wilbern, Robert Silhol, Nancy Blake and Antal Bokay. Most of them are here tonight.

     The first International Conference took place in Pècs, Hungary in 1983, then moved to Montpellier, France; Aix-en-Provence, France; Kent, Ohio; Kirchberg, Austria; Pècs, Hungary again; Urbino, Italy; London, England; Lisbon, Portugal; Amsterdam, Holland; Sandbjerg, Denmark; Freiburg, Germany; Waltham, Massachusetts; Las Navas del Marques, Spain; St Petersburg, Russia; Urbino, Italy again; Byalistok, Poland; Nicosia, Cyprus; Arezzo, Italy; and finally Greenwich, England. A long trip it was, strange indeed because geographically speaking we do not seem to get anywhere, wandering around Europe and the United States.

    We have seen Red Light District in Amsterdam, we have burned witches in Denmark, we have looked for a street named after Heidegger in Freiburg and I’m glad to say we didn’t find one. We celebrated Independence Day in Boston. We were serenaded and danced to by the children of Las Navas del Marques, where the Conference even got an article in the local newspaper. The people of the village called us “Los Americanos”, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we have become a kind a legend there.

    We showered in dark brown water and brushed our teeth with vodka in the never darkening city of St Petersburg, where we had a great party in a boat owned by pretty uncanny people whom we suspected to be “New Russians”, a local euphemism for organized crime. The boat was in fact a floating bordello with a man on the roof armed with a Kalashnikov.

    We climbed many stairs in Urbino where we always seemed to lose our way (I’m not speaking metaphorically), and in Nicosia we felt we had to make a statement like “I am a Nicosian”, when we saw the wall that still separated the Greek part of the beautiful island of Cyprus from the Turkish part.

    We could even have traveled to China to investigate if the Chinese have an Oedipus complex--there were some doubts about it--but we didn’t, maybe because we had a premonition of the dangerous diseases you can catch there. We did not go to Jerusalem, which I profoundly regret, but who knows Shuli, maybe next year? How long have we been saying that? And this year we’re in Greenwich, where we all got, in a manner of speaking, the time of day, and a great conference, for which we should thank Wendy Creed and Richard Creed. Once again we have looked at the world and had great fun, but most of all, we listened to lectures that helped us find new interesting ways to look at literature, film and psychoanalysis.

     The French psychoanalyst Maurice Despinoy once wrote an article about the theoretical tendencies at our “International”. He noticed that more than half the studies used traditional psychoanalytic concepts, that Freud’s predominance was obvious, that references to the Oedipus complex were far more important than those dealing with the pre-genital period, and that the concepts of child psychoanalysis were absent. I don’t believe this applies to this conference: we have heard about mothers and medusas, mothers and sons, mothers and mirrors, maternal deprivation and Hamlet’s big toe –which had nothing to do with the pre-genital. There is also a new and exciting tendency which I hope will become a tradition: neuropsychology (Mark Solms) and cognitive psychology (Joseph Glicksohn, Louella and Gordon Hirsch).

    Despinoy writes he was surprised to find no paper substantially dedicated to the relationship between author and reader. He had obviously overlooked “8 ½ and me”, “Hitchcock’s Vertigo: one viewer’s viewing”, “Persona and me” and “My Shakespeare in love”. I don’t need to tell you who the author was. Despinoy concludes by writing: “the papers I have read are remarkable for their diversity and richness of analysis”, the International’s originality being according to him the confrontation of literary intuitions with psychoanalytic interpretations.

     Looking myself at the proceedings, I see the thematic originality and methodological diversity of the papers. I would like to name a few of them, written by people who have attended the conference for some time, those we might call “companions de route”, fellow-travelers, staying with the Marxist vocabulary. Thanks to them, some of us discovered Fairbairn (Frederico Pereira), the South-African writer Coetzee (Donald Vanouse), the French artist Christian Boltanski (unpublished paper), new forms of fairytale-analysis and text-analysis (Shuli Barzilai), the repressed and psychosis in surrealism (Nancy Blake). The “International” is a laboratory where scholars present new subjects and share crisp fresh visions on literature and psychoanalysis. On the other hand, some of the speakers prefer to continue to work more in depth on subjects they are devoted to and let us share in the development of their studies: Marvin Krims (Shakespeare), Dianne Hunter (Shakespeare and Sylvia Plath), Joanna Byles (Shakespeare and the archeology of psychoanalysis), Bertram Wyatt-Brown (Southern writers), Roland Pierloot (Lawrence), Pierre Met (Hawthorne), Andrew Gordon (fictional themes in American cinema), Sherry Zivley (the phenomenology of spaces), Geoffrey Green (David Mamet), Laszlo Halasz (Freudian text processing), Antal Bokay (Freudian rhetoric), Murray Schwartz and Claire Kahane (the narratives of Holocaust survivors), Annelies van Hees (Hans-Christian Andersen), Robert Silhol (the never ending quest for the signifier, which is, as we all know, impossible to cover in 20 minutes), and Norman Holland (Shakespeare, reader and viewer response and now literature and neuroscience). The “International” is a truly interdisciplinary conference where clinical psychoanalytic experience encounters new ways to analyze literature, art, and cinema.

     Of course we wouldn’t be here tonight without Capo di tutti capi Norman Holland, his donna Jane Holland and his faithful consiglieri David Wilbern and Andrew Gordon (now I’m switching from Marx to the Sopranos). Thanks to Norm, the Conference has given birth to several new initiatives like the Psyart List, moderated by Norm and Murray Schwartz, and the Psyart Journal, edited by Norm and Murray. The Conference also has a daughter, still young but getting stronger every year, La Conférence Internationale Francophone de Littérature et Psychanalyse -you know how the French like to go their own way- which takes place at the Sorbonne in Paris, and for which we should thank Robert Silhol, the only participant here who attended all conferences, from 1983 until now, and the only person in the world who understands Lacan better than Lacan did himself. And of course there are the proceedings of the Conference, which have been edited each year by our Portuguese friend Frederico Pereira at the Instituto Superior de Psicologia Aplicada in Lisbon.

     I would like to thank the people I have named for being friends and great teachers, both in literature and psychoanalysis, and also the new friends I have made this year at the Greenwich Conference. I hope we all will meet again next year in Arles, where we will be able to see Van Gogh’s sunflowers for real -let’s hope it won’t be the Lacanian real. For the 2004 Conference, I would like to propose an entirely new formula: we won’t have sessions, but we’ll read one another’s papers on a boat sailing round Marseille, sipping cool white Chateauneuf du Pape between two comments.

     But most of all I would like to thank Norm, for his incredible drive and inspiring force, for being the master of reader response and the père sévère of the Psyart-list, for teaching about literature and the brain, for writing fascinating and innovating books and articles. Maybe you don’t know that Norm also works out every day (that’s the reason why he looks so good), while he still finds time to solve murders in Delphi Seminars and investigate cookies, digital and otherwise. Here’s to the International, here’s to Norm!

Solange Leibovici