Henry is a recent graduate of UC Santa Barbara. He specialized in Literature and the Mind in the English Department, and helped bring together fellow Mind-inclined students as an undergraduate representative for Lit and Mind. He currently works at PathPoint as a Direct Support Professional, helping individuals with disadvantages and those with physical, developmental, or psychiatric disabilities reach their fullest potential. Read on to learn more about his experience with Lit and Mind and its applicability to everyday life, and to see excerpts from “Feeling Attachments in Dickens’ Great Expectations.” Congratulations, Henry!
How did you first get interested in studying literature and the mind?
At the end of my first year at UCSB, I took a class taught by Professor Kay Young called “Comic Turn of Mind.” I feel as if my college education began there. Never before had I been exposed to such meaningful material. Throughout college, Literature and the Mind courses, mostly taught by Professor Young, inspired me to ask questions–to wonder and wander until I arrived at an understanding of my own passions and feelings. My favorite class was Professor Young’s “The Meaning of Life,” in which we studied my favorite literary work, “Notes from Underground,” by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Literature and the Mind provided a community in which I found genuine, deep people with interesting ideas. Professor Young, as an extraordinary teacher and mentor, provided the sparks with which I would kindle my own fire of learning.
After a year of helping gather students to study the theme of “intersubjectivity,” what are your thoughts on this topic now?
Essential to our humanity is the search of meaning. We must ask ourselves: why do I exist? The meaning of our existence is fundamentally relational, for we come to know ourselves by coming to know others. The self takes shape through interaction with the not-self. Forms of otherness affect us, whether this be family, friends, strangers, enemies, authors, artists, lovers, lost ones. The minds we meet in life define us, and intersubjectivity provides a path by which we can better understand our relational nature. A life lived intentionally, with a deep, empathic awareness of the ways we affect one another, is a life rooted in humanity, connecting us to the essence of our existence.
Where do you think the study of literature in the mind is headed, or should be headed?
Hopefully Lit and the Mind continues to emphasize relationally, exploring the connections between self and other. With this emphasis, Lit and Mind should stress the importance of empathy and imagination. If taught to imagine the feelings of others, young minds will be encouraged to welcome difference. I’d also like to see Lit and Mind think more about ambiguity and its effects on the mind. Ideally, Lit and Mind will move people toward more meaningful lives, in which people feel connected to themselves, to the natural world, and to one another.
What would you like to tell current or prospective English Majors, or Literature and the Mind specialists, at UCSB?
Read as many books as possible. Take a class with Professor Young. Immerse yourself in nature. Seek out meaningful moments and connections. Don’t fear vulnerability. Privilege passion and feeling above all else.
Excerpts from Henry’s paper “Feeling Attachments in Dickens’ Great Expectations,” composed for Kay Young’s course entitled Cognitive Dickens and drawing on sources ranging from Freud to contemporary studies of attachment and cognition:
Attachment informs cognition. In Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, different forms of attachment yield different ways of thinking. Pip’s realization of his secret benefactor fuels in him a newfound sense of agency and truthfulness in his interactions with Miss Havisham and Estella. Miss Havisham internalizes the loss of her lover, and her insecurities manifest in outward anger as Pip detaches from her. Estella is unfeeling toward Pip and removes herself from relationality, while Pip develops his sense of identity in relation to his feelings for Estella. Miss Havisham projects her loss upon Estella and Pip and feels her misery all over again when Estella and Pip reenact her trauma.
In “Chapter Forty-Four,” with the mystery of his benefactor known, Pip addresses himself to Miss Havisham and Estella with a newfound sense of identity. As soon as Miss Havisham and Estella see Pip, they see “an alteration” in him (380). Pip’s relation to others changes when he realizes his great expectations. His statement, “I have found out who my patron is,” immediately focuses the scene (381). All that proceeds his statement is the effect of his discovery on two of his deepest attachments. Pip’s language is direct and clear, reflecting clarity within his sense of self. Pip requests money from Miss Havisham on Herbert’s behalf, and he “reddened a little” in doing so (382-383). Now independent and no longer bound by the false assumption that Miss Havisham is his patron, Pip gains agency in interacting with Miss Havisham. He also reveals his attachment to Herbert and embodies the compassion he has for Herbert as he blushes. Pip grounds his expectations in truth rather than speculation and brings honesty to his attachments.
Pip is no longer dependent on Miss. Havisham, and she becomes defensive as he seeks the truth from her. As Pip brings up Mr. Jaggers, Miss Havisham responds in a “firm tone” (381). Miss Havisham’s tone betrays her sensitivity to the topic. Reprimanding Miss Havisham for leading him on, Pip asks, “Was that kind?” (381). Pip’s question challenges Miss Havisham’s character in a way previously impossible due to the mystery of his benefactor. With no ability to question his patron, Pip cannot exist as an individual apart from his patron. In inquiring information of Miss Havisham, Pip shifts the balance of power and illustrates the independence of his cognition. Miss Havisham’s reaction illustrates her guilt toward Pip. She cries, “Who am I?” and strikes her stick upon the floor, proceeding in wrath, “Who am I, for God’s sake, that I should be kind?” (381). She repeatedly questions her own identity, for her anger is concentrated inward. Her internal indignation stems from the traumatic separation from her loved one. As Freud observes, “The shadow of the object fell upon the ego” (course reader 72). Miss Havisham’s loss is a shadow darkening her ego, for her suffering confuses her ego. As Pip questions her identity, she becomes enraged, for her identity is uncertain and veiled by the past disappointment. Attempting to conceal her internal suffering, she lashes out at Pip. Her anger protects her ego from guilt, for she refuses to feel guilt for her contribution to Pip’s disillusionment. She wields a stick as her material object with which she can strike out at her environment. Feeling the endangerment of her ego, Miss Havisham attacks her environment in order to distance herself from others and how others make her feel. Miss Havisham does not allow herself to feel, for as Freud elucidates, her ego is complicated “due to ambivalence” (course reader 76). Her relationality is ambivalent, evidenced by her sudden outburst. Miss Havisham claims, “You made your own snares. I never made them” (382). Miss Havisham distinctly separates herself from Pip, as she emphasizes “I” in contrast to “you.” In opposing her actions to Pip’s actions, Miss Havisham seeks to remove responsibility from her own ego. However, the harder she tries to separate her feelings from Pip, the clearer her attachment to him becomes. Miss Havisham is defensive because Pip actively affects her ego. Her words are beyond her immediate control, as they “flashed out of her in a wild and sudden way” (382). Miss Havisham is attached to Pip, and his detachment from her elicits resistance and insecurities within her which manifest in outward anger. Pip’s detachment from Miss Havisham is possible because he no longer depends on her as his patron.
Nadia is a recent graduate of UC Santa Barbara, majoring in English and specializing in Literature and the Mind. In addition to completing coursework with a focus in this field, Nadia completed a senior thesis that draws on feminist and psychoanalytic theory, entitled “La Petite Mort: Female Vampirism, the Abject, and Sexuality,” under the direction of Julie Carlson. She has presented her research to faculty and fellow students through the Arnhold Program.
Tell us more about your senior thesis project.
I’ve always been an avid consumer of supernatural media (Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc.) but especially things that had to do with vampires, because they were the stories that interested me. Halfway through college I discovered Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula film (1992) which became one of my favorite movies for both its use of costumes and its revamp of the original Dracula plot. So when I joined the Arnhold Program, I knew I wanted to write on vampirism, especially female vampirism. My favorite work I studied was probably “The Lady of the House of Love” simply because I love Angela Carter so much and the symbolism was so rich. I really had something to sink my teeth into with that short story.
What drew you to Literature and the Mind?
My interest in Literature and the Mind stemmed from an interest in psychoanalytics and a desire to understand how people’s minds worked. The first true Lit and Mind class I took was Professor Young’s Reading Jane Austen’s Mind, but I always count my first class as Professor Carlson’s 103B course. She later became my thesis advisor and an invaluable resource during my writing. She gave me my first taste of Victorianism, which is the period covered in my thesis.
Lit and Mind encompasses so many different facets of literary study, because, in my understanding, it focuses on the feedback loop between people and their surroundings, whether it’s other people, animals, nature, smells, sounds, inanimate objects. Lit and Mind is the microcosm of the human experience as an entity that reacts and moves with its environment.
Where do you believe this field is headed, or should be headed? What are you interested in learning more about?
I’m not entirely sure where the field is at this point, but intersectionality is important in any kind of study. Examining the female mind, the transgender mind, the queer mind, the minority mind, these are all things that we should be looking at and seeking understanding of in this era.
What’s in store for you after graduation?
In November, I will be presenting at the Pacific Ancient and Modern Language Association (PAMLA) conference in Honolulu, on a section of my thesis titled “The Queen of the Damned: Penny Dreadful and the New Lilith” in a seminar called “Other Vampires.” I’m very excited to see how the other presenters and the audience will shape my understanding of my own work and the study of vampirism. There’s a kind of bloodlust in academia, a need to know and understand and consume. I sense that this thesis has not sated my own academic bloodlust and expect to be returning to this project in graduate school, with the addition of other female monsters.
Excerpts from the introduction to Nadia’s senior thesis, “La Petite Mort: Female Vampirism, the Abject, and Sexuality”:
While the origins of the vampire in literature can be found in early Biblical texts on Lilith, the outpouring of literature on the vampire during the 19th century reflects a renewed interest in the vampire’s link with sex, power, and death. Especially prominent in these texts are female vampires, often portrayed using major female archetypes: the female predator; the mother of evil; and the fallen woman. But why do these tropes persist even now, into the 21st century? Where did these depictions come from? And what is it about the female vampire that strikes fear into the hearts especially of men, a fear that seems tied to confrontation with abjection? The link between this fear and the female vampire seems to be female sexuality, and fear of its overt expression. Female vampires are portrayed as lustful, defiling creatures, in a far more sexualized manner than their male counterparts. This portrayal uncovers fear of that shadowy world just outside the boundaries of society where the female body is powerful, women have agency, and they continually violate the boundaries that are crucial to civilized existence.
My study seeks to explore the variety and persistence of Lilith’s traits through focus on vampire texts produced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It focuses on literary, filmic, and televisual texts, namely, Charles Baudelaire’s “Sed Non Satatia” and “The Vampire” (1857); Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1872); Angela Carter’s short story, “The Lady of the House of Love,” (1979); Francis Ford Coppola’s film Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992); and the HBO series Penny Dreadful (2014-2016). All of these works explore the crossing of the boundaries of life and death and of good and evil, and some deal specifically with the boundaries of the body, of virginity, and even of marriage vows. Penny Dreadful gives a name to this shadowy place of blurred boundaries, what Vanessa Ives calls the demimonde, “a half world between what we know and what we fear…a place in the shadows, rarely seen, but deeply felt” (“Night Work”). This place between what is known and what is feared, also called a borderland and a no-man’s-land, is where monsters walk and female agency takes command. In what follows I trace how this expression of female power is portrayed, managed, enjoyed, and punished so that social life can continue to proceed.
Image: Jennie Harbour, “Sleeping Beauty”
From Chapter 1, “Girls Just Wanna Have Blood: The Female Predator”:
The female predator is a particularly terrifying figure for patriarchal society: the woman who stalks through the night and lures in her prey with her sexual wiles. The vampire, unlike a monster such as a werewolf or a zombie, enfolds the victim in an apparent, or real, erotic embrace. The idea of a woman not only crossing the boundaries of proper sexual conduct but also penetrating the boundaries of blood and the body is terrifying, and yet it continually appears in literature. So is the idea that she feeds on rather than nourishes other persons. As Bram Dijkstra suggests in Idols of Perversity, “woman, having been consumed in the marriage market, then having become consumptive as a wife through lack of respect, exercise, and freedom, took her revenge by becoming a voracious consumer” (Stephanou 74). Her voracious consumption of blood is a revenge against the voracious consumption of her body and crosses the boundary of proper behavior. Every female predator that exists in the literary canon is a reaction against women’s objectification and commodification in the marriage market. But why is she always so sexualized? And what purpose does it serve to keep telling these stories of female predators over and over again?
[Angela Carter’s] “The Lady of the House of Love” is a retelling of “The Sleeping Beauty of the Wood,” and twists the fairytale trope of the power of the prince’s kiss as well as the hedge of roses that surrounds the princess. As the virginal hero approaches the mansion, he is immediately struck by a “blast of rich, faintly corrupt sweetness strong enough, almost, to fell him” (Carter 98). The roses that surround the mansion strike him immediately as something wrong, something repulsive:
“Too many roses. Too many roses bloomed on enormous thickets that lined the path, thickets bristling with thorns, and the flowers themselves were almost too luxuriant, their huge congregations of plush petals somehow obscene in their excess, their whorls, tightly budded cores outrageous in their implications (Carter 98).”
The roses that seem repulsive, extravagant, and excessive, resemble the engorged, sexually aroused female genitals. With the addition of the “bristling thorns,” the roses become a symbol of the vagina dentata, one of man’s greatest fears. The myth of woman as castrator clearly points to male fears about the female genitals as a trap, or a black hole. Combining the already frightening female genitals with teeth creates the mouth of hell, a terrifying symbol of women as the devil’s gateway (Creed 71). The Countess’s roses are a manifestation of her sexuality, which is outrageous in its flamboyancy, but also threatening to the man who dares to have sex with her.
If you’re having trouble viewing this image, download the PDF here.
Instructor: Aranye Fradenburg
Course: Engl 236, Fall 2016
“Interaction is the conscious or unconscious exchange of behavioral or nonbehavioral, sensible and intelligible signs from the whole arsenal of somatic and extrasomatic [cultural, social and environmental] systems.”
– Fernando Poyatos, “Nonverbal Communication in Interaction: Psychology and Literature”
The purpose of this course is to broaden our understanding of the somatic and environmental features of expressive (and impressive) experience. Readings will draw primarily on the recent revitalization of interest in psychosomatics occasioned by neuroscientific developments in distributed cognition/affect, but will also include social-psychological studies in nonverbal communication (especially paralanguage), enactivist research, and biosemiotics. Authors will include Elizabeth A. Wilson (Psychosomatic: Feminism and the Neurological Body and Gut Feminism); Brian Massumi (ed. A Shock to Thought: Expression After Deleuze and Guattari); Andy Clark (Supersizing the Mind); Giovanna Colombetti (The Feeling Body); Aleksandra Kostic and Derek Chadee (eds. The Social Psychology of Nonverbal Communication); Fernando Poyatos (Nonverbal Communication Across Disciplines and Crosscultural Perspectives in Nonverbal Communications); Marilia Aisenstein and Elsa Rappoport de Aisemberg (eds. Psychosomatics Today: A Psychoanalytic Perspective); Donald Favareau (ed. Essential Readings in Biosemiotics), and Daniel Paul Schreber (Memoirs of My Nervous Illness). If possible, students should have read Darwin’s Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals and Freud’s Studies in Hysteria before the class begins.
Image: “Fig. 9: Cat, savage and prepared to fight, drawn from life by Mr. Wood,” from Charles Darwin, The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals
Darwin argued that when animals experience emotion, they are experiencing bodily events (the corners of the mouth twitch, blood pressure rises). Expression is emotional experience, not what signifies it. Influenced by Darwin, Freud was convinced that mind and body were in some way of a piece: psychological distress could affect the body and also be caused, in part at least, by the body’s troubles. Since Freud’s time, many researchers, clinicians and theorists have doubted, sometimes even ridiculed, the existence of psychosomatic and somatopsychic phenomena. But times have changed again, and we are more and more prepared to believe, at minimum, that bodily and psychical experience co-construct one another. This course will begin with a sampling of Darwin’s writing on the emotions; with Freud and Breuer’s remarks on abreaction and catharsis in Studies in Hysteria; and with a contemporary study of Hysteria by Christopher Bollas, psychoanalyst (and former English Ph.D.) interested in the idea of a body that prepares to speak, developmentally and otherwise. In this part of the course we will also consider some examples of literature on “lovesickness.” Next, we will consider the embodied character of delusional experience, through Daniel Paul Schreber’s Memories of My Nervous Illness and Freud’s commentary thereon; selections from the works of Deleuze and Guattari and Massumi on schizophrenia and expression; and essays from the anthology Psychosomatics Today: A Psychoanalytic Perspective, which will introduce us to very recent work on these topics. The last part of the course will draw from the work of Elaine Scarry (The Body in Pain), Giovanna Colombetti (The Feeling Body) and Andy Clark (Supersizing the Mind), all important proponents of “distributed”/“extended” mind. The mind may be embodied, but it’s also extended well beyond the body, by means, for example, of written texts. How might we want to conceive of literary experience accordingly?
Image: Still from Chaplin, “Modern Times”
If you’re having trouble viewing this image, download the PDF here.
Image: Sam Durant’s “We Are the People” at Project Row Houses. Photo by Rick Lowe.
Below, you will find links to projects that intersect with our biennial theme, “Improvisation.” Feel free to browse and to add by emailing suggested materials to Rebecca Chenoweth or Julie Carlson.
Institutes and Societies
International Institute for the Study of Critical Improvisation (University of Guelph)
International Society for Improvised Music (see esp. “Words/Music/Images/Links”)
Art and Theater
Project Row Houses
Free Southern Theater
Fred Moten|A Wesleyan Reader’s Companion
Literary Hub: An Interview with Fred Moten, Part 1
“Do Black Lives Matter? Robin Kelley and Fred Moten”
Grisha Coleman’s “echo::system”
“echo::system on vimeo”
Philip Ringstrom, “Principles in Improvisation: A Model of Therapeutic Play in Relational Psychoanalysis”
“Dr. Phil Ringstrom on an improvisational mode of treatment,” You Tube
Literature and the Mind has embarked on a two-year study of improvisation. Long associated with the impromptu, the ad hoc, the spontaneous, and the ensemble, improvisation currently is a popular topic in an array of disciplines because of the alternatives it poses to conventional and canonical standards of thought. A key feature of the phenomenology of improvisation is a series of dialectical paradoxes (i.e., tradition/innovation; structure/caprice; trust/risk; solo/group) that enlist modes of thinking that are embodied, post-formal, co-creative, and psycho-eco-analytic and thus that advance our group’s prior investigations of talking cures and theories and practices of care. Another key element is that improvisation is a life practice of virtually every type of creature, study of which demystifies “human” and “being” and intensifies cross-species collaborations, including display behaviors. This past year we read authors and invited speakers who discuss improvisation within disciplines such as performance studies, cognitive neuroscience, psychoanalysis, and biosemiotics. But in considering these various extensions of the history of thought, our particular interest was to stay focused on perspectives that emerge from improvisation’s two chief domains: performance arts and aggrieved communities. Both domains, we believe, not only create things that enliven thought more de/constructively than most other perspectives but also, by approaching “thought” from two of its alleged underbellies, place into conversation and tension the different forms of sociality and society-making that the improvisatory tactics of the arts and the aggrieved envisage. If one powerful definition of jazz is “the sound of surprise,” improvisation, then, challenges us to reformulate trust in contexts where its being broken is a foregone conclusion. At the same time, improvisation in the arts and by the aggrieved demonstrates how crucially thriving remains tied to surviving and vice versa.
Because of this orientation, our group is especially drawn to centers like the International Institute for the Study of Critical Improvisation at the University of Guelph in London, Ontario who consider improvisation as a social as well as aesthetic practice. (Thanks to George Lipsitz, the UC Santa Barbara Center for Black Studies Research is pursuing a partnership with them.) Their projects endorse Muhal Richard Abrams’ assertion that “improvisation is a human right” and emphasize how theories and practices of improvised music offer models for human rights discourse and struggles that do not proceed from enlightenment concepts of autonomy, order, and individualism but instead from cooperation, negotiations of difference, risk-taking, and trust. We thus started the year by reading chapters from one of their several book publications, The Fierce Urgency of Now: Improvisation, Rights and the Ethics of Cocreation, co-authored by Daniel Fischlin, Ajay Heble, and George Lipsitz, and discussed with George Lipsitz (UCSB Department of Black Studies and Sociology) various arts-based community-revisions that are pursuing rights along more poetic lines of justice (e.g., Project Row-Houses in Houston, Free Southern Theater Institute, Students at the Center in New Orleans). But we also wanted our discussions to complicate what this “living-together” through improvisation entails by considering it from the perspectives of the undercommons, a collectivity for whom the concept of rights is bankrupt and whose joy in existence requires not playing with institutions, and of a psychoanalysis that counts living together as a singular creature one of the most problematic features of living. So we invited as our first two speakers Fred Moten (Professor of English, UC Riverside) and Philip Ringstrom (psychoanalyst and faculty at the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis), who are the most creative improvisational thinkers we know in the fields of jazz and black radical thought and of psychoanalysis. Our second set of speakers, Grisha Coleman (Professor of Movement, Computation, and Digital Media, Arizona State University) and Ann Randolph (playwright, sketch comedian, improv instructor), pursue these impulses specifically through bodies of non/thought, each of them expert at using arts of the body to expand spaces for remaking a feel of togetherness.
24 November, 2014: FRED MOTEN
Co-sponsored with “Anti-Racism Inc.” of the American Cultures in Global Contexts Center
Image credit: Mike Tofanelli
“When Literature and the Mind chose as its focus of study improvisation as a life practice that crosses species, foregrounds the arts, and crafts dis/order, we were channeling Fred Moten—and not just because his work is all about the topic and his writing is the most creative and innovatory that we know. It’s also that the things that he studies—jazz, the avant garde, the black radical tradition, the undercommons, fugitivity—are improvisations so that attending to them in the way that he does already puts us in this space, if we can hear what he is saying. There’s the rub. This is a challenge because mostly we encounter Fred through reading, not hearing, his writing, which is difficult and which means to be difficult in part because writing is not the preferred medium of the things he studies, all of whom and which have been defined as “thing” and as “nothing” by western can(n)ons of thought. So Fred writes from beyond the subject/object division, in the break or gap out of which differential somethings are generated, and without spending time—or wasting precious time—objecting to subjects and institutions invested in a symbolic order that perpetuates its relay race, even rat races also known as white flight. Fred’s words make readers go elsewhere, hear other voices and voicings, the noise and shimmer of movement, so that readers have a sensuous experience of absence, a sense of the surround of this sound, this place, this train of feeling. This requires returning words to their matter, the materiality by which loss moves—yo mama—and to the fantasy of the hold, the holding pattern, something that blackness and black study is in, not on its way toward or seeking to escape from, which doesn’t mean that it doesn’t require ongoing planning.
If reading typeface can conjure all this, Fred’s writings suggest, imagine—pick up on—what hearing jazz, walking downtown, dancing do. Here is the undercommons, where study happens apart from the sobriety, professionalizing, and criticizing that to his and Stefano Harney’s joint ears ruin universities and rob thought of the capacity to improvise. To me what is so powerful about Fred’s work is how its theorizing and embodying of improvisation connect improvisation and blackness as a life practice, a fugitive planning that we are in to the extent that we are in the dark and are comfortable being there: nothing new and always avant garde, not a choice but also not subjection or subjectifying, a sense surround. ‘Can this interplay of the refusal of what has been refused, this undercommon appositionality, be a place from which emerges neither self-consciousness nor knowledge of the other but an improvisation that proceeds from somewhere on the other side of an unasked question?’ ‘Let’s share so we can differ, in undercommon misunderstanding. Our undercommonness is that we have no standing. That’s all it is, that’s where it’s at, in the open we keep making.’”
2 February, 2015: PHILIP RINGSTROM
Photo credit: Mark Gerald, from “In the Shadow of Freud’s Couch”
“Involved in the school of thinking called ‘Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy’ that foregrounds the relationality of personhood in intrapsychic and interpersonal domains, Phil Ringstrom likes to speak of the ‘committee of the mind’ in describing psychic processes. He thus brings into clinical settings awareness of the startling number of persons and self-states present when allegedly two or three are gathered. In a recent interview celebrating the publication of his new book, A Relational Psychoanalytic Approach to Couple’s Psychotherapy (Routledge, 2014), Phil states that ‘couples psychotherapy may be the best modality for introducing new patients to psychodynamic psychotherapy,’ better initially than the more usual individual therapy, especially for those individuals who enter therapy with little familiarity with psychoanalysis. He gives as example the often-impoverished or astonished reaction of a patient to the invitation to describe how the analyst’s late arrival affected and is interpreted by him or her as opposed to the richly-elaborated response that a husband is ready to offer in responding to his wife’s late arrival to the session. More generally, his approach there, and in the work that we have read for today, is to supplement the analyst’s empathic introspective approach to the patient’s discourse with an enactive approach that attends to implicit as well as explicit modes of communication and draws on close observation of present moment encounters between analyst and analysand.
When we were first drawing up lists of potential invitees for our focus on improvisation, at least 3 people immediately said ‘you have to invite Phil Ringstrom.’ His mode of relational psychoanalysis draws on literary dimensions of the mind both in its attention to improvisation and to structuring features that analytic process shares with drama and theater. Phil’s attention to the committee of the mind, and his attempts to ensure that these various constituents are heard, benefit from drama’s externalization of self-states into distinguishable but interacting dramatis personae. What he calls a relational ethic around which he organizes a therapeutic session helps to keep the role of analyst closer to that of a co-actor or player than director, observer, or critic. His writing fosters our ongoing interests in improvisation and its cross-disciplinary artistry, especially what we have been reading about the musical edges of therapeutic dialogue (Steven H. Knoblauch) and improvisational jazz as embodying the sound of surprise. His stance is theory-play, where a session becomes ‘a dramatic piece that neither of us would imagine on our own.’”
4 March 2015: GRISHA COLEMAN
Co-sponsored with Hemispheric South/s
“Ever since declaring improvisation our focus, we in Literature and the Mind have been eager to have Grisha Coleman here for the ways that her life, career, and practice coordinate several of the modes and theories of improvisation that we’ve been studying: music, theater, psychological and physical movement, forms of philosophy that privilege the senses, and forms of activism that stem from the undercommons. Currently Professor of Movement, Computation, and Digital Media at the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the School of Dance at Arizona State University, Grisha is also a dancer, composer, and choreographer of live performance and experiential media systems. She danced in the early 1990s with the Urban Bush Women and founded the music performance group Hotmouth, which toured extensively in the late 90s. Several of us already encountered one of her modes of thinking in the noon-hour movement workshop she conducted, ‘Embodying the Improvisatory,’ where we experienced ourselves as bodies in space that individuate and flock, rest and move, in a sense-surround where the body is no longer perceived or treated simply as the way to carry around one’s brain.
I first learned of Grisha’s work through Stephanie Batiste, who knew her at Carnegie Mellon and who collaborated with Grisha on a four-person panel called ‘Fat Black Monkeys: Systems Thinking and Critical Culture in the Choreography of the Other.’ The panel engineered a conversation on primates, big data, obesity, performance, and black speculative fictions in order to explore the function of choreography within and beyond the context of dance and of humans. Their focus on data bodies, technological bodies, racialized bodies, animal bodies aimed to highlight kinds of tactical bodies and choreographic thinking that cross species and times. Her amazing installation project, echo::systems, on which Grisha will be speaking today, highlights her other interests and expertise in computation and in environmental studies and activism. One project, ‘36 Walk: a case study of reciprocity in movement and computation,’ joins the kinesthetic and choreographic system that comprises a dance event with the procedural, algorithmic systems that compose the ‘bones’ of computational tools. ‘Echo::systems’ trains this coordination of movement and computation onto concern with the environment, in an effort to regain forms of connection with the land and to move persons to care more for and about it. This is kinesthetic (and kin-aesthetic) ecocriticism that promises to transform how we act in spaces.”
1 April 2015: ANN RANDOLPH: Improv Practicum
Co-sponsored with the College of Creative Studies
Lit & Mind Graduate Student-sponsored event: Organized and introduced by Rebecca Chenoweth
Ann led us in our group’s first graduate student-sponsored event. When we thought about what direction we wanted to take our study of improvisation, many of us hoped we could use our event to put the ideas we’ve encountered so far into physical and verbal practice, by participating in improvisation as it’s understood in theater and even in everyday life. And when we looked for someone who could lead us in this workshop while adding more to our understanding of improvisation, it was clear to us that Ann’s background, focus on narrative form, and enthusiasm would make her the perfect fit.
Ann is an award-winning playwright, storyteller, sketch comedian, and improv instructor. Her latest solo show “Loveland” was awarded “best Solo Show” by SF Weekly and LA Weekly, and “Best Original Script by the SF Bay Critics. Her previous solo show, “Squeeze Box,” was produced by Mel Brooks and the late Anne Bancroft, and it was also awarded “Best Solo Show.” She is also a popular spoken word artist, winning the LA Moth storytelling competition and featuring on NPR, PBS, and the BBC.
As a sketch artist, she has performed her original material with renowned performance groups like The Groundlings and The Midnight Show (connected to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater), and has worked with the likes of Will Ferrell, Cheri Oteri, and the creators of “Reno 911.”
Ann drew on this extensive performance and writing background to lead others in workshops on topics ranging from “writing your life,” to “finding the funny in our darkest hour,” and “the healing power of story.” Ann helped us to engage the performative aspects of improvisation (as we did in Grisha Coleman’s movement workshop), and to consider how improvisation can be put into practice in everyday life.
Each of our speakers was invited to talk about how improvisation figures in their lives, work, and ways of being. One of our underlying questions in focusing on improvisation is how to keep (or to make) life on the ground(less), especially our lives in the university, a source of creativity, of fun, a space that is receptive to un/thinking. Here are some reflections on and reactions to their remarks.
Fred describes what he was doing in In the Break as highlighting improvisation as a method of deconstruction. That book features resources in the black radical tradition that give a clue as to how to move through the nervous position that Adorno characterizes as an oscillation between two impossible modes of being in order to propose improvisation as a counter-neurotic, a pseudo-philosophical intervention. Then four or five years ago, he says, he became increasingly interested in the word “nothing,” by way of trying to remove the traces of agency in uplift-related phrases like “making something out of nothing” or “make a way out of no way.” His interest is in considering nothing as a different form of sociality and has begun thinking about global mysticism in relation to nothingness. This relates to his opposition to subjectivity and his rethinking of consent, expressed in “consent not to be one,” where consent is not tied to a subject or a subjective but instead is a framework in which we live. If sociality is structured not by self/other but by consent not to be one, then shame and a whole lot else isn’t necessary.
Phil’s writing and therapeutic practice challenge the longstanding proposition that an analytic stance of abstinence, neutrality, and anonymity is best suited to eliciting the patient’s unconscious. His mode is improvisational in line with his concept of psychoanalysis as a theory of play, in which the session becomes a dramatic piece that neither analyst or analysand would be able to imagine on their own. Describing several of his cases, he shows how privileging a participant-participant model of interaction allows for the analytic “third” to gain voice and enter the scene more readily. Binaries of dominance/submission or emergence/anxiety interfere with the improvisational, so part of his practice is to come down from the “perch” of neutrality and risk the presence of the present and all that is present in it.
Phil Ringstrom visited Santa Barbara as I was working my way through the “foundations and interfaces” section of the Lit and Mind qualifying exam reading list—although I don’t think it was timing alone that made his visit foundational to me. As I floundered in many different definitions of psychoanalysis and beliefs about how to practice it, Phil Ringstrom helped me to feel, for the first time in my studies, what psychoanalysis could be. Phil Ringstrom peppered his conversational discussion with anecdotes from his sessions that he jumped up and delivered in entertaining solo-performance style. The scenes he shared with us not only demonstrated how delightful it must be to be in analysis with him, but also how much he cares for the people he sees. Committing to play with someone in an imaginative improvised scene not only facilitates psychoanalytic work but also is affirming in itself.
Grisha’s multi-media art and performance installation “echo::systems” works to strengthen people’s capacity to listen as the land talks back. Acknowledging the profound disconnect between what science says and how people perceive what science says about the emerging global environmental crisis, “echo::systems” brings together environmental science, technology, and performance art in an effort to help individuals recover a relationship with the land. Part of this involves denaturing how we act in spaces by providing digitally mediated images of a particular ecosystem at an action station, where an individual’s movement on a treadmill activates real and imagined data drawn from cultural, historical, and ecological information of the given habitat (the entire project includes Abyss, Desert, Forest, Prairie, Volcano). The claim is that this denaturing helps invigorate how we act in those spaces because it provides a kinesthetic and immersive rather than observational and detached experience of space. Moreover, the treadmill makes individuals walk but not move, providing an embodied reflection on differential expenditures of energy. As with other Sense Labs that our group has been studying, Grisha’s “echo::systems” dis/orients minds and bodies in space in the hopes of granting those spaces more time.
Grisha’s interactive art installation of the “Desert” should draw attention to the disconnect between the climate controlled experience of Coleman’s participant-audience living in Phoenix and the life-threatening journey of those attempting to immigrate to the U.S. through the deserts surrounding that asphalt metropolis. Coleman invited Phoenix residents to walk on treadmills while viewing footage she had filmed of the nearby deserts. She incorporated their experiences into her performance that focused on the connection between desert spaces and spiritual journeys.
While Grisha visited us, she also led members of Literature and the Mind and Hemispheric South/s in a Movement Workshop, the first of two encounters that we had with theatrical, dance, and generally embodied forms of improvisation. We followed these wordlessly, focusing on our own movement and that of our neighbors. Rather than directing us to move in a particular pace or direction, Grisha invited us to decide what felt “fast” or “slow” to us, and to maneuver in relation to those around us without being entirely guided by them. This workshop helped us to consider movement in relation to our environment, which is a crucial aspect of the “echo::systems” installation; and more broadly, it challenged us to consider the extent to which our minds are embodied.
Ann first recounted aspects of her life-story as an unintended journey toward improv artistry through a series of improvisatory (aka last-ditch) responses to persistent roadblocks to achieving her goals. In effect, these thwartings suggested to her that the real problem was the idea of life as moving toward a defined goal rather than as ongoing movement in accordance with consideration of where a prior move takes or simply lands one. She then led us through a series of improv exercises. One had us moving through imagined apertures with different parts of the body taking the lead in order to experience what mental/emotional stances emerge when the arm or pelvis or chest leads the body. Pairing off, we then did a series of exercises in relaying speech, responding to the other’s statement “Please don’t go” with “I have to go” back and forth over and over. A final free-write began with the prompt “I knew it was over when” or “how I got my name,” which each of us then read aloud—a striking experience of how intimately one can know another whom one doesn’t know in the conventional sense and of how rarely such encounters happen.
Ann Randolph’s initial solo-performance lured me to into a false state of comfort by inviting me to play my accustomed role of audience member. She then raised the stakes by inviting us to do curious things with our voices and bodies. Some requests seemed natural to me—I guess I do walk around leading with my hips or head. The further her directions pushed me from my own-self-performance, the more challenging they were to follow——I can’t remember the last time I shouted at someone, and it did not feel good during her workshop. These wild and silly activities, however, did loosen something in my mind because when she asked us to write the words came tumbling down like flight attendants fear luggage will from overhead compartments on turbulent flights. While it was frightening to share my personal writing, the willingness of others to share—as they participated in all the other activities—made it possible for me to share mine. I am grateful for the commitment of the group to play and share.
To add to these thoughts, please email Rebecca Chenoweth or Julie Carlson.
Psychoanalyst Norman Doidge, MD (University of Toronto) will visit UCSB to discuss his new work on neuroplasticity in The Brain’s Way of Healing. In his new publication, Doidge “describes how natural, non-invasive treatments–based on light, sound, vibration, and movement–can awaken the brain’s remarkable healing capacities.” This free event takes place at 8 PM on Monday, February 2 in Campbell Hall, just after psychoanalyst Philip Ringstrom’s visit. We hope you can join us for both exciting events.
Image: Greg A. Dunn, “Cortical Columns” (detail)