Griselda Pollock at the Freud MuseumPollock image

9 January 2014


Polly Mortimer hears Professor Griselda Pollock ask ‘Can Artists Teach the Mind Doctors? Can Artworks be a Case Study?’

Griselda Pollock discussed some of the cases from her virtual feminist museum’s exhibition on Trauma and Aesthetic Transformation in the aftermath of the publication of After-affects I After-Images: Trauma and Aesthetic Transformation in the Virtual Feminist Museum.

Professor Pollock is the Director of the Centre for Cultural Analysis, Theory & History and Professor of Social & Critical Histories of Art at the School of Fine Art, History of Art & Cultural Studies, University of Leeds. Having heard Prof Pollock speak in a seminar a few years ago with extreme lucidity and effect, I was really looking forward to hearing her again. She started by saying that she’d really like to be giving a silent lecture with an almost silent preface – How would that have been? Just text? Just pictures? Just nothing?

So – instead there followed an hour of extreme density, so much so that I longed for simultaneous translation. It was an advanced class in Cultural Studies Speak without a dictionary or anyone to interpret in layperson’s terms.

She spoke of one person existing in two worlds: the mute world of making and the word-rich communication of analysis. She drew on the work of Bracha Ettinger, an artist and psychoanalyst, and her co-inhabitation of these two spheres of thinking. Ettinger wrote of pregnancy as the co-emergence of unknown others, of how sub-cognitive events affect the sensation of encounter and of the mother as super- or hideous-.

She spoke of the aesthetics of trauma: processing, inscribing, hiding from making invisible and of trauma itself as a violent medical concept, a piercing wound. Art for her is a transport station of trauma. She name-checked Sarah Kofman, the philosopher who wrote Rue Ordener, Rue Labat in 1994, describing the fate of her father, a rabbi, who was taken by the Vichy police in 1942 and killed in Auschwitz. Sarah Kofman committed suicide in 1994.

I was pleased to be introduced to new (to me) names of philosophers, writers and theorists to try and read, such as Lucie Rigeray, Elizabeth Gross and Julia Christeva, as well as Piera Aulagnier, a post-Lacanian, who put forward a theory of psychosis based on children’s early experiences, which started with the pictogram. I started to get very lost when the word ‘matrixial’ was introduced. Going back to Ettinger – “Ettinger replaces the phallic structure with a dimension of emergence, where objects, images and meanings are glimpsed in their incipiency, before they are differentiated. This is the matrixial realm, a shareable, psychic dimension that underlies the individual unconscious and experience.” I lifted this from a book review.

Pollock is a disciple of the anti-Oedipal duo Deleuze and Guattari, and critiques Lacan’s phallocentricity. My understanding of her presentation is that the ‘matrixial border’ links the durational encounter (pregnancy) with a multiply trans-generational space, where the mother and baby are phallic positions of oedipal subjectivity, giving rise to a matrixial versus phallic logic. Postnatally, there follows maternal shock – m/Other – which is a completely different affect, the de-passioning of the mother. This can develop into a pathological rejection, for example through postpartum depression, psychosis and even infanticide. Postnatality is a semi-automatic stage of mother-blaming, mother-hating, devouring mother, abandoning mother, not enough mother, all essentially the trauma of postnatal life. She subsequently posits the question “What is the origin of my disharmony with my environment?”

When Pollock lapsed into plain English in the Q and A at the end, at last it became possible to understand her. In essence her message is to centralise the maternal function, and bring the female to the foreground. But, by gum, it was so hard to tease this out among the thicketty hedge of culture-speak. There’s a podcast for the brave on the Freud Museum’s website. Good luck!

This may help:

Polly Mortimer is librarian at the Minster Centre and has a personal interest in the effects of psychiatric ‘treatment’.

Kofman, Sarah (1996) Rue Ordener, Rue Labut. University of Nebraska Press.
Pollock, Griselda (2013) After-affects|after-images: Trauma and Aesthetic Transformation in the Virtual Feminist Museum. Manchester University Press.

The review cited was an Amazon book description of The Matrixial Borderspace by Bracha Ettinger, University of Minnesota Press, 2006.


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