The Symbolic Without the Father
Woman is one of the names-of-the-father
La Can-Can Française
A Visit to East Wallingford, Vt.
Hoboken Palace Gardens
I first glimpsed Rena at the initial meeting of the Paris-New York Psychoanalytic Workshop, codirected by Stuart Schneiderman and Jacques-Alain Miller at Barnard College, Columbia University, the Fall of 1987.
She didn't look like anybody else. Already her illogical, unseasonable clothing feet bare inside high heeled shoes in the middle of the winter, body wrapped in abstruse layers of brown her longish spread of hair, her enormous eyes, made for a bizarre magnetism and a radical presence.
If Rena had a seat with a subliminal name, in the sense that no one would sit there even if she didn't come to the Seminar, it wasn't only because she carried the regular crowd of at least two or three hard-core punk students with her. An ongoing show, Rena in the class embodied revolt; whether it was against Stuart Schneiderman himself our Lacanian professor or maybe contra some celebrated guest who dared confront her stance Oh! She would scream at them! However, the thick Scottish accent, the lilting quality of her voice, the seductiveness of her wit, added up to Rena's self-confident posture calling on a "Lacanian, feminist, Marxist mode of analysis."1 The class would combust when cases like Freud's Dora2 were seen through the new perspective.
Several months into the Seminar, instead of shyly hiding in the crowd as usual, I brought myself forth through the suggestion of the institution of a Lacan study group. Rena's voice raised in marvel:
Said I The one and only...
I shivered... How had I come to call aloud such a glib response? The delight in Rena's face, mischievous, daring, was by now answering a secret question to myself if I liked her so much, feared her as well, it was because her rule was always amazement, indeed challenge. Would she jump at me as she often did with others in the classroom? She surprised me once again when she said no more; and how soon the silence became unbearable.
Baffled, I walked my way to the blackboard the professor, my analyst, had suggested I write my name and phone number in white chalk. The class done with, Rena addressed me in the elevator where are you from? where do you live? why do you want to assemble a Lacanian study group? It didn't take long for us to decide on a drink at some bar in the neighborhood. She ordered a scotch on the rocks, myself a glass of red wine, she ordered another scotch on the rocks, myself a glass of red wine, she ordered another scotch on the rocks, myself a cappuccino... Our conversation wandered from her being a teacher in the Literature Department of Columbia, to me being what they call a Lacanian; from her living and erring in the University area most of the time, to me trying to settle down in NYC; from her enjoying transgression in the meanderings of the libido, to me being mesmerized by her skill and her guts.
Through the next three years, the radiance of the Paris-New York Workshop gleaming, we managed to have a constant sort of fun which pursued through long talks on the phone, episodes in bars, and such deviant situations as Rena winning an award for the best personal ad in the Village Voice. No limit for her outrageous hilarity, she advertised about her looks, age, and talents; winning the suitors to meet her at some coffee shop. The waitress on her side, the suitors had often to linger in vain while she hid out of view: of the forty men that came, she found only one to like. This doesn't mean she kept him forever.
In 1989, the end of the Seminar coincided with the Fourth Annual Meeting of the Paris-New York Psychoanalytic Workshop at the Alliance Française. The topic was Gender and Perversion, the outcome division of Paris and New York.
At the same time Rena left Columbia to become a professor of English at NYU. Now she would live and err in the NYU area most of the time; the good news was that we had became close neighbors. If she offered me a room to lecture at the Literature Department the famous study group was by now the Lacan Circle of New York it was because she cherished Lacan's ways, specifically his way with words.
lacanian ink by now it had achieved a certain consistency. Rena was assumed to be writing an article on King Lear. Soon however, it was the impossibility of finishing the article, compounded by her sporadic appearance at the meetings, that became the unsettling issue. Whether we were to read Lacan's Seminar 7: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, or to undertake her favorite subject matter, the phenomenon of multiple personalities as analyzed through Lacan's theory, she rarely showed up.
Yet there were events which marked those days with loud laughter despite the pervasive sense of depletion Stuart Schneiderman, for instance, had landed on Rena's apartment floor during the midst of a dinner party: one of her rickety chairs had given way the moment he brought up the sexual aspect in a girl's evolution... And Slavoj Zizek went through the same affair while on the topic of whatever... after delivering his paper at NYU, at another of Rena's parties this time it was the sofa to collapse.
Though one might have to open Rena's faucets with a wrench, or walk in her bathroom through puddles of water, or use columns of her magazines for a seat, parties at her place were always great and somehow hilarious. Yet the increasing loss of energy that confined Rena to her home for days was showing up in her pale countenance. Not that she complained about anything, and this was probably what made for great difficulty in the endeavor to help her out. Let's say that she ordered a scotch on the rocks for breakfast, the most you would get back was an amusing story of her early attraction to alcohol she had started drinking at 14 years old.
Very serious problems in her work arose, and dealing with the department people didn't make Rena happy. At this point her parents became very important, coming up in conversation a lot: she loved her mother, a slightly weak figure, felt compelled to question the love of the father.
And then there were the anecdotes of a woman friend, about whom Rena did grumble a bit, who kept discussing the details of her own burial. How did I come to think Rena was talking about herself? Yet the way she told the tale took me off any gloomy thought, because it was so exquisitely told, in the sense of her wonderful use of words, her lovely accent, the binding charm of her wit.
Though she kept postulating that this woman was an example of multiple personalities, what I dare make of it is that Rena somehow perceived what she herself was up to. Thus she found a way to stage her fate, for us her friends for herself. She died in the Spring of 1992, at 32 years old, of internal bleeding.
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