Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Dreaming Woman: Image, Place, and the Aesthetics of Exile

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

Dreaming Woman: Image, Place, and the Aesthetics of Exile

Article excerpt

In 2013, the Venice Biennale featured the first public exhibition of Carl Jung's Red Book (2009), an illuminated manuscript elaborately chronicling his own dreams and waking visions. Jung had begun the project a century earlier, after experiencing a vision he would retrospectively cite as a precognition of World War I. Sonu Shamdasani situates Jung's highly pictorial premonition within its historic milieu: "In the years directly preceding the outbreak of war, apocalyptic imagery was widespread in European arts and literature ... Prophecy was in the air" (Jung 2009, p. 199). For Shamdasani, Jung's experiments with active imagination, and the symbolic elaboration of those images, followed a procedure common among spiritualists, hypnotists, and Surrealists of the era, "deliberately evoking a fantasy in a waking state, and then entering into it as into a drama" (2009, p. 200).

The title of the 2013 Biennale, The Encyclopedic Palace, indicates the exhibition's unifying theme and the epistemological desire at stake in The Red Book. For the director, Massimiliano Gioni, the exhibition is

about knowledge - and more specifically about the desire to see and know everything, and the point at which this impulse becomes defined by obsession and paranoia. In this regard, it is also an exhibition about the impossibility of knowing, about the failure to achieve omniscience, and the melancholy we suffer once it becomes clear that such efforts will always fall short of our desires.

(2009, p. 23)

The Red Book, mimicking the formal style of medieval gospel illuminations, posits total knowledge as a utopian creative project. Jung's concept of the collective unconscious holds out the possibility of a spiritual reservoir that not only exists empirically, but that can be accessed actively through the visual image. The limitless prophetic potential of an encounter with the collective unconscious is rooted in the numinous images to which it gives rise, and which Jung sought to record. At the same time, this desire for full knowledge, inextricable from its inevitable failure, describes psychoanalysis's notorious relationship to femininity, a point which, I will argue, is informed forcefully by the visual image, as well as the national imaginary.

Take, for example, another exhibition featured at the 2013 Biennale, Nicola Costantino's multimedia installation, Eva - Argentina: A Contemporary Metaphor. Costantino's titular formulation asserts a direct correspondence between Eva Perón and the nation she came to represent politically, as First Lady (1946-52), and symbolically, as a persistent and ambivalent icon of Argentine femininity. Costantino's installation divides the exhibition pavilion into historical reproductions of Eva's living room, dining room, and study. Each domestic space is set against screens that curve to surround the spectator. Six projectors cast six distinct moving images of Eva onto the screens, each styled to represent a different period of her life, and dressed to suit the daily tasks it performs. These spectral projections of Eva, all portrayed by Costantino, consolidate the metaphorical relation between Eva and Argentina, woman and nation, in the flat iconography of the visual image.

Understanding the Biennale as a spectacle that celebrates, as it occasions, the aesthetic production of the modern subject in both its nationalist and cosmopolitan dimensions, I read the coincidence of Jung and Costantino's exhibitions as a fortuitous opportunity to reflect on the role of the visual image in shaping psychoanalytic discourse on femininity and national identity in Argentina. Argentina is, after all, a country where psychoanalysis has taken root so forcefully that it currently hosts more psychoanalysts per capita than any other nation, effectively constituting a "part of reality that is beyond questioning" (Plotkin, 2012, p. 185). Freud's methods were discussed in Argentine medical circles as early as the 1910s, but rising public interest in sexology and the appearance of Freud's work in affordable Spanish translations during the 1920s and 30s set the stage for psychoanalysis to attract a mass audience. …

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