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  • Social Collage and the Four Discourses in (some of) the Kootenay School of Writing: Part I
  • Clint Burnham (bio)

Note: This essay is from a larger work on the poetics and poetry of the Kootenay School of Writing, the body of work primarily being that published in the 1980s, the approach being a Lacanian one. I divide the poetry into three camps or tendencies: the Red Tory neopastoralism of Lisa Robertson, Christine Stewart, Peter Culley, and Catriona Strang, the concerns of procedural constraints and Blanchotesque absence in Susan Clark, Kathryn MacLeod, Dan Farrell, and Melissa Wolsak, and, here, the social collage/disjunctive form to be found in the work of Colin Smith/Dorothy Lusk (discussed in this, the first half of the essay) and Deanna Ferguson/Jeff Derksen/Gerald Creede (discussed in the second half). Thanks to Donato Mancini, whose research in 2008 greatly helped to kick-start this writing.

Since this essay is torn from a larger work, it may be useful to sketch out quickly why I have turned to Lacanian psychoanalysis as a way of reading the work of the Kootenay School of Writing and, in that regard, perhaps address the question of historical or ahistorical readings. I think first of all that my turn to psychoanalysis is in response to a double lack: on the one hand, in the readings of contemporary poetry there is very little to be found that engages with Lacan to any great extent; on the other hand, the great resurgence of Lacanian theory and criticism since the 1990s (owing on the one hand to Slavoj Žižek’s output and on the [End Page 91] other to the “clinical turn” that saw a new translation of Écrits as well as many of the Seminars) has tended to look at popular culture (especially film) or politics but not poetry. This double absence is curious, not least because of the importance especially of Lacanian and Lacanian-feminist readings to such important avant-garde forbears as Gertrude Stein (Marianne DeKoven’s groundbreaking A Different Language especially, but see also, for example, Cynthia Merrill’s use of Lacan’s mirror stage to read The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas); nonetheless, the strength of both these discourses—Lacanian theory on the one hand, and ksw and other l=a=n=g=u=a=g=e-based schools on the other—suggested that an intervention into both could be a useful new critical practice.

Evidently my designation of this absence as “curious” is not adequate as a scholarly inquiry into critical fashions,1 and there may be another reason: the misconception that Lacanian or psychoanalytic readings are ahistorical and, therefore, apolitical. I think that this is a misreading of Freud and Lacan (not to mention such obviously more political and left commentators as Žižek and Jodi Dean) for a number of reasons: both Freud and Lacan have made important statements on the political and historical nature of psychoanalysis; their bodies of work and writings can and have themselves been historicized, especially in terms of “early” or “late” Freud or Lacan, and, especially with respect to Lacan’s theory of the four discourses, which arose in the late 1960s in the context of the student protests of May 1968 in Paris, these are obviously discourses that are very much based on a political intervention into late capitalist society. So I [End Page 92] would like here just to expand quickly on these three qualifying statements, before turning to the interpretive work of this essay.

Freud’s statements on politics or history can be thought of in two ways: first of all, he was very much interested, even as early as The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), in how political events made their way into the subject’s dreams—even if such matter was merely content for the dreamwork (for its condensation and displacement, its translation and revision), he never saw the everyday, be it political or more mundane, as unimportant—this was the raw material with which the analyst, as much as the patient, with which he had to work. Obviously the “Rat Man” case study would be a very different piece of work if not for the...


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