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  • Conjoined Forces
  • Cristopher Grimes (bio)
Netsuke. Rikki Ducornet. Coffee House Press. 128 pages; paper, $15.00.

The unnamed narrator of Rikki Ducornet's short novel Netsuke (2011) is an incorrigible fucker. A psychoanalyst (self-described as "the Marquis de Sade of psychiatry") and compulsive fornicator who has sex with, among others, his patients, he professes a familiar machismo sentiment, which, in a less singularly determined character, would seem a rather banal clique: "One's cock, one's heart!"

Both his cock and heart are legally, if not tentatively, wedded to Akiko, a successful collagist whose sense of understated beauty pervades the decor of the book. The estate upon which their home and his offices are situated is carefully manicured; the furnishings are modern and elegant ("The modernist aesthetic persists," he proclaims, "it never loses its charm"). Inside this decor, he seethes with barely restrained libido between sexual liaisons with his clientele, or, as the opening scene illuminates, with indiscriminate passersby. The reader is first introduced to him during a morning run that ends in a sexual encounter in the woods with an otherwise anonymous fellow jogger, a woman with whom he has simply locked eyes as their paths crossed.

How, then, does the analyst rationalize his infidelity? In numerous ways, it turns out. Here's but one example:

I have of late, grown increasingly impatient with language and all the rest. I suffer a general irritation with Akiko's damned thingness. I think: how dare she inhabit time as though she were the apple of its eye? Ah. I am tired of marriage. A house full of carpets and books. Instead I long for my clients, those creatures of darkness!

They drift in the city air like pages from a charred book. They cannot live out their lives. They die young of famishment; they suicide; they are gnawed to the marrow of their bones by AIDS. (The risk! The risk of keeping such close company!) So unfathomable when one is used to the world as it was, and not so long ago. A spread table. The endless feast.

The "not so long ago" referred to here actually turns out to be a very long time ago indeed. In fact, the location of this past isn't even in his own past, as it were, but a "distant, primal past," a state so primitive, the novel seems to suggest, that it predates the mediation of a coherent system of language that more or less comprises one's reality, including one's sex drive. To say that our narrator has a problematical relationship with language is an understatement. As indicated in the quote above, he views language as an impediment that serves to cleave him from his more base, more primitive desires. This is made more clear when he declares that "nothing serves the self better than the flesh. Fucking, at its best, is silent. And yet what I have learned in my Practice is this: people want to talk about it all the time."

A reader's disposition toward Freudian theory notwithstanding, Freud's impress on the narrative is unmistakable. Put more clearly, Freud's familiar ideas —id, ego, super-ego—are implicit to the relationships in the novel. And it's precisely because they are not made explicit that the narrator's silence on the subject is telling, particularly as he's a psychoanalyst. Even more to the point, his longing for a primal past can be framed as a desire to fully and completely inhabit a state of pure id-ness, wherein, as he muses, "If the world is a dream, then fucking is as close to awakening as I can get. If the world is real, then fucking is as close to dreaming as I can be." Still, the discourse of psychoanalysis becomes so much psychobabble in his own attempts to define his condition. Because his ego is finally unable to properly legislate and control the instincts and impulsiveness of his id, in the end he's unable to deploy a language, analytical or otherwise, sufficient to apprehend his impulsive actions.

This sets up two possible readings of the relational dynamics of the novel. The...


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