Elegant Uprooted Things: Jack Spicer, California, and Psychoanalysis


SRGSTEL Art Editor Liz Kinnamon contributed to the latest issue of “Open Space,” the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s journal, with “Elegant Uprooted Things: Jack Spicer, California, and Psychoanalysis,” a fascinating article on Spicer’s poetry, psychoanalysis, repetition, and the everyday.

“Moving exposes you to need almost primally. You can’t take much for granted when you’re without the resources that indirectly accumulate over time. Moving separates you from the setting that made your life possible or impossible but to which you are still attached. And in being cut from your context you can forget entirely who you are or if you matter. No one should underestimate how profound it is to be uprooted and how profound it is to refuse to move, which is to acknowledge the importance of being embedded and the fact that your life is made possible by that embedding.

It’s not that common to think about moving this way, though, especially in a place that emanates the values of portability, innovation, and flexibility like the Bay Area. Moving is as much an ‘adventure’ as it is a completely unremarkable fact of contemporary life. Like, you moved for your job? Just integrate. You got evicted? Just move somewhere else. People warned me about the particular brand of positive detachment known as ‘West Coast chill,’ but then I got here and saw that people on social media were actually levitating. I told a friend about this and he confirmed: Joyce S. Lee’s Defying Gravity (2016) is a book entirely composed of screenshots from men midair on Tinder — skydiving, hovering in their studios via special effects, or just jumping for the camera at a tourist vista. The California ethos is like I’m so light and positive that I’m weightless, and not only do I have no baggage but I’m not even touching the ground.

Meanwhile, for Spicer —

‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍The ground still squirming. The ground still not as fixed as I
‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍thought it would be in an adult world.

‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ ‍‍(Language)

When [psychoanalyst Christopher] Bollas talks about the transformational object, he’s not just saying that most of us seek to make a home within live relation, but that when someone seems fundamentally or obsessively structured by that search, it is ‘not only a quest for an idealized object. It also constitutes some recognition in the subject of a deficiency in ego experience’ — what Michael Balint calls the ‘basic fault.’ For Bollas, ‘the failure of the mother to maintain provision of the facilitating environment, through prolonged absence or bad handling, can evoke ego collapse and psychic pain.’

If Spicer’s sudden move away from his context in LA to the Midwest was as formative as the biography suggests, it raises the point that one deracination can render a lifetime of displacement. It’s not that one is then determined by a past event, but that ‘it may be that a single torment, always the same, displaced, misunderstood, is at the heart of all our torments, that everything which has some effect on us has one cause only.’ Contrary to the constant turnover of capital, analysis or therapy imparts you to remember when remembering can be a drag. It forces you to keep remembering that you have and everybody else has a history that’s not easily escaped or outwitted, that your history and your self have to be treated on their own terms, and that change is hard won. But analysis — again, a collaborative way of staying with repetition — doesn’t have to be a reduction. It can serve as practice for how to repeat without reducing in the everyday.

Spicer created a holding environment through his poetry that in some ways Spicer the person would never enter. His serial poems were always to be considered contextually and not alone, thus functioning like the seriality of relation. His poems recreated the experience of being engaged in a process with the transformational object. And the ultimate result of this practice of construction was to create what Blaser called ‘public love.’ It is in spite of his faultline — or rather because of it — that Spicer is one of the best examples of loving with lack. To love, as Lacan reminds us, is to give what one does not have; or as Jaques Alain-Miller adds to Lacan, ‘to love is to recognize your lack and give it to the other.'”


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