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Tuesday 5 May 2020

Review: Elisabeth Geblesco, Un Amour de Transfert

When Jacques Lacan died  in 1981, a critical commentary in Le Monde  accused  him of perverting psychoanalytic practice, using among other things seduction and manipulation of the transference. This book could be produced as Exhibit A, despite the fact that the author wrote a letter of protest to Le Monde which it did not publish; it is included here at pages 268-70.

Consider the following, from early on in these notebooks:

Now, without the transference, one can’t act (page 92) 

Monday, 10 May 1976
I look at my watch as I ring the bell: 17h 43. Gloria opens the door and tells me to go into the library. I go there, meet the Master who tells me to go in [to his consulting room]. I come out at 17h 45, two minutes later. It’s very good for my transference because that pulverises it. Thus am I stripped clean. Two hundred francs a minute! .( p 93)
 11 May 1976
Before Lacan’s Seminar, Lacan says to her ….. Come and find me straightaway, when it’s over. My neighbours are agitated and ask me, Was that addressed to you? … Yes, to me. I feel like she to whom the Sultan has tossed the handkerchief   (p 95)

And so it continues for some two hundred and fifty pages: He loves me, He loves me not.

I read this book for a personal reason: I met Elisabeth (Sanda) Geblesco and her sister Nicole in 1971 and kept up a friendship with them until about 1978 when we lost contact. We  first met on a train: they were sitting facing me and introduced themselves by professing curiosity to know who was this person reading a cheap French paperback of The Logic of Port Royal (Arnauld et Nicole, La Logique ou l’art de Penser 1662). Elisabeth died in 2002; Google gives me no information about Nicole later than 2017.

Un Amour de Transfert was published in 2008 and transcribes in two hundred and fifty pages the notebooks in which Geblesco kept a session-by-session record of her supervisory (contrôle) meetings with Jacques Lacan in the period 1974-1981:  Lacan died in September of 1981, aged 80. The notebooks were kept private and not shared with anyone, not even her sister with whom she lived; they were a secret diary. The meetings took place in Lacan’s consulting rooms (5 rue de Lille, Paris) and Sanda travelled to them from her home in Monaco where she had lived for most of her life, since the late 1930s in fact. I never knew her age, which seemed indeterminate, and the introduction to this book does not give her date of birth - curious in relation to a culture where necrology is taken seriously and birth dates are always given along with death dates. My guess is that she was born between 1930 and 1935. There is no English translation of this book (it exists in Italian and Spanish and would merit an English version), and translations below are my own.

I have left this rather cumbersome review in note form, taking each notebook in turn:

Notebook 1 (pages 21 - 54) covers the period October 1974 - May 1975 and caused me a great deal of amusement. Here Sanda discovers what it means to travel up from Monaco and pay 400 Francs (cash in hand) to be supervised by Lacan: sometimes you get 8 minutes before he gets up and looks for you to hand over the money (p 25); sometimes 3 minutes ( p 26), another time 10 - 12 minutes (p 28 - with the additional comment that she got longer than any of the others who had gone in for their appointment before her; one got 2 minutes). On the other hand, there is also a session of 45 minutes and this is equally notable (p 26). But the coup de théâtre has to be when Lacan is bored, stops listening, and turns his attention to something else: he has opened the drawer of his table and is counting his money … I have never seen so much at one time, real money, except in the banks or shops (pp 39-40). From this passage I conclude that during their meetings, Lacan sat at his desk and she to one side, not opposite [ see further discussion below]. By page 47, Geblesco is expressing fury (The whole thing having lasted five minutes, I’m furious) and calls what is happening a comedy. But she keeps going back for more …

By the end of the first notebook, one begins to see the other side: the tragedy and first of all not Lacan’s but Geblesco’s. In the course of their meeting on 27 May 1975, Lacan compliments her on her work with a client whose case she has been presenting:

I am delighted and leave feeling much better. He must have realised that it wasn’t working anymore and was as warm as in the first trimester. Still, it’s marvellous to hear it said by LACAN, the being who I admire most among the living, that one is a good analyst!! I said to him that I was very happy and I had the courage to thank him. He called me “mon petit” and that greatly calmed me [me repose beaucoup]. It’s him [ i.e, for once it’s him - TP ], miracle, who has forgotten that I must pay him (p 54).

Lacan is seventy four; Geblesco is forty or forty five. She was one of the two daughters of a Romanian diplomat. Before 1939, Bucharest was the Paris of eastern Europe, French the language of its upper classes in the way it had once been in Tsarist Russia. So it may not have been at all strange for this diplomat to marry Berthe Guillemin, direct descendant of the Bonapartist Marshall of the Empire, Jean Lannes (1769 - 1809), first Duke of Montebello. And when the parents divorced, it perhaps indicated something of Berthe’s social status that she took her daughters to live in Monaco on the Boulevard du Jardin Exotique where Sanda and Nicole shared an apartment for the rest of their lives.

But Monaco was also close to French home territory: the Guillemins were of the south of France, not Paris, and Sanda was in contact with that extended family - one of her cousins was married to the Duc d’Orléans, the person who would have the right to claim the French throne if it was on offer.

In World War Two, the diplomat Geblesco was consul in Geneva; whether he had any contact with his daughters, I do not know [ but see my summary of notebook 4].  The war would have made it difficult but not impossible. But, on balance, I suspect not. And I also suspect that he was born around the same year as Jacques Lacan. And as a third suspicion: that Lacan did not know the family history of the person who was paying him 400 francs to meet him for a few minutes a couple of times each month. So when he called her mon petit it was a piece of guesswork, though perhaps not entirely without calculation. (Why not ma petite? That is not common; the generic is normally used - it abbreviates mon petit enfant). 

And did Sanda Geblesco realise that when she started keeping her secret notebooks, they might one day be read as a young girl’s diary? Such inferences and questions are the obvious ones, though maybe more obvious if you have read The Purloined Letter (to which Geblesco refers page 44).

I was a little in awe of the Geblesco sisters. They did not fit easily into any of the English categories I had available to me at the age of twenty four. They could be imagined as blue stockings from their dress, the intensity of their intellectual interests, the uncertainty of their age. But they were also grandes dames - a couple of times Geblesco refers dismissively to Lacan as a  (mere) bourgeois.Yet they did things which blue stocking don’t do - when Bob Dylan performed at the Isle of Wight festival in 1969, they made the trip. And grandes dames don’t usually work for child welfare services, Sanda’s background before she became an analyst. Both sisters gave support to the Irish Republican cause, and when Sanda died Republican Sinn Fein was represented at the funeral; the Sinn Fein obituary notes her religious faith. (The editorial footnotes to this book are fairly minimal and could easily be expanded to incorporate such information).

Notebook 2 (pages 57 - 95) gives us more information about Lacan’s waiting room. Since sessions do not last for a fixed period of time, one arrives at an approximate hour and waits to be called. You look at the others who are also waiting and you time how long those who go in before you stay in the consulting room before they exit. Lacan’s secretary Gloria is also introduced and one suspects a little jealousy (page 90). [ Much later, Gloria is caught listening at the keyhole (p 206) ]. Geblesco's loyalties are expressed without being demanded: there’s no need to go to see Hélène Cixous’s play because it will be bad (page 86).

But Geblesco is not simply a patsy; she turns the situation to her own advantage and gets value for her money in other ways. She is building up her career in Nice and she does the necessary negotiations for a lecture visit Lacan will make. She asks Lacan to support her application for membership of the Ecole Freudienne de Paris (EFP), his organisation. He authorises use of his name and when she makes the necessary moves, she finds herself promptly admitted and publicly listed as a practising analyst without so much as a CV submitted (p 71). [ Much later, when it seems that her meetings with Lacan are coming to an end, she worries about its impact on her professional standing in Nice (p 214) ].

Meanwhile, Lacan’s degree of interest in the supervision can be gauged by whether or not he is counting his money: Lacan stops counting his money … and takes a lively interest …. Lacan starts counting his money again. I continue… (page 74).

There was a thought which occurred to me which I will not try to elaborate. On a couple of occasions, Geblesco presents dream material attributed to a client; I felt it could have been her own. Of course, it is a hazard of (rather amateurish?) supervision that the person supervised brings along a thumbnail sketch of an analytic conversation, inevitably re-shaped by their own preoccupations.  Geblesco and Lacan are not sitting down together to listen to an extract from a tape recording of an analysis which might reveal a different tale. In supervision, the analyst tells the analysand’s tale, and in this case tells it to Lacan who has very definite ideas about what he wants to hear.

Notebook 3 (pages 99 - 137). I drafted the two previous sections after finishing the notebooks to which they relate. Now I feel I am more or less obliged to leave them as they stand. Notebook 3 begins with a dozen quite extraordinary pages covering just May and June 1976. It then re-starts at the end of October. In France, nothing is allowed to disturb les sacreés vacances, not even madness. (Holidays in France have the same religious status as the NHS in England). 

But the long break may have functioned rather like the clock ticking away in the traditional analysis: the patient saves the important things until the last five minutes. Geblesco treats June 1976 in the same way. On the 24 May, Geblesco tries to develop her own ideas about female paranoia in relation to castration, the ideas linked to the scandalous Japanese film Empire of the Senses (Ai No Corrida). Lacan turns his back on her (p 99). At the next meeting on 15 June, she launches her attack; the extraordinary narrative takes up eight pages (pp 100 - 112) and the editor rightly illustrates part of the text in its original holograph form. Geblesco wants to distinguish the transference which forms part of every analysis from what goes on (or should go on) in a supervision. She acknowledges but attacks her own transference - her fixation (she doesn’t use that word) - on Lacan. She says it’s ridiculous (p 101). She’s had a dream (she doesn’t tell Lacan but inserts the narrative at this point) in which her jealousy towards Gloria is obvious. In the dream the psychoanalyst Leclaire (who she does not know) appears as a jealous scoundrel who tells her Lacan is dead. And so on. Then she moves on to develop an interesting argument (to which Lacan gives his full attention) about how an analyst is a specific, real person in ways which mean that they cannot be helpful to any and every client indifferently. She turns this argument onto Lacan and interrogates herself - in front of him - as to what he might offer her, specifically, as a human being …. It continues at length and then, Thus, my question remains: What is it, beyond all the rest, of the BEING of the analyst, how does it intervene in the analysis, what is it of their specificity, what is it as a result of your being, of you in the analysis, and of me who receives? (p 105). It’s a passionate speech. Long silence. Lacan slowly and gently responds, and she says he has difficulty looking at her. By the time she leaves, she is high as a kite - at page 112 we get Aphrodite and Zeus and Dione, followed by St John the Evangelist, filia [brotherly love] in Greek and Laudate Dominum in Latin - and then a flashback to the divorce of her parents.

But there is something she says in launching her attack which suggests to me that she has also pulled rank on the bourgeois Lacan who counts his money in front of her: I was brought up as one of Racine’s princesses (p 103). 

 When Geblesco returns on 21 June, the seating has changed: Lacan is sitting in his analyst’s armchair; Geblesco is directed to the desk seat he normally occupies, so I sit down, more and more astonished (p 108). But to me it seems there is still a game going on in which the Master may well be as busy planning his next move as he is with counting his money or playing with his Borromean rings(or knots) - these grow in importance during the period covered by the notebooks but I can’t summons up any enthusiasm to discuss them.
Meetings resume at the end of October (p 112) with the first session reckoned “a good quarter of an hour” (p 114) and continue up until Christmas (p 133) with the meeting on 14 December reckoned a “long session” - “at least twenty minutes” (pp 130-31) included in which time is a discussion of what Geblseco should do about a patient who she thinks may act suicidally during the Christmas break. Should I tell her she can contact me in an emergency? Lacan: It’s up to you and, then, She won’t do it (pp 129 - 30).

Geblesco reflects on her intense feelings for Lacan and acknowledges the Father-identification (p 120); comments on other female visitors to Lacan (“high fashion” p 116; “very beautiful” p 128); notes the hateful and frightened atmosphere in the general assembly of the Ecole Freudienne (pp 121-22), and links her reaction on the death of André Malraux at seventy five to the fact that her father died without her seeing him again ( p 125), though she does not indicate for how long she had not seen him [ see now summary of Notebook 4] - much later there is a very curious reference to a psychiatric examination demanded by her father at the time of the divorce (p 135). In this notebook, Geblesco acknowledges that she may be writing for eventual publication ( p 131).

And so on. There was a sentence which struck me very forcibly and deserves quotation: Beaucoup d’humains sont morts sans avoir jamais parlé à personne - Lots of people die without ever having spoken to anyone. ( p 125).

There is then a very long gap before the last entry in Notebook 3, dated 2 April 1977, in which Geblesco writes that she has been very ill - from the description, a reader will infer cancer.

Notebook 4 (April 1977 - May 1978) opens with a statement that from the waiting room she can overhear an analysis going on in Lacan’s consulting room (p 141); a second incident, more dramatic, is reported at page 148. The salle d’attente system which Lacan operates strikes me as amateurish at best and unprofessional at worst.

She says she is drawn to a male client, not classically beautiful but … Lacan isn’t happy and at the end of the session insists she returns the following week (p 143). On 13 June Geblesco writes a sentence which could be a very good essay question, Love is analysis itself (p 147) and wants to know if one can get beyond the conventional explanation of love, Because it was me and because it was him/her. Lacan  issues a warning about her attraction to her client. At page 148 there is a first remark about the fact that Lacan is getting old.

Everything stops for Les Vacances and we jump from 14 June to 18 October 1977 on which date there appears to be no recognition that an improvement in one of Geblesco’s patient's mood may be due to the fact that she has had thyroid surgery and hasn’t been in analysis for the period of les vacances. 

Geblesco criticises Freud for a reductive/positivist failure to allow for any mysticism (p 150) and Lacan wants her to come back for another meeting the next day. She asks herself, Do I have to pay ( p 155). Yes, she does ( p 158 ) though she makes him take a cheque. I love discussing with him but if I have to pay for that, my means don’t allow me to do it often. At page 161 she finds it tiresome that there is no time to discuss a client’s case in depth. Page 167 she makes a slip and asks for her next appointment on 14 February; Gloria laughs, presumably recognising a Freudian slip when it’s put on a plate. In the entry for that date she writes that she has been talking to Julia Kristeva about him. Kristeva says that she loves Lacan a lot. Geblesco adds, Moi, aussi je l’aime beaucoup.( p 168).

There is then an important passage at page 169 where Geblesco appears to summarise what happened to her relationship to her real father: one day he takes you to the cinema and you never see him again.

Notebook 5 (June 1978 - September 1981). This last notebook chronicles the decline in Lacan’s health and the eventual acrimonious dissolution of the Ecole Freudienne de Paris. The language becomes more religious - Bible phrases and so on with magical numbers thrown in - and in other respects more abject: only illness has prevented me from obeying him and to be there when he wished (p 212). This is not quite true: she has shown herself capable of standing up to him and there is in this notebook 5 a passage where she seems to be making a pitch to occupy Lacan’s place as a thinker.

She  says she wants to work up the idea that The unconscious is structured like a lineage and immediately Lacan terminates the session which has only just begun (p 209). (She is thinking of the way in which a psychological burden can be carried over more than two generations, which I think is true). Lacan doesn’t like it when she expresses approbation for anyone else’s psychoanalytic work: I believe he didn’t really like it that I had expressed appreciation for A Didier-Weill. Not that he’s megalomaniac but he’s fragile …(p 203).

We learn more about her relationship with her own father. Lacan is much more for me than my own father (p 216) and she cries when Lacan dies, me who didn’t cry when my father died (p 250). These more frequent references to her own life in the last notebook, linked to Lacan’s decline and death, bring into the foreground the tragic aspect of these notebooks. Geblesco has spent six or seven years of her life making tiring journeys from Monaco to Paris and paying 400 ( latterly 500) francs a time to talk for a few minutes to someone who treats her badly. And maybe just because her own father treated her badly.

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