Prof Mignon Nixon with Prof Juliet Mitchell
This course is conceived as a dialogue between art and psychoanalysis on questions of war protest. It focuses on art produced in response to American wars in the period after the Second World War, heralded as a time of sustained peace and prosperity after two world wars fought with the declared aim “to end all war.” Often, the wars in question—in particular the Vietnam War, the first and second Gulf Wars, and the Afghanistan War—have been portrayed as military interventions intended to preserve or restore this “post-war” condition of peace. We will use psychoanalysis to reflect upon artistic resistance to “wars of peace.” Our proposition will be that artistic responses to these war situations work to expose the unspoken, or even unconscious, motivations for war in the name of peace, and to galvanize social awareness, or raise consciousness, about the underlying trends in this mode of imperial aggression.
The course will begin by looking briefly at the idea of “post-war” art, a category that persists in art-historical scholarship today, and at the cultural fantasies, and corresponding repressions, that shaped this period in art—for example, the liberatory rhetoric of “expressionism” and the stereotype of the “happy housewife,” later interrogated by Betty Friedan. Louise Bourgeois will be a key figure for this discussion. Another central question for this part of the course will be the extent to which post-war ideals are predicated on the repression of guilt and mourning. Noting, for example, that 2010 was the first year the United States government sent an official representative to the commemoration of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, we will consider art works, some produced recently, which examine historical amnesia of this event.
The course will focus closely on art produced in opposition to the Vietnam War. Nancy Spero’s War Series (1966-1970) and Martha Rosler’s Bringing the War Home project (1967-1972) offer primary instances of anti-war work. We will also look at work that eschews violent imagery in favour of promoting peace. The performance works of Yoko Ono and Yayoi Kusama are pivotal in this regard. Among other projects to be explored in this part of the course are works by Yvonne Rainer, Carolee Schneemann, May Stevens, and such groups as the Art Workers’ Coalition and Women Artists in Revolution. The role of an emergent feminism in shaping war resistance will be a significant theme.
The course will also consider recent artistic interventions in war discourse. We will, for example, consider Silvia Kolbowski’s After Hiroshima Mon Amour (2008) and Rosalyn Deutsche’s critical study Hiroshima After Iraq (2010). The role of women in the military, as investigated in relation to the first Gulf War by Mary Kelly (Gloria Patri, 1992) and more recently by Coco Fusco (A Room of One’s Own: Women and Power in the New America, 2006), will be one point of focus. Another will be the sexualisation of violence as a manifestation and weapon of war. Here we will look, in particular, at some recent work of Thomas Hirschhorn and will compare his use of illicit war photography to Nancy Spero’s earlier exploration of fantasies of sexualized violence in the War Series.
The course will draw extensively from Juliet Mitchell’s recent writing and ongoing research on questions of war in the context of her work on siblings (see Siblings: Sex and Violence, 2003). Professor Mitchell will take part in the course throughout the year, with a particular focus on directing discussions of psychoanalytic texts and bringing psychoanalytic methodologies to bear on the material. She will also take a role in advising students on their research. The course will be conducted as a dialogue between disciplines. The potential of art and art history to challenge and enrich psychoanalysis will be as significant as the potential of psychoanalysis to illuminate art’s critical engagements with war. We will read texts in psychoanalysis from Freud to the present day (including selections from the work of Melanie Klein, Wilfred Bion, Franco Fornari, D.W. Winnicott, and Juliet Mitchell). The course readings will also draw upon art-historical and critical literature, artists’ writings, and other writings on war.
Funding permitting, the course will include a study visit to New York at the end of the taught phase of the seminar. The purpose of the trip is to facilitate students’ dissertation research. Students will have the scope to explore topics of individual interest, including topics in contemporary art, throughout the course, and particularly at dissertation stage.
Students with a strong interest in psychoanalysis, feminism, and gender are particularly encouraged to apply for this Option. No previous study of psychoanalysis is required.
A note about the Mellon Visiting Professor
Juliet Mitchell PhD is Director of the Expanded Doctoral School in Psychoanalytic Studies at University College London Psychoanalysis Unit. She is also the Founder Director of theCentre for Gender Studies at the University of Cambridge, a Research Fellow at the Department of Human Geography, University of Cambridge and Fellow Emeritus of Jesus College, University of Cambridge. She is a Fellow of the British and International Psychoanalytical Societies.
Some preliminary reading
- Bion, Wilfred R. War Memoirs, 1917-1919. London: Karnac Books, 1997.
- Buchloh, Benjamin H.D. and Rachel Churner. “Introduction.” October 123 (Winter 2008), pp. 3-8.
- Butler, Judith. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London: Verso, 2004.
- Deutsche, Rosalyn. Hiroshima After Iraq: Three Studies in Art and War. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.
- Fornari, Franco. The Psychoanalysis of War. Trans. Alenka Pfeifer. Garden City, New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1974. “Introduction.”
- Freud, Sigmund. “Thoughts for the Times on War and Death” (1915). In J. Strachey (ed.),The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1953-74, vol. 14.
- Freud, Sigmund. “Why War?” (1933). In Standard Edition, volume 21.
- Garb, Tamar and Mignon Nixon, “A Conversation with Juliet Mitchell.” October 113 (Summer 2005).
- Klein, Melanie. Narrative of a Child Analysis (1961). In The Writings of Melanie Klein. London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1975.
- Rose, Jacqueline. “Why War?” In Why War? Psychoanalysis, Politics, and the Return to Melanie Klein. Oxford: Blackwell, 1993, pp. 15-40.
- Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. New York: Picador, 2004.
- Woolf, Virginia. “Three Guineas” (1938). In A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
LANGUAGE AND OTHER REQUIREMENTS
Standard entry requirements.