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What I Know About Penises
An evening of reflection, collaboration, song, image and acting (out) inspired by
the book “What I Know About Penises” by Shelly Silver

The Public School, Brooklyn, NY | December 13, 2013
Video Image for What I Know About Penises

Rorschach Cock, 2010, Giclee print, dimensions variable (book back-cover image)

A Wreck / Erect

It was contingency, the fortuitous timing of Shelly’s invitation, as well as a passage or two in her book, that prompted the nature of my testimony tonight, which admittedly may be better suited to a more vain discourse, but here goes:

I have had periodically since I was eighteen a repeating nightmare in which I’m awake but paralyzed, unable to escape or retaliate against a menacing presence that in most variations of the dream approaches me from behind. I cannot see it or hear it. I call out for help. I struggle to move, to run, but am immobilized, petrified, like wood. My unheard cries continue until I scream myself awake, to reconstitute what I recognize again as reality, and save myself from the encroaching horror.

This waking nightmare usually occurred during protracted bouts of insomnia, when the desire or wish to sleep went unfulfilled. The sleeplessness, which I now recognize was a symptom, could last for nights on end. It was a struggle to live through the intervening days, to keep up appearances, to remain upright, when all I wanted was sleep. But somehow I managed to do it.

These corresponding phenomena, each somehow conspiring with the other, began to vanish with a punctuation my analyst made during a session in April, when she resounded something I said, “I’m a wreck”. I began seeing this analyst in May last year. She was a student of Jacques Lacan, late Lacan, which means my analysis is less comparable to treatment or therapy than to sky–diving or paintballing – a type of thrill-seeking but necessary pursuit or experience. Anyway, tonight I have the chance to testify to this particular mode of enjoyment. What I have to contribute is not so much “what I know about penises”, but by association, the phallus, or worse, castration, it’s real signification, which is anything but easy to want to know anything at all about.

Keeping with the algebra of the analyst discourse, I refer here to my analyst as a, lower case a. Her simple homophonic interpretation has produced multiple effects. I’ve transcribed most of them in my journals, which I’ve kept, not coincidentally, since I was eighteen. Here are some of the most relevant passages.

April 9, 2013, 2:34 PM, NYC, 78º
“My insomnia has not abated. The transference must be at work, for I’ve only ever experienced it this badly in relationships. Yesterday, when I answered her question about how my body felt on the days when I had no sleep, ‘heavy yet alert, agitated – I’m a wreck’, a asked ‘You’re erect?’ and cut the session. I laughed, anxiously, and was incredulous, for it had only been ten minutes!”

April 28, 2013, 11:55 AM, the desert, 67º
“I tried to nap but couldn’t. I may be ‘erect’ after a night of insomnia, but ‘a wreck’ insinuates castration. And appearance plays a part. On days after sleepless nights I feel exposed, vulnerable to the looks of others, of appearing deficient, deprived, lacking. The waking nightmare can be construe as my dream to sleep, or better, neither can I sleep to dream nor dream to sleep. When I said this to a, she reminded me of something Lacan said, ‘one wakes from a dream in order to keep dreaming’. Another signifier emerges, ‘I’m awake’ – alert, an aftermath, a viewing. When my older brother Chris was asleep he appeared to be awake. He was hydrocephalic and his eyes would not close all the way. He also had spina bifida and was paralyzed from the head down. He was never able to stand up, on his own two feet.”

June 28, 2013, 9:57 AM, the desert, 74º
a had asked if I was afraid that she would harm the ideal mother, which confused me. She said my mother was ideal because she wasn’t castrated, and this was because of Chris. This later made sense to me via the signifier ‘a wreck/erect’. Her ‘exception’ to or from motherhood continued long after Chris’ death, long after her own death.”

October 3, 2013, 11:20 PM, NYC, 67º
“Today I began the session with a by sharing my ‘caption’ for one of the basic aims of the analysis, which came to me last night in the throes of insomnia, ‘to cross the Mother’, and with it three iterations: defiance, traversal, and memorialization. She then abruptly replied, “We’ll stop there”, and ended the session. I was baffled and laughed nervously. Soon after leaving what I had missed caught me, the mother of them all, “crossing out the Mother”. It was the first time I spoke of the barred Other, the Other that doesn’t exist, and not just read about it. By chance Rachel texted me tonight from Joshua Tree on her way to the desert. It looks as if we’ll be there together.”

Today, December 13, 2013, 11:11 AM, NYC, 29º
“I was thrown recently when a, in reply to my interpretation of a dream in which she appeared as a Jekyll and Hyde-like character, asked me what I have to hide. I laughed, but immediately made the link to Chris, as a secret, hidden from the condemnations of the 1960s, and the effort my parents made to keep up appearances. But my later, more incisive answer is that what I had to hide, to defend against, was her castration. This is why the need to hide, to keep a secret, to uphold appearances, has fallen away. If not, I wouldn’t have accepted Shelly’s invitation to tell you what I now know. In fact, it was while writing this that a third ‘wreck’ arrived – rec room, recreation, play.”

Images are from “Rorschach Cock”, a portfolio of 10 Giclee Prints with acrylic paint, edition of 12, with two of each print available individually, 1 AP and 1 PP, short dimension 24 inches.

Robert Buck © 2013


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