The following is a recreation of an event, an occupation of 60 Wall Street in New York, an endangered public atrium, by psychoanalyst Jamieson Webster, her publisher Divided (represented by its co-editor and co-publisher Eleanor Ivory Weber), and Hard to Read, a literary social practice founded in 2016 and organized by author Fiona Alison Duncan. Duncan and Webster have previously collaborated in interviews, on essays, events, and even merch. Webster is known for reanimating the tradition of psychoanalysis through her private practice, her public performances, and her writing (found in the New York Review of Books, Spike Art Magazine, and the New York Times, among other publications). Disorganisation & Sex is Webster’s fourth book, following The Life and Death of Psychoanalysis (Karnac, 2011), Conversion Disorder (Columbia University Press, 2018), and Stay, Illusion! The Hamlet Doctrine (Pantheon, 2013), co-authored with Simon Critchley, and marks the first partnership between Webster and Divided. Webster joins anarchist and artist Georgia Sagri, writer and legal theorist Aurelia Guo, poet Fanny Howe, and political theorist Joy James in Divided’s genre-blending catalog. In the first part of her contribution to V/A and our ongoing theme focus Fabulating, Duncan writes about her thoughts while planning the book launch at 60 Wall Street and the importance of the venue. The second consists of an edited version of the discussion that took place during the event. Her report is accompanied by photos taken on the occasion by Asya, a nurse and artist based between New York and Boston.
I once asked the psychoanalyst Jamieson Webster for a letter on beauty. “Did you ever hear the joke,” her reply began, “Why is 6 afraid of 7?” With Webster at home in New York, I had someone else read her letter at an event in Berlin. Now it’s his German-accented English I hear serving the punchline, “Because 7 ate 9…” along with the rest of Webster’s reply, which did not contain a single mention of beauty – although it did take place in a dream, that fertile realm for analysis where a number like 6 could represent, as Webster suggests, a person kneeling in prayer, a pregnant woman, or a boot, and letters: A letter could be L. Letting could be to allow.
A version of Webster’s trickster-ish letter or dream on, if anything, the beauty of correspondence found its way into her latest book Disorganisation & Sex, published the sixth month of 2022 by Divided, a cute name for a press that’s all about blending genres and catching work that might otherwise fall between the cracks of industry standards. After Divided’s co-editor and co-publisher Eleanor Ivory Weber and I had united in a plan to host a New York launch for Disorganisation & Sex, Jamieson, ever the connector, proposed that we schedule it on the sixth anniversary of my literary social practice Hard to Read. Of course she riffed on this too: Six and Sex. Not to mention that our setting was 60 Wall Street.
I was determined to host an event in the contested space of 60 Wall Street’s public atrium before it was gutted since I had missed my opportunity to take the stage at a similar location: the East River Park Amphitheater. The Amphitheater, an eighty-year-old structure where local communities, including my own, had congregated freely, was torn down in late 2021 as part of a “coastal redevelopment plan” that claimed flood-proofing and climate protection as its purpose. Local activists were skeptical of this and concerned that the park’s redesign would actually serve gentrification. After much back-and-forth, the redevelopment plan went ahead; nearly 1,000 mature trees were uprooted, along with the iconic Amphitheater. (As a concession, a skeletal stand-in for the Amphitheater has been proposed. Lacking seating and the ability to amplify sound, the design isn’t functional except as a symbol and giver of shade.)
60 Wall Street atrium is a dream. Completed in 1989, the space was designed by Kevin Roche, the Irish-American architect responsible for the visitor-favorite gallery in the Metropolitan Museum of Art where the Temple of Dendur resides, the gallery where the Met Gala is, the one, until recently called the Sackler Wing, with the massive pyramid-like slanted wall of glass that looks out onto Central Park and better still, lets passersby look in day and night. Roche, who died in 2019 with 200 structures to his name, made playfully-corporate buildings that brought nature inside. He loved a full tree inside. He lined his sparkling mirrored and Carrara white marble-tiled Wall Street atrium with them.
The private real estate investment firm that owns 60 Wall Street, the Paramount Group, would have destroyed Roche’s atrium by now had preservation activists not been challenging its sterile design proposals. In a win for adornment, the Paramount Group’s latest proposal, which annihilates any evidence of Roche’s 1989 leisure-encouraging postmodern spectacle in favor of the kind of stark straight lines that disincentivize lingering and propel you to walk back to work was denied by New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission on September 20, 2022. The private firm will persist of course and unless the atrium is granted protected landmark status, just as Roche’s glamorous United Nations Plaza Hotel lobby and restaurant were in 2017, we’ll be at risk of losing yet another site made for people, leisure, and pleasure.
Zoned as “Privately Owned Public Space (POPS),” the 60 Wall Street atrium must be maintained “for public use and enjoyment.” The Paramount Group, however, has let it creep into disrepair. None of the interior storefronts have been leased in years. The fountains are dry and the plants have been artificial at least since Occupy Wall Street. Occupy used to meet in the atrium, making use of its seating and heating, like many unhoused people and local workers on break do now. There is only one working bathroom in the atrium, with no working light. The other bathroom is broken. The white plastic chairs, cheap compared to the original design’s bistro seating, are breaking apart.
Since the Paramount Group has begun to overhaul the parts of the building it can, from the outside, you wouldn’t even know the atrium is there, shrouded as it is in construction materials.
All of this was deliberately engaged with by Webster, Divided, and myself: A free public event on in a disorganized location on Wall Street, where money is sex – where the values are all backwards, 9 ate 7 and 6… A couple weeks before our event, Webster had published an op-ed in the Times about the teenage suicide epidemic. When I asked her why teens were hurting so much, she said, “I think… they feel like they know everything and that nothing is possible. It’s as if there are no secrets or secret worlds anymore.” We wanted our event to feel like sharing a secret. We didn’t get a permit. We just pulled up. Thanks to the First Amendment, it is legal to sell books in public spaces in the U.S. It is also legal to congregate; the only thing that isn’t is amplifying sound. Fearing policing, we chose to broadcast our talk through our phones. There was no way our voices alone would carry in this cavern. Over one hundred people came. We asked them to sit real close or to dial a number and listen to our talk through their phones. (I stole the concept from Amalia Ulman, who used the same technology at a reading in a public park.) Jamieson loved it, she wanted to “disorganize our relationships with our phones.”
Webster read first from her book’s Preface in her hypnotic voice: “When I think about sex as psychoanalysis conceives of it, I hear the phrase ‘Water, water everywhere, not any drop to drink…’ […] I’m telling you it’s a sexual desert out there, while speaking to the reality of sexual fluids, and a desire for fluid-life sexual exchange. I’m telling you my concerns about a contemporary sexual anorexia or sexual dehydration…”
The fountains were dry. The plants were facsimiles of living things. I actually spent hours upon hours organizing this event. In my memory of it, we didn’t talk this much about sex – but then again, when I hear six, sick is the word that comes to mind.
Eleanor Ivory Weber Thank you all for coming. My name is Eleanor Ivory Weber and with Camilla Wills, we are Divided. Our distributors are based in the United States and the United Kingdom. At large, we publish authors who cannot balance or resolve their contradictions and who struggle to make peace in the industry, genre, category, or world in which they end up. The experimental form of the writing we publish comes out of a need and resistance to categories and commodification. There is no self-preservation if you want to change. Publishing brings contact with the unknown. There is no imagined reader prior to the event of reading. We are interested in writing as a medium that loosens the grip of the status quo, putting everything in movement, disrupting patterns of thought, and trusting the reader, a kind of writing that has let go of the need for control. Disorganisation & Sex is an edit of Jamieson Webster’s writing from the last decade. Her method is psychoanalysis.
Fiona Alison Duncan To start I wanted to read this Courtney Love blurb on the back of your book, Jamieson. It says, “Who knew the hole was what Freud had in mind when he invented psychoanalysis and wouldn’t stop saying ‘sex.’ Take a tumble into Wonderland with Dr. Webster and decide for yourself what counts as [lowercase r] real…” Courtney Love. Should I call you Dr. Webster?
Jamieson Webster Courtney once asked me if psychoanalysis was really all about penises and vaginas. And I said to her, “No it’s about hole.”
FAD Love is, of course, the lead singer of the band Hole – for any of you who missed that.
JW She loves psychoanalysis. As a poet with pitch perfect rhyme and meter, she especially loves Lacan.
FAD Speaking of holes, can we talk about the structure of the book? It’s disorganized or disordered. Why that for a book about sex and psychoanalysis?
JW Nobody wants to look at their old writing. Nobody wants to see their disorganized inconsistencies and horrifying things that you’ve put down on paper, but Divided made me see that there was something worth putting together. One of the great things about Divided is that they really seek the off-moment. This could have been a collection of essays that was incredibly organized around themes and the way that we all understand academic books to be published – but they don’t do that. They picked bits and pieces, they created an unraveling of sentences, they hodgepodged things together. And then they made the craziest decision as far as I’m concerned, which is to pick the longest most laborious sentence-by-sentence reading of Lacan and shove it into the middle, it’s like a 6,000 word essay. And then around it, you find this amalgam of personal papers, dreams, case studies, bits and pieces of thinking. I also have Divided to thank for the title. In the beginning, I was like, Really, that’s the title that you want? They were absolutely certain that it characterized something that they were doing with my writing, and I love it. I think people like carrying around this book that has this crazy title. It also brings me to an anecdote, which is during my analytic training, a psychiatrist who will remain unnamed said to another group of training psychoanalysts, “What’s up with Jamieson? She’s some kind of hot mess.” So I feel like I have my revenge. This is my hot mess book.
FAD Could you read a little bit from what you call “the mess”?
JW Camilla, one of the editors of Divided, put this together. She was really taken with my having all these different fonts and stylistic idiosyncratic idiosyncrasies across all my papers. She asked, “Why do you use all these fonts?” And I said, “Well, as a writer, it’s all you have. All you can do is change the stupid font every time you start writing something.” So she wanted to reproduce lines of mine in their ridiculous, original fonts. This is in the very back of the book, it’s called an “unraveling…”
[JW reads from the “unraveling” “mess,” starting with the line, “The cure, according to Freud, was simply sexual satisfaction, which he placed on the side of reality…” until “Money means nothing to him. By what means do we gain access to desire? With what do we pay? (It’s very hard to treat Wall Street.) We will never and have never been at home in pleasure…”]
FAD In a group text message thread I’m in, you recently wrote that: “There are truths, singular truths about you, your history, why you desire what you do, not authentic self, but something so particular that I can only be yours that is found in analysis.” I was drawn to this idea of singularity, which is repeated in your book; you speak of “singular truths,” “singular listening,” and “what is singular to speaking subjects.” Could you elaborate on singularity?
JW The context for this text was that Matt [Hilvers, Duncan’s boyfriend] had asked me about the breaking of the masks in analysis. He asked, “Is it just that? Is it just a process of disillusionment? You confront the fantasy, what you believe in the imaginary, and you just break this down?” Yes, that’s a very important part of analysis, but I actually think the other part of what comes forward – these singular truths about a person that are discovered and found along the edges – are as important or more important. If it was just a process of the deconstruction of self, then you’re a puddle, and you slide out the door like a pile of water. Actually, many of the [indecipherable? Lacanians?] talk about it this way: That you lose all your being, you lose all of your narcissism, the whole edifice collapses… But I think that that misses something very important, which is that you hear something about yourself, your history, what you’ve inherited; you hear and understand a little bit more about the makeup that’s absolutely unique to you. I don’t just want to be a sledgehammer. A patient actually called me a sledgehammer this week. I am sometimes a sledgehammer. But this other aspect of analysis and the transmission of it is very important to me. It’s what makes psychoanalysis not pop psychology, not self help, not just memes on the internet. And it’s what gives us a bad rap, I think. because we can’t just easily translate to the public what it is that we do. I write about cases. The cases are here in order to demonstrate something of this process, but it’s very difficult. It can make patients angry, they find themselves, there’s ethical implications. When you write about a patient at a moment in a treatment, you’ve reified something, because you’ve taken it out in a moment. But I do believe that there’s something important to doing this, which is why I have the cases in most of my writing.
FAD The case studies are where the book really comes alive to me. It’s where the practice of analysis starts to make sense to me as it becomes more like literature at its best, narrating the uniqueness and universalities of different lived experiences. There’s this book called Singular Pleasures by Harry Mathews that I was just reminded of. It’s a book of vignettes of masturbation scenarios, which Disorganisation & Sex also contains.
JW There’s a funny backstory to the masturbation fantasies. Jessie Pearson, who started Apology magazine (Apology was an apology for creating Vice) had said to me, “What’s your dream project?” I mean, the idea that anyone would say this to me is like a miracle. I mean, the fact that we’ve been here all together is like a miracle to me also. So thank you. What’s my dream project? I said, “I want lots of masturbation fantasies and I want to create graphs and charts out of them.” So he goes, “Great, let’s do that!” “No,” I said, “You can’t get them.” There’s even this idea that in analysis it takes 15 years for you to finally reveal your masturbation fantasy… “How are you just going to get them? You will just get stories refracted through pornography. This is going to be terrible. This is a bad idea…” Staying with this idea of singularity, what he had to try to do was to get anonymous masturbation fantasies that sounded like a pure creation. I didn’t think he could do it. It took him a long time. He spent two years trying to get them. People would say “okay,” and then renege. After two years, he got five. But the five are incredible. I was totally blown away, I love them so much. I’ll just read you some of the first fantasies I got…
[JW reads three masturbation fantasies, one set in a shower, one involving stockings and scentless farting, and in the last, a room full of older women…]
JW At the very end of the chapter, I sum up some of the interesting questions that are brought up by the masturbation fantasies. You have farting, washing, teaching, massaging… What’s so beautiful is that these have all the tenor and the feeling of infancy where you’re passed around, washed, taught things and touched, tenderly. It asks this really interesting question about how infantile sexuality, what we like to call pre-Oedipal sexuality, stays with us for the entirety of our lives. How it still organizes and disorganizes our sexuality. None of the fantasies involved penetration really. It wasn’t about that. It was about the scene, it was about the language, and it was about constructing it for themselves. This is where the speakers experienced the highest and most confusing pleasure. Fiona is now going to confess her masturbation fantasy –