The Burial of the Dead: The Psychoanalytic Pass in Harold Brodkey's 'This Wild Darkness'

By:
Dr. Tom Ratekin
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In this paper I argue that the autobiographical writing collected in Harold Brodkey’s 1996 memoir This Wild Darkness (which addresses his AIDS diagnosis and his experiences with terminal illness) reflects a process similar to the psychoanalytic Pass developed by Jacques Lacan, and as such symbolically ends the relationships with his deceased relatives that Brodkey maintained in his fictional works. To complete the Pass, the passant tells the story of his/her analysis to two randomly selected people, who are not necessarily advocates. This unusual insertion of a mediator between the judging body and the person being judged reveals Lacan’s concern that the analyst be able to surrender authority and be able to speak from a place without ego, or from the position of the dead. Brodkey’s memoir (and the memoir in general) reflects this surrendering process as he narrates his story to a group of readers who are mostly strangers. This Wild Darkness differs from his fiction in that Brodkey reflexively acknowledges the particular fantasies underlying his choices both in life and his fiction. The result is an extinguishing of the pleasure that came from communing with his dead parents and imaginary characters; however, this loss also produces a new relief and exuberance for life that prompts the writing of the memoir and creates its unusual tone.

Thus the Pass and the memoir present similar ways of traversing the fantasy. AIDS and the proximity of death ends Brodkey’s dialogue with his ghosts by presenting a clear limit on his time and forcing him into a consciousness of the present. As Brodkey explains, “Memory, so complete and clear or so evasive, has to be ended, has to be put aside, as if one were leaving a chapel and bringing the prayer to an end in one’s head” (TWD 172).


Keywords: Jacques Lacan, La Passe, Harold Brodkey, Memoir, Psychoanalysis
Stream: Literature, Literary Studies
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Burial of the Dead, The


Dr. Tom Ratekin

Lecturer, Department of English, Barnard College
New York, New York, USA

Tom Ratekin teaches English at Barnard College in New York City. He has published in Prose Studies and The CEA Critic,and his research focuses on issues of genre, contemporary culture, and psychoanalysis. His dissertation explored the psychoanalytic process of traversing the fantasy in terminal illness memoirs, and his current project analyzes the causes and effects of self-exposure in the popular media.

Ref: H06P0592