A future psychoanalyst, Diana Sontag-Cohn, recklessly intertwines her own imagination with that of an unnamed patient known only by the letter X. X has failed to construct himself & invites the psychiatrist to extend her own self-constructive efforts on his behalf. The two of them are immediately looped into the construction of a third thing–their relationship–then a fourth & fifth–each one’s perception of this relationship under the shifting terms of the old pre-analysis selves–and so on. Out of the patient’s perception of emptiness & the psychiatrist’s gesture of filling, they build not one but several “worlds”. In the end, has the psychiatrist helped X to identify, find, or make himself ? No: but between them they have made an incalculable number of new psychological spaces, their exploration of which has made an incalculable number more. This labyrinthine dissipative system fails both of them & everything they have consigned to it re-emerges sooner or later in acts of insane violence.
When I received this book from the TLS for review, it was under such heavy embargo that minor reviewers like myself weren’t even allowed to know who had written it. The name would be backfilled into our copy on delivery. I would be required to show evidence that I had destroyed the ARC by an accepted secure method. At first I thought I must be reading a lost Richard Powers, written in the mid-80s & for some reason remaining unpublished. But at 120 pages the volume seemed too slim; & the text didn’t, in the end, seem recursive enough. Then I began to count the author’s many uses of the acronym DSC, the initials of worldbuilding psychiatrist Diana Sontag-Cohn, whose name comprises the first three words of the novel. With the exception of X, all the central characters share these initials; and in one entire–thankfully short–chapter, every character’s name is made from an anagram of Sontag-Cohn’s. This led to the inevitable recognition that I was holding in my hands an early product of the legendary Dynamical Systems Collective–perhaps their first and only foray into the literary arts! You can imagine my excitement. A tragedy that, in the end, it was withdrawn a week before publication–although the occasional ARC, untitled, unattributed & unread, can still be found in the Oxfams of Clapham, Highgate & Cambridge.
(This imaginary review is revised from a 2011 post & its BTL extension.)