Klondike Korner: Jeanne Randolph Analyzes Everything

Jeanne Randolph may have a different working title for the book project she’s writing during her residency at Berton House by the time she reads at the Whitehorse Public Library on June 29.

It will be a study of pantheism, a look at our culture’s adoration of commodities, as demonstrated by the structures littered around the streetscapes of Las Vegas; the copies of famous international artifacts and buildings that are sometimes mistaken for the real thing.

She illustrates this with the tale of how the Vegas copy of the Statue of Liberty ended up on a United States postage stamp instead of the original.

It’s difficult to say just how the talk in Whitehorse will go as compared to the one in Dawson, since Randolph has her own peculiar agenda when it comes to public airings of her ideas.

“My favourite thing, whenever I have to exhibit myself in public,” she says, “is discussion and talking, but it’s my job to provoke that.”

In this case the provocation began with a response to my introduction of her to the audience of about a dozen gathered in the Dawson Community Library.

What, I asked, was the connection between her and the online link after her name at the website for the Berton House Writers’ Retreat, which happened to be to a project page called “Art School Anatomies”?

Not much, she replied in her gentle Texas accent. But then she went on, and it all made sense.

Art schools, she explained, need to be psychoanalyzed.

Randolph is variously described as “one of Canada’s foremost cultural theorists”, “a psychoanalytically-biased” and “autonomous intellectual.”

She’s not sure about labels – any labels – but is happy to admit (many times over during an hour) that she applies psychoanalytic theory to everything, and that all of her work has a Freudian slant, although Freud himself didn’t work much with artists, so he might not recognize it.

In dealing with the art world she produces what is called ficto-criticism, defined as a way of commenting on the work under consideration by treating it as the springboard for something else entirely.

Asked to write some brochure notes for an exhibition of words and images on pictures taken along lakeshores, she produced a poem called Along the Lakeshore: an incantation for John & Paul”which does not directly refer to the exhibition.

It begins, “As you shuffle along the lakeshore you may find yourself wondering whether you are between a rock and a hard place, between a mean and a sweet face …” and carries on with odd but effective juxtapositions for some 600 words.

You can read the entire thing by searching for that title on the internet.

Jeanne Randolph makes a point during her reading at the Dawson Community Library (PHOTO: Dan Davidson)

She tells us that being at Berton House has changed her life and that she may never leave Dawson.

We hear that a lot. In fact, an earlier guest at the residence, Mylène Gilbert-Dumas, has been in town for the last fortnight, for the second time now, intending to see solstice as part of the research for a novel.

Berton House sees four writers here annually for three month stints and they often leave reluctantly.

Randolph continues for a little over an hour, stringing pearls (as she says) in a non-linear approach to a lecture that takes in the ideology of technology, Barbie dolls, and seven years worth of research into the idea of “the holy”.

The latter pursuit is what took her to Vegas and to the idea of “Las Vegas Pantheism”, the working title for her next book. Earlier books include Psychoanalysis and Synchronized Swimming (1993) and The Ethics of Luxury (2008).

Randolph gives a fascinating talk and is more than open to give and take once she is done. If you can’t imagine a non-linear string of pearls, give her a try for something new.

After 32 years teaching in rural Yukon schools, Dan Davidson retired from that profession but continues writing about life in Dawson City.

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