Homage: Anne Dufourmantelle— Analyst, Writer, Mother, Friend, Philosopher

By Avital Ronell. 

Staggered by grief and disbelief, I sit in Berlin two weeks short of my planned reunion with Anne in Switzerland, where we teach customarily together and take walks, talk, plan future extravagances. Incomprehensibly, my sweet companion was ripped from my side. I depended on her for outrageous bouts of insight and the way she pulled me out of existential ditches, prepared the ground for thinking, continually bringing psychoanalysis into a place of prestige, which it always risks losing. The students loved her. I can only imagine the transferential wreckage she leaves behind.... Anne was courageous in her life and the trajectories she created for different types of écriture. She crafted the Interview as an exemplary discursive form, a meeting place for psychoanalytic understanding and philosophical reflection. She pushed boundaries with soft power, facing the abysses of douceurand enticements of love, sex and the rest of the French values that brought surprised delight to my shores in the Anglo-American and Germanic precincts that I claim to command. Her physical beauty was never external to the ravishing capacities she showed as a writer. I suspect that I will now go into mourning disorder and refuse to accept the departure of this fully endowed human manifestation.

Even though it is not yet time for "Andenken"--Remembrance, Hölderlin's famous hymn--I would like to give you a glimpse of my encounter (rencontre) with Anne Dufourmantelle, which really knew no counter (contre), a strange granting or gift, a favor that I neither deserved nor asked for.  It's still too early for mourning's idealizations to start, so I am speaking from a raw place of a memory not yet fixed or interiorized. All we can know right now is that we must contend with the insufficiencies of mourning--also Hölderlin, which Anne and I talked about at length.

We spent a lot of time talking in fact, summoning hermeneutic energies. While I tended toward disastrous conclusions, she was a light-bearer. She held up a version of world-binding joy, but without compromise or shallow affirmation. Somewhere between Nietzsche and Arendt, she found joy to be capable of priming ethical stances. Joy tutors political discourse, according to Hannah Arendt, more profoundly than sorrow, more "talkative." The way Anne combined joy and ethical resolve must have moved her that last day. I still don't have all the details, but I speculate wildly about the responsible/irresponsible leap she took to bring two children into safety. I don't know what happened but this version of events still reminds me of my Anne, who sprung to action, spontaneously took care of others, wore herself down.

I met Anne well over twelve years ago. At the time, Suzanne Doppelt, directrice de collection at Bayard, introduced me to Frédéric Boyer. After some consultation, a deal was cut among the writer-editors. Both Anne and Frédéric agreed to publish me--she at Editions Stock and he, with Bayard. We started with a series of interviews conducted by Anne that were undecidably set between analytic sessions and theoretical probes. Before I knew it, Anne was rummaging in my psyche, discovering things that had been hidden until the searchlights of our intense sessions were switched on. She was pregnant with Maud, but nothing deterred her. She was still sexy. The kind of woman that made heads turn. I am not exaggerating.

Anne often had time for me and flew to New York, several times with Frédéric. As readers of Derrida we both had a sensitivity for the possible/impossible meanings of "donner le temps." I never understood how she made time for everything--her identities as analyst, writer, mother, friend, philosopher claimed her, yet she was able to make--find and give--time, exercising a kind of performative talent and granting of time. She made time for things and people, whereas I lived in the frenzied and shortened time zone of a fly. Anne appreciated my friends, enjoyed group or one-on-one conversation. Pierre Alferi, Anne and I would teach at Saas Fee every year and see each other at dinner, along with François Noudelmann, Catherine Malabou, Giorgio Agamben, Werner Hamacher (another beloved friend just lost, the Hegel of our era)---there are other names that belong here but I am not ready to enumerate or memorialize. I hope you can forgive me? I also do not want to expose anyone to the horror of inescapable pathos when one so dear, smart and suddenly snuffs out. 

As said, I'm not yet agreeing to accept the terms of this loss, incalculable and cruel, and I'm burrowing into a resolute type of mourning disorder, what Nietzsche also saw as Russian fatalism, when you just drop, freeze in the snow, expecting the pain to thaw one day. 


For the French version of Avital Ronell's text, published in the newspaper Libération, see here