On 3 January 2014 our friend, colleague and contributor Janet Thormann Mackintosh passed away in San Francisco (CA). She was Emeritus member of the English Faculty of the College of Marin, Kentfield (CA), where she taught for many years.
She was member of the Editorial Board of our Journal (JEP, now EJP) and a precious contributor to it, author of various Reviews throughout the years, which are listed below, and which are available on line.
As part of our tribute, we also publish for the first time online her review of
Juliet Mitchell, Siblings
The history of our Journal is inseparable from the indefectible, almost protective, presence of Janet. She actively joined the editorial board of JEP and EJP upon its creation in 1995. At the time she was member of a Lacanian psychoanalytic study and training group led by André Patzalides and based in Berkeley (CA). It was a fresh group of “pioneers” who felt isolated in a psychoanalytic context still entirely dominated by IPA psychoanalysis.
After the group broke up, Janet remained a member of our editorial board. Her devotion to the Journal was a clear statement of the fact that it was an adventure that amused and fascinated her. She was our referee for articles, and never refused to copy-edit a text we submitted to her. At times, during periods of stagnation, if she did not receive any articles to review or edit, she would write to us, almost in anger: “why aren’t you sending me any work?”
She was not a psychoanalyst; she taught English and was an expert of medieval and modern English poetry. In the last period of her life she struggled against time to finish and refine her book on Chaucer. Perhaps for this reason – with all her coherent humbleness – she never submitted her own texts to us, but exclusively Reviews of books published by others. She was a real literary (and psychoanalytic) critic. Her reviews were brilliant, elegant, sometimes with striking intuitions. Our most faithful and prolific reviewer.
Two words can sum up Janet as we knew her in the long years we worked together: commitment and generosity. Commitment for many things, because she was an authentic “idealist”, in the American sense of the term: she authentically felt a citizen of America and of the World, she would follow the political affairs of her country and of the planet with sincere involvement, as if the problems of humanity were her own personal ones. An earnest ‘leftist’, feminist, devoted to Cultural Studies, fascinated by the Lacanian re-reading of Freud.
For her “the neglected ones”, both in literary and social fields, mattered. In fact, she wrote her Ph.D. dissertation on an anonymous medieval poem. In the summers of 1966 and 1967, she taught English in Alabama to African American students with very low test ‘scores,’ which she managed to bring up in just those two summers.
Modest, but by no means shy, Janet was, however pacifically, a warrior. She never hesitated to flaunt her political beliefs, her cultural preferences, even against those in front of her, but always avoiding arrogance. Janet “believed” in things. She was an American intellectual who was part of what we might call – if it has ever existed – the ‘Intellectual American Dream’.
Farewell, Janet. You will be greatly missed.
The Editorial Board of EJPsy. European Journal of Psychoanalysis
Janet Thormann’s two main research interests have been Old English poetry and psychoanalysis. She has published readings in a Lacanian key of Chaucer’s “Shipman’s Tale, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Art Spiegelmann’s Maus. She published articles on the meaning of the child in the 19th century through Henry James; on Derridean concept of absence and “The Lament of the Sole Survivor” in Beowulf; on Slavoj Žižek and the Real in “The Battle of Brunanburh”; on the representation of Jews in Old English narrative poetry.
She was herself a poet. She published two poetry books: At A Loss (in 1986) and Pluto Transit (in 1995), both by White Rabbit Press.
During the past few years, she has tried to arouse a concern among psychoanalysts and psychotherapists for human rights in essays on Arundahati Roy’s The Good of Small Things, J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians, and Shoshana Felman’s The Juridical Unconscious.
Violence and the law were her current preoccupations.
The following is a list of Janet’s Reviews published in JEP and EJP.
JEP n. 8-9
JEP n. 10-11
Lacan and the Matter of Origins
JEP n. 12-13
The Empty Ethics of Drive: Review of The Ethics of the Real
JEP n. 17
EJP n. 22
M. Guy Thompson:
The Ethic of Honesty
EJP n. 23
The Puerto Rican Sindrome,
EJP n. 25
EJP n. 28
From Guilt to Shame: Auschwitz and after
I remember Janet editing one of my texts for our Journal. She was meticulous, patient, impeccable. On that occasion we worked together via computer in real time for several days. And I remember many other occasions, while I was still editor of EJP, when we would exchange scores of emails to polish her practically perfect editing of which she was never entirely satisfied. This gave rise to a peculiar alliance/friendship based on a commitment to the Journal for which Janet worked with enthusiasm, skill, tenacity. I have rarely found such generosity in someone’s work. Then one evening in Rome she came to my house for dinner with other friends and colleagues, and I could finally appreciate in person her intelligence, her refined culture, her sense of humor. Goodbye, Janet, and thanks again. It may sound banal, but the Journal won’t be the same without you. We’ll miss you.
former co-editor of the “European Journal of Psychoanalysis”
Letter to Janet’s daughter, Gabrielle
Even though I was aware of your mother’s sickness I had formed the idea in my mind that her strength and will to live would have kept her with us for much longer. And I feel a pang in my heart when I think that I failed to contact her for such a long time, all wrapped up in my everyday troubles. In a state of numbing shock until now, I am able to cry now while writing to you.
Yes, Janet definitely loved life in almost all its aspects. Quoting from one of her emails, when she was ill with her chemo: “So life goes on, as much as it can, and I’m glad to have every moment of it.” She enjoyed both sipping the taste of life, its profound pleasures, and being committed to the attainment of social justice as well as to the liberation of the human mind.
We were friends. We met often when she came regularly to Rome. This was for her a city both of excitement and freethinking. We spent hours at times sitting on the steps of Trastevere’s churches discussing thorny problems of psychoanalysis and politics, but mainly about our ethical stance. Ours were very different indeed: her passionate faith in what seemed both daring and good to her and my ingrained European skepticism. And yet she needed my challenges to her faith (to reinforce it?) as I did need her having faith on my behalf.
A scholar of English, she read, wrote and thought of psychoanalysis as only a few psychoanalysts are able to do. Not being an analyst she tried to contribute to its task of deliverance with literary, critical and editing skills, which she applied with extreme rigor and joy. That subtle joy that I will always cherish as a gift Janet left me.
May you too cherish the gifts your mother left you in this moment of grief .