March 17th, 2012 / 11:49 am
Author Spotlight

The Perfect Stutter: My Only Wife by Jac Jemc

Consider the last breath of Jac Jemc’s forthcoming novel My Only Wife:

“My wife slid the key in the lock, turned it, and and then slipped down the stairs.
The one truth I know is that I came home.
I climbed the stairs, light and unknowing.
I slid my own key into the lock, turned and pushed.”

Notice the repetition of the word “and” in that top line. It’s a stutter so subtle it could be mistaken as a typo, but I hope it’s not a typo. I hope it’s strategically placed, because I believe it’s perfect. Such a small thing: the word and. But such a large thing it conveys.

Hesitation. Frozen in the moment, if only for a moment.

So beautifully rendered but emotionally wrenching, Jemc’s novel brings to mind images by Lucien Freud:

Lucien Freud, who told curators at the Tate Britain museum in advance of a major show in 2002, “I’m really interested in people as animals.”

naked man with a rat

In his essay, “Deleuze and Beckett: Disguising Repetitions in Endgame,” Thomas Cousineau argues, “In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Sigmund Freud maintained that we repeat because we have repressed a traumatic experience which then returns in symptomatic form. Gilles Deleuze, on the contrary, insisted in Différence et répétition that we do not repeat because we repress; rather, we repress in order to repeat. In a reformulation of this same point, he contended that we do not disguise because we have repressed; rather, we repress so that we may disguise. Along with arguing for the primacy of repetition over an earlier traumatic event that has been repressed, Deleuze further suggested that the highest function of art is to put into play all the various forms of repetition, ranging from the most clichéd to the most creative.”

“My wife…my wife…my wife…”

Currently on exhibit at The Freud Museum, Louise Bourgeois’s The Return of the Repressed:

“Two prawns in the night.
Rakes, rakes. All wrapped in red. These are ways of budding at Little
Gidding. A hickory, a hind, undisturbed lands.”

–“Decorticated” from The Cow by Ariana Reines

My wife…my wife…my wife…so many of Jemc’s sentences begin with the phrase “My wife…”

Repetition and obsession reminiscent of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Jealousy. Recall, for example, the narrator’s attention to A . . .’s hair. On page 56 Robbe-Grillet writes, “She has arranged her hair into a low knot whose skillful waves seem about to come undone; some hidden pins must be keeping it firmer than it looks.” And then again, on page 60, “The knot of A . . .’s hair, seen at such close range from behind, seems to be extremely complicated. It is difficult to follow the convulsions of different strands: several solutions seem possible at some places, and in others, none. […] The knot of A . . .’s hair is at least as confusing when it appears in profile.”

To see the wife is to imagine the wife.

The final breath of Jack Boettcher’s Theater-State, “Remember,” Stone said, “when the time comes, it’s detonate—-not deflagrate. And Janus? If I ever reappear to you in the form of another – perhaps as someone strangely familiar or even dearly loved – do not be alarmed or surprised.”

Theater State, which begins with an epigram from Clayton Eshleman, “The imagination is the truth.”

Joel grieving the loss of Clementine, in Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind:

A beautiful if woebegone song probably few have heard called “Paper Towel” by Jude:

“I’m not immune so I commune
With the objects in my home
I am caressed by my razor
And so am not alone
I spoon an oversize pillow
Which I bought for just that use
And to the flowers in my garden
I am lover, not recluse”

Again, Jemc’s novel echoes, “My wife…my wife…my wife…”

The “Crying Men” series by Sam Taylor-Wood includes Robin Williams, Tim Roth, and Ryan Gosling. Notice their wedding rings:

“Love,” John Hawkes tells us in The Blood Oranges, “weaves its own tapestry, spins its own golden thread, with its own sweet breath breathes into being its mysteries — bucolic, lusty, gentle as the eyes of daisies or thick with pain.”


  1. stefan michael

      I believe David Lynch and Samuel Beckett are the same person.

  2. lorian long

      this is a beautiful post

  3. Scott McClanahan

      Jac is one of the best.   Easily.

  4. mdbell79

      Thanks so much for this, Chris: It’s great to see Jac’s book in conversation with these other works.

  5. Mark Doten

      This is a wonderful post. Also: love that Jemc cover. Will have to get a copy.

  6. Anonymous

      Great post. 

      I wonder if you can explain to me Deleuze’s reversal of the repeat/repress and disguise/repress dynamics. The quotation from Cousineau just repeats the gesture (har) without explaining it. I’ve read Difference and Repetition several times, enough that that reversal is familiar, but I still don’t understand it. 

      More precisely: Deleuze makes repetition primary, or, there are two repetitions, a bare one and a disguised one, a minimal one and an elaborated one, and it’s the disguised, elaborated version that’s primary. Fine, let’s not argue that, let’s take that as read. What I want to know is this: having repeated, why do “we” then repress? 

      Think of it as a warm-up for Deleuze Camp. Where I won’t be, alas.

  7. Joseph Riippi

      Just started reading this yesterday. An absolutely lovely novel thus far. Glad to see it getting mentions already.

  8. deadgod

      Let me quote some of Difference and Repetition (pp. 18-20):

      “Let us return to the example of psychoanalysis: we repeat because we repress. [… F]rom the beginning, repression was considered a positive power. However, this positivity […] was merely a derived positivity, one of opposition. The turning point [appears when] the death instinct is discovered, not in connection with the destructive tendencies, not in connection with aggressivity, but as a result of a direct consideration of repetition phenomena. Strangely, the death instinct serves as a positive, originary principle for repetition[.] It plays the role of a transcendental principle[. …] How is it that the theme of death […] can be in itself the most positive element, transcendentally positive, to the point of affirming repetition? How can it be related to a primordial instinct? […] Under what form is repetition affirmed and prescribed by the death instinct? Ultimately, it is a question of the relation between repetition and disguises. Do the disguises […] rediscover while attentuating a bare, brute repetition (repetition of the Same)? […] The disguises and the variations, the masks or costumes, do not come “over and above” [what they would conceal]; they are, on the contrary, the internal genetic elements of repetition itself, its integral and constituent parts. […] Death has nothing to do with a material model [of inanimation, towards which animated beings tend]. On the contrary, the death instinct may be understood in relation to masks and costumes. Repetition is truly that which disguises itself in constituting itself, that which constitutes itself only by disguising itself. It is not underneath the masks, but is formed from one mask to another, from one privileged instant to another, with and within the variations. The masks do not hide anything excpt other masks. There is no first term which is repeated[. …] There is no bare repetition which may be abstracted or inferred from the disguise itself. The same thing is both disguising and disguised. […] Difference is included in repetition by way of disguise and by the order of the symbol. [… V]ariations express […] the differential mechanisms which belong to the essence and origin of that which is repeated. […] The mask, the costume, the covered is everywhere the truth of the uncovered. The mask is the true subject of repetition. […] I do not repeat because I repress. I repress because I repeat[. …] I am determined to repress whatever would prevent me from living [certain things or experiences] thus: in particular, the representation which mediates the lived by relating it to other forms of a similar or identical object. […] Eros must be repeated, whereas Thanatos […] is that which gives repetition to Eros[.]”

      It is not that there are faces and masks, but rather, that things and experiences are only masks all the way through.  Repression is the privileging of a ‘face’ – itself a mask – over the mask(s) in front of it.  Repetition is the movement from mask to mask.  The latter is a condition for the possibility of positing the former.  “We” repress by way of this privileging of some particular mask as a ‘face’.

  9. Anonymous

      ZOM(dead)G. That is so helpful! Will you marry me? 

      I have in mind an old-fashioned gay marriage, like Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s, without the sad ending. I don’t know which of us would be which gender(s). We could both be the genius. 

      Don’t answer yet. Just think it over. 

      Seriously, that really was illuminating. What can I have been doing, all those times I thought I was reading Difference and Repetition? 

  10. deadgod

      That second might be a good question.

      “We” repress because the ongoing resolution of forces that constitutes “us” accumulates and expresses power by masking itself in some particular way — that is, accumulates and expresses power by privileging a particular array of constitutive masks.

  11. Anonymous
  12. Anonymous
  13. My Only Wife Reviewed/Talked about at HTMLGiant « Jac Jemc

      […] Christopher Higgs had some incredibly thoughtful things to say about My Only Wife at  HTMLGiant. […]