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A Mind in Fragments: Kathleen Lawless Cox, "Journal of the Unconscious" PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Literature
Wednesday, 28 March 2007 02:24

Kathleen Lawless Cox - Journal of the Unconscious Kathleen Lawless Cox's new book, Journal of the Unconscious, is a necessarily self-indulgent affair. The title is perfectly descriptive rather than being arty, and the volume - less than 80 pages - is a collection of recorded "visions" from 1973 and 1974.

Cox, the Quad Cities' poet laureate, explains the process in her introduction: "For a while, the Unconscious ‘came at' me - in dream, nightmare, daytime hallucinations over which I had no control ... . I decided to explore the Unconscious and through a self-found form of meditation found an easy access to that place."

The book was originally published two decades ago, and this edition has been embellished with drawings by the author, Leslie Bell, and Bruce Carter (a frequent contributor to the River Cities' Reader).

Journal of the Unconscious does not have a traditional narrative arc, although certain characters and motifs recur regularly and there is a journey of sorts described. By its nature, it is fragmentary, elusive, and frustrating. Strong images and evocative ideas tantalize but are abandoned, yet that's not Lawless Cox's fault. Her goal, she writes, was to "be true to the vision, not to manipulate in any way this gift ... ."

In her foreword, June Singer asks a compelling question: "Visions appear to poets and visions appear to mad persons. Are their visions basically different?"

Her answer - "As far as I know, they are not" - is likely accurate but remains unsatisfying. The issue isn't the nature of the visions, but how they're harnessed and used. While it's not a book that many people will enjoy, Lawless Cox - through faithful but vivid transcription - has provided a trove of potent symbols and story shards.

One entry reads:

"There are six tall white candles on the altar. They are lit; the flames are yellow. I am saying mass. Suddenly I become very angry. You want sacrifice! I'll give you sacrifice!

"I slash my throat."

With its declarative sentences and matter-of-fact writing, Journal of the Unconscious has the offhanded texture of folk tale and myth, and it liberally uses their universal motifs, as well - particularly angels. The most fantastic happenings and dreamy non sequiturs are grounded and stripped of disbelief through the use of concrete, simple language. There is still wonder, and horror, and joy, and ecstasy, but there is no intellectual questioning; Lawless Cox has stayed true to her mission by refusing to inject logic.

"On the other side is a dimly lit glass case containing dull brown livers and other organs," one entry reads. "On top of this case is a sign:


"There are no customers here. I walk over. I have lots of money in my pockets, but no matter how many times I count it, it does not add up to $2.95 and there is no butcher - there is no one there at all"

The book is spottily punctuated - many entries don't end with a period - and that seems symptomatic of generally lax copy editing. Those lapses are easily overlooked as a function of the "journal" format.

The use of artwork, though, is harder to justify. Bell's drawings are literal, straightforward, and casual, while Carter's are dense, abstract, and geometric. They fight each other in tone, but more damningly, they don't add much to Lawless Cox's words; her deeply internal visions are ill-served by the visual interpretations of outside artists.

Fundamentally, these story fragments resist translation. They can be read, understood, explicated, and analyzed, but their artfulness is a function of their form.


A launch party for Journal of the Unconscious will be held at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 30, at the Bucktown Center for the Arts. Lawless Cox and artist Bruce Carter will also lead a journaling workshop on April 28 and May 5 at the Bettendorf Public Library.

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