David St. John writes of love in a pessimistic way in his collection of poems, The Red Leaves of Night. His writings suggest love is unattainable and his relationships with people (especially with females) are portrayed as negative. St. John creates a fallen man in his text, especially when his poems focus on his dilemmas with women. Psychoanalysis plays a large role in the writings of St. John being that he shows the effects of his downfall and the negativity the downfall incorporates.
Lacanian psychoanalysis suggests our language is structured like our subconscious and full of desires. Lacanian analysis also shows that the signs in language are split between the signifier and the signified and the barrier between the two lead to unfulfilled desires. St. Johns poetry is swarming with lines alluding to unfulfilled desires or a longing for things that simply cannot be obtained. St. John establishes the breaking of a psyche and through Lacanian analysis we can see that the desires expressed in his poetry will never be met.
Through Lacanian analysis, we are able to see that St. John is seeking more, and wanting more substance out of relationships and his life that cannot be obtained. St. John is longing for a sense completeness yet his completion is something that can never happen. Lacan shows the human psyche in three parts, similar to that of Sigmund Freud. Lacan calls the three parts Orders and they consist of the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real. The Imaginary is the part of the psyche that contains our wishes, fantasies, and, most importantly, images (Bressler 156).
Lacans major focus is in his theory that our psyche is lack and fragmentation. We have longings for love, for physical pleasureKbut nothing can fulfill our desire to return to the Imaginary Order and be at one with our mother (Bressler 158). Many of the poems in The Red Leaves of Night withhold the sense that St. John is yearning for something and is never complete. For example, in his poem The Unsayable, the Unknowable & You St. John presents a situation where he is completely captivated by a woman and lusts for more activity with her.
My prize: A night alone (again) with you,tracing/This brocade of sweat along your amber shoulder. /Lets weave together the dawns superior light-/A script of bodies, inscribed by the summers night (St. John 35). This poem is rich in symbolism especially with the image of St. John become one and united with the women he is so entranced by. On a psychoanalytical level, the poem could be a case study in Lacans theory that we strive to return to the Imaginary Order and to regain that sense of pure joy we felt when we were whole and united with our mothers (Bressler 158).
St. Johns focus in the poem is essentially a love poem where St. John is reaching out to his desires. However, the longing he feels is very present and with the word again put in parentheses the assumption is that St. John will continue to search for completeness. A Lacanian view of desires shows that We distort this desire and confuse it with other terms if we fail to locate it in reference to a set of coordinates thatKestablish the subject inKdependence upon the signifier(Vesterman 716).
St. Johns distortion is evident in many poems especially in Mystic Eyes where St. John writes of dependence on a woman. He writes of his relationship with her as The very definition of love (St. John 68) but follows that line with the haunting stanza of Meaning I suppose a sexual wound tempered in that chilling well/Of the bitter and clearly ordinary world (St. John 68). In St. Johns case, if the signifier were to be this woman, his desires would be complete being that his dependency for the woman is evident and he maintains his completion through her.
However, if this were the case, St. John would not write of the world as bitter and clearly ordinary. The Lacanian standpoint is that The signifier is not a reflection, a product pure and simple of what are called interhuman relationships,oall psychoanalytical experience indicates the contrary (Vesterman 716). Under the guidelines that desires are simply not interhuman relationships the assumption can be made that St. Johns dilemmas lie within himself. Otherwise, he would have reached his completeness by placing the woman as the object of his desires.
Even without looking at the personal life of St. John, it is easy to see a man that is seeking an outside source to make himself whole. He is in constant battle between what he wants (the Imaginary Order) and what is real. St. John puts his deepest thoughts and emotions right on paper and through many of his poems, we are able to see St. John in the Imaginary Order. His desires and fantasies can be assessed through a Lacanian standpoint, which opens up interpretations of his text to whole new things. In doing so, readers can uncover rich and reflective views on poems that may have previously been read on only a textual level.