Anne-Marie Picard arrived at AUP in 2003 from Canada where she had been an associate-professor of French language, literature, literary theory and psychoanalysis at the University of Western Ontario since 1997.
She received her PhD. from the University of Toronto. Her thesis, entitled Le Corps lisant: Lecture, psychanalyse et différence sexuelle marked the starting point of her theoretical interest in reading after having completed a Masters in Applied Linguistics and a B.A. in English studies. When she discovered the strange effect that Marguerite Duras’ novel Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein had on her, she decided that the linguistic tools she had been using to analyze texts were quite insufficient. In a similar way, so were the cognitive or reception theories in vogue at the time: none could provide the necessary tools to start answering the question of “literariness” (litérarité). She thus embarked on a very long journey to try to understand the “object” of reading, including critical reading.
Lacanian psychoanalysis, which in the 1950’s provided Freudian metapsychology with the theory of language it was wanting, was going to be her new terrain de jeu: she intuited that only its multilayered and complex theory of subjectivity construed from a materialistic approach to “the letter”, and the symbolic, would enable her to think the reading subject. The question was to reflect upon the psyche of the human subject as it searches for meaning: what after all is read? How do written letters function to create affect? Repulsion? Excitement? Recognition?
The cover of her book which (years down the road of hard pondering and analytical and clinical experience) answers those questions show a character taken by this effect in what Magritte, its painter, has called: La Lectrice soumise :
The effect of the letter, that Roland Barthes had called le Plaisir du texte, was paradoxically made clearer to her in a psychiatric hospital where she had the opportunity to observe so-called dyslexic children (non-readers) during the remedial work sessions in the Unité de psychopathologie de l’Enfant et de l’adolescent. The children’s suffering in front of letters, together with their strange attachment to their ignorance of the written code showed that reading was not a simple affair, that our whole being, conscious and unconscious, is solicited by the complexity of the alphabetical code and of the spelling of French in particular which has mute letters. Phobo-obsessional children in particular cannot accept “to let down”, “to lose” any bit. These non-reading children are caught in magical thinking: they believe (and they are indeed “dogmatic believers”) that a word calls up a thing, just as hieroglyphs or pictograms do, like the fairy godmother’s formula. To cut words out into syllables and letters/phonemes is simply impossible for them: they are attached to this erroneous magical theory of writing as they are attached to a maternal tongue in which their desires are answered without any enunciation on their part: their mothers have named the world and everything in it and in so doing have created it around them, at their service. They will not gain anything by learning, they think. They stop being curious. They stay put, exactly where they think their mothers want them to be, what they want them to be: blind to a complex code where only arbitrary laws rule…
A digest of her psychoanalytical approach to reading can be found here in English:
See one of her course syllabi here