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Abstract

Brian Castro’s novel Double-Wolf (1991) is a playful fictionalisation of the life of the Russian aristocrat Sergei Pankejeff (Pankeyev Панке́ев 1886–1979), known to history as the “Wolf Man”. This essay seeks to situate Castro’s novel within the context of both psychoanalysis and literary postmodernism, and to explore the particularities of the Wolf Man case as a narrative that problematises the borders of fictionality. Although Double-Wolf won both the Victorian Premiers’ Prize and The Age Book of the Year, it has not attracted the critical engagement of his more celebrated novels (Birds of Passage, After China, Drift, Shanghai Dancing, The Garden Book). Like Pankejeff himself, Castro’s Double-Wolf remains both sceptical and faithful to Freudian precepts. To maintain this double affinity, the novel adopts a parodic stance and is written in the form of postmodern farce. However, the purpose of the parody is not finally to suggest that the insights of psychoanalysis are bunkum, but that their truth so radically disrupts common sense that they can only be upheld in an absurdist register. Just like Freud’s case history, the novel turns on a primal scene, and it is only the existence of a primal scene that makes the encounter between the novel's two protagonists (Sergei Wespe and Art Catacomb) meaningful. While the plot of the novel revolves around the attempt to prevent a scandal – the fear that a suddenly chatty Wolf Man might belatedly subvert the psychoanalytic practice his neuroses helped establish – its true subject is the deeper scandal of knowledge itself, and the fact that it might end in a scene and not a statement.

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