Monday, 22 December 2008

Merry Christmas, Mrs. Klein

In a festive holiday treat, BBC Radio 4 Saturday Play just this week broadcast Nicholas Wright's play, Mrs. Klein. The information from the BBC website is here:

Saturday 20 December Mrs Klein

By Nicholas Wright

The troubled relationship between influential child psychoanalyst Melanie Klein and her own children.

Faced with coming to terms with the news of the death of her son, Mrs Klein decides against going to his funeral. Frustrated with her mother's behaviour, Klein's daughter Melitta confronts her with some home truths.

Mrs Klein ...... Janet Suzman
Melitta ...... Eve Best
Paula ...... Clare Corbett

Director Alison Hindell.


A very BIG Thank you to Sarah for bringing this to my attention, because I missed it on the day. BUT, thanks to modern technology, we needn't go without. You can listen again (until December 27) via the BBC iPlayer (though I don't know if this will work outside of the UK), and the 'listen again' link on the website (when it's updated).

Happy listening!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

On the lighter side

The students in my undergraduate psychoanalytic theory seminar have discovered some terrific illustrations for some Kleinian ideas that are too perfect not to share.

These clips (sorry about the ads) are from The Family Guy. No, I haven't seen it (come on! there's only so many hours in the day!), but I will try to catch it when I can now.

First up, a terrific illustration of the Kleinian paranoid-schizoid position. Note the demands, note how the baby deals with the Oedipal threat, note the fear of retaliation from the object... Klein in a one-minute cartoon:

And this one... well. It just made me laugh. Because my sons do this:

More analyses welcome. Another must-watch for fans of Freud, it seems. Many, many thanks to everyone: Katie, Izzy, Tori, Sally, Liz, Emma, Rachel, Fay!

Monday, 13 October 2008

Synchronicity, investor psychology and history in the making.

In a strange synchronicitous event on former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s 83rd birthday, we are seeing her 1983 reforms of the UK money markets dramatically reversed. What would Carl Jung have to say about that? Well as he’s no longer with us, I’d like to have my say first.

The current facts: the ongoing collapse of free market capitalism is today resulting in a move towards nationalisation of many major financial institutions, with governments the world over considering major international reforms of the global banking system. In Britain this has amounted to nothing less than a socialist coup, that is the unelected take over of financial boardroom strategy of 3 major banks by a Labour government, without any need for re-election or opposition from parliament. These are the most far reaching reforms of our economy since Thatcher’s deregulation of financial markets in 1983, and prior to that the nationalisations of the 1940’s. The UK taxpayer now owns large parts of these banks and their elected representatives (treasury staff) now have a say in how these assets are managed.

Some of the reforms made include bank CEO’s bonuses no longer being awarded in cash, but bank shares, thus encouraging a long term view when making decisions on lending and borrowing, as they stand to win or lose on the basis of their own decisions. The banks’ declared ‘loss of confidence’ (returning to this below) will not be able to hold the taxpayer to ransom either ( as I feared it might), because the government shares in these banks are large enough to ensure control of boardroom decision making and thus, the freeing of money for lending to small businesses and homebuyers, at reasonable rates.

However, there have been some objections to what’s happened from the public, such as ‘but they're spending our money, tax payer’s money, to bail out banks’. Hmmm. But the city spivs were running off with huge amounts of our money anyway, money they were earning through risky investments of our savings in volatile markets, causing spiralling debt and a property boom that ensured we spend a greater proportion our income on housing than any other country in the developed world. Effectively we UK mortgage holders were paying rents for our homes to banks (the real homeowners) who were investing the profit in further property development (through, for example, selling high interest ‘buy to let’ mortgages offered to increasingly greedy landlords) which fuelled a house price boom that excluded many working people in Britain from the stability of having their own home. Instead many have been forced to pay high rents to ‘buy to let’ property tycoons for substandard housing. Meanwhile, bank CEOs, mortgage brokers, bank share holders, property developers and such like, coined in huge profits generated by their risky investments of our money… leading to the crisis we have seen in the past few weeks. The ‘loss of confidence’ that led to the drying up of funds and frozen liquidity was caused by fear amongst financiers of each others greed. In psychoanalytic terms, this economic collapse has been driven at bottom by paranoid schizoid greed and envy.

The ultimate fear was that continued lending might fail to bring in the big bucks that had been previously lining the pockets of city spivs at the ordinary working person’s great expense. So they stopped lending. Today we are seeing the return of managed markets, restored confidence, as the government intervenes to contain the paranoid schizoid confidence crisis. This demonstrates how ethereal high finance really is, and how driven our economies are human emotions such as paranoia, fear, enthusiasm, greed and envy. As our financial institutions have increased in size to embrace a deregulated global free market, their default position during uncertain times has been driven by increasingly primitive processes, which is how large groups tend to operate in a crisis. Today we see the resuscitation of nationalisation as the only workable strategy of containment.

Happy birthday Maggie.


Saturday, 20 September 2008

Oh! My Winnipeg!

A couple of weeks ago, your Psycho-Babble On... team went to the lovely Showroom cinema in Sheffield to enjoy an evening of Guy Maddin's dramamentary, tragic love letter and noir homage, My Winnipeg. It was decided, by virtue of me being Canadian and the more strictly psychoanalytically-inclined, that I should be charged with the task of offering to you, our loyal reader (notice the singular -- I assume nothing), thorough analyses and commentary on this artistic endeavour. (Plus, it was my turn after a long holiday to add something to the blog.)

Well, let me start with the proviso that I've never been to Winnipeg, and while it is 'close' it is still a 25 hour drive from my hometown of Toronto. I did, however, get most of the ice hockey references, and yes, I've had my nose freeze shut when out walking in December (though that was in Montreal).

The problem with trying to write about a film like My Winnipeg is that it is so relentlessly and unrepentantly intelligent, and knowing, that it renders any analysis by critical hacks (almost) pointless. It's like reading Angela Carter: you start thinking to yourself, 'I know what this is! I know what this is! This is a panopticon she's describing here!' and when you turn the page your enthusiasm crashes to the bottom of your stomach when you read, 'It is a panopticon that I am describing here' -- and neither with Carter's novels nor with Maddin's film does this necessarily inhibit your appreciation or enjoyment of the offering, but it does crush the pretensions of we critics that think artists can't say anything without our explanations.

SO, what can I say about My Winnipeg? Or, what can I say about My Winnipeg that Maddin hasn't already? It is a brilliant examination of and play with Oedipus, even if I though there was one too many shots of Maddin's mother's naked lap to make the point. But the association of home with the mother, and how both are simultaneously longer-for and loathed, is brilliantly portrayed. Winnipeg's unique situation, as a city of slumbering numbness at a mythical junction of two rivers, inciting both passion and contempt, makes it a northern Thebes, and Maddin himself a winking (pre-eye gouging, obviously) Oedipus.

And these Oedipal pictures are drawn in neat black-and-white, the noir style both lovingly and satirically presented, but the overall effect is to heighten the tragedy, since noir is itself so steeped in the Freudian melodrama. Hitchcock, too, looms large, not only stylistically, but with small but overt links to Psycho, Vertigo and -- I think -- The Birds. Maybe others, too -- I'd have to watch it again, which I'll be more than happy to do one day.

Maddin's mother -- or, I should say, 'Maddin's' 'mother', because really I'm taking about the representation of her here, not the woman herself (who I've never met, even though, yes, we're both from Canada) -- is fantastically rendered: she is not only Jocasta, but also Freud himself -- the relentlessly interogator who pushes through the snowbanks of denial ('snowbanks of denial'? -- it works, watch the film) to expose those truths that her children would hide from her; but, more akin to Melanie Klein, she is a menace, a monstrous figure that haunts every unconscious frame.

My Winnipeg deserves a place on the psychoanaytic cultural shelf, right up along there with the Theban plays, The Oresteia, Hamlet et al. Go and see it.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Another event at the Freud Museum

Freud Museum and Anna Freud Centre
Evening Talk and drinks reception
Tuesday 23 September 7pm - 9pm

Elisabeth Young-Bruehl
will talk about and read from her acclaimed biography of Anna Freud.
ANNA FREUD: A Biography
(Second Edition)

The talk will be from 7pm-8pm, followed by a book launch & drinks reception 8pm - 9pm

This event is free, but please phone or email the museum to secure your place.
Tel: 020 7435 2002 Email:

“Young-Bruehl’s description of one of the most complex but brilliant lights in psychoanalytic history has stood as a beacon to students of psychoanalytic history. It is the best, most carefully crafted, biography of any psychoanalyst and it illuminates the entire tradition with a clarity that only the exploration of the life of the daughter of the founder of the movement could possibly provide. It is a beautifully written, insightful, and remarkably edifying piece of work. The best has just got better.” - Peter Fonagy, Chief Executive of the Anna Freud Centre)

This new edition of Elisabeth Young-Bruehl's definitive biography of pioneering child analyst Anna Freud includes a major retrospective introduction by the author, an updated bibliography, and new material on Anna Freud and Dorothy Burlingham at Hampstead.

Written with exclusive access to Anna Freud’s vast literary estate, it is the ultimate biography of this remarkable woman. Anna Freud (1895-1982) grew up vying with psychoanalysis for her father’s attention. She would eventually become his constant companion, professional collaborator and ambassador to the psychoanalytical movement. After his death she became the chief keeper of his memory and his science, as well as taking her own historical place in the development of psychoanalysis, through her work with children.

In this remarkable biography Elisabeth Young-Bruehl draws on access to Anna’s personal poetry, letters, dreams and prose writing to tell her story from her Viennese childhood to her last days in Hampstead, wrapped in her father's old woollen coat.

Freud Museum
20 Maresfield Gardens
London NW3 5SX
Tel:00 44 (0)20 7435 2002/ Direct Line 02074352098
VISIT our website:

Rita Apsan
Freud Museum Photo Library and Shop
20 Maresfield Gardens
London NW3 5SX
Tel:00 44 (0)20 7435 2002/ Direct Line 02074352098
VISIT our website:

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

A reflection on the film ‘Savage Grace’ dir Tom Kalin 2008

I went to this see this film last month and emerged from the cinema stunned by the graphic scenes of Oedipal triumph fuelled by the death instinct… or at least that’s a psychoanalytic interpretation of the driving narrative. For a more conventional summary of the plot try the following:

Based on Natalie Robins' non-fiction book, Savage Grace tells the tragic story of Barbara Baekeland, a middle-class woman who married into the Bakelite plastics fortune, but allowed her insecurities to poison her familial relationships and lead to murder.’

The fact that this film is based upon a true story makes it even more shocking. People were getting up and leaving the cinema during explicit scenes that smash every social taboo upholding the veeneer of civility, that we accept as ‘reality’, in contemporary western society. The title of the film depicts the problem the characters face, which is how to deal with the unconscious savagery that necessitates an etiquette of polite aggression to regulate societies sustained by greed and glamour. We observe how the materially ambitious use the trappings of glamour as a fragile container for narcissistic and paranoid modes of object relating. Such relationships are based upon trade rather than love. Everything is a business deal, a power move. Yet we are treated to visual scenes of sumptious beauty and elegance that permit complex power trade offs to pass as the ultimate in sophistication. However, when this fragile container of glamour fails, as it must, the result is devastation. This is the kind of film I expect to read a lot of essays about in the future! Go see if you have a strong stomach and enjoy thought provoking explorations of the social regulation of desire.


From the Freud Museum...


We are back with our Literary dialogues at the Freud Museum!
This time Amanda Craig will be in conversation with novelist and critic Michael Arditti.

Thursday 18 September 7.00pm: Amanda Craig

Amanda Craig is the author of five highly acclaimed novels, Foreign Bodies, A Private Place, A Vicious Circle, In a Dark Wood and Love in Idleness. She has been hailed in the Evening Standard as ‘the greatest novelist under the age of fifty’. Her new novel, Hearts and Minds, a sequel to A Vicious Circle and Love in Idleness, will be published this year. She contributes regularly to the Daily Telegraph, Independent on Sunday and the New Statesman and is the children’s book critic for The Times.

And the final one will be on

Thursday 23 October 7.00pm: Deborah Moggach

Deborah Moggach is a highly esteemed novelist, short story and screenplay writer. Her novels include The Ex-Wives, Porky, The Stand-In, Final Demand, These Foolish Things, the best-selling Tulip Fever and, most recently, In The Dark. Her TV adaptations include several of her own books, Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate, Anne Fine’s Goggle Eyes and The Diary of Anne Frank. Her 2005 screenplay for Pride and Prejudice earned her a BAFTA nomination.

The events will be hosted by Michael Arditti.

Michael Arditti is a novelist, short story writer and critic. His novels include Unity, A Sea Change and the award-winning Easter. He is currently the Leverhulme artist in residence at the Freud museum.

All talks take place at The Freud Museum
Entrance: £12 or £10 for Friends of the Freud Museum

Please apply online at using the secure order form, or phone the museum to secure a place. Payment should be made by Credit/Debit Card in advance.

20 Maresfield Gardens
020 7435 2002

Rita Apsan
Freud Museum Photo Library and Shop
20 Maresfield Gardens
London NW3 5SX
Tel:00 44 (0)20 7435 2002/ Direct Line 02074352098
VISIT our website:

Wednesday, 30 July 2008


On behalf of our friends in Dublin:

Reading Bracha L. Ettinger's The Matrixial Borderspace
Two-Day Intensive, Interdisciplinary Seminar
Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 April 2009

As Part of The(e)ories: Advanced Seminars for Queer Research 2009 in Collaboration with UCD School of English, Drama and Film Studies

Seminar Description:

This two-day intensive, interdisciplinary seminar is devoted to responding to Bracha L. Ettinger's The Matrixial Borderspace (University of Minnesota Press 2006) from a range of interdisciplinary perspectives: psychoanalysis, philosophy, film studies, visual culture, feminism and queer theory. The seminar provides a unique opportunity to read a small sample of Professor Ettinger's oeuvre closely and discuss its implications for a range of fields but especially for the insights offered for considering gender and sexuality and the potential for a sustained dialogue between psychoanalysts, critical theorists and practitioners of the arts.

The first day of the seminar will feature a discussion of Sigmund Freud's paper on the uncanny together with Professor Ettinger's formulation of the matrixial before a lecture by Professor Ettinger on her current research. Day two of the seminar will be devoted to discussing The Matrixial Borderspace in more detail and the various theoretical, ethical, cultural and political questions it raises more generally. Each session will begin with four short responses by (30 mins.) by a leading expert in the area of the theme being considered, after which the chair of the session will offer a short response (10 mins.) to the presentation before opening the discussion up more generally to attendees of the seminar (50 mins.). The emphasis here will be on discussion. To further facilitate an engagement with the themes of the seminar, attendees will read one required article or book chapter for each session, which will be provided in a reading pack in advance.

Required Reading:

There are two required texts for this seminar: a copy of Sigmund Freud's paper will be provided however delegates must source a copy of Bracha Ettinger's book themselves.

1. Bracha Ettinger, The Matrixial Borderspace (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2006).

2. Sigmund Freud, 'The Uncanny' in The Uncanny, trans. Hugh Haughton (London: Penguin, 2003; first pub. 1919), pp. 121-62.

The Speaker:

Bracha Ettinger is an artist, senior clinical psychologist and practising psychoanalyst. Her artworks have been exhibited extensively and she has written a number of books and many essays on topics relating to psychoanalysis, philosophy, visual culture, feminism and ethics. She is the Marcel Duchamp Professor of Psychoanalysis and Art at the Media and Communications Division, European Graduate School (EGS), Saas-Fee. Further information about Professor Ettinger can be found here:

Description of The Matrixial Borderspace:
A groundbreaking intertwining of the philosophy of art and psychoanalytic theory.

Artist, psychoanalyst, and feminist theorist Bracha Ettinger presents an original theoretical exploration of shared affect and emergent expression, across the thresholds of identity and memory. Ettinger works through Lacan's late works, the anti-Oedipal perspectives of Deleuze and Guattari, as well as object-relations theory to critique the phallocentrism of mainstream Lacanian theory and to rethink the masculine-feminine opposition. She replaces the phallic structure with a dimension of emergence, where objects, images, and meanings are glimpsed in their incipiency, before they are differentiated. This is the matrixial realm, a shareable, psychic dimension that underlies the individual unconscious and experience.

Concerned with collective trauma and memory, Ettinger's own experience as an Israeli living with the memory of the Holocaust is a deep source of inspiration for her paintings, several of which are reproduced in the book. The paintings, like the essays, replay the relation between the visible and invisible, the sayable and ineffable; the gaze, the subject, and the other.

Table of Contents:
Foreword: Bracha's Eurydice
Judith Butler

Introduction. Femininity: Aporia or Sexual Difference?
Griselda Pollock

1. The Matrixial Gaze
2. The With-In-Visible Screen
3. Wit(h)nessing Trauma and the Matrixial Gaze
4. The Heimlich
5. Transcryptum
6. Weaving a Woman Artist with-in the Matrixial Encounter-Event

Afterword. Painting: The Voice of the Grain
Brian Massumi

Works by Bracha L. Ettinger
Publication History

Further Information:
This seminar is organised by Dr Noreen Giffney (, Michael O'Rourke ( and Dr Anne Mulhall ( For further information or to register, please contact one of the organisers. Places are limited so early registration is advised.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Dear shadow

You have a dream. You find yourself walking through Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting "Netherlandish Proverbs", surrounded by figures re-enacting countless proverbs, sayings and aphorisms. The scene needs decoding. Above you, a man "hangs his cloak according to the wind" (adapts his viewpoint to the current opinion), whilst his neighbour "tosses feathers into that same wind" (works fruitlessly). A third figure "gazes at the stork" (wastes his/her time). And so it goes, according to accepted wisdom.

The sun is still climbing. You become aware of the shadow that your body casts on the ground. It is indistinct, and falls towards the sun rather than away from it. As you make your way through the characters and their travails, you begin to be overwhelmed by the burden of intersubjectivity, the sheer agony and exhilaration of being alive amongst other people also living, and yet long since dead. You think about joining them, leaving the darkness behind.

The realisation dawns that you have been here before, and some familiar words ring out, seemingly sung by a group of fleet foxes, sitting watching the humans from the slopes of Tiger Mountain, just outside the frame of Bruegel the Elder’s painting…

“In the town one morning, I went
Staggering through premonitions of my death-
I don't see anybody that dear to me.

Dear shadow, alive and well,
How can the body die?
You tell me everything,
Anything true.

I don't know what I have done-
I'm turning myself to a demon.
I don't know what I have done-
I'm turning myself to a demon.”

Friday, 20 June 2008

Misery and meaning

So, there’s a credit crunch going on. And a war on terror. Oh, and the world is getting too warm too quickly. In the classic 1970s sit-com constantly on repeat in my mind, there is a battle going on between the Jones and the Frazer- between “Don’t panic!” and “We’re doomed!”

And in one ear, the hopefulness of The Smiths’ “Ask” is ringing out whilst in the other, I can hear the dolorous tones of “
Heaven knows I’m miserable now".

Vacillating between the denial and embrace of a kind of thanatos, I was interested to stumble upon the “Web of misery”. This is a tool for making predictions based on new online indicators of economic distress, devised by the eLab eXchange, which is part of the Sloan Center for Internet Retailing at the University of California, Riverside. It now seems possible to measure how the US economic recession has affected people's online behaviour by inviting people to predict how much traffic is likely to increase to internet sites devoted to 10 subjects that are often associated with economic distress- Alcohol, Education, Employment, Food, Gambling, God, Guns, Health Care and Real Estate. For example, some are at greater risk for problem drinking as unemployment rises, so the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration could attract increasing numbers of visitors seeking help. Similarly, during periods of economic hardship, there will be increases in gun ownership and interest in religion. The outcome of these 10 “markets” will be determined early in the third quarter of 2008 using Nielsen Online's NetView audience measurement service. And in the spirit of free enterprise and lottery love, you can even try to dodge your own personal credit crunch by winning a prize of up to $500 for playing. Hmm…

Thus we have a predictor based on others’ predictions and on that most slippery of things, “confidence” (which, incidentally, is what powers behaviour on the world’s economic trading floors). It strikes me that if there is a “web of misery” online, there must also be a “web of joy” or perhaps, more significantly, a “web of meaning”. They will surely co-exist- our fears of the future, our anxiety around death, our denial of meaninglessness, these will themselves be constituents of the kind of meanings we seek and find. If we consider online behaviour, there are a number of ways of tracking the “web of meaning”- there is plenty of freeware which will track your web useage, how far your mouse has travelled, how many different sites you have viewed, what you have searched for, “where” you have wandered to in cyberspace (are we still using that term, by the way?!) On their own, these measures may not add up to more than a fairly small hill of beans- they can’t capture the complexity of the meaningfulness of online activity, because it spreads out not just through cyberspace but also through the noösphere. However, the sum of our online activity, much like the sum of our face-to-face social interactions, is surely an indicator of something significant.

Whatever the “web of meaning” is, and it is probably closest to the semantic web, there are reasons to be cheerful. As people experienced in the delights and dangers of online education, Michael and myself have found that the online context brings some particular opportunities for learning, for making connections, for forging meaning in miserable times. Our courses, the MA in Psychoanalytic Studies and the MSc in Psychotherapy Studies, use slightly different blends of pedagogies, but both focus largely on the power of asynchronous communication, the gradual building of dialogues on particular topics which has such a different flavour to synchronous communication, be that face-to-face or online. As this dialogue progresses, we are continually surprised and delighted by the way students make connections with one another- people they never meet in the flesh, and have little in common with, but who become trusted companions in the search for meaning. Indeed, we find that some of the characteristics of online behaviour, such as the oft-cited “online disinhibition”, have significant advantages. As they study a particular topic, students will find themselves engaging in self-disclosure, sharing the most personal experiences with one another, opening up about losses, traumas, sorrows and joys, making links between theory and personal experience and clinical practice. And overall, we found in our research that students value the online experience highly, more so than comparable face-to-face courses (see the bottom of this page for our most recent research). Interestingly, we have found that some students are more comfortable with the disembodiment, with the lack of visual feedback and bodily presence, with the “not knowing” about the Other; and some students find this same disembodiment a barrier to deep learning. I suppose we come back to the role of confidence- we are continually working on ways of engaging these students in a way which facilitates their self-confidence and ability to learn.

E-learning is no panacea, but as we sit on our “web of misery” and think about the future, eLearning does offer new ways of connecting, new ways of building our own “webs of meaning” which allow us to capture those bits of significant information flying past us, onwards into nothingness.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Freud 2.0 possibilities

Two websites I would like to draw your attention to:

First, if you haven't already leapt into the world of the Web 2.0, with social bookmarking, wikis and collaborative documents, please do with all haste. A great site, just brought to my attention (thanks Andy!), is -- a catalogue of possibilities. If it all seems a bit overwhelming, try refining what's on offer by using the 'Select Tab' button at the top. That'll help you narrow in on what you're looking for.

I'm still playing with that and finding all sorts of new things, so any recommendations are very, very welcome. But one site I'm already familiar with that I would like to draw your attention to is Diigo. Diigo (pronounced: dee'go) is a social bookmarking site that allows for the public annotation of pages. It allows you to clippings, annotate, tag, highlight and share webpages. Sign up for an account -- and, if you use Mozilla Firefox (as you should, really), you can get a Diigo toolbar integrated into your browser. (Correction: the Diigo toolbar is available for a number of browsers, including IE.)

Then, when visiting a website while signed into your account (and they account OpenID now, it seems), you can highlight clips on the page, write comments and let all of your friends know what's there. And if you are browsing and find a page that someone else has annotated, you can see their comments. (If you sign up, come back here and have a look.)

Comments can be private or public, open to all or just to a select group. So if you do join the Diigo network, please join the psychoanalysis group (or, my Foucault group, if you are so inclined).

More on psychoanalysis and the internet in coming weeks.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Jacques Lacan was really into Joy Division

As Jacques Lacan moved from the real, imaginary and symbolic orders into death, in September 1981, three men and one woman were proposing a new order in a Manchester studio. The newly named New Order re-recorded the last song which Joy Division wrote, a song called Ceremony, thereby beginning the process of picking up the pieces of Joy Division which Ian Curtis’ suicide had so finally torn apart. With the inclusion of their new female band member, New Order started climbing in to their own versions of the future, finding their own voice as the memory of Curtis’ voice faded from conscious memory.

After years of under-representation in popular culture, the story of Joy Division has been ceremonially re-presented through a bizarre triangle of films. First was the cartoonish 24 Hour Party People, a ramshackle trawl though the carnival of the Manchester music scene from punk to post punk to baggy, all seen through the Tristram Shandy-esque eyes of Tony Wilson. Whilst this captured some of the anarchic jouissance of a record company (Factory records) with a Situationist ethic where contracts were signed in Wilson’s blood on knowingly chic boardroom tables, the bit-part which Joy Division play ultimately “renders the scaffolding dangerous”, to quote a certain S. Ryder. Second was Control, the iconising black and white biopic of Ian Curtis, as pictured by long-time devotee and photographer Anton Corbijn. In attempting to recreate the mythology surrounding Curtis, that most archetypal tortured genius, chased to the grave by his shadow, the other band members were reduced to supporting players, and Curtis’ demise seemed a beautifully shot formality, rather like the feeling, upon glimpsing a new Peter Saville sleeve, that the existence of this new and wonderful artefact was entirely inevitable.

Most recently, and most successfully, Joy Division: The Documentary presented archive footage and interviews to artfully piece together the journeys that the band were taking, journeys which ultimately led in tragically different directions. It brings home the largely accidental nature of the magic that the four young men created. As we see the band blooming from shambolic post-punksters to era-defining musicians, bass hero Hooky describes it all as “easy”. They were, it seems, just being themselves, doing what came naturally. And what came naturally was a kind of fierce attachment to the importance of authenticity, married to a vision of the darker side of humanity and a gloomy aesthetic which perfectly evoked their own crumbling surroundings. An ailing Wilson poignantly surmises that after the initial rebellious surge of punk, the energy would need to find other outlets: “Sooner or later somebody was going to want to say more than 'fuck you' ... to say 'I'm fucked.' And that was Joy Division".

Or rather, that was Ian Curtis. Inevitably the triangulation of these three films, and the attention of the three remaining band members, focuses on Curtis’ own demise, both mysterious and sadly obvious in hindsight. Saville calls the trajectory of Curtis and Joy Division “the last true story in pop”. We hear very little from Curtis himself, and yet his presence suffuses every frame of the film. The nearest we come to a direct connection, unmediated by the heavy sheen of music and movement, is in a brief radio interview and an eerie recording of Curtis being hypnotized by band-mate Bernard Sumner and regressing to talk about previous lives, just weeks before his death.

This is one of the few hints that those around him recognised the trouble he was in. We may be distracted by the numerous reminders of just how special Joy Division were, but most viewers will already know the end of the story, the march of a self-condemned man to his own punishment and on into posterity. The band’s own lack of awareness of the extent of his struggle, their inability to help, is painfully clear. Young men more interested in making loud music, enjoying success and getting fucked rather than making existential statements about being fucked. They never really listened to the lyrics, or made a connection between the doom-laden images and their writer’s mental health. They were never to be the helpers that he needed, the helpers who probably could not have helped him anyway. The story of a suicide is always many things, and one of these things is a challenge to psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic interpretation after the event is one thing, but where was the therapeutic help which Curtis might have benefited from? The nearest the film comes is footage of a neurologist discussing anti-epileptic medication. Sumner is in little doubt that Curtis’ burgeoning epilepsy, and the drugs he took to control it, contributed greatly to his eventual demise. But where was Lacan when Curtis needed him the most?

Joy Division: The Documentary includes excerpts from Malcolm Whitehead’s legendary short film- unsteady, grainy footage of three songs at the Bowden Vale Youth Club in March 1979, where the power of the music can be seen stunning audiences still reeling from the initial punk explosion, ill-prepared for a blast of white hot futurism drenched in the decay of recent history. If you look carefully, you can just make out an old man stood motionless on the front row amongst the pulsing, steaming youth of Greater Manchester, his grey hair swept back in the style beloved of continental academics, his eyes dancing behind spectacles, nodding his head to a particularly holy trinity in this order- “She's Lost Control”, “Shadowplay”, “Leaders of Men”.

Jacques Lacan was really into Joy Division.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Klein at the British Museum

Not really, no. But her work lives on, and nowhere it is more apparent than in the British Museum. You can see why Freud -- and Klein, and Jung... the lot, really -- kept finding inspiration, or rather, 'evidence', in the art of the ancients.

I've been especially haunted by a figure that I found in Asian section. ('Room 33' in your guidebooks.)

I think you'll see why.

Wild analysis on why this has been haunting me is, of course, as welcome as it is inevitable. (I know my audience.) But I've finally had a moment to do some basic research, and though anthropology isn't exactly my forte, I thought I'd share some of my findings.

(Hey, let's be honest: anthropology was never really Freud's forte either. But who would want to live in a world without Totem and Taboo?)

SO, back to my nightmare. The British Museum website on this figure tells us that this is a sandstone figure of Chamunda. Here's a snippet from their description:
The Great Hindu goddess Devi takes many forms: benign, sensuous and maternal at one level, horrifying and powerful at another. Chamunda, with her skeletal frame and staring socket eyes, is one of her fiercest manifestations, associated with corpses and even sacrificial rituals.
And here we've got all the classic imagery of death and destruction, of Klein's mother intent on revenge, in the infant's phantasy, for all of the attacks that she has suffered at the hands (and poos) of her baby. She's already obviously endured these anal attacks, her inner contents (father's penis, other children, shit -- all threatening objects to her children) having been ripped from her. And how she's coming back, armed with a thunderbolt, trident, snake and sword. With the skull-cap and severed head she's carrying her first trophies.

Notice in the British Museum description what her weapons are for: to fight ignorance, which we can see linked to the epistemophillic impulse, the force that initiates anal aggression in the first place (see 'Early Stages of the Oedipus Conflict'), and to fight 'ego' -- though I don't think they mean 'ego' in the way Klein would intend it, obviously, there still there suggestions of an attack on the self, which is what the paranoid imagined retaliation of the mother actually is, after all.

In a longer, and much more detailed explanation (which is interesting beyond its description of Chamunda), Chandra Alexandre explains how Chamunda was linked to death and was demonised by patriarchal traditions in India, which is very interesting in the context of men's envy and fear of the 'bad' (read: all-powerful and frustrating) mother, manifested so often in patriarchal strictures, institutions and misogyny more generally.

Please post your comments if you can offer any further enlightenment!

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Freud Memorial Lecture

Of interest to those of you in easy reach of London:

Freud Memorial Lecture 2008

Thursday 26 June 7.30pm at The Conway Hall, WC1

Adam Phillips

Freud’s Helplessness

Adam Phillips is a child and adult psychotherapist and acclaimed author. His books include: On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored (1993); Terrors and Experts (1995), The Beast in the Nursery (1998), Promises, Promises (2000), Houdini’s Box (2001), Equals: On Inhibition, Mockery, Hierarchy and the Pleasures of Democracy (2002), and Going Sane (2005).

“Phillips has virtually invented the essay as a suitable form for penetrating psychological enquiry” Frank Kermode

Registration: £12 or £10 for Friends of the Freud Museum
Please apply online at using the secure order form, or phone the museum to secure a place.

20 Maresfield Gardens
020 7435 2002

Friday, 25 April 2008

Passion Plays

Any play where one of the central characters is a psychiatrist/analyst is ripe for some psychoanalytic criticism. “Equus”, Peter Shaffer’s 1973 play about a young disturbed man and his interactions with an aging psychiatrist, takes its place among the pantheon of psychoanalytically oriented plays. I encountered it last week in Sheffield where it has been performed with Simon Callow and Alfie Allen in the lead roles.

It is a play about seeing and interpretation. The central mystery is why the young man, Alan Strang, has behaved in such an extreme and irrational way- he has blinded six horses in the stables where he works. The rich imagery of the play offers a number of different interpretations, involving awakening sexuality and erotic shame, religious fervour and psychotic disturbance. The blinding, which is eventually (re-)seen towards the end of the play but which casts its shadow over proceedings, evokes both the Oedipus myth and the infamous eyeball scene from Buñuel and Dalí’s surrealist film “Un Chien Andalou”. Shaffer even throws in a few psychoanalytic teasers, such as naming the mother of the young man “Dora” Strang. You may recall that Dora (real name “Ida Bauer”) was an emblematic character in Freud’s life, representing one of his most important early case studies, a young woman he diagnosed with hysteria using his burgeoning kitbag of psychoanalytic tools. Dora Strang is both distant from her own husband Frank, Alan’s father, and resistant to Dr Dysart’s attempts to understand the family dynamics, perhaps because her explanatory frame is overtly religious, and the psychiatrist is the high priest of (ir)rationalism, of explaining human motivation without recourse to the infinite.

The analyst/detective goes about his business, gradually getting beneath the young man’s defences and tricking him into re-telling the story so that his motivations can be laid bare. What is particularly interesting about this play is that the analysis begins to work in reverse- as he looks for meaning in the young man’s behaviour, Dysart recognises that it is his own motivations that need to be scrutinised and understood. In an unusual move for the psychoanalyst, he turns his method upon himself, and the audience watches the analyser analysing himself, overcoming his own resistances, facing up to his own blind spots. And although the magistrate Hesther Saloman, who originally referred Strang to Dysart, listens to his musings and confessions, it is really the audience who are asked by Shaffer to decide what Dysart’s motivations are, to become the analyst to Dysart’s client.

Dysart is open enough to be a relatively straightforward case. After his many years of diligent psychiatric work with young people, it is the troubling case of Alan Strang which brings the insight that that he is being asked to eradicate something vital in his patient, the ability to worship, to be taken away from reason by passion. This is made all the more painful by the realisation that his own existence is passionless, his marriage hollow, his fantasies of a Bacchanalian existence in Greece mere bourgeois pipe dreams. And as Dysart gives voice to this anxiety, we the audience were invited to identify with him, to wonder to what extent we too are removed from the wider excesses of our passions, as we sat compliantly in rows, watching a performance rather than participating in one, being done to rather than doing. One of the play’s central motifs is the metal bit in the horse’s mouth, the means by which the wild animal is made tame, and a metaphor for the way that Dysart’s job controls him, calls him to tame the wildness in the young people he encounters. With the closing line, we wonder what our own metal bit might be.

More than a call to unreason per se, the play feels like a warning not to live without passion. Since its own birth, psychoanalysis has been preoccupied with the darkest excesses of violent rage and sexuality, both infantile and adult, and the efforts that we unconsciously make to keep these from conscious awareness. Shaffer is suggesting that there are parts of the psyche which should perhaps remain unseen and unanalysed, because to analyse is to tame, and to tame is to destroy. He seems to be issuing a call to rediscover the thrill of passionate worship and the all-encompassing nature of childhood urges. Thus it shares something with Maruice Sendak’s classic children’s story “Where the Wild Things Are”, where as he rages in his bedroom, little Max dreams/sails away in his wolf suit to a faraway land where he engages in creating a rumpus, before realising that his anger is separating him from his mother’s love and returning to his bedroom. Sendak’s story is currently in production as a Hollywood feature from the combined imaginations of Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers. Contemporary psychoanalytic writing, such as Adam Phillips’ “Beast in the Nursery”, has attempted to re-analyse the young child’s passion without subduing it.

Is it enough to visit wildness and passion in dreams and fantasies, as Max does, and thence return to civilisation? Or can we find acceptable ways for living passionately in our waking hours, without consuming/being consumed by our own desire, as Alan Strang ultimately is?

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

A Note on the Concept of the Unconscious

Though the concept of the unconscious is fundamental in Freudian psychoanalysis, its hardly identifiable and controllable nature brings a kind of uncertainty to the psychoanalytic discourse. This uncertainty has extremely valuable effects on scientific discourse since it provides dynamism, flexibility and openness which is always desirable in a science with such a diverse object as the human soul.

To complicate matters, the concept of the unconscious is heterogeneous itself. The Freudian definition differs a lot from the definition of the disciples, not to mention modern and postmodern psychoanalysis. The concept of the unconscious was full of contradictions from the beginning; beyond psychoanalysis it was much more problematic. Taking everything into account, two different interpretations emerged in the early history of psychology:

The unconscious is part of the whole personality and it is much more significant than the conscious part (e. g. Freud).

The unconscious is another personality and it is much more significant than the conscious part (e. g. Morton Prince, Frederic Myers).

In the latter sense the unconscious functions as a co-consciousness. Supposedly, it is no accident that the idea of co-consciousness has been associated with mediumistic phenomena (and its scientific investigation) – in these states the co-conscious was especially spectacular:

As shown in the photograph (taken by Sir William Crookes) the medium Florence Cook is in trans-state while her co-conscious, the spirit Katie King, is materializing in the background. Convincing, isn’t it?

Of course, Freud denied the existence of such co-consciousness. Taken into account the evidences of co-consciousness, I share his opinion. The “so-called” multiple personalities should find themselves a more evidence-based diagnostic category…

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

The Importance of Sublimation

All of this talk of jokes reminds me of another clip you might be interested in. This time, from the BBC sketch comedy show Mitchell and Webb:

This illustrates the fundamental importance of repression and sublimation: No repression, no comedy. Not in the 1970s, anyhow. Imagine how boring the world world would be if a sausage was really just a sausage, and not a lewd invitation! We'd get nothing done, ever.

Of course anyone who reads early Freud doesn't need to be reminded of this: For Freud, repression and sublimation really are at the very heart of Civilisation. It's worth remembering that without repression, we'd spend our whole lives under the sheets, pleasuring and being pleasured. All cultural, social life are just the final resting place of energies that otherwise would have been spent in sexual rapture, if society (in the persona of the internalised Father) hadn't stepped in to spoil things.

Well, psychoanalysis has naturally moved on from these initial formulations. But knowing this about Freud explains a lot, I think, about where psychoanalysis went when sexual 'repression' wasn't so obvious. (Again, as Foucault would say, we were never really sexually repressed anyway, but it's about appearances in this case, really.)

It also answers a question I long wondered about. Well, not really a question, but it was something friends and I went around asking people when we undergraduates, to show everyone how clever and witty -- in a post-Wildean way, I suppose -- we could be:

Do you think that dogs would have evolved to a higher level of civilisation if they hadn't been distracted by their ability to lick themselves?

The answer, of course, as I now know, is 'Yes'. Obviously.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Freudian humour, and my woeful failure...

A little diversion, if I might: Nate at 'What in the Hell...' has posted a list of the Best Lightbulb Jokes, which included this little gem...

Q: How many Freudians does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: Two. One to change the lightbulb and another to hold the penis – uh, I mean, the ladder!

I'm still laughing. (But the real highlight are the Trotskyist pick-up lines Adam W. posted in the comments. “Hey baby, If I said you had a peasantry capable of being led by a tiny working class would you hold it against me?” Beautiful...)

So I thought I'd come up with the first Psycho-Babble On Compendium of Psychoanalytic and Psychotherapeutic Lightbulb Jokes... but alas, all I could come up with was

Q: How many Winnicottians does is take to change a lightbulb?

A: None. It all depends on the mother.

which is obviously rubbish so I can't be trusted to ever do this again. So rather than a 'compendium', I'm hoping for an Psycho-Babble On Occasional Series of Psychoanalytic and Psychotherapeutic Jokes of Any Sort, Really, because I think that's the best I can hope for. And of course I'll have to poach them, as my woeful effort (see above) amply demonstrates, so if you have any good ideas, please do send them to us.

(And by the way, if you like cartoons, and we know there are a lot of good psychoanalytic/therapeutic cartoons out there, do check out Prozacville in our links section.)

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Žižek's fathers and the children of psychoanalysis

I recently saw Žižek ! -- well, actually, I saw some clips on YouTube first. One particularly struck me, a clip of Žižek being interviewed on Nitebeat. You can see it here:

(You'll find it about 5 minutes in, though the rest is very illuminating, and entertaining, too.)

All very clever, and all very funny. It's the charming, counter-intuitive, Slavoj Žižek, after all. But something disturbed me about that Nitebeat clip, and not just the slappable puppet that hosts it, Barry Nolan. (Lacan makes Freud sound like a simple Valley Girl?!? How, in the name of... No. Nevermind. I don't know how these things work.)

No, what's really troubling is Žižek's ideas on fatherhood.

I'm not talking about the clips, near the end, where we see Žižek with his own son. Far be it from me to judge, and as I'm a father myself, I know better than to offer prescriptions. (More on that later, no doubt. Suffice to say for now that I sometimes sign myself as 'Laius'.) I'm talking about Žižek's ideas that he raises on Nitebeat in relation to his book, The Puppet and the Dwarf. Here, Žižek gives us two fathers to consider: the 'postmodern' father and the 'good, old fashioned totalitarian father'.

Žižek's 'postmodern' father uses emotional blackmail to get his son to do his bidding. The 'postmodern' father is treacherous, getting into his son's head, convinving him that he really does want to go to Grandma's house. 'You know how much she loves you...'. The good, old-fashioned totalitarian father, on the other hand, is rather more straight-forward in his approach. We are going to Grandma's and you may not like it but tough. He is authoritarian, yes, but does not manipulate on his son. He is not devious. He gets his son to do his bidding through good old fashioned beatings, for example. But I'm not going to complain about Žižek's apparent endorsement of corporal punishment.

We aren't left in any doubt as to which father Žižek prefers. The good, old-fashioned totalitarian father is more honest. He is a rogue, he is counter-intuitive, he doesn't play by the rules of that new authoritarianism, political correctness, but we love his cuddly brutishness. But he is not -- and this is where I get troubled -- an Oedipal father, not in the psychoanalytic sense

The 'postmodern' father (and here's why I explain why I've been insisting on the inverted commas) isn't 'postmodern' at all, but is actually just very liberal. As in the 19th century notion of the word. As in a way that Jeremy Bentham might recognise. Why Bentham? Because Bentham invented the panopticon, which gave the world a vision of the carceral society, and of our modern (and 'postmodern', if you must) prison guard, censor, educator, father -- the figure of authority internalised. And it is this father whose children can be psychoanalysed.

The way I see it, if all fathers were Žižek's totalitarian fathers, there would be no psychoanalysis. The totalitarian father's children don't need psychoanalysis, because they don't internalise law of the father; the father and his law are sitting right there, to stop the child from doing whatever it is his unimpeded id is telling them to do. And when the child can get away with it, later, when Daddy's not watching, he will. This child is not self-policing. He has no superego, no resistance, no internal conflict.

Ok, they would do, really, of course, but not in the same way. This coneption of the internalised authority is an invention, and is in fact proving to be one of the most enduring technologies of the 19th century. And that conception of authority, of power as hidden away inside, is a pre-requisite for psychoanalysis.
For psychoanalysis was another invention, a technology that was devised to analyse those children of liberal father's who got into their sons' heads, those children who internalised the voice of authority -- the superego -- and who then churned out all that delicious stuff of analyses.

As Foucault might say -- oh yes, this is where I've been going for some time now -- the liberal father is a necessary condition of possibility for psychoanalysis. So Žižek pines for his authoritarian Daddy (and make no mistake, he does adore a Stalinist), but it troubles me that he so easily dismisses the role played by the key character in the psychoanalytic drama.

'Maybe it works as a strategy, at a certain point,' he says earlier in the above YouTube clip about Lacan, without a hint of irony. 'First you need to seduce people with obscure statements, but I hate this kind of approach. I am a total Enlightenment person. I believe in clear statements, and so on.' Yes, he does. But he seems instead to want to seduce us with the outrageous, un-PC counter-intuitive statement. Which is fine. Everyone's got to have a marketing angle now, I suppose. But we can't let these pass unanalysed.

Too long for a blog post, no doubt. I'm learning the form. Give me time

Friday, 14 March 2008

Welcome and introduction.

Greetings. And welcome to our humble efforts.

This rather cleverly named blog (geddit? geddit?) is to bring you a small sample of the thoughts, imaginings and hard work being undertaken at the University of Sheffield, UK in the area of psychoanalytic and psychotherapy studies.

We'll be trying to bring you important announcements, our thoughts on developments in the field, and whatever free associations wander in and out of (un)concious. We'll see how it goes; we aim to please, so let us know what you like.

The 'we' includes those lecturers and research students here in our psychoanalytic and psychotherapy studies programmes here -- see our links on the right for more information. But we above all want to stimulate debate, reflections and re-evaluations, all in a friendly, informal way. Please let us know what you think.

By psychoanalytic and psychotherapy studies we mean specifically the application of psychoanalytic and psychotherapeutic ideas to any range of ideas in the wider social, cultural, aesthetic spheres. We also focus on the analyses of psychoanalytic and psychotherapeutic discourses themselves, their historical, ideological and contemporary contexts. We aren't planning to write often about issues of clinical concerns per se but it is inevitable -- and entirely desirable -- that the things we talk about here will have an impact on clinical practice and key debates.

So, enjoy!

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