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