I was an ‘aspirational parent’.

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Rishi Sunak, our latest Prime Minister, but probably another short duration one, got himself into a testy Prime Minister’s Questions debate about public schools. Sunak attended Winchester. In it he talked about aspiration. He claimed that Keir Starmer was attacking aspiration, when Starmer was attacking Sunak’s schooling. I thought about that at some length. In the 1980’s when I had left school and was building a career in the City, I was very interested in ‘aspiration’.

It was the time of Tebbit ‘on yer bikism’, and the focus was on something called the ‘meritocracy’. I intended to be a part of the meritocracy, and by finding myself a job with the pre-eminent stockjobbing firm, I was well placed to do so. Mind you, I used to believe in trickle-down economics too, so not everything I believed in the 1980’s has survived my subsequent life experiences. Starmer must have had someone like me in mind, when he mocked Sunak for “trickledown education”.

What is ‘aspiration’? It is the hope, or ambition, of achieving something. Medically, it has another meaning. It is the action of drawing breath. That might be worth considering. Even the ambitious need to draw breath sometimes. Sunak may wish he had done so, as his ‘aspiration’ defence has been derided, for the perspective of someone hopelessly out of touch, and twisted to suggest that he was patronisingly and disparagingly suggesting that those who could not afford private education for their children, somehow lacked aspiration.

In the year (1981) before I left school, I loved, as did most of the country, the TV adaptation of Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited’. It is about many wonderful things, including faith, friendship, denial, rejection, addiction (ideas and substances) and so on, but the TV adaptation focused on the gilded lifestyles of the Oxford student class. Although it is not about private education, it was an advertisement for the refinement, social capital and networking that such an education might provide. Protagonist, Charles Ryder’s school is not named, but his creator went to Lancing College and in a subsequent short story about Ryder’s schooldays, he left enough clues to suggest that was where Ryder might have gone. I drank it in.

At that early ’80’s time, as has recurred many times since, the Oxbridge institutions were under attack for elitism. The new Prime Minister might have been to Somerville College at Oxford, but she was keener to recall schooldays at a girls’ school in Grantham as she personified aspiration and achievement. Oxbridge needed more state school pupils to be accepted. For reasons I still cannot quite appreciate, I was selected as part of an experiment, a small group of Essex comprehensive school kids who might want to attend.

We were put up in Oxford colleges (Jesus, for me) for a couple of nights, and invited to meet and interrogate some of Oxford’s finest minds, whilst spending a great deal of money in Blackwell’s on ‘reading lists’, including many books I bought but, embarrassingly, never read. I definitely had aspiration. Possibly not quite enough intellect. After a burst of intensity at my studies for a term, I realised that I might not get to the dreaming spires, and that if I went into the City, I might get to be independent and to benefit from a ‘university of life’ education. I slackened and went job hunting.

The City in the ’80’s was a curious place. It was still a place of traditions and hierarchies. Being a blue-button, as I was, was as much about deference, as it was about competence. Nonetheless times were changing. The Thatcherite Big Bang reforms as stock exchange chairman Nicholas Goodison wriggled away from the threat of ‘restrictive practices’ legislation, turned single capacity broking or jobbing, into dual capacity trading and paved the way for the advent of new capital inflows and US style ‘investment banking’. It lost many good things, but it brought with it, ambition, and a huge fillip in earnings power. I had lucked into the most exciting industry, with all the concomitant benefits that any 18 year old on the make, could have found.

It did not make me a stranger to aspiration, though. Much of mine was social. The City had a crude divide at the time of ‘East End barrow boy’ type traders and somewhat more sophisticated and elegant brokers, salespeople and merchant bankers. The divide was largely about which schools they had attended. Within a decade that division had merged and East Enders and Essex comprehensive schoolboys like me were affecting the dress codes (if not the accents) of their mainly privately educated peers in the non-trading roles. I loved the City, as a ‘blue’ on the market floor, before they took it away in ’87, and in the dynamic, nascent investment banks, finding homes in new offices built over now redundant old railways stations.

Above all, I loved the confidence that most of its workforce exuded. I lacked confidence. I watched my peers very keenly. The dress code was important. I looked forward to a time when I could buy a suit tailored for me, and not off the peg. I spent the modest profit on my first ‘PA deal’ on my first pair of Church’s shoes, and I noted which of the Jermyn Street shirtmakers my boss preferred (Turnbull and Asser), and quickly adopted double-cuffs and good cuff-links on a chain.

As I kept up my keen observations I envied the way some of these young men swanned about as if they owned the place, despite having as little experience as me. I assumed they must just be naturally bright and have an understanding of the business that I lacked. It took my years to realise that most of them had no great professional skills, but that they did have a powerful personal network, that gave them confidence. Someone always knew someone, who knew someone senior, who could help whatever needed to get done, to get done.

What has all this reminiscing got to do with Sunak? I think it is because it is in touch with aspiration. For my generation of aspirational City workers, much of that aspiration was social, rather than financial, although the need to pay for a different lifestyle was very plain. My path was eased by being a decent cricketer. Within weeks of my new career starting, I was selected to play for the Stock Exchange CC against the Bank of England CC at Roehampton. I opened the batting with MK Fosh, sometime of Essex CCC and of Cambridge University CC. Educated at Harrow. Before focusing on a City career he had made a first-class hundred. Fortunately in a winning score, we had a good partnership, both making 80’s. It meant I was rapidly accepted.

On the floor of the stock exchange was one distinguished broker, Marcus Colby, who had such a presence that meant he was treated as a sort of ‘Father of the House’. Mr. Colby loved cricket and the SECC. He had a beautiful Surrey home that backed on to his local cricket and tennis club, where he hosted a very generous President’s Day, featuring his club playing host to a Stock Exchange XI. He made it clear that he wanted me to play in this fixture and I did so for many years. Being someone, even though I was in my teens, who Mr. Colby would stop and talk to, meant that I could lose my ‘Essex boy’ identity and become something slightly different, in the eyes of my seniors.

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The SECC was dominated by players from the private schools. In my first games only one other player was state educated – another Essex Schools XI product, like me, called Graham Spooner. The dressing room and after match bar conversation was dominated by chatter about The Cricketer Cup. I did not know what it was, and had to be told by Graham that we would never play in it because it was a competition for ‘Old Boys’ of these great schools.

I felt more than a pang of envy, and it will have been one of the moments when I swore to myself that any child of mine was going to have those doors open, not shut to him, or her. As I eavesdropped on the conversations and began to take advantage of the network that cricket was opening to me (playing-in as a MCC member, helped) I started to realise that this elusive confidence thing was something that could simply be purchased. It came through buying education for my offspring.

One of my best friends had been to a well-known North London private school and when we first met he had just bought a flat near Swiss Cottage. I recall being shown into it and on his small stereo system he was playing the latest recording of ‘Porgy and Bess’. I thought the whole thing oozed erudition, learning, sophistication and style and I felt more than a little inferiority. Shortly after, he invited me to ‘guest’ for his Old Boys XI, in a friendly, obviously, not a Cricketer Cup tie. I didn’t get many! It left an indelible impression, though.

I then had the good fortune to fall in love with someone who had similar views about what we needed to provide for our children. Neither of us had been educated privately, but we were both confident that somehow our state education had left us short of something. Not just quality of learning, although we both felt that keenly, but something intangible and indefinable, but somehow necessary. We aspired to have it. Sunak spoke of “opportunity, not resentment” and I think I would have concurred at the time.

This, of course, raises an important question. When I was able to pay for my children to be educated privately, and ultimately, at a very fine boarding school in Northamptonshire, was I doing it for them? I think I now accept that much of my motivation was not of the loving-parent type, but of trying to acquire something that I felt had been wrongly excluded from me. That Cricketer Cup selection! My motives were much more selfish than selfless.

With my psychoanalytic hat on I can see that there is something Oedipal about it. I had a desire to ‘kill’ my father. Obviously not literally. I love him. In the Freudian sense, though, I think that I did want to depose him. And just as I did not want to kill him in the conscious world, I did not want to sleep with my mother, but unconsciously, the idea of possessing her, is apparent. I was demonstrating that I was a better man than my father, that she could have me as the central male in her world, because my strengths allowed me to provide for children better. Look, my children will be better educated…

Why was that education so important? Why is it that parents like Sunak’s, sacrifice so much time, money, but critically, of themselves, to deliver this expensive product to the next generation? I grew up in Chelmsford. At the time it stood out in a country of shrinking grammar school education by still having two very fine single-sex grammar schools. However, I did not pass the entrance exam; the 11-plus. My parents had been to grammar schools, in London, and I think I absorbed their contempt for secondary education in Comprehensive schools.

The political mood of my household was conservative and comprehensive education had become widespread thanks to the then Labour Education Secretary, Anthony Crosland, in 1965, the year after I was born. I think I grew up feeling a sense of failure; that going to a Comprehensive school in Chelmsford marked one out as educationally second-class. Paying for secondary education would not visit that stigma on any child of mine.

Was it worth it? Was my ‘aspiration’ rewarded? Well, in many respects, it was. My children attended a prep school in north Essex and then went off to board. I was happy that I was buying a superior education. That is very difficult to measure, but it certainly bought a broader education. The boarding environment gives scope for more things to be fitted into and around a timetable. I definitely introduced my children to facilities that a state school can rarely provide. I believed that it gave them a better environment for learning about, and appreciating the Arts, as well as access to exceptional sporting facilities and extraordinary science and language laboratories.

The dreadful system of legislation in South Africa that was Apartheid, comes from an Afrikaans word that means ‘apartness’. I think that when my children first attended prep school I was aware of ‘apartness’ in the school drive. The cars were all large and usually fancy German brands. I don’t doubt that I welcomed it. I had a sense of inclusion to a world that I felt had once excluded me, because my parents did not have a great deal of wealth. I was rewarding my aspiration. And yet, even then, as I preened and adorned myself in some sort of ‘superiority cloak’, all my inner arrogance was being tested. I was an imposter, and actually did I want my children growing up feeling superior because of their parents’ spending power?

Would I do it again? This is the most difficult question. My children all are living with partners now, one is about to marry and I hope I might one day have grandchildren to think of. The subject of education is something that is periodically discussed. My sense is that in today’s world, I would probably turn away from the private system. I think that the state system offers a breadth of education that I used to not appreciate, namely how all members of society are more alike than different, to echo Jo Cox. It is not just the quality of the theatre that the school has, or the newness of the cricket pavilion, or the fact that the swimming pool meets Olympic standards, it is the opportunity to learn from playground peers that differences are to be celebrated as much as similarities. Learning is not just a classroom activity.

That all sounds a little virtuous, and some of my pals would mock me (again) for being a bit ‘wokey’, so it is only right that I think if I rewind to the period when my eldest was approaching prep school age, I recognise that I would almost certainly be pushing her into the private system. This time, though, I can see it was about satisfying my needs more than her’s. I wanted to feel that slightly exclusive social network.

I probably wanted to inhale a sense of social superiority, that preening confidence that I had observed when I first worked in the City. Wants are very powerful. Freud’s earliest brilliant work on Dreams is about understanding that the core of each dream is a ‘wish fulfilment’. Whilst, I can see I was meeting something inside me, and I suspect I would still need to for my younger self, that is no longer how I feel about life, as I approach grandparental age.

In a debate at the weekend with my brother’s partner, the subject of what we want for our children came up. Happiness was one suggestion, and we went on to become quite philosophical. I think it might be something less abstract. Certainly for me, it was about giving something to them that I had not had. Was I ‘killing’ my father, unconsciously? I am not sure, but I can see that aspiration was not just economic, and was not all selfless love for my offspring. My then-wife and I had great aspirations for the children. We felt that our job was to help them fulfil their potential and giving them the ‘best’ education was one of the critical requirements in allowing them to do so. We were from a generation, often because of high earnings from my industry, that was typically a first-generation private school parent. Classically “nouves”, compared with the ever diminishing representation of ‘old money’. Were our aspirations healthy? I think, for the most part, yes.

The public school row, of course, is not really about Sunak’s parents’ aspiration, or about mine. It is about the Daily Mail’s attempt to confect some sort of ‘class war’ and it is about the more significant issue of the charitable status of our best known private schools. It might be somewhat hypocritical to take an anti-charitable status position having benefited for my family, but my sense is that status is becoming indefensible and I shall be surprised if it survives.

My conclusions are that aspiration is no bad thing for a parent; indeed I think, in different forms, it is more common than uncommon for new parents. Channelling it into private education is something I might detour from nowadays, but I have a strong nineteenth century liberal view of the rights of the individual. I do believe that once one has earned, and been taxed, that spending money should absolutely be at the discretion of the earner. If that means paying for education, it is to be welcomed and whilst I am aware my convictions have shifted, I am glad that I was able to satisfy my needs as an ‘aspirational parent’.

World Cup (no)-fever

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This weekend the men’s football World Cup tournament kicks off. I have, for me, a curious lack of excitement and anticipation. This could be an age thing – after all, I felt very unexcited by England’s men’s cricket team’s latest pyjama tip-and-run, cricket triumph in a ‘World Cup’ – or it could be a political thing, or a seasonal thing, or any one of many reasons, but I have no World Cup fever.

The political impact is obvious. Human rights abuses and corruption in the award of the tournament to the host country. but much as I like to align myself with the moral over the immoral, I doubt that is my true issue. I had few qualms about watching and enjoying the tournaments held in Russia this century and Argentina in the last. Seasonal may make some sense. I am conditioned to World Cups being end-of-the-domestic-season, summer fayre. This pre-Christmas interruption of the drama that is a domestic season feels more than a little transgressive.

It is definitely not the prospects of my national team. England has a fine squad of talented players and appears to have a relatively undemanding group stage to overcome, to get its tournament legs underway. I have watched multiple tournaments where England never threatened the last four, and some where I had not expected them to. In this tournament, I suspect that they will fail to reach the highs of the last two major tournaments in reaching a semi-final and a final. It is two decades since a non-European nation triumphed and I think that run will be ended by a southern hemisphere winner this time. I think the game of football would be enhanced by a first African nation win, but I find myself looking more towards South America.

So, is it the Qatar venue, my age, the time of year or something else that means I look forward to my weekend with no more anticipation than when England plays a Nations League fixture, or back to my childhood when they played Home Internationals? It might be that my appetite for football itself has diminished, but I doubt that. I probably watch domestic and European matches more closely and more frequently than in the past, because first my playing days, and then my parenting days, no longer fill up my weekends and leisure hours.

I tried to get into my head the way I felt about prior tournaments. Although I had been born by the time of England’s solitary win, I was too young to have any association with it. In 1970, I was still too young, but I do have an attachment to that tournament. Replayed film, means I have a sense of the English despair when Muller hooks the ball beyond Bonetti, and I ‘remember’ the imperious performance of Bobby Moore against Pele and his Brazilian team, despite the memory coming from post-1970 re-runs. I also have a mental cinema reel of the fourth Brazilian goal in the final because it gets so much air time, as Pele lays it into the path of Carlos Alberta, (‘O Capitao’), who gleefully smashes it home.

By 1974 – ten years old – I was really excited about the World Cup, but England had crushed my schoolboy hopes by not qualifying. Nonetheless, perhaps because of my age, it is a tournament I regard as one of the finest. Cruyff’s total footballing Dutch side, the ruthless efficiency of Beckenbauer’s Germany, playing at home and the against-the-odds triumphs of the Poles, who I found myself cheering on despite their part in England’s pre-Finals elimination. Their winger, Lato, finished top scorer. Zaire’s appearance gave my ten year old senses a feeling that football was exotic and genuinely a ‘world game’. British representation came from Scotland, who had many players I admired, (Buchan, Bremner, Dalglish, Law and Lorimer), but faded early.

In 1978 the host nation won for the third time in four tournaments. Argentina’s triumph was marred for my teenage eyes by some pretty brutal football. Football seemed to have regressed from what Cruyff had helped to create, and seemed to sneer at the beauty of the Brazilian supremacy earlier in the same decade. England, despite having Ballon D’Or winner, Kevin Keegan in the side, and my favourite player, Trevor Brooking, did not qualify. The seventies were a dark period for England fans, which is why I find the criticism, and sometimes contempt for, current coach Southgate, difficult to share.

In 1982, I was leaving school and starting work. I was also picking up a few quid for my own modest footballing skills. It was a time when life’s many other interests were curbing my armchair fan commitments. Italy won, Rossi scored the most goals, but the way that their defender, Gentile, brutalised the genius of Argentina’s Maradona, left a sour taste. The tournament was played in Spain, and the European time zone meant I saw quite a lot of the television coverage. England was there but despite opening its account after 27 seconds with a Bryan Robson goal, and going undefeated, they were eliminated in the second phase of the competition. Cameroon also went undefeated but home, and attracted more sympathy than Ron Greenwood’s team.

In 1986 England’s Gary Lineker was top scorer, but Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal eliminated a good England team. He, almost single-handedly, dragged his team to eventual success, and earned some restitution for what had been taken from him by Italian foul play four years earlier. The tournament was held in Mexico and captured my attention more fleetingly than had the ’82 Finals.

In 1990, I did have World Cup fever. It was a tournament that produced a record low for goals per game, but I recall it as a wonderful event. Nessun dorma, Gazza’s tears and an England team that performed above expectations (certainly mine). The psychodrama of penalty shootouts. Wretched luck. ‘Toto’ Schillaci.

1994 was hosted by the United States. The Soviet Union had broken up and Russia played. Fukuyama might be working through his ‘end of history’ thesis, but for football, or ‘soccer’ as it became that summer, this was a return to history, as Brazil, the most successful nation in the event, returned to the winner’s podium. They did it with a very un-Brazilian win, on penalties after a 0-0 draw in the final. I watched the tournament but unfeverishly, perhaps because none of the British teams had qualified and neither had then-reigning European Champions, Denmark.

Fever was back for 1998, especially for David Beckham, who was overwhelmed by it and sent off in a match against arch-enemy, Argentina, which led to England’s elimination. A resumption of normality was that the host nation triumphed; a success that was much-merited, as the inspirational talent of Zinedine Zidane transformed the tournament. The make-up of the French team, dominated by players born in, or children of parents born in, former French colonies, seemed to inspire a hope about a diminution of racist rhetoric and philosophy. A false hope, alas.

This century has changed me as a World Cup watcher. My contemporaries and heroes were no longer playing, but were now tv pundits and mere highlights-reel appearers. 2002 was a truly exciting start with Asia hosting for a first time. Japan and South Korea hosted brilliantly and South Korea made it to a semi-final. They were beaten to third place by Turkey. China played in the finals for a first time. The global game felt that it was living up to its global boast, that had been part of the marketing from the 1994 tournament. The broadcasting and the time differences meant I watched much of it at a desk in my office. That was a different kind of World Cup fever and it was wonderful.

Football, even if it was not coming home, was bringing people together, even in the workplace. England emerged from a so-called ‘group of death’, despite only scoring two goals and winning just one game, a curious redemption because it was against Argentina. Brazil were too good in the quarter-final, although England might not have lost had not the hubristic goalkeeper, who laughingly called himself ‘Safe Hands’, not made a calamitous error of judgment.

Italy won in ’06. This time the imperious Zidane disgraced the final, by head-butting an opponent, after a career of gracing pitches. England fell to its penalty shootout curse in a quarter-final against the Portuguese. The tournament took place in reunified Germany and was dominated by European teams, with the furthest any other nation getting being the quarter-finals, where Brazil and Argentina joined England on the losers list.

I got excited by 2010’s Finals, held for the first time in Africa. A hoped-for football pageant. African football was well-represented but did not really suggest it would break through, although African players earning European rewards would become a feature of the coming decade. Iniesta, a player who shimmers in my football memory like Cruyff and Zidane, scored an extra-time winner for Spain, who were low scoring but deserved winners. Some of the football was good, but the memory was of a tournament that introduced us all to the irritating soundtrack of the vuvuzela.

I would not say I was feverish about 2014 or 2018, in Brazil and then Russia, but the untypical outperformance of the England team in 2018, much like Robson’s Italia ’90 team, certainly got my blood flowing. And so here we are; 2022. I feel unexcited. I expect England to get out of the group but not to go much further. If they do, I may get excited. I hope Wales, do themselves proud and we see repeat after repeat of Michael Sheen imploring them to write their names “on that page, boys” and “Yma O Hyd”. I hope for a wonderful tournament, for some exuberant skills and some audacious goals, but I doubt I will watch much of it.

I have still not settled if this is just because I am some old curmudgeon, or I am politically sensitive about it, or just expect November to be a time to support West Ham, not England, but I hope for those that have caught some World Cup fever, that it is a memorable tournament, for some onfield and good reasons.

‘Living’ – an Ishiguro and Nighy triumph

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Earlier this week I treated myself to watching the film Living. Adapted from the Japanese film ‘Ikiru’ (Kurosawa, 1952) by Kazuo Ishiguro, who wrote the screenplay, it owes its original inspiration to Tolstoy. Thomas Laquer, wrote in a LRB book review that referenced Tolstoy’s ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich’, that “once the disease that is the agent of our demise declares itself, it transforms everything in our world.” He went on to note that “Tolstoy also describes the great gap Ivan feels between his physicians – for whom death and disease are the substance of their profession – and himself, the dying man for whom it is everything.” This is the essence of the film – a man’s world is transformed and no physician can help.

‘Living’ is transplanted by Ishiguro to 1950’s London and the film opens with old documentary film shots, with vivid red buses dominating the screen. I did wonder about the buses as a blood-red metaphor pumping through London’s arteries. In Ishiguro’s film the protagonist, played with aching stoicism by Bill Nighy, is told he has six, maybe nine months to live. I loved it. I shed a handful of tears and I thought a great deal about themes. How do you live with and under such knowledge, that of a terminal illness?

Nighy’s character, Mr. Williams, contemplates and then rejects suicide and decides to give his life a little of what it has missed, especially since the death of his wife. He embraces joy, which he sees emanating from his youngest and only female colleague, (Aimee Lou Wood – excellent) in a room of stiff suits and very stiff manners, in a civil service department. Eros has triumphed over Thanatos. Freud’s Pleasure Principle has exerted itself, notwithstanding the impending triumph of cancer.

A hilarious drunken encounter at a coastal resort introduces him to a chancer (a superb cameo from Tom Burke) and then the charms of drinking dens, circus acts, strips tease and ladies of the night. He emerges, largely spotless, with the loss of one hat and the acquisition of another, a metaphor for his internal psychic change. Inspired by his young colleague, Miss Harris, when she leaves for a new role, he adopts a willingness to contest bureaucracy and to support an apparently lost cause.

For modern viewers, it is very much about the significance of supporting a minority position, in this case the patronised group of women appealing for help. The fact that it leads to some infrastructure (a playground) investment from the Public Works department is maybe, an Ishiguro nudge for more Keynesian economics, to be applied more widely in the current era. We appreciate how rebellion can be subtle, is, when effective, nuanced, but above all we appreciate the virtues of persistence.

His death is very sad, but exquisitely portrayed, as repressed feelings get expression through his son and Miss Harris, the female colleague, at the wake. Nighy’s character has told Miss Harris that he loves his son, but has plainly never said as much at home, and has not been able to share the news about his illness. The son is concerned by Miss Harris’s presence and about social propriety, but says nothing. The wake, in turn, leads to some genuine soul-searching amongst Williams’s erstwhile colleagues, who resolve to follow his example, but subsequently fail to shift gears, sufficiently.

Nonetheless the film extols the virtues of even the smallest gestures of rebellion and of kindness. Their ripples extend widely and the impact of even the smallest gesture can be disproportionately large. The fact that the film ends in a nod of appreciation to the hardiness of London’s post Blitz East Enders, and the virtues of journeys east on the District Line, especially pleased this viewer.

After I had let the impact of the film affect me for a couple of days I thought once more about what Ishiguro might have wanted us to take away. Clearly, there is some ‘carpe diem’, which tends to make me think not of author Horace, but of Robin Williams’s turn in ‘Dead Poets Society’; another film that makes me weep. Nighy’s Mr.Williams needs the news that he is shortly to die, to recognise that until then, he has been living as a dead man. He has confided to the charming Miss Harris, that he had never wanted to be anything but a “gentleman”, in a smart suit, from his earliest days as a commuter watching his fellow commuters on the platform in Surrey. He seems to have had no other ambition.

This is one of the critical messages, I think. How does one lead a fulfilling life? For some that might not even mean a ‘good’ life, well-lived, but something racier and adrenaline fuelled; but it is something of an existential issue for the commuting classes. My colleagues and I often talked about our existences in the hamster wheel, unable to get off and unable to get anywhere. We were the lucky ones, we were sedated and seduced by good salaries and expense account comfort, but we were, I believe, in a minority, although in a majority with our dissatisfaction.

At the heart of Mr. Williams’s coming to life is an ambition. He decides to overwhelm convention and stifling bureaucracy and ludicrous manners and mannerisms, to help a plucky group of ladies get a playground built at a squalid bomb-site. My favourite part of the film is when he takes his colleagues out of their own comfort zones. He marches them from the womb-like comfort of the office, out into the hostile real world, represented by pouring rain. Their discomfort is exacerbated by his joy in suggesting that they abandon their Esher-commuting sensibilities and become familiar with the District Line and a trip to Stepney Green.

When I left school, I had three ambitions. I count myself as a very fortunate man to have achieved my ambitions. If I was given six months to live now, I am not sure how I would react, or what I would want to do, but I would die feeling that I had achieved something. It may be that my ambitions were somewhat unambitious, but I would not die empty and unfulfilled. One ambition was to marry and have children. It eludes some who want it (marriage) and children are sometimes cruelly beyond some couples who would love them wonderfully. I think that is why Ishiguro wants us to know that Williams loves his son, even if he fails to express it directly. Family and children are, for many, central to fulfilment.

A second thought that returns to me, days afterward, is the significance of the playground. Play is important. What Williams senses in Burke’s character and sees in Miss Harris, is different forms of playfulness. He senses the lack of playfulness in himself and astutely tells Miss Harris about how even the boisterous and transgressive boys are transformed by play, before they are called in by their mothers.

The awakening he gets from his attempted debauched weekend at the coast, and from being in Miss Harris’s company, is a tip of the hat to breaking down differences between the generations. One scene has him dining at home with his son and daughter-in-law, who live with him and are clearly stifled by it. The film beautifully captures how generation gaps of inarticulacy and misunderstanding contaminate loving relationships. It begs us to talk, to communicate, and to enjoy the company of people outside our own age groups.

Lastly, there is the Scottish folk song, The Rowan Tree, which Nighy beautifully sings when his character concedes he is a bit “Scotch mist”, in the pub. If it was his own voice, it is very gentle, compelling and seductive, and it allows his character to turn the clock back in his mind to something precious, and shared, from his past. Psychoanalytically he is getting in touch with a good Object.

For us, I think it also is designed to remind us of the beauty of nature. When lives are short and illnesses overwhelming, it is often nature, that is the truest comforter.

Oh! rowan tree, oh! rowan tree, 
Thou’lt aye be dear to me, 
En twin’d thou art wi’ mony ties 
O’ hame and infancy. 
Thy leaves were aye the first o’ spring, 
Thy flow’rs the simmer’s pride; 
There was na sic a bonnie tree 
In a’ the countrie side. 
Oh! rowan tree.

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On: Hope

Last weekend the Financial Times’s guest for its regular ‘Lunch with the FT’ column was writer, George Saunders. Talking to journalist and novelist, Rebecca Watson, he said that “the idea that…hope in a story means a happy ending, that’s absurd”. I thought about that, whilst I spent my weekend at the European Psychoanalytic Film Festival, because its theme was ‘Hope’.

What is it to have hope? It seems to me that it is really a life-force, almost certainly innate and that it is an emotional shape-shifter. What do I mean by that? In the first place, consider the neonate. It has no means of protecting itself, of being fed, or of being kept warm. It has no language, its sight is limited. Yet, it finds a way to communicate its needs. If it can communicate what it wants, it must have hope that those wants will be satisfied. Truly, a life force. To invert it, as best exemplified by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, we know that to have no hope, to be hope-less, is to be acquainted with suicidality. “To be, or not to be”, indeed.

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To use a facile, and possibly trite example, hope is a shape-shifter. Consider the football fan. Hammers fans like me hope that our team will win each week. It is a common refrain amongst sports fans that “it is the hope that kills you”. However, if they are losing 3-0 with a couple of minutes to go, my hopes are dashed, effectively ‘killing’ me. Nonetheless, I do not lose all hope. Instead, I have as much hope, but it becomes re-directed. I hope that the margin of defeat, will be reduced by a late Hammers goal. I hope to see my team score, even though that will not realise my pre-match hopes.

To think a little more seriously, what is hope right now, to a Ukrainian soldier, or to an Iranian woman? What is hope for a terminally-ill person? We can appreciate that it is not joyous, and indeed, it may have many obstructions, but we understand that it exists. This is Saunders’s point, I think. The film festival was dominated by, but not exclusively focused on, narratives of forced migration, of displacement and of hostility, and places of mutual incomprehension.

One Russian film (“Anna’s War”), adopted a story from the period of Nazi occupation and the remarkable survival of a young Jewish girl, who hid in a chimney breast of an old school. She had to adopt a feral, survivor mindset, but in so doing, she was deploying her resources and her reservoir of hope. To have not done so would have been accepting hopelessness.

One cannot really contemplate hope without thinking about the legend of Pandora’s box. The box, really a pithos, or storage jar, is a present to her from Zeus on her wedding day. The gods had created Pandora, the beautiful first woman, to punish humanity. Pandora is instructed not to open the box. She yields to curiosity and opens it. Inside, are the seven deadliest sins; wrath, greed, envy, lust, sloth, pride and gluttony. She attempts to contain them, but they escape and only one thing remains, hope. The interpretation is that Zeus wanted hope to remain – a perpetual punishment to mankind. Hope is often translated as “deceptive expectation”.

I like this definition, because it seems to me that what hope is, lies on the border of reality and delusion. We have a tendency to mock the deluded. In the mental health arena, delusions are a feature of psychosis, and psychotics are demeaned as anti-social (often they can be) and abnormal (what is normal?) Yet, to maintain hope, one often has to embrace delusions. I recently watched the tv dramatisation of the formation of, and early days of the SAS. There is a triumph of hope for most of the new regiment’s personnel. There are also clear delusions, of superhuman strengths and of immortality.

A few years ago, London hosted the brilliant play “The Jungle”, which portrayed life in the Calais Jungle accommodation of refugees, mainly seeking a passage to the UK. When it was advertised it was billed as telling stories of loss, fear, community and hope and of the Calais camp’s construction and later, destruction. When I watched it, I was both moved and entertained and although I could not really understand the intense difficulties these people suffered on top of the traumas they had experienced, I nonetheless felt the collective sense of hope. I wonder now, if hope is contagious? Is it how people suffer but survive, internment and various forms of oppression?

When I was much younger, I was very taken with the film Papillon, based on the true story of Henri Charriere, who escaped from South Africa’s infamous Devil’s Island. Twenty years later, another jailbreak film, Shawshank Redemption, slowly gained popularity and cult status and is probably more admired than Papillon now. Shawshank is not based on a true story, however. Nonetheless, the two films have something in common and I believe that their popularity is down to offering audiences the chance to share a sense of hope with the joy of overcoming overwhelming odds – using a delusion as a source of strength, almost.

What then, are our collective hopes for the coming years, for the world that my children need to learn to lead and the world that we will provide for any grandchildren that I have? (you see – a hope – I am clearly hoping to become a grandfather, just by typing that). When the pandemic restricted our movements and liberties, I blogged about how it might change the world. I fantasised that it might lead to us slowing down, to appreciating ‘essential workers’ and perhaps, employing more kindnesses as we re-engaged senses of community. It was an unreal time of blue skies and loud birdsong. Urbanites like me got re-acquainted with nature and felt hope. Alas, I could hardly have been more wrong. The world seems a little nastier and a little more selfish these days.

The Royal Academy currently has an exhibition of William Kentridge’s work on display currently. To get a sense of it, watch the BBC4 ‘Imagine’ programmes of a couple of his short films. Kentridge is witty, provocative and political. He is the founder of the Centre for the Less Good Idea. This is based on a local saying that if one cannot get or afford the best doctor, one should get the less good one, next. I like it. I loved the exhibition, which may be the finest thing I have ever seen at the RA. Kentridge’s family are closely associated with the Apartheid era, not least because his father defended many ANC men in court, including Mandela. Whilst his work does not shy away from his country’s violent past or its messy corruption, what it celebrates is the triumphs of hope(s). Mandela’s endurance and resilience are rightly admired, as is his astute political antennae and his compassion, but his greatness was the hope he had for what his country might become.

I left the festival after watching the most cheerful of the films, which was “Ali and Ava”. One of its leading actors is Claire Rushbrook, who had recently been brilliant at the National Theatre as Mags, in David Eldridge’s “Middle”. The programme said she was going to be on a panel, discussing her film after it had been shown. Afterwards, I fulfilled one of my hopes for the weekend, by getting to meet her and talk to her about Ava and about Mags. I was a complete fan-boy and I loved it. As I walked home I thought about the theme again. I think hope is ubiquitous. I believe that it keeps alive those close to suicide, and that it is often found in the darkest places like prisons, concentration camps and refugee sites. Oh, and the ranks of seats at the London Stadium, of course. Come on You Irons!

On Cezanne at Tate Modern

It is only in recent years that I have come to appreciate visual art, in the same way that I love something like theatre. I think that I felt, for a long time, my ignorance of the artists, of the contexts, and of art technique. I have come to appreciate that most of that is nonsensical. Paintings, sketches and sculpture are about how they make one feel. I have been helped by having an Art History graduate in the family, and visiting galleries with her has become a great joy to me – something to share, as well as what is usually a profound learning experience to me.

Thinking about the mind and about creativity, which are pillars of psychoanalytic thinking, has enabled me to focus on what artists convey and what they stimulate within me. Music often affects my emotional register, but it took some time before canvases hung in a gallery did the same. I like the union between painting and music though. A week or so ago I was able to watch the Bowie film “Moonage Daydream”. Bowie took some time before sharing his canvases with the public, unlike the way that he had little difficulty displaying his performative self, and allowing his writing, his work as a lyricist to be exposed.

In the past few years I have seen some remarkable exhibitions at the Tate, Tate Modern and at the RA. The latest ‘must see’ to roll into town is Cezanne at Tate Modern. I did a little prep for this one. Cezanne lived through a period of political turbulence. He was part of an extended artistic group that included the individuals behind Zola’s words and Pissarro’s images. He moved in highly political circles and yet kept politics away, at least in the way he resisted becoming outspoken. His art may not be apolitical, but it is not making political statements.

Raised in Aix, he was, his father hoped, going to find a future in Law. Zola was a schoolfriend and had established himself in Paris. Cezanne followed him, but the capital was never a place he settled into and he had a life split between Paris and Provence. This split, or ambivalence, as any psychoanalyst might highlight, was significant. Paris did introduce him to Pissarro (an anarchist), though, and they developed some radicalism between them, in terms of artistic technique, of composition and approaches to uses of colour. This is the impressionist revolution. In 1874 the first impressionist exhibition was held in Paris, at which Cezanne had three exhibits.

In the one of the first rooms of the exhibition is the beautiful portrait Scipio which may have drawn him to the abolitionist movements. Such political views as he held are perhaps expressed in an adjoining exhibit, The Conversation, one of my favourites in the whole exhibition. This is around the time of the suppression of the Paris Commune, after Prussia had invaded. It must have been an uncomfortable city to call home and to want to experiment artistically.

The exhibition takes one next to examine some family portraits. I felt that these were looking for somewhere to hang but did not help me think about his development or naturally follow what had come in the room before, called ‘Radical Times’. I do, however, note the radicalism of his life-long companion and model, Marie-Hortense Fiquet, with whom he lived ‘in sin’, defying contemporary convention, until they married in 1886. Their son had been born in 1872.

His escape from Paris was usually to holiday in l’Estaque, a village in the bay of Marseille, where he first went to avoid military conscription. Over multiple visits over the years he produced more than forty paintings of the views. These are striking in the use of colour, the interpretation of light and in the sense of contentment and serenity that they conveyed to me.

To me, who regards himself as artistically ill-educated, there is something about Cezanne’s experimentation and use of many media that feels very modern. I found myself thinking of Hockney, of contemporary artists whose work I could think about in similar ways, and whose work has had similar affects for me. The pencil and charcoal works are things that really appeal to me – somehow I am impressed by something that suggests simplicity in its use of materials, but complexity in what they have been used to express.

Even someone ill-informed about art , knows that Cezanne could be recognised by his still-lifes. That he believed that he could change the world through the simple representation of an apple. This middle part of the exhibition is a rewarding part of what is on display, but when I attended it was day two, and seeing it should not be, and does not need to be rushed. Day two meant dense and enthusiastic crowds. The exhibition does not close until March next year. As it was day 2, it was, perhaps, too crowded, and I think I will get more from this room with at least one more visit, as his still-lifes were a focus for his experimentation. They represent – same theme – different approach(es).

The room ‘Bathers: Tradition and Creativity’, comes next and brought some familiar images to me. I had a board game when I was younger called ‘Masterpiece’, which had cards with tens of great paintings on them and was about the auction houses and owning and trading masterpieces against the risk of owning and not trading fakes (I think). This is the room where I found myself going “Oh I know that one” and I assume it was because of their appearances in the board game. Cezanne painted bathers of both sexes, using museum sculptures rather than live models as his inspiration. Notwithstanding this starting point, many of the paintings have figures of a rather androgynous quality. The Tate’s little guide throws this little informative gem, “Proportionally, artists have purchased more of Cezanne’s bather works than any other subject”. Three Bathers , on display here, was once owned by Henry Moore. Picasso and Matisse also owned works by Cezanne.

As Cezanne came to the end of his life, and as the exhibition moves one out into the inevitable retail offering, the recurring themes of apples and bathers, of the bay of Marseilles and the Aix landscape, start to become infiltrated by death. Landscapes get moodier, and skulls start to appear. I am not sure quite what that made me feel, but I was rather drawn to these moody images. As he contemplated the end of a life of creativity and some innovation, he became a revered figure, with many peers and young artists visiting him to pay respects. Not a bad way to review one’s life.

As is clear, I am no expert, but I think this is a really fine exhibition, and I shall return when it is slightly less busy and cramped, so that I can take in and be moved by the canvases. The gallery has done a superb job in collecting so many for one exhibition, and even had I not been dealing with the dense crowd of Tate patrons, I think I might have found it overwhelming. So, I shall return, and I recommend it to art lovers.

On: Reading ‘A Little Life’

One of the finest things about reaching my age, and about the whole mindset of a Second Innings, is that it is a time where there is much more pleasure in learning from one’s children than from teaching them. I now have multiple opportunities each month to learn from something my children say to me, or recommendations that they make to me, and there are few things that I feel able to teach them nowadays.

One of the best things that happened for me when we raised our family was to pass on a love of books. There were not that many books in the home in which I grew up, although I was encouraged to have my own and to ask for many titles for my ‘birthday list’ or my ‘Christmas list’. I grew up progressing via Famous Fives, to Secret Sevens, to Just William, to Jennings, on to Biggles, before breaking into adult literature via Alastair McLean and Len Deighton.

When I was much older, and lucky enough to have a well paid career, I indulged myself and created a study cum library, in our home in North Essex. I used to spend hours in it, admiring the books I had collected, and occasionally remonstrating with myself for the many that had yet to be read. “When I retire…”, I thought. Books, however, keep getting written and the ‘to be read’ list never shrinks. I was also not ready for how much my reading habits would change, and that different genres and different authors, different themes and perspectives, would suddenly become important. Also, the joy of learning, especially for ‘mature students’ like me, is that one appreciates that the more that one knows, the more one is aware of what one does not know. Cue, more books need to be read!

A little over a week ago, my daughter pressed a novel into my hands and talked with such appreciation, and a little urgency, that I had to read the book she was handing over. It was battered. When I was younger, perhaps because there were few books at home, I determined to leave books as close to mint condition as possible, even after reading them. My paperbacks never had damaged spines, and I Iiked to admire my collection, which was bookshop ready, as if I was preparing to have a sale.

Now, I like books to be battered. It shows an interaction, it suggests an intimacy, it reflects that reading about lives is as messy as living lives. I now prefer second hand books, with the turned pages, the marginalia, the dates they were first owned, the occasion of the gifting where appropriate. My daughter’s interaction was clearly intense and messy and intimate. (This seems especially relevant for the book she chose to recommend). Little wonder she was urgent in her recommendation.

The book in question is Hanya Yanagihara’s “A Little Life”. It is long, but it is not the length that makes it a time consuming read, but the messiness and horrors of the lives contained within it, to say nothing of the extraordinary acts of love. I finished it this weekend and I am sure it will take me some weeks to truly reflect on what I gained from it. Like the darkness of Dostoevsky, or the caricaturing of Dickens, it takes the reader to places deep within themself, to ask questions and provoke reactions.

When I returned from having dinner with my daughter, I was on a high, because I was enjoying that sensation of learning from my children. I posted a picture of the book on Facebook. Within hours, my two best friends, both of whom live overseas, had responded and suggested I was in for a great read. Shortly after, one of my psychotherapy colleagues, and a man who claims not to have time to read much, told me that I should get the tissues ready – I think he meant for my tears.

Last weekend, I attended an event where two psychoanalysts were in conversation. I walked into the room and immediately a couple of the attendees commented on my book, assuring me that I would carry many feelings with me once I reached the end, and wanting to know what I had made of the pages I had read so far. Another attendee, like me, had somehow missed it when it had come out and wanted me to summarise the plot – a challenging request. When I started to do so, I think my enthusiasm was enough and she wrote down the title and author, so that she could go and buy it that afternoon. I started to wonder at just how I had missed it. Perhaps writing this blog piece about it will be more redundant than anything else I have written because most people I know will have read it. Perhaps.

In 2015 it was the bookie’s favourite for the Booker Prize. Somehow, it had never registered with me, although I tend to acquire at least two or three from each Booker shortlist. It was a time of a great deal going on in my personal and professional life as I attempted to rebuild my professional reputation at a new employer, and as we adjusted from a large country detached house existence, to a London apartment, as home. I can only think that it was a year when I read little fiction and so it passed me by. I must read Marlon James’s “A Brief History of Seven Killings”, which won, because I am struggling to think of what might be superior to Yanagihara’s personifications of dark themes.

Reading it made me think of Hannah Arendt’s ‘banality of evil’. When she wrote her book, after contemplating the ‘work’ of Eichmann, she noted how evil deeds could be done without evil intentions. Banal. In a brilliant LRB review of Yanagihara’s book, Christian Lorenzen, is not quite as impressed as my daughter or me, and one reason is the view that the prose is dull and that “there is a sterile quality” to describing the abuse that the protagonist, Jude, has suffered. I think that is a key point. Jude has numbed his body, and his social interactions, as his coping mechanism. He is repressing pain, not expressing it, but of course anything repressed needs an outlet, and for Jude it comes in multiple self-harming episodes, escalating to suicide attempts.

If that sounds depressing; it can be. Parts of the book, definitely are. Please don’t let that turn you away, though. Whilst wannabe psychoanalysts like me can get deep into the narcissism, the sadism and masochism, Freud’s death drive, the missing love object for the abandoned baby, and so on, the book is truly a hymn to love. There is plenty of sex apart from the details of abuse, much of it awkward but loving sex, and also some celebrations of physicality and promiscuity over emotional attachment, but the love being celebrated is mainly unconsummated love.

Without trying to give away the whole plot, Jude, our often anti-hero, is rescued from a life of abandonment, that starts incredibly young, that has made him vulnerable to sexual abuse. In trying to run from it, he repeatedly runs into the arms of apparent protectors, who come to reveal themselves as ever more sadistic companions. Beatings and whippings are common. He is pimped, escapes by opting to sell himself, and is then imprisoned as a sex slave. When his torturer tires of him, he sets him free to run, but chases him in his car, knocking him down and forcing him to run again until ultimately running over his limp body and leaving him to die.

He does not die and finds a counsellor to whom he fails to tell his story completely, but who shows him a glimmer of what empathy might be. It is no accident that she is female. The contrast between sadistic males and nurturing females is an underlying theme. Unfortunately for Jude, she dies from cancer and he is once again alone. Jude, however has a remarkable intellect, nurtured by the brothers in the monastery where he had first been brought up and where he was first abused. Her gift to him is to encourage him to go to college. There he meets the three friends who will attempt to show him he is loveable, is capable of love, and who will try to show him that we do not have to be shaped by our pasts, although our pasts will always inform our present.

Jude goes on to become an exceptional lawyer. His choice of how he practises law and what it gives to him is also relevant to the outcome. He is admired by a distinguished law lecturer, who eventually adopts him as a son. The man’s own son had died young and so we explore loss and voids, as the parentless Jude replaces Harold’s birth son. His three closest friends, after unpromising beginnings, become highly regarded and sometimes decorated, figures in their fields. An actor, an artist and an architect. Their relationships with Jude, with Jude’s secrets, and with Jude’s self-harming and addiction to work, to each other, and to Harold and his wife, give heft to the seven hundred plus pages.

Jude has other friends, but not many. One is a medic, Andy. To me he is the unstated and understated hero of the novel. Whilst Jude and his important trio of uni flat mates are the centre of the novel’s friendship circle, it is Andy who first introduces love. Before Jude is adopted, it is Andy who shows him the selflessness of love, the importance of every human life and the way that love does not judge, and can be tested. Andy is not Jude’s doctor, but he recognises the legacy of the impact of his spinal injuries from the car running over him. He understands the scars from the past but the more recent scars from self-harm. He becomes his self-appointed personal physician. He gives Jude a place to have wounds dressed, to have access to medication and to feel truly cared for, out of the public’s prurient gaze.

Lorentzen’s studied indifference to the novel’s excellence includes this observation, “By now the narration has degenerated into a series of repetitive contemplations of the scenario”. Surely, though, that is the point. The book examines multiple lives and one in particular to highlight the Freudian compulsion to repeat. This is exemplified by Jude’s unfortunate choice of a lover, after eschewing physical contact for twenty years. He is surprised by a kiss and allows a fashion company CEO, recently arrived from London, into his life and home. The man, of course, is a physical and sexual abuser, projecting his own contempt and disgust for his sexual preferences.

One of Jude’s friends, JB, who becomes an internationally regarded artist, is a man whose work is based on working with material from the friendship group, especially Jude and the actor, Willem. Although it is about chronology, the focus in the art is one of repetition. Further, Jude’s choice of career is significant. Law, is based on precedent, which is akin to repetition. In a tragic phase towards the end of the book, Jude attempts to address his loss by repeating sensations, using a fragrance, and garments from his lover to mediate his pain. Jude’s place in Harold’s life is a sort of repetition of Harold’s first son’s place and his place in Willem’s is to repeat what Willem gained from his now deceased brother, who suffered from cerebral palsy and parental indifference and neglect.

As I think about the novel now, a couple of days after absorbing its pains and joys, I feel deeply affected. I feel sadness for Jude, anger on his behalf, but also joy for the way the deep friendships mitigated his pain and gave him a sense of worth, that his wretched early years had all but taken from him. I cared for him in the way that the public mourned Dickens’s Little Nell. She represented so much that was good in a shady world. Jude is not that character, but he is someone who invites us to empathise and to not judge – either his physical incapacities or his psychic defences, including his self-harming. Lorentzen was struck by the “ecstatic reviews” the book had received, and clearly was not ecstatic, though often complimentary. I can see why it made such an impact. If you, like me, have not discovered this apparently widely-read, much admired novel, grab yourself a copy.

On Transference and Countertransference

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“It is only by analysing the transference situation to its depth that we are able to discover the past both in its realistic and phantastic aspects”. (Klein, 1952). In this essay, I shall attempt to define the psychoanalytic terms transference and countertransference. I shall begin with definitions and Freud’s discovery of transference, and go on to explain how the idea of transference and its utility in the analytic process has changed with time. Change came with later psychoanalysts, but the most profound impact may have been that of Melanie Klein, and so I consider her work, and the impact of theories based on projection and projective identification. I then attempt to review what transference is when it is in the clinic, referencing several post-Freudian analysts. Before discussing what countertransference is, I consider the term negative transference, in order to distinguish it from countertransference. I go on to think about transference in the analytic session, how it works, and also to reference the importance of erotic transference. I consider if transference is used outside the clinic given that psychoanalysis is not just a form of therapy. Lastly, I make a few short conclusions.

How does one define transference, which I regard as fundamental to the analytic process? Laplanche and Pontalis (1967) give one of the best definitions, in my opinion: “A process of actualisation of unconscious wishes. Transference uses specific objects and operates in the framework of a specific relationship established with these objects. Its context par excellence is the analytic situation. In the transference, infantile prototypes re-emerge and are experienced with a strong sensation of immediacy.” Transference, whilst unconscious can be brought into consciousness and enacted. Many analysts believe that how the analysand reacts to the frame i.e. the fixed timing and location of the session, is a form of transference. Lateness is interpreted as a punishing anger, and early arrival as something revealing anxiety. Transference might come into a session as (attempted) manipulation or as a provocation. Frosh (2012, p.192) cites Spillius et al (2011) in considering how transference became central to psychoanalysis from its early beginnings. It now seems to be much more about externalising unconscious fantasy, informed by the past and developed in the relationship in the analytic sessions, whereas Freud held that it was a displacement of an unconscious idea from a person in the analysand’s past, on to the analyst in the room. Having originally thought transference interfered with the work of analysis, he came to see value in the analysand’s feelings, believing that they had value as a means of understanding a neurosis. In his 1914 paper “Remembering, repeating and working-through” he explored how primitive emotions could have free expression and become useful for self-exploration.

The origin or discovery of transference is attributed to Freud. However, in 1917, in letters to first Sandor Ferenczi, and then to Karl Abraham, he draws their attentions to the work of Georg Groddeck, with whom he had just started corresponding and who may be regarded as the first ‘wild analyst’. Groddeck eventually stayed outside of the psychoanalytical organisations, but was famous for his work on somatic and psychosomatic illnesses. Groddeck had emphasised the importance of transference, particularly negative transference, which I explore later in this essay, which had impressed Freud. Freud originally thought of transference as an obstruction and that it inhibited a patient from free associating. Transference was discovered by Freud, when thinking of the difficulties that caused Breuer to stop seeing his patient, known as ‘Anna O’. Breuer was worried by the unconscious emotional charge in the room, as it was erotic. It complicated the work. It was a little later that Freud himself came to understand its efficacy, as a tool for ‘working through’. The analysand brings buried feelings and thoughts from past relationships and ‘transfers’ them to the analyst.

Freud identified its more positive influence (1905, p.116) as part of what became known as the ‘Dora case’. He wrote of “new editions of the impulses and phantasies” which was about how feelings were transferred into the room when they properly belonged elsewhere. Freud came to see himself as the recipient of ‘transferred feelings’; things that were unresolved from past relationships and a window into the unconscious of the analysand. Although ‘Dora’ ended her therapy with him, and he came to see it as a ‘failed case’, it is one of the landmark moments in the development of psychoanalysis. He thought if analysands could be helped to identify what was being transferred, especially how patterns of past maladaptive relationships tended to repeat, then they could be helped to moderate the impacts. Freud went on to note that it was the most difficult, as well as the most important, part of analytic technique. In 1914, he was writing that the analytic setting was a playground where the repetitions could take place and in his 1915 paper, “Observations on transference love” he noted “there can be no doubt that the outbreak of a passionate demand for love is largely the work of resistance”.

A little after Freud, Strachey (1934) wrote about transference interpretation. Its weight and significance is conveyed by “that which the analyst most feared and most wished to avoid”. One of the reasons for the fears, are what is happening to the analyst. Money-Kyrle (1956) noted that “the analyst’s experience of the patient’s projections may be linked with the analyst’s own internal reactions to the material.” I develop this below when discussing projective identification and countertransference, which Money-Kyrle (ibid. p.361) called a “delicate receiving apparatus”. It was Fairbairn (1958) who best summarised the centrality of working with transference as part of the treatment: “psychoanalytic treatment resolves itself into a struggle on the part of the patient to press-gang his relationship with the analyst into a closed system of the inner world through the agency of transference” (my italics). The transference is of little use without acknowledgement, and more significantly, interpretation. Strachey understood it as a lengthy process, “modification of the patient’s super-ego is brought about in a series of innumerable small steps by the agency of mutative interpretations, which are effected by the analyst in virtue of his position as object of the patient’s id-impulses and as auxiliary super-ego.”

Around the time that Strachey was writing, Melanie Klein was developing her ideas and in 1946 produced the seminal paper on projective identification. She wrote, “projective identification involves projection in that it is an identifying of the object with split-off parts of the self. Projective identification has given an added dimension to what we understand by transference, in that transference need not now be regarded simply as a repetition of the past.”. Transference, from a clinical point of view was evolving. Sandler (1987) felt it gave an ‘added dimension’ to transference “in that transference need not now be regarded as a repetition of the past”. Arundale and Bellman (2011) wrote that the projection of “early infantile states of mind” are akin, clinically, to transference and countertransference in having both ‘communicative’ and ‘evacuative’ functions. Feldman (2009) described Klein’s formulation of projective identification as “an unconscious phantasy in which the patient expelled what were usually disturbing contents into another object”. He goes on to describe how the object is then transformed in the patient’s mind because it now contains the expelled material. He added that it was not just a “method of evacuation” but provides other comforts for the patient such as believing that they can possess or control the object. “The patient’s phantasies, expressed by gross or subtle, verbal or non-verbal means, may come to influence the analyst’s state of mind”. 

The modern and Kleinian work of analysis is to contain the projections, work them through until they can be handed back, ‘introjected into’ the analysand, in a tolerable form. Klein saw transference as feelings being remembered and used. Steiner (1993) described it thus “We have come to use countertransference to refer to the totality of the analyst’s reactions in his relationship with the patient. The recognition of the importance of projective identification in creating these reactions led naturally to the idea that counter-transference is an important source of information about the state of the mind of the patient.” However, he warns “self-deception and unconscious collusion with the patient to evade reality makes counter-transference unreliable without additional corroboration”. Brenman-Pick (1985) reminds us that “constant projecting by the patient into the analyst is the essence of analysis”. Feldman (2009) describes projective identification as using an ‘omnipotent phantasy’ to defend primitive anxieties. He also highlights Bion’s work on containment to note “the mother’s responses to normal or pathological varieties of projective identification, emphasised the mother’s crucial function of taking in and allowing herself to be affected by the infant’s projection of severe anxiety or distress”.

The analyst also has his or her own transference. One thing the analyst has to be aware of, and be able to analyse, is the possibility of an analysand working through an enactment, sometimes called an ‘actualisation’. This is when something unconscious affects the participants and the responses cannot be contained and become part of the behavioural responses. Often these can lead to damaging and inappropriate responses known as ‘boundary transgressions’. The analyst needs to isolate the analysand’s responses and to understand when they might be acting out something informed by past relationships. If done well and appropriately, it becomes something to discuss, to ‘work through’ and can be explored as part of the therapy. Auchincloss and Samberg (2014) describe it thus: “Enactment is a co-constructed verbal and/or behavioural experience during a psychoanalytic treatment in which a patient’s expression of a transference fantasy evokes a countertransference “action” in the analyst. Enactments are “symbolic interactions” … in that they carry unconscious meanings for both patient and analyst, unconsciously initiated by the patient and evoking unconscious compliance in the analyst.” What is happening is exemplified by Brenman-Pick (1985), describing the clinical temptation to be a maternal figure, “we may act out by becoming excessively sympathetic to the patient”.

In the clinic, it is often this relationship, with the primary carer, that is transferred, and the analyst that needs to do the maternal containing, usually because it had been absent in the past, through reasons of a mother being overwhelmed and neglectful. Brenman-Pick (1985) described a state of mind which sought another state of mind “just as a mouth seeks a breast as an inborn potential.” The analysand may make assumptions about the analyst’s personal life and therefore thoughts, even though she has no information on which to base such assumptions. The analyst uses these fantasies rather than dismiss them. Winnicott (1947) goes so far as to describe ‘exploiting’ the transference. An analyst might note how the analysand is prone to assume something about them especially if it feels judgmental. This may be because of a past where judgment, particularly if it was from a parent, has been common. An analyst can illustrate that the analysand is responding as if she was attacked, and yet there was no attack from what is likely to have been an open ended, perhaps ambiguous comment. It might manifest as a need to impress, perhaps by listing achievements, which might reveal an insecurity about not being respected, by a teacher or an employer. It might be a hastiness to agree with an interpretation, which is little more than speculation, but is transferred from avoiding conflict in other relationships, often a spouse.

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Arundale (2011) reflects on Feldman’s work in this area and writes “As he understands it, the historical objects from the patient’s past are alive in the present moment as internal objects, so that they are available as transference objects”, she goes on to add that when the transference relationship is understood and properly experienced it allows the past to become clearer and for internal objects to be modified. She credits Strachey (1934) with creating a template for psychic change for future generations of analytic schools by identifying “mutative transference interpretation”. In the work, the relationship with the analyst is a foundation; a template for how future relationships might be formed to break the patterns of the past. Ultimately the aim is to reach a Bion moment of significance, when the analysand can be introduced to his or herself. Frosh (2012, p.190) puts it very concisely “…the reality of the analyst’s behaviour. Why should the analyst’s silence be interpreted as hostile judgment rather than supportive listening? The answer here is ‘because of the transference’”. Sandler (1976) considered the manipulative element of the dyadic relationship and wrote that “in the transference…the patient attempts to prod the analyst into behaving in a particular way and unconsciously scans and adapts to his perception of the analyst’s reaction”. He writes about the analysand resisting the impulse to be aware of any “infantile relationship” that he/she might be trying to impose. Separately Sandler (1990 p. 869) wrote about how an analysand might try “to impose on the situation a role relationship with the analyst”, which is the enactment described above.

What to do with all this transferential material, though? Roth (2001) observes that the transference has different levels of interpretation in the clinic. At one level, it links what is happening in the clinic with the analysand’s past, but moves to a level linking events in the analysand’s life outside the clinic and on to interpreting unconscious phantasies about the analyst and the analysis. The deepest level is to “enact phantasy configurations”. Roth opens her paper referencing another analyst’s material about a dream, but what is being considered is transference. She goes on to use other clinical examples of her own, to consider the multiple ways a transference can be interpreted and what the clinician needs to be aware of. How to separate layers of material and how to identify working with transference on the countertransference. I write about countertransference in more detail below. Roth notes how she is reviewing “complex transference manifestations” as she attempts to maintain the analysand’s trust and interest, but to get her to understand the links between what she is saying and what it means, and how it is being brought into the clinic. She guides us through her work deeper, by transference interpretation level, past an aggressive projective identification to a level four enactment which is a kind of seduction scene. Her conclusions summarise the importance of transference, which I regard as the foundation of the analytic work; “our sense of conviction about our patient’s internal world comes ultimately from our understanding of the here-and-now transference relationship between us”.

What happens when the analysand is transferring something from a difficult past relationship, or needs to project aggressive, hostile and unwanted, intolerable feelings into the analyst? This is the realm of negative transference; hostile feelings that the analyst’s presence elicits in the analysand. Analysts often have to start their work by demonstrating a caring side to become a ‘good object’, so that there is trust. This is the ‘therapeutic alliance’, but most often the effective work is done when the analyst becomes the ‘bad object’, and can show the analysand that the clinic is a non-judgmental space, and that difficult feelings can be contained and worked through. Understanding a phenomenon such as negative transference and more importantly, appreciating its utility, was largely the work of Melanie Klein, who had developed the ‘good breast/bad breast’ understanding of infantile love and hate, and she noted that the analyst was often split by the analysand into a good figure and a bad one, often in the same session. The demand of the analyst is to contain the anger, to ‘work through it’ and to behave as the nurturing mother of early infancy, and once again, to not judge the person from whom the hostility has come. The gentlest of questions, the most ambiguous of references, the calmest of silences can all be interpreted as hostile by an analysand with a negative transference. In Klein’s 1952 paper she wrote “we can fully appreciate the interconnection between positive and negative transferences only if we explore the early interplay between love and hate, and the vicious circle of aggression, anxieties, feelings of guilt and increased aggression, as well as the various aspects of objects towards whom these conflicting emotions and anxieties are directed.” And “I became convinced that the analysis of the negative transference, which had received relatively little attention in psycho-analytic technique, is a precondition for analysing the deeper layers of the mind.”

There is something in the word ‘counter’ that suggests resistance and even an aggressive return, as in ‘counterpunch’. Negative connotations perhaps, so is it related to negative transference? No. Countertransference has more than one definition, but is not negative transference. It might be a psychic response to it, though. Laplanche and Pontilis (1973, p.92) define “the whole of the analyst’s unconscious reactions to the individual analysand – especially to the analysand’s own transference”. Also, “some authors take the counter-transference to include everything in the analyst’s personality liable to affect the treatment, while others restrict it to those unconscious processes which are brought about in the analyst by the transference of the analysand.” This is difficult because if, as in some definitions, it is to be used as a tool in the analytic work, how can we deploy something that is unconscious? Nonetheless, prominent post-Freudians such as Winnicott (1947) thought it played a central role in the analytic work. He described it as “the analyst’s love and hate in reaction to the actual personality and behaviour of the patient”. For Freud, it was the analyst’s transference, how she had been affected by what the analysand had brought to the session. He regarded it as the neurotic response of the analyst, not a good thing, and something to be resolved by more analysis for the analyst. Sandler (1976) notes that Freud saw it as impeding understanding, because it clouded the mind, which was the tool needed to do the work; an interference with the work of interpretation.

More lately, with a Kleinian influence, it has come to mean the specific response of an analyst to the analysand’s transference. It is about taking in the analysand’s projections and being able to contain them. The analyst, in this way, comes to feel what the analysand is feeling and her ability to absorb and reflect helps the analysand when the projections are passed back and reintrojected. The analysand starts to feel things are more manageable and to be able to master integration, shifting from paranoid-schizoid positions to a depressive one. The working out of transference and countertransference go on together as a relational event – the feelings in the analysand become the data to analyse, upon which interpretations and reflections can be based. The analysand will be looking for signs that what she has projected into the analyst is being contained and perhaps cared for, or alternatively what is happening, if it is causing some panic or discomfort. In this understanding of countertransference there is a view that it signals to the analyst what is happening in the analysand’s unconscious life; rather different to the Freudian sense that it was exclusively an issue for the analyst. So, it is both the analyst’s own transference and her response to the analysand’s transference. Not only does an analyst feel her own countertransference but must then productively and subsequently analyse it.

Heiman (1950) was the first analyst to consider the positive influence of countertransference, “an instrument of research into the patient’s unconscious” – she describes it as the “patient’s creation” and that it is a part of the patient’s persona. Therefore, the analyst can use it as a guide to understanding the transference the analysand offers. She noted that the analyst has to sustain the feelings stirred within her, and not to let them go as the analysand does, but to “subordinate them to the analytic task” functioning as a “mirror reflection” to the analysand. Her definition was “all feelings which the analyst experiences towards his patient”. Her paper was the first to suggest that countertransference was ubiquitous. All feelings and everywhere makes it a complicated tool to use. To what extent is one dealing with the analysand’s material and to what extent might it be more about the analyst’s own past? Being able to engage, and yet analyse the situation with detachment, is a critical skill. Heimann wrote that the analyst “has to perceive the manifest and latent meaning of his patient’s words, the allusions and implications, the links to former sessions, the references to childhood situations behind the descriptions of current relationships”. She best summarised it as “in the comparison of feelings roused in himself with his patient’s associations and behaviour, the analyst possesses a most valuable means of checking whether he has understood or failed to understand his patient.” 

The post-Heimann approach continues to evolve and become more nuanced. Roth (2018) takes Heimann’s mid-twentieth century view as countertransference being something pathological, and something for the analyst to own for her own self-analysis, and shows how it moved into being accepted as a tool to help with an analysand’s development. How to utilise it has been subtly different in the techniques of many analysts and he cites Balint, Fairbairn, Tower and Winnicott. Nonetheless he emphasises Heimann’s view of it as a creation brought to her. What it meant was a shift from conventional analysis requiring the neutrality of the analyst, sometimes called ‘the blank screen’, to the analyst being actively involved in a process; a more dynamic therapeutic alliance, properly open to projection and introjection. To clarify this, he cites Money-Kyrle (1956) “as the patient speaks the analyst will, as it were, become introspectively identified with him and having understood him inside will re-project and interpret”. In Segal’s 1997 paper, “The use and abuse of countertransference”, however, there is a warning to emphasise the need of proper understanding. As Segal suggested, whilst it can be “the best of servants” it can also function as the worst of masters. One example might be ‘enactment’ – against which Freud had warned – as I highlighted above. Roys (2011, p.163) describes how the analyst shifts position back and forth between concordant (a sense of sharing the analysand’s experience) and complementary (when the transference has affected the analyst so that something is felt towards the analysand).

Freud’s early encounters with transference were noteworthy because of the erotic elements. Having explored the erotic transference as resistance, he wrote, “of the first kind (of resistance) are the patient’s endeavour to assure herself of her irresistibility, to destroy the doctor’s authority by bringing him down to the level of a lover”. What he understood was the need to work with it, having initially seen it as nuisance. “To urge the patient to suppress, renounce or sublimate her instincts the moment she has admitted her erotic transference would be, not an analytic way of dealing with them, but a senseless one”. He thought it would be bringing repressed material into the conscious realm, but then ensuring it was repressed once more by a fearful patient, who would “feel only the humiliation, and she will not fail to take her revenge for it”. For clarity’s sake, “analytic technique requires of the physician that he should deny to the patient who is craving for love the satisfaction she demands”. He added that the patient would have “what all patients strive for in analysis – she would have succeeded in acting out”, which is probably the first reference to what I refer to above as ‘enactment’. Freud’s patients were, of course, predominantly women and usually treated for hysteria, hence the slightly unbalanced gendered views; modern clinical work is consistent with transference from male, female and non-binary individuals. As he noted, though, ‘transference-love’ must be worked through in the therapy “and traced back to its unconscious origins”. An analyst must be able to demonstrate distance from the transference love as Mann (1999, p.7) observed, “the erotic connects people at deeply unconscious levels, driving them into relationships at least at the level of fantasy”. He thought that closeness activates erotic material in the unconscious, but also that the greater the activation of erotic material in the unconscious, the closer the bond two people develop.

Before concluding this essay, it is important to ask, ‘does transference exist outside the clinic?’ Klein (1952) was clear, “in some form or other transference operates throughout life and influences all human relations”. I think it is helpful to imagine walking into a room of strangers at a party or a conference. Does one want to be seen and not heard, or to be acknowledged, heard and visible? What is happening? We are seeing around us a number of people as hostile, or as potential allies. This is informed by our past relationships and some form of transference is underway. Sandler, Dare and Holder (1973) observed that it enters all relationships and these (e.g. choice of spouse/employer) are often determined by some characteristic of the other person who (consciously or unconsciously) represents some attribute of an important figure of the past. It seems highly probable that it goes on at all times in our lives. Psychoanalyst and historian Daniel Pick, suggests it is a form of transference that political leaders exploit to facilitate what the psychologists understand as ‘group processes’. Generations after generations this seems to be a constant, as we note today with the tragic manipulation of the Russian people.

This essay has discussed the psychoanalytic terms, transference and countertransference. It has described their origination and their development. It has asserted that they are fundamental to the work of psychoanalysis in the clinic, but also that they are ubiquitous and exist outside the clinic. It has considered how such an important concept continues to evolve as the theoretical baton gets handed on to each new post-Freudian generation, but has focused on what Melanie Klein and Object Relations Theory brought to developing Freud’s discovery, and how Paula Heimann was the critical developer of countertransference by seeing it as an important tool for the clinician. In conclusion, I suggest that psychoanalysis is only effective when the pillars of the clinical work, that are transference and countertransference, are properly understood and deployed.


Arundale, J. and Bellman, D.B. eds., 2018. Transference and countertransference: A unifying focus of psychoanalysis. Routledge.

Pick, I.B., 1985. Working through in the countertransference. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis66, pp.157-166.

Britton, R. and Steiner, J., 1994. Interpretation: Selected fact or overvalued idea? International Journal of Psycho-Analysis75, pp.1069-1078.

Carpy, D.V., 1989. Tolerating the countertransference: A mutative process. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis70, pp.287-294.

Etchegoyen, L., 2010. The analyst’s response to the effects of the transference: On Lacan and Bion. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis91(2), pp.399-401.

Fairbairn, W.R.D., 1958. On the nature and aims of psycho-analytical treatment. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis39, pp.374-385.

Feldman, M., 2009. Doubt, Conviction and the Analytic Process. Routledge

Freud, S. (1917) Letter from Sigmund Freud to Karl Abraham, November 11, 1917. The Complete Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Karl Abraham 1907-1925 52:361-362 

Freud, S. (1917) Letter from Sigmund Freud to Sándor Ferenczi, June 3, 1917. The Correspondence of Sigmund Freud and Sándor Ferenczi, Volume 2, 1914-1919 26:211-212 

Freud, S., 1958. Remembering, repeating and working-through (Further recommendations on the technique of psycho-analysis II). In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XII (1911-1913): The Case of Schreber, Papers on Technique and Other Works (pp. 145-156).

Freud, S., 1953. Fragment of an analysis of a case of hysteria (1905 [1901]). In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume VII (1901-1905): A Case of Hysteria, Three Essays on Sexuality and Other Works (pp. 1-122).

Freud, S., 1955. Notes upon a case of obsessional neurosis. In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume X (1909): Two Case Histories (‘Little Hans’ and the ‘Rat Man’) (pp. 151-318).

Freud, S., 1958. Observations on transference-love (Further recommendations on the technique of psycho-analysis III). In The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XII (1911-1913): The Case of Schreber, Papers on Technique and Other Works (pp. 157-171).

Frosh, S., 2012. A brief introduction to psychoanalytic theory. Red Globe Press

Heimann, P., 1950. On counter-transference. International journal of psycho-analysis31, pp.81-84.

Heimann, P., 1960. Counter-transference. Part II. British Journal of Medical Psychology.

Katz-Bearnot, S.P., 2014. Psychoanalytic Terms and Concepts, edited by Elizabeth L. Auchincloss, MD, and Eslee Samberg, MD, Yale University Press, New. Psychodynamic Psychiatry42(4), pp.700-702

Klein, M., 1952. The origins of transference. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis33, pp.433-438.

Laplanche, J. and Pontalis, J., 1967. The language of psychoanalysis. London: Karnac.

Money-Kyrle, R.E., 1956. Normal counter-transference and some of its deviations. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis37, pp.360-366.

Roth, P (2001) Mapping the landscape International Journal of psychoanalysis 82 p.533-43

Roys, P., 2018. Two impulses to end an analysis: exploring the transference and countertransference. In Transference and Countertransference (pp. 157-179). Routledge.

Sandler, J., 1976. Countertransference and role-responsiveness. International Review of psycho-analysis3, pp.43-47.

Sandler, J. (1987) The Concept of projective Identification London: Routledge

Sandler, J., Dare, C., Holder, A. and Dreher, A.U., 2018. The patient and the analyst: The basis of the psychoanalytic process. Routledge.

Segal, H., 1977. Countertransference. International Journal of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy6, pp.31-37.

Spillius, E.B., Milton, J., Garvey, P., Couve, C. and Steiner, D., 2011. The new dictionary of Kleinian thought. Routledge.

Steiner, J., 1994. Patient‐centered and analyst‐centered interpretations: Some implications of containment and countertransference. Psychoanalytic inquiry14(3), pp.406-422.

Strachey, J., 1934. The nature of the therapeutic action of psychoanalysis. Classics in psychoanalytic technique, pp.361-378.

Winnicott, D.W., 1994. Hate in the counter-transference. The Journal of psychotherapy practice and research3(4), p.348.

On: Literature and Psychoanalysis – a symbiosis

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“The good writing of any age has always been the product of someone’s neurosis, and we’d have mighty dull literature if all the writers that came along were a happy bunch”, so said William Styron. What is the relationship between literature and psychoanalysis?

In this essay, I want to explain what psychoanalysis is when it is applied ‘outside the clinic’. I develop the thinking by focusing on the relationship between both disciplines. In an oft-cited paper Felman (1982) considered the relationship, but talked about psychoanalysis as dominant to literature, akin to the master-slave relationship. I consider that paper and why I find that problematic. Using examples from writers who pre-date the birth of psychoanalysis, when the first of Freud’s papers were published in 1895; first, I think about how literature gave psychoanalysis the descriptive skill that articulates the impact of the unconscious. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Flaubert and Dickens are all relevant. Second, I then consider Freud’s writing, specifically ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ (1917) and how it defines something presented to us by Shakespeare’s melancholic, Jaques, from ‘As You Like It’, and from Dickens’s Miss Havisham. Is this an example of psychoanalytic mastery and dominance? I suggest it is not, but that the relationship is one of symbiosis: mutualism not parasitism. Third, I continue by considering the psychoanalytic reader. What is the emotional impact of being a reader and how does reading words on a page engage our emotions? What is happening unconsciously and to our unconscious?

Finally, I consider modern literature and what psychoanalysis has brought to it – I wonder if it allowed us to tolerate damaged psychic states and so gave room for the publication of something like Toni Morrison’s “Beloved”. If literature has informed psychoanalysis, it must be in how it presents itself. Therefore, I consider psychoanalytic writing, as distinct from bringing psychoanalysis to reading. The brilliant analysis of Freud’s Dora case analysed by Marcus (1976), allows me to examine the writing of modern psychoanalysts such as Thomas Ogden and Adam Phillips before I draw my conclusions.

What is it for psychoanalysis to be outside the clinic? Psychoanalysis is far more than a therapeutic treatment. Whilst it is a method for treating neuroses, it is extended to a body of knowledge about the mind. It is also a research tool; a method or approach, in seeking knowledge. The tool is the therapeutic use of ‘free association’ rooted in the work done in the clinic. The critical claim is that there is an unconscious. What is psychoanalysis, when it is outside the clinic? Is there a difficulty that a text cannot respond, unlike the analysand in the clinic? The response to an interpretation is part of the clinical work, so how can psychoanalysis work, never mind thrive, outside the clinic? Can you draw on psychoanalysis without being an analyst? Can you have not undergone analysis, but still be able to lend insights back to psychoanalysis? I think so. French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan thought so, emphasising one must analyse the words, not the person, not unlike a literary critic. The difficulty is that the unconscious is dynamic. Text is static, but how we read it is dynamic – it can suggest different things to us. We are not stepping into the same river twice. We notice different things each time we read a text, watch a film, hear music or look at a sculpture. What is psychoanalytic, is the comfort with one’s ‘not knowing’. An analyst does not tell an analysand the meaning to her life, but lets it emerge, so that the analysand feels she has more awareness.

In considering the work of Hanna Segal, Bell (1999) argues for psychoanalysis outside the clinic. He asserts that his perspective views psychoanalysis as “a body of knowledge of the mind”, which is distinct from the application of that knowledge. This is important when considering the master-slave relationship in the Felman essay. Bell suggests that critics of psychoanalysis look for validation of its core claims when examining accounts of treatments, but he suggests a “realist ontology” for the objects which it investigates. He talks about transference and projection as being as real as tables and chairs. He cites Freud’s 1908 paper “Creative Writers and Day dreaming” and he notes that psychoanalysis meets literature “on a number of different terrains”. First, it might be that literature is something that can illustrate psychoanalytic theory, second, the reverse, the theory can illuminate the text, noting that Klein wrote three papers with literary themes. Segal too, used psychoanalytic theory to illuminate a number of literary texts. This illustrates the concept of the portability of the clinic. The theory can move beyond the physical analytic frame, which is the clinic. Outside the clinic it is the application of theory.

Similarly, Frosh (2020) notes that a psychoanalytic setting, the clinic, can move, and that what is retained “is little more than a theoretical orientation that accepts a notion of the ‘unconscious’ as crucial for understanding motivation and behaviour.” That is not to disparage its existence outside the clinic, but to recognise it. The key element is language, interpreted using psychoanalytic principles. The theoretical constructs are the dynamic unconscious, free association, transference and interpretation. This is not an exhaustive list. Psychoanalytic interpretation is not restricted to the intellect, but to the nature of relationships, and it is relationships that provide the opportunity for transference, countertransference and then interpretation. Frosh emphasises the role of the clinic: “The clinic out of which psychoanalysis has developed, the crucible for its concepts and practices, is thus a metaphorical space surrounding a live encounter”. Where, he later argues, it is not always welcome, is because applied psychoanalysis is often “an attempt at conquest rather than partnership” – in common with the start of the Felman essay I discuss below.

Psychoanalysis is a tool for understanding, not just individuals, and not just literature and the humanities, but also the social, legal and political worlds. So, if we accept it has migrated from the clinic, what impact does it have and is it beneficial? Frosh states that the two purposes of applied psychoanalysis are first to extend its reach, and second providing support for its claims. He reminds us of the formation of the magazine, Imago, by Otto Rank and Hans Sachs in 1912, which was “concerned with the application of psychoanalysis to non-medical fields of knowledge”.  Frosh cares for psychoanalysis enough to highlight its role in advertising how the unconscious speaks through a subject but is not controlled by it, what he calls the “central importance of otherness in personal and social life”. Preserving this function is critical to keep psychoanalysis relevant “and prevent it ossifying into a form of expert received knowledge”. Like the unconscious; it must be dynamic. “Psychoanalysis holds something significant for all the other disciplines – specifically, a capacity to theorise subjectivity in a way that is provocative and unique, through reference to the unconscious.” Bell believes that Klein used literature as a means of expressing her ideas by “having a conversation with the artist”. This is different from applying theory to characters, which Jones famously did with Hamlet. An example of the Kleinian conversation is Segal’s 1984 paper on Conrad. A different meeting of the disciplines comes in her paper on Golding’s “The Spire”, which Bell claims, is more of a meeting of psychoanalyst and author coming to similar discoveries but via differing perspectives. Segal interprets Golding’s story of the building of a cathedral as a destructive delusion. In her 1981 paper, “Delusion and Artistic Creativity” she asks if the work of an artist or author is itself a creation or a delusion. She introduces us to the psychotic in text. How will we elaborate the text in the same way that the analyst listens to the analysand and is able to elaborate what they say? In other words, this is a textual and theoretical encounter, and its purpose is to raise questions and open up meaning, not dogmatically impose answers. This, as identified by Spillers (1996) is psychoanalytic hermeneutics. Does having a literary understanding enhance the work of a psychoanalyst? Felman writes that “there are no natural boundaries between literature and psychoanalysis”.

In her essay, Felman presents a case that literature is somehow a slave to psychoanalysis’s master. Can it really be realistic to think of literature and literary texts as something that can be enslaved. Are texts malleable? If we think of the clinic, the analysand seeks interpretation from the analyst. It is true that psychoanalysis lends an analytic interpretation to literature, and I argue below, might enhance literature, perhaps even making it publishable in the case of Morrison’s “Beloved”, but I find the master-slave argument stretched. A text cannot be made to do the master’s bidding and even more so, it cannot resist. This lack of the corporeal undermines Felman, I feel. She opens with a comment about the mutual relationship of literature and psychoanalysis, but within a couple of paragraphs moves to suggesting it is one in which literature is subordinate to psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis, as a “body of knowledge” is called upon to interpret literature, a “body of language”. She claims that literature plays a role in service of the desires of psychoanalytic theory. Actually, Felman herself rows back from this point of view, and repeated re-readings of the essay have made me feel that she provocatively engages defenders of literature with the master-slave analogy, before explaining her own much more nuanced views.

She makes psychoanalysis sound active, “exercising its authority and power”, to a passive literary field. This is important because it reminds the reader of Freud’s essays on sexuality and his suggestion about active masculinity and passive femininity, views which have much less currency today. She continues that psychoanalysis is seeking its own satisfaction. I think this is revealing. It may seek mastery of itself, but that is very different from being master to another. She notes that a literary critic would desire a true dialogue between both as fields of knowledge and of language, and that what is required is avoiding a “universal monologue of psychoanalysis about literature”. This feels like a more appropriate position to me. This allows her to remind her reader that psychoanalysis falls “within the realm of literature”, and moves on to discussing the disruption of the master-slave relationship, in either direction. It is the text, like an analysand, where knowledge and meaning are expected to reside. This allows one to consider the importance of ‘not knowing’ which is critical to the work of the analyst in the clinic. She concludes that we should not think about the application of psychoanalysis to literature, what might be thought of as psychoanalysis working outside the clinic, but that we should think in terms of ‘implication’, not bringing a scientific knowledge to bear upon a text but rather, “to explore, bring to light and articulate”. She concludes, “literature is therefore not simply outside psychoanalysis, since it motivates and inhabits the very names of its concepts, since it is the inherent reference by which psychoanalysis names its findings.”

The spirit of both fields of language exploring the other, bringing to light and articulating is best illustrated, I believe, when considering Freud’s paper ‘Mourning and Melancholia’, (1917) which may be one of the greatest literary psychoanalytic contributions. The syntax and the form demonstrate why he was awarded a Goethe prize. The melancholic, however, was something literature identified for psychoanalysts. Two examples: Dickens’s Miss Havisham and Shakespeare’s Jaques. Miss Havisham is one of Dickens’s greatest portraits, almost certainly informed by Robert Burton’s ‘Anatomy of Melancholia’ (1621). Abandoned, jilted and defrauded by her betrothed, she cannot recover from this trauma and lives on in her wedding attire, to maintain a link to her loss. She lives out of sunlight – a representation of her broken, dark, inner world. She has all the clocks stopped at the time when she received the letter from her fiancé, that revealed the deception. The issue of stopped time was of interest to Freud because the unconscious has no temporality. Freud observed, “in melancholia, what is lost is the ego”. Melancholia is linked to a narcissistic pathology and to mania. It is clinical depression and distinct from ‘ordinary depression’ with which we all come into contact and does not prevent us from functioning. Havisham adopts a young girl, Estella, seeking to protect her from the hurts she has herself suffered. Freud described melancholia as “a profoundly painful dejection, cessation of interest in the outside world, loss of the capacity to love, inhibition of all activity”. Keeping the world at bay by avoiding sunlight, she projects into Estella her hatred of men, but ultimately this too will leave her abandoned and unfulfilled. Avoiding the world is because, Freud notes, melancholia “culminates in a delusional expectation of punishment”.

What is different from mourning is that “when the work of mourning is completed the ego becomes free and uninhibited again”, whereas a melancholic displays “an extraordinary diminution in his self-regard, an impoverishment of his ego on a grand scale”. Miss Havisham’s self-regard is destroyed when she is jilted. She fails to mourn the loss of the romance and becomes melancholic. As Freud elegantly observed “in mourning it is the world which has become poor and empty; in melancholia it is the ego itself” – a melancholic attitude is one of intense self-denigration. Before Dickens, Shakespeare had provided us with Jaques. He blames the outside world for imposing its “infections” upon him, leaving him to wrestle with his inner world: “Cleanse the foul body of th’infected world”. He is described as being able to “suck melancholy out of a song as a weasel sucks eggs,” and is sufficiently self-aware to describe “a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects, and indeed the sundry contemplation of my travels, in which my often rumination wraps me in a most humorous sadness”. In his most famous speech “All the world’s a stage”, Jaques lambasts everyone else. They are all merely performers, and are hiding from their true selves. 

I choose these two examples to make a couple of simple points. First, literature pre-dates Freudian understanding. Second, Freud was able to find the language for the psychic condition he noted, and how it differed from the condition of mourning, because of the literature with which he was familiar. I think Freud’s brilliant understanding enhances literature, but is not imposing any sort of mastery. Jaques tells us he is a melancholic, but Miss Havisham, sometimes dismissed as a sort of cruel and damaged crone, becomes an object of pity when we understand her melancholic affect.

I believe that psychoanalysis has enhanced literature and not subordinated it. I want to continue examining reading psychoanalytically, before moving on to what psychoanalysis has offered writers. Flaubert, like Dickens pre-dates Freud. In Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” we see the impact of a delusional fantasist on those around her, as well as her own death drive path to destruction. Sodre (1999) showed how psychoanalysis and literature come together in the typical analyst/analysand relationship in a paper titled “Death by Daydreaming”. She considered Bovary in the context of Kleinian Object Relations, of her projections, and the overwhelming destructive death drive. Bovary is in thrall to a life in which her wish-fulfilling dreams dominate her mental life. She loses touch with reality. Her dreams have such force (id overwhelming ego) that she is forced to act them out and make them real. Enactment is frequently something that happens in the clinic and is in need of interpretation. Sodre notes, that the text shows us Emma’s repetitive romances are played out in her mind, as a defence against the impoverishment of her actual life, and that impoverishment drives the enactment of her dream life. She adds that as the novel progresses Emma becomes more contemptuous of people around her, whose weakness is that they do not live up to the standards of her dream companions. Sodre thinks that this allows Flaubert to introduce us to what we learn from Klein is an attack on her ‘good objects’, somewhat pre-dating Object Relations Theory. We also see how Emma, who is unable to love her daughter, Berthe, is also a ‘Bad object’. Emma’s fantastical thinking is a means for the reader to understand that the more attached she is to unconscious dreams, the more her sense of self deteriorates, as she is threatened by her internal reality. Sodre notes that she projects her awareness of her deteriorating inner world by covering up – both expensive material adornments and “elaborate, detailed and richer mis-en-scenes” because external reality is too ugly.

Freud himself remarked about how the philosophers and poets had been first to discover the unconscious – his discovery was a scientific method for understanding it. Given psychoanalysis is a relatively young science it is only reasonable to think of the way literature’s giants had already given a language to how what happens in our psychic lives takes place. We have only to refer to Oedipus and to Narcissus. I think that there is something psychoanalytic as far back as Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales frequently use tales of sex to illustrate drives and wishes. The device of the storytellers being on a pilgrimage gives the reader a sense of a frame. In the same way, a clinician listens to multiple tales as his work as the analyst. Although it is physically moving, the frame’s elements are fixed. In this sense Chaucer may be described as being the first writer to be working psychoanalytically, both in and outside a clinic.

Roth (2020) explores three main psychoanalytic interpretations of the reader experience. First, the transference relations toward the literary characters. Second, the impact of the text as a means of transcending the reader’s self-identity and third, how that allows the reader to achieve a new integration and “psychic equilibrium”. She notes the contemporaneous emergence of a publishing boom, improving literacy and the widespread development of public libraries, around the turn of the twentieth century, with the emergence of psychoanalysis. This led to academic enquiry, which she feels shifted the focus from “’scientific facts’ to ‘the subject’. She notes that Proust’s 1905 essay “On Reading”, allowed the emergence of contemporary literary theory. Proust writes about a trio comprised of author, book and reader. This is almost a hundred years ahead of Ogden’s (1994, 2004) ‘analytic third’. Proust explores the reader’s experience of being detached from reality and of the loss or freezing of time, as well as the identification that characters arouse in the reader. He suggests that readers can explore their psyche, “those dwelling places”, that would otherwise be impenetrable. We could say, the dwelling places are the unconscious. Some of this was taken up more specifically by Barthes (1967) is his essay “Death of the Author”, when the meaning of the text ceased to be dependent on author and content, but reconstructed by the reader; much as the analyst helps the analysand reconstruct what has constructed their own meaning. This confers dynamism on the text. It is not static, and dynamism takes us back to the unconscious. A modern example of this is Morrison’s “Beloved”; a harrowing tale, but also one of what trauma does to the psyche. We see it in the psychic fragmentation evident in both the protagonist, Sethe, and also in her sometime lover Paul D, who demonstrates splitting as a defence. The death drive consumes Sethe. Putting aside black authorship, characters and a white-dominant publishing industry, I think that the publication of the novel owes something to psychoanalysis, insofar as it enabled readers to comprehend and tolerate trauma.

Roth describes how the reader projects into the text a search for meaning, a fear of ‘other’ and existential fears such as life’s finitude. She argues that meaning and identity lead to processes of transformation, in both psychoanalysis and literature, but we remain unsure of exactly how. “The patient in analysis, like the reader of literature, is invited to drop everything else and raise, without any form of censorship, every topic that appears ‘in the pages’ of his awareness”. Optimum conditions are established for the transference relations towards either analyst or characters. A reader is alone in a book’s presence in a way that shares space with Winnicott’s (1958) view of the merits of talking “alone in the presence of someone”. In this way, we return to the merits of psychoanalysis outside the clinic. The reader has utilised the portability of the clinic.

What has psychoanalysis done, outside the clinic, for writing? Frosh notes that, especially in the form of case histories, that psychoanalysis is expressed in its own narrative form and that “it also treats its patients as literary beings, characters in search of stories that make sense”. Psychoanalysis is a literary endeavour in itself – exemplified by the case history, which Steven Marcus (1975) described as starting with Freud’s ‘Dora case’ and being a new literary form, distinct and structurally significant. Psychoanalytic journals are filled with vignettes and verbatim. These take the form of dialogue and are often presented as a playwright shapes a play. In his chapter “On psychoanalytic writing”, in “This Art of Psychoanalysis”, Ogden suggests, by using an example of his own clinical writing and an example of Winnicott’s theoretical writing, that “the way the language works” is essential to “the literary genre of analytic writing”. I like to think of this as evidence of one of literature’s gifts to psychoanalysis and a refutation of Felman’s proposition that it is slave to psychoanalysis. Ogden describes analytic writing as “a conjunction of interpretation and a work of art”. He quotes Bion: “I have had an emotional experience; I feel confident in my ability to recreate that emotional experience, but not to represent it” when explaining that what the reader reads is not the experience itself, but a new literary representation of it by the writer, about time spent with the analysand. He continues, “the analytic writer finds himself conscripted into the ranks of imaginative writers”. In recreating an analytic session, he notes that he is creating “characters’, something informed by the experience of enjoying literature. Both conscious and unconscious processes go into the writing. “Psychoanalysis is an experience in which the analyst takes the patient seriously, in part by treating everything that he says and does as potentially meaningful”. He makes it clear that he appreciates the symbiosis of literature and psychoanalysis, “What, for me, is certain is the idea that experimenting with the literary form used in analytic writing is part and parcel of the effort to develop fresh ways of thinking analytically”

Phillips (2016) talks about the psychoanalytic method as a way of telling a life story – free associating, “telling a life story by not telling a life story, but by saying whatever comes into your head”, adding “the analyst is giving the fragmentary discontinuous speech of the analysand a new narrative coherence”. He explores the extent to which Samuel Johnson pre-empted much of Freud, citing the work of Walter Jackson Bate, especially regarding the theory of repression. He adds that both Johnson and Freud believed in a Reality Principle, although Freud alone, called it that. Bate wrote in, “The Achievement of Samuel Johnson” that Johnson had anticipated psychoanalysis, and when he wrote of an inner resistance, he was identifying what psychoanalysis thinks more contemporarily as ‘defence mechanisms’.

On his work as both psychoanalyst and writer in several conversations that were published as a Paris Review interview and included in his book, Phillips noted that “psychoanalysis does not need any more abstruse or sentimental abstractions….it just needs more good sentences”. How literary a request can one get? He talks of the poor quality of reading contemporary psychoanalysis, excepting only Bion, Winnicott and Milner and adds “They were writers. Freud, to me, originally was a writer”. Freud, to him, he said, made sense “not in terms of the history of science or the history of neurology, but in terms of the history of literature”.

Phillips likens the form of psychoanalytic writing, specifically the sessions, as unlike novels, epic poems, lyric poems or plays, (although they are like play dialogues), but that they have the structure of an essay. “There is the same opportunity to digress, to change the subject, to be incoherent, to come to conclusions…” Literature has brought its own influence to bear on psychoanalysis, not least in treating Freud as a writer rather than a scientist. It offers something back to psychoanalysis, what Frosh noted is an understanding of “its own textual unconscious”.

In this essay, I have attempted to demonstrate that there is a symbiotic relationship between psychoanalysis and literature and not, as is sometimes asserted, one where psychoanalysis adopts a position of superiority and of a more profound insight. Psychoanalysis has much to thank literature for, and in turn, has provided insights into texts, characters and the psychosocial that have made literature richer. My conclusion is that the relationship is symbiotic; I reject Lacan’s ‘master discourse’ and Felman’s ‘master-slave’ ideas and believe there exists a mutuality, rather than something parasitic. There is definitely a place for psychoanalysis outside the clinic and it is the place of broadening understanding. Not just in literature but in other fields such as law, the social sciences and film and the arts, I think that is additive, rather than imposing and superior. Literature’s place in our minds before psychoanalysis makes me clear that it has offered as much, if not more to psychoanalysis, as psychoanalysis has contributed as an interpreter of literature. Indeed, it was Felman who wrote that, “in the same way that psychoanalysis points to the unconscious of literature, literature, in its turn, is the unconscious of psychoanalysis”. Perhaps, an emphasis on the ‘is’.

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Barthes, R. (1967) The death of the author, Aspen 5–6.

Bell, D. (1999) Psychoanalysis and culture: A Kleinian perspective. Psychology Press.

Brink, A. (1979) Depression and Loss: A Theme in Robert Burton’s “Anatomy of Melancholy” (1621). The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry24(8), pp.767-772.

Felman, S. (1977) To open the question. Yale French Studies (55/56), pp.5-10.

Freud, S. (1917) Mourning and melancholia. Standard edition14 (239), pp. 1957-61.

Freud, S. (1925) Creative writers and Daydreaming Standard Edition 9: 143-153. (1921). Group psychology and the analysis of the ego. Standard Edition18, pp. 65-143.

Frosh, S. (2010) Psychoanalysis outside the clinic: Interventions in psychosocial studies. Macmillan International Higher Education.

Jones, E. (1949) Hamlet and Oedipus. New York.

Marcus, L. (2014) Introduction: Psychoanalysis at the Margins. A Concise Companion to Psychoanalysis, Literature, and Culture, pp. 1-11.

Marcus, S. (1976) Freud and Dora: story, history, case history. Psychoanalysis and contemporary science5, pp. 389-442.

Ogden, T. (1994) The concept of interpretive action. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly63(2), pp. 219-245.

Ogden, T. (2004) The analytic third: Implications for psychoanalytic theory and technique. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly73(1), pp. 167-195.

Ogden, T. (1996) Reconsidering three aspects of psychoanalytic technique International Journal of Psychoanalysis 77 (5) pp. 883-99.

Phillips. A. (2017) In Writing. Penguin UK.

Proust, M. (1905) On Reading. New York: Three Syrens Press

Roth, M. (2019) A psychoanalytic perspective on reading literature: Reading the reader. Routledge.

Segal, H. (1974) Delusion and artistic creativity: some reflexions on reading ‘The Spire’ by William Golding. International Review of Psycho-Analysis1, pp. 135-141.

Segal, H. (1984) Joseph Conrad and the mid-life crisis. International review of psycho-analysis11, pp. 3-9.

Sodré, I. (2018) Death by daydreaming: Madame Bovary. In Psychoanalysis and Culture (pp. 48-63). Routledge.

Spillers, H. (1996) “All the Things You Could Be by Now If Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother”: Psychoanalysis and Race. Critical Inquiry22 (4), pp. 710-734.

West, J. (1985) Conversations with William Styron. United Kingdom: University Press of Mississippi.

Winnicott, D. (1958) The capacity to be alone. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis39, pp. 416-420.

On Being a Hammer (2)

I learned today from twitter that I was exactly three weeks old when West ham won their first trophy. Today’s is the 58th anniversary of that triumph. It is one, but far from the only reason that I am a Hammer. The main reason is my mum grew up in Plaistow, she married in West
Ham and I was christened there. My nan worked as a florist in Canning Town.

In those fifty-eight years, it has certainly felt true that most Hammers dreams truly “fade and die” as out beautiful anthem tells us. “Fortune’s always hiding” we belt out at games, and so it typically proves. This past week has felt like so many of the past seasons, of hope and disappointment. Against a well-drilled Eintracht Frankfurt team, who certainly merited at least a draw, we contrived to lose 1-2, but would have won if Jarrod Bowen’s first half effort had not been deflected by the keeper’s outstretched leg against a post and his second half effort,  which flew past the ‘keeper, had not crashed against the bar.

This weekend, with some first-choice players rested, we managed to outplay Arsenal for much of the game, but contrived to concede two goals to their centre halves, whilst our centre halves were either suspended or recovering from injury. Consequently, we played a full back at centre half and duly failed to defend set pieces as well as usual.

In December, 2019 I wrote this, about ‘Being a Hammer’: “On Monday night a little after nine pm most things were right in my world. I was in a pub, nursing a very decent pale ale and watching multiple screens displaying my beloved Hammers, who were a goal to the good against London
rivals, Arsenal. To say they were playing well, never mind the fabled ‘West Ham way’, would have been stretching truths and the veracity of my descriptive prowess, but they were winning. In a nine-minute spell, just as I contemplated another pint to celebrate the win over the local rivals, the team was cut apart. It conceded three goals. As the Hammers anthem reminds me weekly, “fortune’s always hiding”. Yes; I have “looked everywhere”.

For the first, the team’s ‘shape’ was gone and the opposition waltzed through. For the second, a team almost as bereft of confidence as the Hammers, contrived to deliver a world class finish from a previously season-long impotent striker. For the last, the hitherto anonymous, but world-class, Arsenal centre-forward, produced his world-class moment. The appeal of the next pint palled and I walked home to rely on the BBC website for reports of a West Ham revival that I
knew was not going to come. I walked home, cold and miserable and contemplating
what it means to ‘be a Hammer’.”

This is not a whine, though. This has been the finest season I can recall as a Hammers fan. Only 1986 might rival it. Then, the ‘Boys of ‘86’, as now, took us into the final month of the season with a realistic chance of glory. In that case it was pinching the League Championship from a great Liverpool team. In the end, it was not to be and Everton pipped us to the runners-up spot. It is comparing what has happened since I wrote that first piece about another Arsenal disappointment, that means I have to update ‘On Being a Hammer’. We then, with almost half the season played, were less than a handful of points clear of the relegation zone. Peak excitement then was avoiding relegation. Now? Well.

On Thursday, Hammers need to overturn that 1-2 deficit in Frankfurt in a second leg tie. Then a European final in Sevilla beckons. In 1976, against the same club, they did exactly that, winning the second leg 3-1 to reach the European Cup Winners Cup Final. My all time Hammers hero, Sir Trevor Brooking, gave a masterclass to seal the win. Of course, the bubbles popped before the cup was handed out at the final, and Anderlecht took it in a 4-2 win.

That first FA Cup win, in 1964, was achieved with goals from John Sissons, the great Geoff Hurst and from Ronnie ‘Ticker’ Boyce. The current team does not possess a forward with Hurst’s outstanding abilities, but in Pablo Fornals we have an endlessly chasing and harrying midfield runner like ‘Ticker’, and as then, when we were led by the peerless Bobby Moore, we are once again led by a world class likely England captain, in Declan Rice.

I will be pretty devastated by not making a final after such a season, and I still hope that despite Arsenal’s intervention, Hammers can achieve a second successive top 6 finish in the Premier League, which would be setting a new standard. However in my first piece I wrote the following:

“It is a family thing for us. My grandad used to queue patiently during the week for tickets, and my dad took us to games. I remember that wins were rare, even then, and celebrated for their surprise element as much as their quality. My brother has even trained at Chadwell Heath with the first team during his cricket career off seasons, and I have now passed it on this curious
association/infliction to my son. As a very young boy he claimed to be a Liverpool fan, like his best school pal, but I taught him better. After all, what pleasures would have been his if he had supported Liverpool?

Being a Hammer means subscribing to a style of play – the ‘West Ham way’, and genuinely believing that ‘the Academy of Football’ has an east London postcode. Yet, the record of FA Youth Cup wins is of no note, and the progression of West Ham youngsters to the peak of the game is not exceptional. Good, but not exceptional. I saw Michael Carrick coming through and could see he was a little special; Ferdinand and Lampard too, but I was surprised Joe Cole’s
trickery made it all the way to a distinguished international career. Of the most recent Youth Cup winners we have had, the best talents have not progressed and have been sold (Oxford) or loaned out (Samuelson). I hope for the emergence of Johnson, Coventry and Holland and one of the goalkeepers, but the record is poor, with Rice (acquired from Chelsea) and Noble, being the only players to emerge, to be established first-teamers, in the past couple of decades.”

The past two seasons have rubbished the idea that wins were a surprise. The levels of expectation are fabulously high now. My son, who has many fewer years of banked disappointment, is fully invested now and keeps me informed about the young teams and the West Ham Women, as the claret and blue runs through his young adult veins. And, under David Moyes, the style of play has been impressive. The standard of passing and the pace of the team on the break has made the ‘West Ham Way’ visible; tangible even. The Academy too, is starting to live up to the standards of yesteryear. Rice and Johnson are established first-teamers and
Coventry, Ashby, Alese, Baptiste, Perkins, Okoflex are all likely to feature next year, as the U23 has finished runners up to Manchester City, and the U18 have dominated their league.

So, Being a Hammer, is now less about a philosophical shrug of the shoulders when watching the team beaten by a ‘big club’, but is about drawing strength from the glorious couple of decades starting 58 years ago, when FA Cups were won, European finals were reached, one a victory, and when Liverpool were taken to a replay in the League Cup Final and then almost denied a League Championship.

By playing good football, a modern West Ham way, and by doing much better work with junior
level teams and reinvigorating the spirit of The Academy, the club is something to be proud of, and Being a Hammer feels good, not something of a guilty, sheepish half-pleasure. Thursday is, in Hammers argot “massive”, just as the fans like to sing about the club, but for me there has been a change since I first wrote about ‘Being a Hammer.’ It feels that it is right to talk about the
heroes of yesteryear, because the current team is earning the right to be discussed in the same breath. In 2019, talking about Moore, Hurst and Peters, or Brooking, Martin, Bonds and Devonshire, felt slightly embarrassing – hanging on to former glories because there was nothing modern to celebrate.

Whatever Thursday’s outcome, I have loved “Being a Hammer’ so much over the past couple of years and I am optimistic about the club’s future. And, perhaps, like 58 years ago,
the dream won’t fade and die just yet, it will roll on, to more trophies next season and to our best players winning internationally for England. Come on You Irons!

Ticker scores

On: Politics and Psychoanalysis

Is psychoanalysis, as a body of knowledge, free of politics, and equally available to be drawn into any politics, or does it naturally lean towards a particular politics?

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I believe that what separates us all from one another is simply society itself, or, if you like, politics… The whole history of the world has been governed by nostalgias and anxieties, which political action does no more than reflect and interpret, very imperfectly. No society has been able to abolish human sadness, no political system can deliver us from the pain of living, from our fear of death, our thirst for the absolute. It is the human condition that directs the social condition, not vice versa” – Eugene Ionesco

Ionesco was understanding something profound when he wrote that the human condition directs the social condition. In some perceptions of an ordered life there is an “idealogically enforced split” (Layton, Hollander and Gutwill, 2006) between the political order and personal life. In this paper, I attempt to argue that psychoanalysis is not free of politics, and moreover should not be, because none of our lives are free from politics. Our politics are core to us as manifestations of our drives. Modern day United States understands that ‘MAGA’ is an appeal to feelings, to the emotions, not the intellect, and yet, it was seduced by it. So, our politics are often the consequence of our feelings, rather than rationalisations. This essay has a Freudian drive theory foundation, although it resists the idea that somehow psychoanalysis represents anything finite. It demonstrates that the post-Freudian world has shown that there is still more we can learn psychoanalytically, just as man’s other scientific fields are not boundaried. If, as I maintain, we are driven by needs, desires and wants that are often irrational, we may seek satisfaction of our needs with political alliances. I consider whether psychoanalysis leans to any political preferences and later, also develop the theme of neutrality. I do not specifically conclude that it might ‘lean towards a particular politics’ because I think that requires the context of the era in which it is being contemplated, such as Communist Russia, Nazi Germany or Cold War United States, but I do think that from the intimacy of the earliest session of “the talking cure”, to today, psychoanalysis is about the particular drives inside the individual. No two individuals are alike, and so philosophically, it is hard to argue that psychoanalysis itself can somehow be co-opted, and therefore might ‘lean’ to a particular politics. Its ubiquity means it can be drawn into any politics, I suggest. 

In developing this argument, I think it is helpful to define a couple of the critical terms. First, what is psychoanalysis? In, and out of the clinic, it is a way of knowing things. The International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA) defines it as a theory of the human mind as well as a therapy. It adds that it is also a research method and a means of viewing social and cultural phenomena, of which politics is one. The British Psychoanalytical Association (BPA) defines it as “a process of deep exploration of the unconscious psychic processes of the individual, within the relationship between the analyst and patient in the consulting room.” It is a ‘body of knowledge’ too, as elegantly asserted by Bell, (1999) and he writes, that it is as such, that it ought to be judged. For today’s adults in Britain, the polarisation of society, the manipulation of the collective psyche by modern media, the political attempt to sell a vision of exceptionalism and isolationism, the response to the coronavirus, anxiety and grief, and the decisions taken for us by our leaders, frequently dominate conscious thoughts. Layton, Hollander and Gutwill (2006) highlighted that “a traumatogenic environment is constituted when individual and group physical safety, social security and symbolic capacities are all simultaneously assaulted. Psychoanalysis, which is devoted to analysing what it means to people when their experience is traumatic and then rendered unnameable and unspeakable, can illuminate this phenomenon as it occurs in the relationship between the individual and society.”

Politics ought to be easier to define. It is derived from the Greek word, politika, and meant “affairs of the cities”. Today it is associated with group decision-making, with distribution of power between individuals and a wider distribution of resources and status. Samuels, (2003) noted that “political power is experienced psychologically; in family organisation, gender and race relations, and in religious and artistic assumptions as they affect the lives of individuals.” Today, it is the way people make, maintain and update the laws under which they live. That serves to define politics in the nation state, but politics operates at more personal levels too; in the workplace, the family and even in couples. Even in these more micro examples it is about power, and therefore about conflict and cooperation. It is sometimes conflict resolution. To politicise something is to make its contrast with an alternative, explicit. As psychoanalysis shows, through drive theory, people have needs that require satisfying. However, not all needs can be satisfied simultaneously. If we have conflicting needs and a scarcity of resources, we inevitably have politics. To suggest that psychoanalysis, or indeed any body of knowledge is free of politics, would be to make it unique.

This brings us to the response to the first part of the essay question – is psychoanalysis free of politics? I aim to show with some selected examples how the young science of psychoanalysis inevitably became political and then how the circumstances of its development coincided with its importance in understanding the politics of the societies in which it operated. In the second half of the essay I use the example of Marie Langer, to personify how psychoanalysis, or certainly a psychoanalytic life, is not free from politics. If Freud is the father of psychoanalysis, with respective nods to the likes of Charcot, Janet and Breuer, then it is informative to think about Freud’s attitudes to politics. My assertion is that in his determination to preserve and to develop his discovery he was prepared to act politically. His splits with the likes of Jung, and with Adler, are both psychoanalytic splits, pushing away that which he could not tolerate, as well as political splits, maintaining a pure ideology. Jung accused Freud of treating his pupils like patients, and criticised him for not having been in analysis, other than self-analysis, whereas Jung had been analysed. There was some personal antipathy, Freud writing, “I propose that we abandon our personal relations entirely. I shall lose nothing by it”, but the main differences appear to be theoretical, and I suggest, political.  Drive theory, the Oedipus Complex, castration complex had to hold sway – any dilution of Freudian principles might undermine his confidence in his own principles.

Another split was with Willhelm Reich. Reich was briefly a follower of Freud and was inducted into the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society. He worked at the Vienna Polyclinic, established by Freud for less affluent patients. Reich offended some of his peers with his work on orgasms, and others with his socialist and Marxist politics. His publication of “The Mass Psychology of Fascism” in 1933, embarrassed Freud, who had wanted to keep politics and psychoanalysis apart. Reich had suggested that fascism was the political expression of patriarchal family structures, amongst other assertions. Freud encouraged him to leave for Berlin. I see this as a political action by Freud, ironic given it was a means of disguising the inevitable psychoanalytic and political connection. Reich had been bold enough to criticise Freud’s ‘death instinct’ hypothesis, when considering masochistic behaviours. Freud magnanimously advocated that Reich’s paper and view were published, but he was bothered that he himself interpreted Reich’s view of the death instinct as being a feature of the capitalist system. In 1934, ahead of a psychoanalytic conference in Lucerne, Reich learned that he had been expelled from the German Psychoanalytic Society. One might argue he is the best example of a political victim of psychoanalysis. He is not alone though. Decades later the IPA expelled Lacan. Politics lends itself to analysis. In democracies, the need to persuade a majority of the polity to vote one particular way means understanding the collective psyche is fundamental.

In 1913 Freud worked to oust Jung from his positions as president of the IPA and his various editorial positions. He had achieved this goal by the spring of 1914 and published the polemical History of the Psychoanalytic Movement in the summer. It is thought to be his reckoning with both Adler and Jung and is therefore, overtly political. Gay (1989), in his introduction to The Freud Reader makes clear that this paper, known to Freud’s cohort of friends and supporters as “the bomb”, was part of a campaign of “pointed acts of explanation and aggression” and that these were designed to rally his followers. It was from these beginnings that psychoanalysis “grew from a cluster of scientific ideas into a movement”. Freud had defined thoughts, political or otherwise, as a “trial run of action”, and I think this is among the most helpful phrases to support the idea that psychoanalysis is not free of politics, because in converting unconscious impulses and feelings to conscious thoughts we are preparing something actionable. All actions (and inactions too), have political consequences. Surely societies that turn on intellectuals are inimical to something like psychoanalysis? If so, should psychoanalysis effect a non-political stance, as part of a means of preservation? This would support a refutation for psychoanalysis not being free of politics. History, suggests otherwise, bringing up the question of neutrality.

Neutrality is fundamental to Freudian psychoanalytic technique. It is also fundamental to political strategies. How does neutrality work under the state-induced paranoia of a repressive regime? After the National Socialists came to power in Germany, many psychoanalysts, because they were Jews, left the country. The Nazis had two difficulties with psychoanalysis – it was perceived as a “Jewish science”, and if society was purged of minorities and a complete Aryanisation of the populace could be achieved, why would a master race need help for mental anxiety? Jews were ‘primitive’, hence the focus on sexual drives. A master race was above all of these manifest weaknesses. The Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute, set up in 1920, was politically left wing in orientation as well as dominated by Jewish members. It is the perfect example of how psychoanalysis might be made to ‘lean’ politically, albeit ironically for Aryan ideals, to do so, it became psychoanalytically impure. To preserve psychoanalysis, Freud agreed to Felix Boehm and Carl Muller-Braunschweig opening negotiation with the Nazis, notwithstanding that his own books had been publicly burned.

Muller-Braunschweig was convinced psychoanalysis could ‘remodel’ people and be of service to the political leadership. Psychological health was a ‘duty’. When Goring became leader of the German psychotherapists, what became the Goring Institute in 1936, he might have had ‘leaning’ in mind when he said “we are called to educate children and adults in the right spirit”. Without concluding that psychoanalysis is, or should be malleable, it can be seen in the example of 1930s Germany, that it can be made to ‘lean’ towards a particular politics. Can it be made to lean in the opposite direction? After the Revolution in Russia in 1917, psychoanalysis briefly thrived. It had the support of leading figures like Trotsky, and had some state funding. That changed with the emergence of Stalin. Until about 1930, it benefited from the export of ideas from Vienna and many of its leading early exponents had studied with Freud, some with Jung. These included Sabina Spielrein, Nikolai Osipov and Vera and Otto Schmidt. Tatiana Rosental was responsible for establishing psychoanalysis in St Petersburg, whereas other early practitioners were Moscow-based. Tragically she took her own life in 1921. Others were leaving the country, but in 1922 the Russian Psychoanalytic Society was formed and the Detski Dom was opened. This was a school and children’s home, and a kind of laboratory. It predated the Nazis’ Aryanisation approach to psychoanalysis, but had a similar motive, in this case, to build a model Communist man. It was run by Vera Schmidt and attempted to harmonise Freudianism with Marxism. It was closed in the months after Lenin’s death in 1924.

Anna Freud, writing to Ernest Jones in 1933 had opined that “psychoanalysis has no part in politics”. She was writing about Reich, whom she thought her father had believed had “forced psychoanalysis to become political”. This, of course, is different from psychoanalysis being free from politics. This returns us to the concept of neutrality. It is axiomatic that in a Freudian analysis, where the patient is to free-associate, that the analyst does not reveal themself in terms of preferences, background, personal habits, circumstances or biases. That does not mean that one has no politics, merely that the analyst leaves them aside for the purposes of the work. One might argue, in a Freudian context, that they get repressed. However, Anna Freud’s own tussles with Melanie Klein are evidence of how politics associates itself with psychoanalysis at all times. This famously led to ‘The Controversial Discussions’ in 1943-4; a political tug of war between Freudians and Kleinians. Anna Freud’s position, and I think, her father’s are frequently linked to the idea of ‘neutrality’. This seems to support the idea that somehow politics can be left out of the consultation room, or of the conference hall. Klein herself might suggest it is a form of splitting. Indeed, her work on the paranoid-schizoid position is the foundation for the apolitical – political ideas are pushed into the ‘bad breast’. Nonetheless, Laubender (2017) suggests that Anna Freud’s papers on child analytical technique were heavily invested with the politics of the era. Anna Freud was focused on childhood dependence and the positon of authority. “Far from being removed from the socio-political order, Anna Freud’s clinical writings affirm that the psychoanalytic clinic is always already in conversation with the historical context in which it is embedded.”

Anna Freud was friends with social and educational reformers, and therefore familiar with political developments. One such example was Maria Montessori. Children’s education could be a site for freedom from historic oppression and oppressive hierarchies. Child analysis became a vehicle to challenge psychoanalytic orthodoxy. Laubender notes that the political turmoil of the 1930’s was inspiring Freud himself to write his own most political papers, notably Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), and quotes Zaretsky, from his psychoanalysis history, Secrets of the Soul:  “In contrast to those that had propounded the classical liberal separation of public and private life, the thinkers of the 1930s recognized the unavoidably psychological and cultural character of modern politics, and thus the impossibility of separating the problems of democracy from those of personal autonomy, gender and sexuality, group identity, and the commodification of everyday life.” In a similar vein, Rose (1993) thought that the question of identity was the “central issue through which psychoanalysis enters the political field”.

We apply neutrality to politics and to analysis. Neutrality is never passive. It is an active position, designed to improve a situation for a longer-term benefit. It starts in the nursery, when an infant is projecting all its frustration and hatred upon the mother. The mother contains this projection and presents a neutral object. The importance of neutrality is that it allows for development. In his Observations on Transference Love, Freud wrote “our control over ourselves is not so complete that we may not one day go further than we intended…we ought not to give up the neutrality toward the patient, which we have acquired through keeping the counter-transference in check.” He added, “The more plainly the analyst lets it be seen that he is proof against every temptation, the more readily will he be able to extract from the situation its analytic content.” Can one be neutral despite a political orientation? Hanna Segal’s left wing politics did not affect her analytic contributions. However, she did feel that psychoanalysis had an active contribution to make. She was appalled by the governmental response to the threat of annihilation from nuclear attack. She co-ordinated meetings of the British Psychoanalytical Society to address the collective denial of reality of nuclear attack. Bell (1999) explains that when she gave her paper ‘Silence is the real crime’ at the inaugural conference of the International Psychoanalysts for the Prevention of Nuclear War, she showed that denial and splitting led to destruction, paranoia and helplessness; a sort of collective psychic ailment. What would she have done if she was working with a patient who believed in the policy of deterrent?

Before I leave the argument that psychoanalysis is not free of politics, I want to examine what happens in the clinical setting, such as might have confronted Segal. How should an analyst respond to politics being brought into a session, and how should the analyst treat their own politics in the transference? Samuels (2003) authored a questionnaire, exploring what political issues came up in therapy, sent to fourteen professional organisations in seven different countries with over 2000 recipients. The worldwide response rank for what comes into the sessions is led by gender issues for women, followed by economic issues, violence in society, and fourth equal, national politics, gender issues for men, and race or ethnic issues. International politics came next. Recall that this was done in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. His survey of the therapists and analysts revealed that almost half (44%) preferred to keep politics out of the session. Obviously, that means that the majority engaged, many indicating that having an engagement with the external world is part of growing up, of individuation. One survey respondent wrote “We are political animals. Everything we are and do takes place within a political framework. It is impossible to divorce this from the inner world of either our patients or ourselves.” If analysands do not show any apparent concern over political issues eg governance of the pandemic response, climate policies, addressing social and economic inequality etc. does that have meaning? Layton, Hollander and Gutwill (2006) describe it as a defence; “the psychodynamics of terror and aggression and the unconscious defences employed to deny reality offers powerful insights into the microscopic unconscious way that ideaology is enacted and lived”. 

The final part of this essay is psychoanalysis’s availability to different types of politics and whether it naturally leans in a particular political direction. I use the example of Marie Langer, as the personification of political leaning. Psychoanalysis does not choose its subjects, or its politics. Whether we live in a socialist or communist era, it is chosen to explain, just as it was regarded by Nazis and the Bolsheviks as having a place. The question is whether or not an understanding of drive theory is more inclined to an association with the political right or left. Sports are often regarded as a socially acceptable way for people to expel and express their aggression. It is of interest to me, therefore, that politics is often described as ‘the great game’. I see politics as a means of handling drives in a socially acceptable way. Whether I support a blue team or a red team, in a sporting or a political contest is irrelevant, it is still how I relieve the psychic impulse. Either side of the Atlantic a kind of fundamentalist conservatism v liberalism appears to have evolved. Thinking about the idea that psychoanalysis might lend itself to one particular political direction, is wrapped up in projecting intolerance, othering, and repression on to the more conservative group and somehow elevating, idealising, the perceived more tolerant, progressive, empathic traits with liberalism. Oddly it is now the political right that has adopted a ‘freedom’ mantra, despite its general trend to be authoritarian and law setting. This seems to be evidence of both projection and introjection.

The probability of psychoanalysis’s particular politics leaning one way is largely

an accident of timing. It emerged at a time of radical politics, but the unconscious and politics already existed. Freud himself talks about how philosophers and poets got their first. Thinking about the unconscious is not the preserve of Freudians, however psychoanalysis, because of Freud’s breakthrough work and writing, emerges from its own developmental stages and latency right into a century of conflict and neuroses. Wars, pandemic, political ideologies – Communist or Fascist – and then the post-war, Cold War threat of annihilation, which might be analysed as the triumph of the death drive. Does it, should it ‘lean’? Roazen (2003) highlighted that the International Psychoanalytic Association prioritised the survival of analysis in the trying 1930’s era and was willing to compromise with the demands of right-wing regimes. I do not think that is evidence of ‘leaning’, but of a defensive pragmatism.

One of psychoanalysis’s greatest gifts has been the attempt to explain the emergence of fascism; what made Nazism so effective in colonising the unconscious? Another concept is ‘resistance’. Resistance to fascism is properly lauded, but it may have left the impression that as a body of knowledge, it is inclined to a harsher view of extreme right-wing politics than of extreme left wing. Today, it is sometimes described as ‘progressive’ but not in a complimentary way, but in the sneering way that is attached to the term ‘wokeism’. Another Ionesco quote seems apt: “Ideologies separate us. Dreams and anguish bring us together”. In Katz’s (2006) essay, she wonders if people are unable to connect present events with history and are being overwhelmed by ideology, which is designed to frighten us to a primitive psychic state. This is akin to the paranoid-schizoid state identified by Klein at the very start of life. I conclude that psychoanalysis adapts to the politics of its time, perhaps sometimes adopts them, but does not have an inherent bias.

One thing about exploring if psychoanalysis is free of politics is to think about the many people who claim to have no interest in politics, or to have rejected it. They think of themselves as apolitical. Yet, they neglect the politics in their personal lives. The Oedipal Complex is framed by power and the political, in my opinion. One example that fascinates me is a major psychoanalytic figure, who was very interested in politics in what might be regarded as the grand scale. Her politics were of ideology and of international breadth. Why this is of interest is that she attempted to leave the political behind, and yet it reappeared to dominate the latter decades of her life. That woman was Marie Langer. In the film Chasing the Revolution, she is portrayed as a political and psychoanalytic exemplar, seeking change in society, but also described as “having avoided politics for half her career”. She was a co-founder of the Argentine Psychoanalytic Association, but left it in protest against its unwillingness to abandon political neutrality when confronted with a repressive regime.

She had been Viennese born (1910) and trained, joined the Communist Party and just as shifting international politics had taken her from her home as a young woman, she subsequently had to leave the home she had made in Argentina, for her own safety, settling in Mexico. Communism took her to Spain to support the International Brigades fighting fascism. Escaping Spain took her to Uruguay just before Europe became a battleground again, and four years later to Argentina.

Argentina was ruled by Peron and by what seemed to her to be a familiar nationalistic fascist playbook. She therefore ‘dropped’ her politics, ostensibly to focus on analysis and maternity. However, her ‘repressed’ political identity manifested itself in a focus on women’s psychological difficulties. In the period of her life when she was devoted, as she seemed to see it, more to maternity than to politics, she was expressing her interpretation of neutrality. In so doing she offended feminists who thought her views of maternity and the family were ultra-conservative and suited the regime. Her ‘neutrality’ was simply a different expression of the political. By the beginning of the 1970’s she was ready to publicly denounce neutrality and to re-adopt a more active political stance aligned with her youthful ideological positions. She brought her international politics to the psychoanalytic world and presented a paper at the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA) that challenged its hierarchies and training methods. The IPA refused to publish it and she resigned. For me, Langer, who went on to get involved with politics in Mexico and Nicargaua, personifies the way that psychoanalysis is not free from politics. Just as the Kleinian baby comes into the world with love and hate, so psychoanalysis, always and everywhere is political.

In this essay, I have considered the politics of the era when considering if psychoanalysis is free from politics. I have given examples of highly politicised states like 1920’s Russia, and 1930’s Germany, and 1970’s Argentina as well as considering the Cold War period, to examine how politics intrudes on psychoanalysis. I have also considered how politics is part of the psychoanalysis field itself, by highlighting Freud’s splits with Jung and Adler, his appeasement of the pro-regime analysts in Germany, and his daughter’s political fight with Melanie Klein. Psychoanalysis is not free from politics in my view. I am less inclined to believe it naturally leans in one political direction or other, and think that it reflects its time and location rather than influences. I have considered the concept of neutrality, politically and psychoanalytically. I do think it is available to be drawn into a particular politics, including sexual politics and feminism. This, I believe, is one of its many great strengths.


A film about Marie Langer http://www7.bbk.ac.uk/hiddenpersuaders/documentaries/chasing-the-revolution-marie-langer-psychoanalysis-and-society/

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