I have been considering two tools of resistance to current orthodoxies during this summer of drought and discontent. Both of these items require listening time and both are deeply engaging if given attention.
The second sound clip was recorded some five years ago and tackles at root the dangers of free market philosophy for mental health. David Bell and David Morgan are two Psychoanalysts who have treated modern cuture to rigorous and liberating scrutiny.
I have read for the second time now an article in the TLS by someone who goes by the name of Docx. This curious appellation reminds me somehow of XTrapnell, a strange character in Antony Powell’s “Dance to the Music of Time”. In this article, a book review, Docx pins down the theatrical absurdity of Johnson’s manipulation of Parliament and reiterates the latter’s motivation in his illegal prorogation of Parliament. He touches on the psychology of Boris, recently referred to as delusional by the Leader of the opposition and quotes D.W.Winnicott’s notion of the False Self to underline the splits in the man’s psyche. Johnson avoids guilt and the expectation is that paranoia features as his acting becomes increasingly absurd.
This acting resembles the theatre of the absurd which once was called Pataphysics. The loss of meaning which we see in the plays of Beckett and Ionesco is acted out on the floor of the House of Commons. The audience of Conservative MPs are complicit in the act and the opposition, though more in touch with compassion, find it difficult to bring the charade to a meaningful conclusion.
I have just finished reading the most remarkable life story of Richard Brinley Sheridan which is written by the outstanding Irish writer and political commentator, Fintan O’Toole. It is called A Traitor’s Kiss. There are many reasons for recommending this book so I shall confine myself to just three. Firstly, because it so closely illustrates this connection between politics and the theatre. Sheridan’s father, with whom he had a particularly interesting oedipal conflict, taught rhetoric so that Sheridan imbibed and used the power of heightened speech in his drama and in his political speeches. One only need consider the figure of Mrs Malaprop in The Rivals to grasp his power over language. Secondly, O’Toole’s explanation of the basic integrity of Sheridan’s love for Ireland, democracy and far sighted anti-imperialist radicalism is thoroughly illuminating with respect to Eighteenth Century political shenanigans. Thirdly, the biography is imbued with a real feeling for the duelling, the striving for status, the struggle against poverty, the wenching and resulting illegitimacies pursued in the chaotic Regency times. The reader comes away with some understanding of the complexities of both Whig factions and the decide lack of safety considerations within the candlelit Drury Lane theatre.
The article which underlined for me this connection between politics and the theatre was an edited version of a lecture given on behalf of the Voltaire Association in the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford on March 17th. It was given by the Harvard Professor, Robert Darnton and entitled Despotism Centre Stage- Theatricality and violence in Paris on the eve of revolution. It appeared in the March 25th, 2022 copy of the Literary Supplement and so very fascinating that I have read it several times to appreciate just how the masses in the streets of Paris, the Parlement and the Chatelet Court all became embroiled in a political carnival in which magistrates acted out their remonstrances (a forcefully reproachful protests) with speeches and gestures so that Paris itself became a free for all vaudeville. with the aristocracy and the monarchy as the players caught in a tragedy. Here is a small example of the scenes on the streets leading up to the Revolution:-
For anyone who wishes to hear the lecture itself:-
Through the heat of the day it did nothing but fidget and whine,
Now it snuffles under the dew and the cold star-shine,
And lies across my heart heavy as lead,
Heavy as the dead.
This beautiful poem by STW is another poem about the flight of refugees. It almost certainly relates to the civilian escape from Paris as it fell in 1940, It conveys both the weariness and the worry of a woman escaping with a child who is not her own and unfortunately there must be many such examples of such experiences among refugees from Ukraine at the present time. The next lines reveal that the story is being reported by an observer.
Why did I lift it, she said,
Out of its cradle in the wheel-tracks?
On the dusty road burdens have melted like wax,
Soldiers have thrown down their rifles, misers slipped their packs:
Yes, and the woman who left it there has sped
With a lighter tread.
The poem continues to discuss the rescuers ambivalence towards the child being rescued. there are echoes of the Scriptural verses of Matthew 24:19 –
And woe unto them that are with child and to them that give suck in those days!
and also of Mark 13:17
Townsend-Warner finishes with these poignant lines which might also be those of a similar refugee from the Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan or elsewhere:-
But since I’ve carried it, she said,
So far I might as well carry it still.
If we ever should come to kindness someone will
Pity me perhaps as the mother of a child so ill,
Grant me even to lie down on a bed;
Give me at least bread.
Here is another moving poem by Townsend Warner from You Tube where you can also find her own reading of this second poem.
These lines from MacNeice’s poem written in 1938 sadly seem apposite today. The lines refer to the bombing of Barcelona when fascists killed some 1300 people. They also refer to his response which is to seek solace in sleep. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Barcelona
Now, of course the Spanish Civil War was a totally different situation from the current situation from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, the melancholy tone of Autumn Journal resonates with my personal feelings about current events. Firstly, weapons have become vastly more destructive and in a few days the casualties and destruction have become enormous and sadly mch more about to be revealed. In both conflicts, ethnic and religous belief would appear to be active. Although mercenaries and International Brigades are involved the ideological factors such as a belief in Marxism are radically different in form.
The cock which crowed in respect to Barcelona is an Easter image relating to betrayal. Just as with Covid the current response by politicians to the current crisis is totally underwhelming and indicates too how domestic and isolationist narratives have obscured a wider view as to how to resolve or even contain this conflict.
So this melancholia pervades from 80 or more years ago-
This shopping precinct seems full of empty shops. It feels as though the local economy has not recovered from Covid and this environment has taken on the strangeness of the new normal. This in turn raises questions about the whole construct of “normality” and how normal the old normal really was. The empty frame, one might ask oneself; is it really empty? The frame itself can become a tool to investigate the reality on which attention is focussed.
“Frames are mental structures that shape the way we see the world. As a result, they shape the goals we seek, the plans we make, the way we act, and what counts as a good or bad outcome of our actions. In politics, our frames shape our social policies and the institutions we form to carry out policies. To change our frames is to change all of this. Reframing is social change“
Furthermore from Fairhurst and Sarr-
“Just like a photographer, when we select a frame for a subject, we choose which aspect or portion of the subject we will focus on and which we will exclude. When we choose to highlight some aspect of our subject over others, we make it more noticeable, more meaningful, and more memorable to others. Our framing adds color or accentuates the subject in unique ways. For this reason, frames determine whether people notice problems, how they understand and remember problems, and how they evaluate and act upon them (Entman, 1993).
Frames exert their power not only through what they highlight, but also through what they leave out. In framing, when we create a bias towards one interpretation of our subject, we exclude other aspects, including those that may produce opposite or alternative interpretations.”
The frame might be the area of domestic politics which when focussed upon excessively means that political discourse becomes isolated. This has been the case in the U.K. where foreign affairs has suffered much neglect. Statesmen with detailed understanding of policy seem few. Consequently issues nearby are outside the frame. The events leading up to the invasion of 🇺🇦 Ukraine 🇺🇦 are now the return of the repressed.
The doleful and economically depressed scenario locally has a dreamlike quality at times somewhat reminiscent of paintings by de Chirico or Rene Magritte. Outside the frame there are grander landscapes.
Leon Brenner is an energetic and creative Philosopher and Lacanian Psychoanalyst who lives and works in Berlin. Last week he gave a Zoom talk on the subject of The Dermic Drive in Autism in which he followed this, his schema:-
Counter to the ways it is conceived through both cognitive and identitarian approaches, autism might be productively thought of as a unique subjective structure that sits alongside the classical Freudian structures of psychosis, neurosis, and perversion. Earlier psychoanalytic thinkers have linked autism and the onset of autism to the supposed experience of early disturbances in ‘skin function’. In this talk Dr Leon Brenner will expand this notion of ‘skin function’, exploring its relation to and confection in language. Conceiving the skin as a potential modality of the Freudian drive (Trieb) – the dermic drive – Dr Leon Brenner will seek to unpack how the different relations to and with the Other such a drive would instantiate allow fresh insights into our understandings of autism.
Here is what R,D.Hinshelwood has to say in clarification in his book, A Dictonary of Kleinian Thought-Among the previous psychoanalysts studying this subject three in particular drew my attention. Esther Bick whose work included infant observation, the relation between skin sensations and feeling contained, the creation of the experience of the body as an internal space. Bick worked with Donald Meltzer and together they arrived at the concept of Adhesive identification: The possible failure to develop such an integrating primary object (space) appears to be confirmed in work with autistic children (Meltzer et al., 1975) [see AUTISM]. Bick and Meltzer (Meltzer, 1975, 1986) collaborated in describing the ways in which autistic children develop without a sense of internal or external space. Their relationship with objects appears to be a ‘sticking on to’ the object, a mechanism called adhesive identification.
2 Hinshelwood also explains the manner in which mimicry replaces the normal development of internal psychic space-
projective identification cannot be properly employed because of an absent sense of internal space (see INTERNAL REALITY). Meltzer (Meltzer et al., 1975) took up these ideas and found them important in research into a child-analytic technique with autistic children. Meltzer described a child who
tended to draw pictures of houses, in which there was a house on this side of the paper, and there was a house on the other side of the paper and when you held it up to the light, you saw that the doors were superimposed, you know, a kind of house where you open the front door and step out the back door at the same time. (Meltzer, 1975, p. 300)
In the course of this collaboration, Bick and Meltzer began to recognize a pattern in these ‘second-skin’ formations (see SKIN]. Bick typically called it an act of mimicry. However, what they began to realize was that the mimicry represented the experience, and phantasy, of sticking to an object as opposed to projecting into it [see 13. PROJECTIVE IDENTIFICATION]. A lapse in developing a sense of internal spaces leads to a tendency to relate to objects in a two dimensional way, without depth [see AUTISM]:
The following are some thoughts in no particular order which I had during this engaging seminar:-
This evocative song has been in the background since contemplating this whole issue with it’s phrase “wake up to reality”. Sung here by Frank Sinatra https://youtu.be/C1AHec7sfZ8
There is a particularly interesting chapter in Betty Joseph’s collection “Psychic Equilibrium and Psychic Change” on the analysis of a patient with a rubber fetish in which she discusses the use of projective identification of excitement, oral sadism and how she was able to contain, explain and resolve these issues within the analytic sessions.
It would seem that the elastic and adhesive properties of relationships can be expressed vividly by means of cartoon characters. In particular it is possible to think of matters like “bouncing back” being “caught on the rebound” as well as “sticking together through thick and thin” as well as someone “sticking to another like glue” somewhat unpleasantly or uncomfortably.