Book Reviews politics Psychoanalysis

Understanding the Health Crisis -Adam Phillips and David Morgan

Adam Phillips is an intriguing author and psychoanalyst who has clearly stated in an interview his opinions on the crisis following Covid at


EW: Do you think the current levels of suffering and unhappiness are the signs of a crisis that is entirely new, or do you think these are problems that have been around in one way or another for some time?

AP: I think that there’s a crisis in the sense of people finding it more and more difficult to live. So there’s a crisis in health, so to speak, and obviously we live in a very polluted environment as well. But the scale of envy and competition in this culture is too much for them to bear.

To put this as crudely as possible: I think that capitalism drives people mad. Once you live in a world in which competition trumps collaboration, it’s as though there’s no shared project; we’re all competing with one another for limited resources. So I think it’s good that it’s become a matter of concern in the public realm that people are really suffering. I think it’s also important that there are many descriptions of what they’re suffering from, because the risk is of thinking that what we need are solutions to mental health problems, whereas actually we need political solutions, and the mental health problems are symptoms of a political catastrophe that is occurring.


Adam Phillips discusses his book “On Wanting to Change” in Paris

Another somewhat similar view is expounded by another Psychoanalyst David Morgan at and his excellent podcasts that he has chaired can be found at

Some useful background
Book Reviews Literature Poetry Psychoanalysis Uncategorized

Dipping into Beckett

I have read but a little Samuel Beckett- one play and a novel but his persona I find intriguing and his clearly having studied Joyce interests as well. I found a tome-like collection of his poetry second hand and have been looking at some of his translations from French. He translated Rimbaud, Breton and the surrealist poet, Paul Eluard. I notice that a collection of the latter’s poetry is soon to be published in both French and English. Beckett also translated a poem called “Delta” from Italian by Eugenio Montale. Beckett too wrote fluently in French and demonstrates his fascination for arcane usage. Here is an example-

Tristesse Janale

C’est toi, o beauté blême des subtiles concierges,

La Chose kantienne, l’icone bilitique;

C’est toi, muette énigme des aphasiques vierges,

Qui centres mes désirs d’un trait antithétique.

O mystique carquois! O flèches de Télèphe!

Correlatif de toi! Abîme et dure sonde!

Sois éternellement le greffé et la greffe,

Ma superfétatoire et frêle furibonde!

Ultime coquillage et palais de la bouche

Mallarméenne et emblème de Michel-Ange,

Consume-toi, o neutre, en extases farouches,

Barbouille-toi, bigène, de crispations de fange,

Et co-ordonne enfin, lacustre conifère,

Tes tensions ambigues de crête et de cratère.

Using Google Translate and adjusting this curious poem reads-

Sadness Janale

It is you, o pallid beauty of the subtle concierges, The Kantian Thing, the bilious icon; It is you, mute enigma of aphasic virgins, Who centers my desires with an antithetical trait.

O mystical quiver! O arrows of Telephus! Correlative of you! Abyss and hard probe! Be eternally the grafted and the graft, My superfluous and frail furious!

Ultimate shell and palate of the Mallarméan mouth and emblem of Michelangelo, Consume yourself, o neutral, in fierce ecstasies, Smear yourself, bigène, with mire contractions,

And finally coordinates, coniferous lacustrine, Your ambiguous tensions of ridge and crater.

Essentially this seems difficult although each stanza has a cluster of meaningful concerns. There are many fascinating words with allusions to place names and classical studies. The imperious voice of the poem marked by imperatives is not without a comic undertone or so it seems to me. It has made me aware of Beckett’s command of the French language and his dreamlike imagery.

Poetry Psychoanalysis

Heddy Lamarr (Misconnected)

Communication only partial

the latching you designed

seems to glitch

So that signals disappear

down some tremendous

existential void.

Wires are somehow more

secure than your bluetooth

despite its representation

as a reliable mechanical

gearwheel safely

locked in a Newtonian Universe.

How can I connect

with you? What message

can reach you up there?

Here I remain

with weakened pulses

and unreliable links

living with Beckett and Bion.

Literature Poetry Psychoanalysis

Discovering Levertov

I was thumbing through a copy of Contemporary American Poetry price six shillings, published 1962 that I borrowed from a friend at University. I couldn’t help noticing that there appeared to be only two woman poets in the collection by Donald Hall and of neither had I heard. At first perusal some of the poems by Denise Levertov seemed to be redolent of new perceptions of American springtime and then I read the blurb in the front-

DENISE LEVERTOV (b. 1923) comes from Ilford in Essex, England, and served as a nurse during the Second World War, when her poems were first published by Wrey Gardiner in London. She married an American and has lived in the United States since 1948. She published her first book, The Double Image, in England in 1946. Her American books are Here and Now (1957), Overland to the Islands (1958), With Eyes at the Back of our Heads (1960), and The Jacob’s Ladder (1961).

This delightful poem about origins and identities is immersed in beautiful place names both suburban and sylvan. Rivers run through it and there is the lovely image of the forlorn white statue standing in the old house garden. It is a reflection of childhood innocence and religious thoughts add to the majesty of the poetic voice. ( ” merciful Phillipa”, “multitudes” and “Simeon quiet evensong”) In the meeting and parting she brings together Belarus and Spain, the United States and Wales. It is about the expansion of the world as in the maps of a child’s imagination; the safety and containment of morning sunlight on garden walls.

Art and Photographic History Art Exhibition Reviews Psychoanalysis

Three news articles that caught my eye

The London Review of Books editions that arrive every two weeks seem to vary in their interest value. The most recent edition, however, grabbed my interest in a short article on the life of the German Expressionist, George Grosz. Then I went on to read about the amazing Adolfo Kaminsky, the brave photographer and forger on behalf of radical causes. Two good articles and it puts you in the mood to read the rest before the next explosion of magazines arrive with more information having to be processed. (LRB Volume 45 Number 4 -16th Februrary 2023)

Thomas Meaney has visited the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart and his review of Grosz is particularly interesting from a psychological viewpoint with informative quotations from Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt; the former claiming that Grosz’s caricatures were not satire but reportage. His transition to America in 1933 marked a point at which he seems to have attempted to subdue, what he considered, his former arrogance and nihilistic tendencies. Yet he seemed out of sympathy with American society, its cultural interests and the false persona he felt he had to adopt in his teaching of drawing. By 1954 he appears to be in some sort of deep decline. Meaney quotes the Dadaist and friend Schlicter –

Rarely have I seen a person with such self-destructive rage…..It is a depressing spectacle to see a man whom one once cherished go to the dogs in this way.”

Returning to Berlin where he died in 1958 seems to have exacerbated matters still keenly aware of past issues unresolved.

Secondly, last week there was a dearth of anything but Tory supporting newspapers at Sainsbury’s so I decided to buy the Morning Star. I came across an interview by Chris Searle with the veteran Bassist Dave Green. He and his friend, Evan Parker have just issued a new CD called Raise Four.

The clip above is almost 20 years old but in this recent interview, Green highlights his favourite artists; Roland Kirk, Coleman Hawkins and among British Jazz musicians, Bruce Turner. Green has been a dedicated anti-racist and an ardent believer in constant experimental freedom to develop his craft.

The third article to engage my attention, in this case by the vivid illustrations, was in Saturday’s Guardian and may be found at

This article is a review of the Women’s Abstract Exhibition (1940-1970) to be found at the Whitechapel Gallery until 7th May. I particularly was taken by the dark variegated shades of Li Fang’s work of 1969.

Penwith Psychoanalysis West Cornwall (and local history)

Battered Britain- confused Cornwall

Very likely it is the mood I find myself in at the moment. Arriving in town just a few minutes earlier than expected. The bus driver must be keen or perhaps a manic denial of boredom. Then the bus is blue -quite unusual and reminiscent of a bus service locally that years ago was renowned for unreliable and battered buses. The service now appears to have hired a range of peculiar vehicles – this one has shiny black leather seats somehow suggestive of the aspirations of another era.

Need to top up with a little cash but a scrawled notice- and I mean a scrawled notice says “Out of order” and you almost expect it to add….” this is Penzance boy….carry on waiting for Godot”. Thank goodness for the Co-op.

As I stroll on I think of the latest large Tory leaflet that has been pushed through the door. Green naturally. Telling me “together we are successful” or words to that effect. What at precisely? Schools where there are very few fully qualified teachers and pupils marched before the moronic inducing banks of second rate computers or various mad pods and pads. Successful with 12 hour waiting times in A and E. Bleak visions of rooms that would be like Scutari drawn by Daumier. No Florence- instead the only visible care comes from the worried looking young Security Staff in front of lengthening lines of ambulances. Successful for the Mme Defay who made a fortune out of her Government Grant for pathetic PPE.

Everywhere recently my eye has been captured by curious clumps of electrical apparatus. These somehow have a certain lyrical attraction even or especially when accompanied by patches of viridian lichen or intriguing pipework, transformers and untidy wiring. In other countries with technological competence they might be safely enclosed.

politics Psychoanalysis

Fake News: Strivers V. Skivers?

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.

Book Reviews Literature politics Psychoanalysis Uncategorized

Politics as Theatre; Then and Now

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:-

Watching this which mostly concerns events in 1788, I am reminded too of the dramatic events of the August Coup in 1991in the Soviet Union

The drama acted out in those few days goes some way towards understanding the current conflict in the Ukraine; Putin’s response to Gorbachev’s reforms over 30 years ago.

Poetry Psychoanalysis

Road 1940

Road 1940

Why do I carry, she said,

This child that is no child of mine?

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.

Literature Poetry Psychoanalysis

“Autumn Journal” revisited this Spring

For here and now the new valkyries ride

The Spanish constellations

As over the Plaza Cataluña

Orion lolls on his side;

Droning over from Majorca

To maim or blind or kill

The bearers of the living will,

The stubborn heirs of freedom

Whose matter-of-fact faith and courage shame

Our niggling equivocations-

We who play for safety,

A safety only in name.

Whereas these people contain truth, whatever

Their nominal façade.

Listen: a whirr, a challenge, an aubade-

It is the cock crowing in Barcelona.

Sleep, my body, sleep, my ghost,

Sleep, my parents and grand-parents,

And all those I have loved most:

One man’s coffin is another’s cradle.

Sleep, my past and all my sins,

In distant snow or dried roses

Under the moon for night’s cocoon will open

When day begins.

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.

For a fascinating discussion of MacNeice’s work take a listen to

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-

Our niggling equivocations

We who play for safety,

A safety only in name