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.
The most accessible introduction to great philosophers, for me anyway, are the You-Tube programmes made by Bryan Magee maybe some 30 years ago. Particularly interesting was Iris Murdoch talking about Philosophy and Literature. Then there was the lucid conversation with Anthony Quinton on Spinoza and Leibnitz. The clearest philosophy book I managed to grasp however, was Language, Truth and Logic by A.J.Ayer. Freddie Ayer used to appear on the Brains Trust on Sunday afternoons -such excellent stimulating elevating television as we seem to see but rarely nowadays. True conversation seemingly in short supply.
However, skimming through Herman’s delightful book on The Scottish Enlightenment, I came across the intriguing philosopher, Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746). Here is how Herman concludes upon him…”He challenged other forms of oppression, which Locke and even Shaftesbury had ignored…….One was the legal subjection of women. Hutcheson defined rights as universal, and did not recognise any distinction based on gender. The other, even more important was slavery. ‘Nothing’, he said, ‘can change a rational creature into a piece of goods void of all rights.’ In fact Hutcheson’s lectures, published after his death under the title A System of Moral Philosophy, were ‘an attack on all forms of slavery as well as denial of any right to govern solely on superior abilities or riches.’ They would inspire anti-slavery abolitionists, not only in Scotland but from London to Philadelphia.
His thoughts on what he terms variolation are certainly pertinent to our contemporary discussions on vaccination. However, his interest in an early study of the philosophy interface with psychology also makes for a certain claim to fame on behalf of this doctor from Yorkshire. According to the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, Hartley wrote a significant treatise. “The Observations gained dedicated advocates in Britain, America, and Continental Europe, who appreciated it both for its science and its spirituality. As science, the work grounds consciousness in neuro-physiology, mind in brain. On this basis, the central concept of “association,” much discussed by other British philosophers and psychologists, receives distinctive treatment: the term first names the physiological process that generates “ideas,” and then the psychological processes by which perceptions, thoughts, and emotions either link and fuse or break apart. In keeping with this physiological approach, Hartley offers a conceptually novel account of how we learn and perform skilled actions, a dimension of human nature often left unexplored in works of philosophy. Such actions include those involved in speech—and, by extension, the conduct of scientific inquiry.”
Although difficult perhaps to penetrate his writings in detail it seems to me that in relation to certain aspects of volition, memory, sensation and associations are a significant forerunner of Freud and psychoanalysis. It is often stated that Nietzsche’s thought have such an influence but Hartley should be recognised for his insights at much earlier period.
Just 100 years after the birth of Louise Bourgeois in 1911, her work is due to be re-considered and this display at the Haus Der Kunst in Munich affords an opportunity to evaluate a small but interesting section of it.
Her concerns flourished in a troubled personal and collective past. Here is revealed a land of mirrors, shadows and memory. The exhibition is dominated by large structures, perhaps up to 6m in height as cells, enclosures and gigantic spider like constructions. Their colours are sparse but significant. These units were created by Bourgeois from 1996 after the year 2000. It is impossible not to be aware from their imposing presence of surrealism, of Kafka and of both feminism and psychoanalysis. Having undergone analytical treatment, Louise Bourgeois’ work struggles with the emotions of early childhood; jealousy, fear, security, sexuality, voyeurism and mothering are prominent themes in this exhibition. The supporting frames and nesting shapes are reminiscent of her work inspired by Giacometti as well perhaps of Francis Bacon.
The cells are enclosures which suggest relationships which may sometimes become claustrophobic. The insides are not entirely open to the viewer who may feel something of an intruder into a private and personal world. “Cell VI” for instance, consists of a metal stool placed inside a screen of four doors with a gap for the spectator all painted in a light blue suggests an interrogation or perhaps, self-accusation or possibly both. Seeing a number of such structures standing separately, cells or selves in isolation, portraying pre-occupation with past trauma, is reminiscent of Hesse’s evocative poem, “Der Nebel” and its daunting conclusion, “Jeder ist allein”.
Yet despite the creepy insect structures, the wire netting, the discarded bottles, there is an underlying energy about Bourgeois’s work which involves the courage to confront the past. There is an implication of the possibility for communication. Bourgeois was deeply influenced by Leger who believed that together men could transform social relationships and build a better future. As D.H.Lawrence suggested, “One must learn to love, and go through a good deal of suffering to get to it, and the journey is always towards the other soul.”