Will Self came to talk in our psychoanalytic seminar last Saturday. The subject was Trump and the media. Self started by reading from a piece that he wrote in 2014 about ‘Fatbergs’ – those huge balls weighing tons that role around in the sewers under our feet, consisting of fat, shit and wet wipes. Alongside Fatbergs, Self elaborated on the theme of his self-named ‘Bidirectional Digital Media’, the idea that the internet allows a two way flow of self expression. The pipeline between the two ideas flowed freely throughout the talk.
For Self the Fatbergs are the big balls like Trump, Farage, Rees-Mogg and Corbyn but also “YOU!”, as he pointed to a room full of psychoanalysts. “What’s wrong with you, you weirdos, don’t you laugh!” … “I mean you’re all Freudians, you know all about the anal stage, wiping your bottom with wet wipes…. hahaha!”
Apparently Self’s mother was in psychoanalysis whilst she was pregnant with him and went ahead with the pregnancy because of her analysis – so he joked that maybe he owes his life to psychoanalysis … but that is where his belief in the psychoanalytic theory ends. He spent a short period in analysis with a ‘very famous analyst’ but complained that if he was to talk about his sex life, he wanted to know the sex life of his analyst … that he didn’t just want the shiny mirror held up to him. It was pointed out that the idea of the reflective mirror went out about 70 years ago, and someone else said that it sounds like he wanted an analyst a little like Trump himself. Another person pointed out that he knew a certain amount about psychoanalysis but he clearly didn’t understand some important points, but it seemed like he wasn’t interested in a bidirectional discourse.
His Bidirectional Digital Media had fired off in the middle of his reading his own piece from 2014 directly off the mobile device – “Oh … sorry … that’s my daughter …”
Self looked super suave as he swung his scarf around his neck and placed his hat on his head and left the room saying “goodbye … and I love you very much!” [despite your weirdness?]
I was on the tube this morning thinking about Stephen Hawking in heaven and (assuming that he was able to take his voice [as with everyone’s voice a partial object] with him) that he might be having a conversation with William Shakespeare. Would the language of black hole and string theory end up in iambic pentameter? Speech being the letter containing the message which always arrives at its destination, even though the message is only ever partially understood.
For International Women’s day today I’m thinking about gender and transgender and the extraordinary Virginia Woolf. Her romp of a novel “Orlando” explores time and gender. Her main protagonist, Orlando, starts off in Elizabethan England as a boy and transforms one night during the reign of Charles II in Constantinople into a woman and ends up in the following moment getting into a car in London in 1928. I think that for Woolf time was vertical as well as horizontal and she implies in this paragraph that somehow the more a person could embrace the whole of their lived time the more successful a “practitioner in the art of life” one could be (it’s all quite tongue in cheek):
“That Orlando had gone a little too far from the present moment will, perhaps, strike the reader who sees her now preparing to get into her motor-car with her eyes full of tears and visions of Persian mountains. And Indeed, it cannot be denied that the most successful practitioners of the art of life, often unknown people by the way, somehow contrive to synchronise the sixty or seventy different times which beat simultaneously in every normal human system so that when eleven strikes, all the rest chime in unison, and the present is neither a violent disruption nor completely forgotten in the past. Of these we can justly say that they live precisely the sixty-eight or seventy-two years allotted them on the tombstone. Of the rest some we know to be dead though they walk among us; some are not yet born though they go through the forms of life, others are hundreds of years old though they call themselves thirty six. The true length of a person’s life, whatever the Dictionary of National Biography may say, is always a matter of dispute. For it is a difficult business – this time-keeping; nothing more quickly disorders it than contact with any of the arts; and it may have been her love of poetry that was to blame for making Orlando lose her shopping list and start home without sardines, the bath salts, or the boots. Now as she stood with her hand on the door of her motor-car, the present again struck her on the head. Eleven times she was violently assaulted.”
ONE of the many things that I value about reading the complete works of Freud Standard Edition volumes 1 – 24, which I completed a couple of weeks ago, was the time I spent alone with the physical books, faithful to a line of thought, to the internal logic of an author, saved from the distractions of social media, news stories and gossip.
Yesterday I was reading Lacan’s Seminar on Freud’s Technical Papers and with a pencil in hand underlining significant words and phrases and writing notes in the margin – I find myself more engaged with the text in this way, but I was wondering how differently I might read it the next time around – perhaps in a few months or years I will be more interested by the words that I have left unmarked …
‘Augustine’s main objection to the inclusion of the domain of truth within the domain of signs is, he says, that very often subjects say things which go much further than what they think, and that they are even capable of owning the truth while not adhering to it. The Epicurean who maintains that the soul is mortal quotes his opponents’ arguments so as to refute them. But those who have their eyes open can see that that is the true speech, and recognise that the soul is immortal.’
Jacques Lacan Freud’s Papers on Technique
Virginia Woolf once wrote that music was “nearest to truth” and in a famous letter of 1940, Woolf wrote that ‘I always think of my books as music before I write them’.
Music may go beyond or precede the explicit meaning of words, but it is still a language in the same way that the unconscious is a language; that they are both structured like a language, both function on different registers at the same time, and have their own unique relationship to topological space, duration and time.
In her 1925 novel ‘A Simple Melody’, Woolf alludes to the correlation between music and psychic space:
“Mr Carslake, at least, thought it very beautiful because, as he stood in the corner where he could see it, it had the power to compose and tranquillise his mind. It seemed to him to bring the rest of his emotions – and how scattered and jumbled they were at a party like this! – into proportion. It was as if a fiddler were playing a perfectly quiet old English song while people gambled and tumbled and swore, picked pockets, rescued the drowning, and did astonishing – but quite unnecessary – feats of skill. He was unable to perform himself.”
… that music had the power to (re)compose and tranquillise his mind, to reform the structure of his thoughts, that this simple melody had an internal logic and proportion; a sense of truth, unperturbed by its jumbled and scattered surroundings.
I imagine this as a possible evocation of Woolf’s own internal world (innenwelt) – and her unconscious phantasy that somewhere there would be a place in a corner in her thoughts where she could be content with a simple melody. Like so many creative people, the Real is sometimes too vivid, too overwhelming to render it simple and normal for the everyday.
Reading Seminar X : Anxiety by Jacques Lacan that directly addresses desire and anxiety and the way the two are closely related in relation to the object cause of desire, seems to have mirrored X-mass, for me, this year.
“I desire you, even if I do not know it.”
“If this were sayable, what would I be saying by it? I would be saying to the other that, desiring him without knowing it of course, still without knowing it, I take him as the object unknown to myself of my desire, namely in our conception of desire that I identify him, that I identify you, you to whom I am speaking, you yourself, to the object which is lacking to yourself, namely that by this circuit that I have to take to reach the object of my desire, I accomplish precisely for him what he is looking for. It is indeed in this way that innocently or not, if I take this detour, the other as such, object here you should note of my love, will fall necessarily into my toils.”
‘The Will of the People’ has become the unary political slogan since the referendum, however it appears to be gradually denied as the will by many on both sides of the divide as the separation process progresses. I always found it an odd expression that immediately evoked Schopenhauer’s concept of the ‘will to life’. Schopenhauer was a big influence on Freud and you can see early resonances with his concept of the trieb (drive). For Schopenhauer (and you can see his partial resonance with Buddhism) the will to life is where mankind finds all his suffering and for Schopenhauer aesthetic pleasures are the only things that can give us momentary escape from this suffering.
You can see the parallel with psychoanalysis, where we have a subject divided between two kinds of motivation. On one side the drive which derives from the body with it’s demands and needs and on the other side the motivation of a sublated ego, where the mind can engage with language and image, imagination and act out in all its psychodramatic varieties, with metaphor and metonymy in different registers. The Will is also, of course linked to a person’s death and for Freud the life drive, or the will to life, is also related to the death drive, the drive to return to the organic stasis from which man originated.
Hearing the word ‘snowflake’ on the Moral Maze a few nights ago and the word coming from the mouth of the person who apparently coined the phrase had me thinking. The context of its use on the Moral Maze was that certain student unions on uni’ campuses were too easily offended and that they were banning particular speakers (this regular BBC guest being one of them) from a platform because they represented a certain way of thinking that the students didn’t, by consensus believe reflected their way of thinking.
The position upheld by this particular guest was familiar and went something like; it is necessary, in order to be a progressive modern citizen to be open to all lines of argument and make rational choices based on listening to all sides – it certainly seemed like a robust argument.
However what about the way arguments are elaborated and formulated at the highest levels – don’t they always rely on a strong element of limitation. A mathematician doesn’t work on all aspects of their field but narrows the spectrum down to something very specific. A philosopher will work within a very specialised area of thought and so on and so on. As the great and charismatic scientist, raconteur, teacher and musician Richard Fynman used to say “I’m happy to not know everything … in fact I find the idea of not knowing everything very exciting.”
And in any case isn’t it delusional to think that because we are exposed to a vast amount of information that we are somehow omni-educated, omni-thinking, omni-political, omni-wise – sitting on our throne of knowledge and regally making and acting on in-formed opinion.
Perhaps rather than being blinded by the information snow, we should be ‘happy not to know everything’ – turn the radio off, turn the TV off, and yes, sometimes perhaps, be a little selective about views expressed on our uni’ platform.