Psychoanalysis and Brexit

In my psychoanalysis seminar in London I’m one the very few British students. For some reason psychoanalysis is very popular in South America and France, in fact in Argentina it is the norm but not so much here in the UK. A few weeks ago we had a seminar on Psychoanalysis and History and we had someone speak on the subject of the Cold War, another on Lebanon and an Iranian psychoanalyst on the subject of analysis in different languages.

In the open discussion at the end of the talks I asked what impact Brexit had had on the work in the clinic in terms of official history and subjective history. Two of the psychoanalysts answered that not a day goes by when it doesn’t feature heavily in their work and elaborated on the effects it has had in the psychic world of their patients. The exit seems more far reaching than a straight political reorientation. It cuts deep into the psychic and social fabric of the British society and particularly EU citizens who have chosen to live and work in London.

I asked the question in a room where, as a British citizen I was in the minority – an extraordinary, wide ranging group who have become analysts or are in the process of studying to create this unusual thing called the ‘analytic situation’ where people can discover their own truth in a process called psychoanalysis, which Sigmund Freud brought to London when he escaped Nazi Germany in 1938.

I do hope that Brexit UK doesn’t lose the fascinating range of cultural diversity that we have enjoyed for most of our lives, at the expense of flirting better trade deals, securing border control and that we can reinstate culture and art in the prominent position that we have traditionally placed it.

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Voice as autonomous partial object

I had a dream on Sunday night about someone making a phone call in my gran’s house and it reminded me about the call Marcel (Proust’s protagonist) made to his grandmother …. “the voice [Marcel’s grandmother’s] is subtracted from its “natural” totality of the body to which it belongs, out of which it emerges as an autonomous partial object, an organ which can magically survive without the body whose organ it is—it is as if it stands “alone beside me, seen, without the mask of her face.” This subtraction withdraws it from (our ordinary) reality into the virtual domain of the real, where it persists as an undead specter haunting the subject: “‘Granny!’ I cried to her, ‘Granny!’ and would have kissed her, but I had beside me only that voice, a phantom, as impalpable as that which would come perhaps to revisit me when my grandmother was dead.” As such, this voice signals simultaneously a distance (granny is not here) and an obscene over-proximity, a presence more intimate, more penetrating, than that of an external body in front of us” – Zizek

I’m still in love with Brixton. Walking down my leafy Victorian street at slate grey 7am, two guys staggering ahead of me, drinking from a can. Turn left into Salturn Road and a couple of junkies ask me for a Rizzler “sorry mate …” Turn right past the Black Cultural Archives and they’ve got some strange garish sculpture which has replaced the glitter boxes and there are a flock of kids who are fresh out of a club draped over the concrete furniture of Windrush Square close to the Black War Heroes Memorial. One of the local schizophrenic celebrities, Marianne, middle-aged but wears several different outfits throughout the day, all variations of a childhood theme, is weaving between people walking along the high street, the SMILE busker wears a skimpy leotard, florescent body paint, his Afro hair in bunches, and dances to 70’s disco like Pans People on speed.

There is an edgy and mad side to Brixton but there is a really peaceful and contented community that just don’t mind – they’re just getting on with it. You could walk down the high street in latex rubber body suit and people wouldn’t bat an eyelid, [I know because I did back in the day … ]

In the 11th century it was known as Brixistane which means the stone of Brihtsige which was used as a meeting point for 2 different communities between the two main roads leading into the centre from the south which became the A23 and the A3 and over the years it became shortened to Brixton. Between 1860 and 1890 the area underwent huge transformation with the railway link to the centre of London and that is when we got the Electric Avenue which sweeps around from the high street to the railway station that perches high up above the arcade which has become the gentrified Village. Lots of big houses where built and by 1925 Brixton had the largest shopping area in south London.

The area was badly bombed during WWII and you can see signs of it around the streets where I live; gaps between houses and a lot of the houses fell into disrepair. It is said that Brixton was initially chosen as a destination for the immigrants from the West Indies in the 1940’s and 50’s because of the underground bunker in Stockwell.

It might have gone through a massive change in the 20 years since I’ve lived here but there’s no sign of the soul of Brixton going anywhere because to come and live in Brixton you’ve got to believe that people from different backgrounds make for an interesting life. It’s not a hippy “we can all live as one” bollox. No. There are different cultures living alongside each other respecting each other at a respectful distance.

People go on abroad to experience different foods, different smells, different languages, different social gestures and customs … I just walk into my local market. I’m not ready to leave Brixton.brixton

A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story is an interesting film. In some ways it doesn’t make sense and therefore invites the viewer to make their own sense of it. It’s the kind of film that you either love or hate. The deadly dull reviewers on Radio 4 hated it, which was a sign for me that it could be interesting.

The first problem that the film presents is the idea that the ghost(s) is going to be represented by a white sheet with two empty eye holes draped over the character who is killed quite near the beginning of the film and remains sheeted for the rest of the duration of the film. So you are thinking ‘right, how are they going to get away with this…’ I think that the cliche stage prop was playing with the whole concept of whether a film is representing reality or whether the reality of the moving image on the screen is representing an idea. The splitting up of the sign and the signified. But what is also interesting about the presence of this sheeted actor is that the gaze of the ghost becomes the gaze of us the audience. There are points when the invisible-to-the-actors ghost is present to the intimate solitude of the characters. The scene of the widowed young woman sitting on the floor of her kitchen mechanically scoffing a huge chocolate pie, and then immediately vomiting it into the toilet being the first demand on us the viewer to be a voyeur on a scenario that seems too unbearably intimate for us to witness.

Within this frame the film unfolds with a poetic exploration of time (reminiscent of the films of Tarkovsky and Bella Tar), unconscious time, logical time, vertical time (when the ghost jumps off the new high rise building that has been built over the rough old wooden dwelling, and travels back in time) and an amusing exploration of existential philosophy when the dwelling becomes inhabited by a student party, where an evangelist-philosopher-kitchen-party-motormouth delivers a brilliant monologue which twists around Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and questioning the idea of whether meaning can project into the future or is it just, like us, only relevant in the the hic et nunc?

 

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Solaris dream

I had a dream last week and in one of the three parts of the dream I was onboard the space station from Tarkovsky’s Solaris film. I said to the captain “I don’t believe in gravity” and as I said this the space station started to descend into the sea of unconsciousness. In my free association, on the couch, I said that this part of the dream had something to do with me not believing in empirical truth … my analyst asked me “What was the empirical truth that you didn’t believe in?” … I halted […] he ended the session.

Since the session I’ve wanted to find some event in my childhood that would be that empirical truth that I didn’t believe in – I hoped that it might come to me in another dream – but it hasn’t.

This morning during my park walk I was thinking about Freud’s case of the Wolf Man and the primal scene. Freud says that the trauma of his witness didn’t necessarily occur in reality the way that he described it in his analysis and it doesn’t matter that it didn’t. There is a kind of coalescence between fantasy and reality in the construction of the primal scene and primal fantasy and that there is always the aspect of Nachträglichkeit – that meaning always occurs retrospectively.

 

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Diana

When Princess Diana died a void opened up and as with any ideological trauma, the collective psyche feels compelled to fill that void left by the missing signifier. The paparazzi were blamed and charged but there continues to be speculation about whether the ‘paparazzi chase-induced accident’ was in fact the true cause, or was there some other explanation…

When, throughout western history public figures such as Julius Caesar or Anne Boleyn die their status in the symbolic order changes. Whilst they are alive, they are seen as an elevated human being but nevertheless a human being who is going about their life in the way that a privileged human subject operates. But when they die, particularly while still young and in a violent way; when they are physically erased from the world of reality, the signifier becomes detached from the object, and the signifier is elevated into the status of a pure signifier. Anne Boleyn the woman becomes Anne Boleyn a pure signifier. The pure signifier gains far more potency in the world of the symbolic because it has the ability to become part of a new matrix of signification, in Boleyn’s case her execution by beheading left her legacy as part of the English Reformation. As an empty signifier, her name became inscribed into a certain part of English history.

With the release of the Diana tapes (her disembodied voice and image as a partial object, still seemingly still full of libidinal investment), the film makers for Channel 4 have cut, overlaid with other footage, a decontextualised story, to create what could be seen as a contemporary fantasy of alienation, restitution, and heroism or for others the sad truth of the British class system. The pure signifier is always free to become enchained in an number of truths.

 

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The Shape of the Unconscious

I took my mum to the Giacometti exhibition last Friday and I was expecting just to see the tall skinny figures and wondering what I was going to make of them, (especially as mum had just lectured me on not eating enough!) but my attention was caught by some early sculptures at the beginning of the show and particularly ‘Caress’ from 1932. To me it looked only partly like a caress, and then I noticed the hand engraved onto it. But my first reaction was ‘what kind of a caress is this?’ It was smooth on one side and then angular and squarish on the other.

It kind of jerked me into another way of looking at the collection, and I started to think about the possibility that sculptors are guided by unconscious shapes. After all sculptors tend to get fixated on certain forms, if you think about Henry Moore or Rodin or later on with Giacometti with his skinny figures which seemed to preoccupy him for so long.

For this piece you could perhaps create a narrative of the movement of the engraved hand from left to right smoothing out the hard edges or maybe the piece itself is a hand which is being sensitised and engorged by the caress of the engraved hand … and so on and so on. But I was thinking whilst I was walking around the exhibition about how there is an element of ourselves that goes beyond that kind of verbal narrative – it is a kind of topological shape that presses down on and moulds how we think, how we act and behave – a kernel that remains unique and enigmatic, what you might call a personality or character trait?

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GREGORY CREWDSON – CATHEDRAL OF THE PINES

This is a fascinating exhibition on show at the Photographers Gallery 16-18 Ramillies Street near Oxford Circus.

His meticulous crafting, with the help of about 8 assistants and his own particular post production techniques, creates a visual suspense that reminds you of the artists Diane Arbus and Edward Hopper.

The models were all members of Crewdson’s family which made this project particularly personal for him and he said in the interview that accompanies the exhibition that with his direction he always had to ask his models to do less. He uses painting as his point of reference and although there is a narrative implied within the frame, Crewdson has left the viewer with room to bring their own biography to the experience.

What is most striking about his work, is the sense of suspension in time, one of those suspensions that give rise to an aporia; an irresolvable internal contradiction, a disjunction between understanding and not understanding. You suspect that something significant has just happened or is about to happen. There might be a resolution but it will never resolve to the same point. This is a moment, a nodal point in our history or what in psychoanalysis is called a ‘brush with the real’. Suddenly the ordinary continuity of life becomes a scene, orchestrated and posed – like a screen shot.20953729_1101778053289129_7695530651150809956_n

Re-tailoring Swift

“Identicide – refers to the intentional killing of that which is subsumed under the term identity.” Carelton University

The act of re-tailoring Swift is most likely yet another publicity stunt by a hungry record company machine but nevertheless it is out there in the big Other. The cute princess Swift hysteric question ‘Che Vuoui’ “Who I am for you?” – “What am I for you?” – has been rubbed out and replaced with three snakes and a superego demand from her new single that goes something like:

I don’t like you …
You made me do this …
You made a fool out of me …
You said this was mine ..
Look what you made me do …
I don’t like this … or that …

I don’t trust …
You don’t trust …

Look what you just made me do …

Classic strong song stuff that identifies with the attempts to go beyond the Oedipal net – the same attempts that we continue to act out though out our lives. But there is always a sense of limit – we are always coming up against the walls of our psyche, because our very language, our sense of subjectivity is contained by this very Oedipal constraint. It’s easy to mock the sentiment of a song that expresses in such direct fashion whilst at the same time we keep our version of it under a supposedly dignified veil.

There is a post-modern maxim that there is no more to who we are than the image that we present, however fake it may appear in reality. What is lacking in the po-mo maxim is that just because there is no more to me than the image, that doesn’t mean that there is no personal truth about me in that image. There is probably more personal truth in that image than the sludge that goes on in the supposed inner core of our being.

Pop musicians have been performing identicide at regular intervals since David Bowie killed off Ziggy on July 3rd 1973 but the paradox is that when you rub out the signified the signifier becomes more powerful as a pure signifier. Ziggy Stardust becomes eternally immortalised and continues to haunt us and all that follow him/her/it/.

Passage à l’acte

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One of the images that has stayed with me from the Barcelona terror attack is that of the young terrorist who is shot by the Spanish policeman in Cambrils south of the city in the early hours of Friday morning, who gets back on his feet and taunts the policeman and bystanders whilst striding around with a false explosive belt on before being shot to the ground. What is it that leads a young person to want to take themselves and others out of the picture in that way? It’s one thing to act out some scene from action movie but to gladly take themselves out of the movie itself with seeming pleasure is the stuff of the bleakest of horror films.

Jacques Lacan made a distinction between acting out and the passage à l’acte. The ‘acting out’ where we act out a symptom as a repetition “a substitute for remembering past events” whereas the ‘passage à l’acte’ is where the subject identifies so completely with the fantasy of the other that they take themselves off the scene, they fall from it, in these cases taking innocent people with them in “impulsive acts, of a violence …. which sometimes mark the onset of an acute psychotic episode…. When the subject proceeds from a violent idea or intention to the corresponding act”

The worrying trend in terror attacks is that the people are coming from within our communities. There is the false assumption that one can observe behaviour that betrays this kind of madness, that the communities and families around these people should know what is going on, but it seems to be rarely the case. People are always perplexed when they find out that someone they knew very well is driven to the passage à l’acte. Take the case of Doctor Harold Shipman who killed in excess of 250 people. Everyone who was interviewed recounted stories about what a good doctor he was and they didn’t suspect anything unusual about his behaviour. Madness and seemingly normal behaviour are worryingly compatible.