Wednesday, 16 January 2008

A postscript to ‘Psychoanalysis by numbers’

It was Friday evening. A family chicken was roasting. I was in the kitchen. My wife and my daughter were there, too.

‘I’ve posted a new blog,’ I said.

‘Mmmm,’ said my wife. ‘You always show me first.’

‘Mmmm,’ I replied, truthfully, if evasively. ‘It’s about what I’ve done so far on the course. How many seminars, how many books and papers read etc etc. I’ve done it in numbers.’

‘Autistic,’ said my daughter.

‘Autistic,’ said my wife.

‘Mmmm,’ I thought, and said.

Then I remembered that afternoon’s seminar — for which I’d done the reading before posting the blog. It was about the Rat Man, one of Freud’s most famous patients. The Rat Man — perhaps disappointingly — is not someone blessed/cursed with a super(ego)hero alter (super)ego and extraordinary rodentish powers. Instead, he’s a young lawyer plagued by a story about a terrifying (though, I should imagine, imaginary) far eastern torture involving rats and bare buttocks. A wish reconstituted as a fear, Freud suggests.

That’s not what my wife and daughter’s comment got me thinking about — though I did have passing thoughts about the imagination and unconscious of the straight men who’d tell me again and again and again about Richard Gere’s supposed taste for sex with hamsters.

Rather, I found myself thinking about the title of Freud’s paper ‘Notes Upon A Case Of Obsessional Neurosis’. About the Rat Man’s obsessions — how he had to count up to forty (or fifty) between thunderclaps. And about the way that Freud himself got caught up in the Rat Man’s story about a pair of pince nez, a post office, an army manoeuvre and an unpaid debt. It’s a tortuous story, torturing even — so much so that you can start finding yourself wondering if the rat and buttocks thing might not be less of a drain on the human spirit. But Freud gets so involved in it that he actually draws and publishes a map of the various train and carriage journeys that Rat Man took — or rather, says he took — in his — probably imaginary — attempt to repay his debt.

I thought of myself breaking a course down into/up into a set of numbers. I thought, too, about the headline for one of my (many) unwritten stories: Why are there no female trainspotters? What’s wrong with men’s brains? (And, left to themselves, would women ever have come up with the periodic table?)

Even further thoughts

I showed this blog to my wife before I posted it. She had two questions:

1. Who are these men so interested in Richard Gere’s sex life? And what if they recognise themselves?

2. That last sentence about women’s inability to create the periodic table, couldn’t that be construed as sexist?

I gave her two answers:

1. **** and *********. Not to mention ******, ******* and ****, too. As to recognising themselves, ***** will think it’s about ****. And vice versa.

2. I hope so. Then perhaps they’ll read back two sentences and face the potential sexism there, too.

In return, she gave me two final words:

1. Mmmm

2. Mmmm

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