Monday, 7 January 2008

So what is theoretical psychoanalytic studies anyway? (Part two)

The short — and clever dick — response to that question is, of course: if I knew the answer, there’d be no point in doing a course on it. Also, that even if I knew (or rather, thought that I knew) the answer, I should imagine (or rather, hope) that I’ll have a quite different idea by the end of the course. If I don’t, I’ll have rather wasted my time.

So, no, I can’t really say exactly what theoretical psychoanalytic studies is. But I can pass on two or three things I’ve learned studying it.

1. Sandor Ferenczi was a Hungarian psychoanalyst whose Polish father’s original surname was the same as my wife’s maiden name. Maybe we’re related. I’ve also uncovered a similar and less tentative link to one of Freud’s best friends. More about that when I introduce you to my 21st century parlour game, Six Degrees Of Separation Anxiety.

2. Psychoanalysis has nothing to say about death because it has no concept of a negative. As a theory, it can only conceive of things that are, not things that are not. Therefore it has — and can have — nothing to say about death. Thus death does not exist in psychoanalysis. There is, accordingly, no such thing as death.

3. Maybe I dreamed that last sentence.

I’ve also learned a couple of more general things about psychoanalysis, both of which I actually already knew, kind of. Only now I feel I know them well enough to consider them beliefs rather than mere prejudices — though it’s always nice to have one’s prejudices confirmed, especially by people whose brains one would like to be able to borrow whenever you needed to do some thinking.

So, essentially, it’s confirmed and deepened my two core beliefs about psychoanalysis:

1. It’s a really, really interesting and productive way of interrogating the world, of asking awkward, interesting questions. And of allowing — encouraging, even — the world to interrogate you back.

2. It could also quite easily all be total bollocks. Analysts, I know, worry that they are complete frauds — which at least is profoundly different to homeopaths etc who are complete frauds but don’t seem to worry about it at all. Then I think doubt is good — or at least I think I do. Or maybe I just think I think I do.

Still, there are bits of psychoanalytic theory you read and think: hang on a minute, which leg are you pulling today, sunshine? Everyone, I’m sure, has different bits they think have LaLaLand passports. Myself, I have no problem with the Oedipus Complex. If there weren’t something like that going on in us all, the playground taunt ‘your mum’ would not have the life-threatening power it does. But maybe you disagree with me. And if you do, you’ll surely agree with my doubt about the idea that the suckling infant’s mind can conceive of the breast as a penis.

And yet . . .

I was having dinner in Bury St Edmunds recently and I got naughty, really naughty. The woman next to me, having berated Tesco — for being everywhere — fell to attacking Rupert Murdoch — also for being everywhere, essentially. God save my soul but I couldn’t stop myself, I just couldn’t.

I know that both Tesco and Rupert Murdoch are big boys and really don’t need my help. But I rushed to their defence anyway. I rounded up the usual arguments — democracy, free speech, free thinking, free minds, free choice, how no one ever put a gun to anyone’s head to shop at Tesco/buy The Sun etc etc. I meant it, every word. Well, sort of.

Only, I didn’t only mean it, I meant other stuff, too; stuff that, disingenuously, I chose not to mention; stuff that the woman next to me couldn’t imagine I might also think. In the end, I had to stop. It was either that or tears and the dinner-giver would never have forgiven me. (How things change. My younger self would have kept on till the tears flowed. Blood, too, possibly.)

The next morning, I found myself wondering: what is it about Tesco and Rupert Murdoch? It’s not just that people dislike them or even that they hate them. They looooaaathe them, with an intensity that seems quite out of proportion. No, not quite out of proportion but completely and incomprehensibly out of proportion.

I’ve tried, again and again, to get a comprehensible answer from them to the question ‘What has Rupert Murdoch/Tesco ever done to you?’. But I’ve never got one. It just seems to be the same kind of fury that some people had about Tony Blair, the ones who’d tell you he was the worst prime minister ever. Generally, they were the same ones who’d said the same before, about John Major, Margaret Thatcher and, quite probably, Bonar Law.

So what is going on here? Obviously, it’s an anger in search of a target but what anger and why these particular targets? I tried putting my psychoanalytic thinking cap on. It didn’t take me very far. But it did take me this far: Tesco: food: mother. And this far: Murdoch: power: control: father. And a little further: mother: breast. And further still: the giant, attacking breasts in Woody Allen’s Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex. And, even father down the road: the regularly expressed fear of my dinner companion etc that Tesco and Murdoch are out to screw them. Maybe the idea of the breast as a threatening penis does have its merits after all.

I made myself a cup of tea.

(Yes, I know I spelt a word wrong in the penultimate paragraph. Not a Freudian slip but a Freudian deliberate.)

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