Thursday, 10 July 2008

Tunnel vision

I’ve been in a tunnel. I did my exams, the first exams for about a third of a century. Three exams, nine papers in all, 45 minutes for each, hand-written.

All but one of my guesses about what would come up were right, even the one I wished I’d been wrong about. I predicted the Lacan and other Frenchman paper would offer a Hobson’s choice between a question on the one seminar I missed (‘The unconscious is structured like a language’ — discuss) and one I wished I had (Andre Green’s dead mother — what do you reckon?).

I went to an Andre Green lecture last autumn, at the Institute of Psychoanalysis, in Shirland Road, just down the road from what was, a lifetime or two ago, the Charlie Pigdog club, where I first saw Joe Strummer strum and drang, as a 101er.

I’ve no idea how long Green’s lecture lasted. A month? I phased in and out so it could have been longer. I’m told it was in English but my ears and brain indicated otherwise. I practised what analysts refer to as free-floating attention. I heard him say something about Melanie Klein. She died in 1960. That didn’t stop him being angry about her and all her works. I also think him I heard him say something about Lacan — dead these past 27 years. Lacan took a couple of sharp Green jabs to the brain-box, too.

It was the kind of evening that would confirm all the most negative views of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic thought. It was tedious, tendentious, schismatic, pompous, drowning in its own jargon and delivered in a stage-foreigner accent. At best, I guess it was a kind of Camp Lejeune moment for prospective analysts. If you can survive an evening with Andre Green, after that anything life may throw at you will seem like a walk in the park.

So I couldn’t answer the Andre Green question — even though I knew the answer, in outline anyway. I just couldn’t forgive him for that decade in Shirland Road. He’s an old man, I know. I’ve read a really interesting dialogue between him and Gregorio Kohon, a north London Argentinian analyst. In it, Green is clear, insightful, bright, original, engaging. I’ve also read his own writing. It’s not. True, it’s not as hilariously terrible as Lacan’s but then what is?

Which left me having to answer a question on something I understood — I think — but had only ever read about. I can only hope that what I wrote wasn’t too stupid.

PS Green’s dead mother thing? His own mother did die when he was young but it’s not about that. It’s about deadened mothers placing that deadening in a child — who then grows up to seek out and recreate that deadening in other relationships. A kind of succulent presence of absence.

Still, that’s about all I can remember about it. And if that’s all I wrote, I certainly would have failed.

PPS Before posting this blog, I emailed it to my wife (in the next room). Here’s what she replied: ‘It made me laugh. But, do you want to make an enemy?’

Good question. What would it be like to have Andre Green as an enemy? I’ll tackle it in my next posting.


This Lacan hotlink takes you to a photograph of Lacan with — deep breath — Pablo Picasso, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus (he's the one petting the dog). Which one's Lacan? I'll tell you next time.

This Lacan hotlink takes you to a painting. Why? I'll tell you that next time, too.

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