What a (narcissistic) difference a year makes
The other week or so, there was a drinks evening for everyone on my course — right after the final lecture/seminar ever, for me anyway.
It was in a room at the myhotel just off Tottenham Court Rd.* We walked the few hundred metres in loose groups. Some got a bit lost, of course. I asked: what would be the collective noun for psychoanalysis students? I think I remember suggesting: a confusion. Someone else, though, came up with a far better idea. I can’t remember what it was, though. So the best suggestion will be rewarded with a copy of the Freud Goes Pop CD I compiled to amuse myself.
En route to the drinks, one of this year’s students said to me: last year was much more sociable than this, wasn’t it?
I said: ‘Oh, no, not at all. I thought you lot were really sociable.’ She disagreed — though she did disagree when I suggested they were harder working than the previous year. (I might have used the word ‘swottier’. If I didn’t, I’m embarrassed to admit that at least part of me thought it.)
So I said: ‘What about the Sunday morning film shows at the ICA?’ (A season of four movies which I dreaded in advance and didn’t like much when I was there — the post-film discussions were not exactly sparkling.) ‘Didn’t you go out for coffee or a drink afterwards?’
‘No,’ she said. ‘Well, maybe one or two occasionally.’
Which was pretty much the end of the chat. There was nothing else to say, really. She was, it seemed, clearly right. This year was less sociable than the previous one.
And yet . . . all year, I’d felt differently about this. Somehow I’d got the idea that they were far more social than they were — certainly than they thought or felt they were. I’d come into a seminar and they’d all be chatting away to each other and I’d feel something of an outsider.
We couldn’t both be right, of course, could we? Well, yes, of course we could. Groups form so easily, don’t they. And define themselves against each other so clearly, so easily — projecting all kinds of stuff on the other group, as imaginary or fantastic as it can be.
To them, the previous year was the Friendly Ones. To me, this year was the Swot Team.
Freud had a phrase for this, of course: the narcissism of small difference.
* There was a similar event last year. When asked for venue ideas, I suggested Spearmint Rhino — it’s just down the road. They weren’t keen on the idea, for some reason — not even when I raised the possibility that they might get a special psychoanalyst’s discount.
Next up What we drank at the drinks, what we ate (and some of what we said)