Monday, 9 November 2009

Dis dissertation or dat dissertation?

In one of the very first lectures of my course, the lecturer said something like: 'Pay attention to the questions you ask and the thoughts you have now because very often they are what you will find yourself coming to when you do your dissertation.'

When she - I think it was a she, there were a lot of female lecturers, maybe a majority - said it, my first thought, of course, was: bollocks! How can she say that? The second was: well, she's been round this track before and she wouldn't say it if it didn't have history, would she?

So - for once - I did what I was told and thought about what I'd been told. What was in my mind? The lecture was about the aims of psychoanalysis. One thing mentioned was Freud's view of these aims. 'Love and work,' he said. That is, a capacity for both those two things was a working definition of both psychic health itself and the aims of his couch trip - by extension, all forms of talking therapies, too. Maybe, added the lecturer, Freud said this or maybe he didn't. No one seems quite sure.

I found myself thinking about this. My journalistic head asked: did Freud say it? if not, who did? There's a story there, surely. Maybe it would make a dissertation.

The trouble was that I felt I had already committed myself to a different subject for my dissertation. At the interview for the course, I'd been asked what I might be doing my dissertation on. Bit premature, I thought, but I said what had been on my mind: punk.

As someone who had been around punk as a writer, I'd long thought that there had never been much of interest written about its psychological character - let alone anything of substance viewed through the psychoanalytic prism.

There had been historical books and memoirs - I'd even written one myself. There had been sociological studies, feminist views and post-modernist structural analyses. God, have there been post-modernist structural analyses.

But there had been nothing specific on its psychology. The material was there and plentiful, I thought. The reconstruction of self by taking on new, often self-lacerating names - Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten etc. The fantastic - maybe even fantastical - anger. The dressing-up - ripped, torn, chains, self-mutilation. The rhetoric - dystopic, millennial.

Even more interesting was the fact that this stuff appealed so deeply to well-educated young men from comfortable backgrounds. The notion that punk was a working class thing was, of course, always so much, well, bollocks. Art class thing, perhaps. Working class thing, no.

More, I'd known some of the people first-hand and read many of the memoirs. I was struck by the painfulness and dislocations of so many of the main players' personal histories. There were a good number of familial suicides and alcoholic and junkie parents - enough that I'm surprised it's never drawn comment. There were also, of course, lots of alcoholics and junkies in the bands - and among the writers.

There was a lot of parental abuse, too - though not always presented as such. Johnny Rotten wrote about how his father broke his son's leg, twice. Once, by whacking his bed with a tyre iron. Twice, if my memory isn't tricking me, by running into him with a JCB. Both accidents, wrote Johnny.

I also remember seeing a lot of what I later came to know as self-harm. People burning themselves with cigarettes. One woman, in particular - a girl, really - slashing her belly with broken bottles, then claiming - without much conviction - that she had been attacked.

For my dissertation, I intended to explore the way the psychopathology of the punk 'elite' and its iconography found a home in the psyche of otherwise regular people - or, at least, the ones Freud elsewhere referred to as subject to no more than 'common unhappiness'. What echoes did punk's hysteria and 'madness' find in us all?

I think my title would have been a take on Richard Hell's t-shirt slogan: Please kill me now (the polite nihilism of punk). Or maybe on Leni Riefenstahl's Nuremburg romp: The triumph of the ill.

That seemed a good enough starting point to me. So when, over the first year, fellow students asked about my dissertation plans, that's what I told them I was doing. They seemed to think it was a good idea, too.

I did, though, sometimes also make a joke that my other idea was about love and work - no more than a joke really, based on an old gag about a pub sign painter and how you can get the word 'and' five consecutive times in one sentence. You can guess the rest.

Next up Dis or dat, I still have to write the bloody thing


Lo Jardinier said...

Looks like you were veering away from 'Love and work', but I seem to remember a similar quote from Wilhelm Reich. Your blog's encouraged me to start on Ernest Jones's bio of SF - will look out for the phrase. While we're at it, isn't 'Dis here' a reference to Bobby Timmons's tunes for Cannonball Adderley?
Yours pedantically

Peter Silverton said...

yes, i guess it is a reference to the dis and dat of the great cannonball but it wasn't deliberate — still, all is fair in love and associations — the love and work will return to the blog in a day or two, i promise

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading your article in the Independent today. Just one small point - The Larry Sanders Show broadcast the word 'cunt' five years before Sex and the City, in 'The Hankerciser 200' episode. That was on HBO too I don't think they ever said it again.

Peter Silverton said...

Thanks for that correction. What's your source?

Anonymous said...

I've got copies of the episodes. I've put up a clip on YouTube:
There is another episode in season 5 (1997) where Marlee Matlin calls Brooke Shields a cunt (clip here: ) so there may be other instances I've forgotten about.

Peter Silverton said...

thanks greencalx — just got round to looking at them — i plan to post the second one in the blog itself very soon — send me your email to my googlemail?

Anonymous said...

Er, Peter, I can't find your email address. Mine is steven at ferretlovers dot com (don't ask...).

Peter Silverton said...

i've emailed you direct, mr ferret