Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Eine kleine nacht spiel, part two: the what of it

And an evening round the Kleins (of St John’s Wood) is what the play is. It’s a three-hander, a revival, first performed at the National in 1988. Like a classical drama, it takes place in a period of less than 24 hours: an afternoon, an evening, a morning.

There’s Melanie Klein (the ‘great’ analyst, only 56 at the time but seeming far older, in the way that people then seemed to have done). There’s Melitta Schmideberg (her daughter, also an analyst, though not so great). And there’s Paula Heimann (yet another analyst, and greater than Melitta, though not as ‘great’ as Melanie).

In life and the play, Melitta falls out with her mother, challenges her psychoanalytic theories and (not in the play, this bit) doesn’t go to her funeral. (Freud didn’t go to his own mother’s, either. His excuse wasn’t good, either. Not even very convincing.) Paula Heimann became one of the great propagators of Kleinian thought — the end of the play is the beginning of her first analysis with MK.

So it’s the tale of a mother and two daughters, a real one (who fails her) and an acquired one (who helps cements her reputation). And, of course, it’s not pleasant stuff. There’s not much goodness on display.

This Melanie Klein is capricious, arrogant, self-centred, suspicious (she locks her drinks cabinet), patrician. Melitta is put-upon, flighty, almost as self-concerned, slightly histrionic in an Evelyn Waugh/drop-head coupe sort of way. Paula is, well, creepy. She is the woman who comes to dinner — and, once she’s got her feet under the table, doesn’t leave, of course. A poor Jewish immigrant analyst, she clearly sees MK as her main chance. Latch on to her and she’ll survive and prosper. Otherwise . . .

It’s a talkie, of course. No flying, gunplay or conjuring tricks (well, only verbal ones). No warning about strobe lighting on the door. It was a night out for the listening classes — an accident that night, at least, could seriously have damaged the productive capacity of the north London therapy industry.

PS Now this is something I would have included in my book, Filthy English, if I'd known about. But which schmuck should I thank, Mel Brooks or The Onion?

Next up A variant on: leaving that aside for the moment, what did you think of the play, Mrs Lincoln?


Lo Jardinier said...

When I was young and impressionable and working in a sort of Jungian-inspired clinic which treated drink problems, there was an outpatient psychiatric department next door. 'Don't have anything to do with them' I was told 'They're fucking raving Kleinians'. Hmm. They're raving, they're dangerous, and they're fucking next door. Is this an illustration of the 'paranoid position' Mrs K was on about?
Hoping you can help me.
'Confused' of France
PS Great Onion article.

flea said...

so.... you can't leave us dangling - what was freuds excuse?

Peter Silverton said...

the plasticity of language . . . i really couldn't decide whether the people next door were having sexual intercourse with mad followers of melanie klein or merely that all kleinians are two freudian slips short of common unhappiness — also i am intrigued by the thought of a book entitled The Joy of Kleinian Sex — just two positions, paranoid-schizoid and depressive — typically smutty person that i am i couldn't help occasionally find myself posing this kind of question: what do analysts talk about when they talk about love (to their loved ones)? is it possible for analysts to have sex with each other, given their complex views of sexuality? or, given those complex views of sexuality, can they only have sex with each other? (ie not, in liz hurley's great phrase, with civilians)

Peter Silverton said...

freud's excuse? i will leave you dangling, i'm afraid — that's a whole other couch trip to which i will return when i'm done with mrs klein and her two daughters

Lo Jardinier said...

Should have known not to swear on your blog, of all places. Yes, Freud's Manual: 'I have become accustomed to thinking of every sexual act as involving four people' would probably sell better than Klein's.
Seriously, Klein's theories do seem 'unpleasant' (I imagine the reason for the play) but like much analytic thinking make you respond 'Well, yeah, I do feel a bit like that...'Aggression and fear and hostility are perhaps even more repressed than sex, and if we lighten the repression we get a bit of energy released....and many of us behave according to hidden beliefs which on examination seem quite psychotic...maybe you're going on to this later this week.

Peter Silverton said...

oh, (being serious, genuinely serious) i think mk's idea of the depressive position and the paranoid-schizoid position are wonderful contributions to our understanding of ourselves and others — there are other things i take issue with, though — not least her terrible, terrible writing (even in german, i kind of guess) and the effect that has had on english psychoanalytic writing in general — most of which, in an old friend's description of iris murdoch's prose, reads like it's been written with a shovel dipped in shit