Thursday, 11 June 2009

A room in Bloomsbury

So there we were in a private room in a Bloomsbury hotel. Which sounds more Virginia Woolf than it was. Far more. Maybe a bit Lytton Strachey, though. It was just down the road that his little brother James translated Freud into English. I doubt James Strachey took local hotel rooms for the afternoon, though.

It was a drinks-affair to mark the end of the course’s seminars. It was in a room off the main bar, with a large TV screen showing a black and white Audrey Hepburn movie, with the sound turned off. Breakfast At Tiffany’s suggested someone. But it wasn’t. I knew that. The Eiffel Tower kept cropping up and there’s no Eiffel Tower in Breakfast At Tiffany’s — nor two eggs over easy with wholewheat toast either, of course. Noel Coward kept appearing, too. I felt I’d seen it but couldn’t remember it.

Nearly everyone on the course turned up. In fact, the only absence I noted was the person who talked the most in seminars.

There were chairs round the edge of the room. We sat in them, a little awkwardly, the way you do when you’re not used to socialising. The people who knew each other talked to each other. The faculty members poured the white wine (not bad) and handed round the Thai-ish snacks (pretty good).

‘How generous,’ said a student to the administrator. ‘You paid for it,’ said the administrator who, despite not being English, has a finely tuned sense of English dead-drop irony. The student was clearly taken aback. ‘Your fees cover everything,’ I explained. I’m not sure I was understood.

After an hour so, the drink ran out and most people moved on to a pub — the cheapest pub in the area. We stood on a pavement in the early evening sun and drank cheap beer and cider from plastic cups.

They told me about how their year was so much less social than the previous one. I told them that I’d felt a real outsider for most of the year. Because I’d done more than three-quarters of the course (and exams) in my first year, I attended hardly any lectures. So it took me a really long time to get a hold on all their names. Also, there was often barely a spare seat and I’d find myself squeezed out to the margin.

The social thing seems to have been really important to them.

One of them told me he’d just been working, as an actor, on a Ridley Scott’s new version of Robin Hood, filming in Surrey somewhere, I seem to remember. He played a French assassin. ‘Talk them to death with Lacanian concepts, did you?’ I said.

Then someone mentioned Princess Marie Bonaparte, the woman who rescued Freud from Vienna. Catherine Deneuve played her in the 2004 biopic. Brancusi sculpted her as a phallus. A cousin of Prince Phillip’s, she sloped off from the Coronation with Francois Mitterrand, then a French cabinet minister. To psychoanalyse him, she said.

I added the odd fact that she’d had her clitoris surgically moved. Twice, in fact, if I remembered right.

‘Why?’ asked one of my fellow cheap beer drinkers.

She thought it might improve her sex life, I think.

‘Where did she have it moved to?’

I said: ‘I don’t know.’ Someone else said: ‘To her forehead?’

I should have replied but didn’t: ‘Walthamstow, actually.’

PS The film finally ended. It was Paris When It Sizzles — which has a film within a film called The Girl Who Stole The Eiffel Tower.

Next up I have seen the future and it’s smelly

Monday, 8 June 2009

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)