Friday, 31 July 2009

Self and others

I’ve made a few small changes to the way this blog looks and is arranged.

One I’ve added a new photo of myself. I’ve already asked some of you this question but no-one has got it right yet: who took the photo? There’s a prize for a correct answer — and it’s not a signed copy of the picture. Clue one: he’s not unknown (actually, that’s two clues, isn’t it). Clue two: there’s another clue lower down in this post.

Two I’ve added a link to rocksbackpages (rocking writing under free-ish associations below). It’s an archive of all kinds of pop music writing. There’s loads of my stuff there. I think you might have to pay for some of it but it is also available free via some local libraries. There is a link on the rocksbackpages home page to something called Freekly. The idea here is that you sign up — for free — and the site interrogates your iTunes, then sends you links to pop music stories, old and new, that you might be interested in. If you then buy stuff on click-through, I get money. That is the idea anyway. I find it quite fun: it’s even recommended my own writing to me. So it clearly has taste.

Three I’ve added a link to Professional Photography magazine (legendary photography, under free-ish associations below). I’ve been writing a series for them, on . . . legendary photographers. I’ve done a dozen or so far, including Guy Bourdin, William Eggleston, Herb Ritts and Deborah Turbeville. As soon as I’ve done posting this, I’m off to finish one on Araki.

Next up Shhhh

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Group theory

People were always asking me the same question about my course. It was the one I’d have asked me, too, if I weren’t me. It was this: ‘Theoretical?’ As in, why Theoretical Psychoanalytic Studies? Does that mean they’re not real studies, only theoretical ones? Some put it less politely.

I’ve always given the same answer — there or thereabouts, anyway. I tell them that it’s theoretical as opposed to clinical. That is, it’s not training to become an analyst or a therapist etc. It’s the study of psychoanalytic theory. Its practice, too, as it happens. But not how to practise it.

Last week, I came up with another answer: a less abstract, more concrete one. It comes in two parts.

Part one. We are sitting in the seminar room. The seminar leader is outlining the work, life and theories of Wilfred Bion, an analyst who helped set up the Tavistock. His notion of ‘containment’ has seeped out into the wider world. Roughly, it’s the idea that the analyst can take a patient’s messy, unhappy emotions, hold them ‘inside’ himself for a bit of processing and return them in slightly better shape. It can sound hippy-dippy but Bion didn’t mean it that way. He was looking to explain how patients could and did get ‘better’.

Bion also did a lot of work on group dynamics. In some accounts, he is the major influence in the early development of studies on how groups function — and dysfunction. This was raised in the seminar. There was, though, only the briefest reference to the fact that we, in the room, were a group — and no attempt to discuss or dissect its dynamics. That’s theoretical for you — a discussion of the practice rather than the practice itself.

Part two. After class one Saturday, I’m having lunch with the other students who, like me, had chosen to do the course over two years. We are discussing this year’s students — the way you do, the way anyone would. We talk about them as individuals and as a group.

Interestingly, we each have quite different views of them — as individuals and as a group. For some of us, they are far more intellectual than the previous year. For others, they like to talk more. For some of us, they are more engaged in the subject. For others, they are less worldly. For some of us, there is a feeling that the course directors thought the previous year’s lot — ie us — were a bit flaky. Others of us thought: whatever.

What we all agreed on, in an unspoken way, was that there was a group, that this year’s intake were a group and that we were a different group — still essentially linked to last year’s students who have now left. How easily and inevitably are groups formed, I thought. And how we look for and mark the things which make our group distinctive. And how small a step it can be from there to marking the things which make our group better — or, at least, we imagine they do. And from there to the eternal tragedy of Freud’s narcissism of small differences.