Saturday, 5 December 2009

Eine kleine nacht spiel, part six: the contents of Mrs Klein’s drawers

There is a joke in the play about Mrs Klein’s filing cabinet. It’s of a kind that Ray Cooney would have constructed an entire play around. An intellectual version of Benny Hill could have made a career out of it.

The gag is this. Mrs Klein files her her correspondence into three different drawers of the cabinet, according to the divisions of Freud’s 1921 structural* model of the mind: ego, superego, id. (I’ve no idea whether Mrs Klein's filing strategy has any historical accuracy. Nor can I decide whether that matters — or whether I wish it did or didn’t.)

So, of course, Mrs Klein puts letters from the taxman in the superego drawer. And she puts the letter from Melitta which is the driving force of what plot there is . . . well, to be honest, I can’t remember which drawer she uses for her daughter's correspondence. However, I do suspect, that my not remembering is an accurate reflection of a similar confusion in the characters’ minds about which drawer the letter properly belongs in.

I had an irritating question about this gag, though. It’s a topographical one. Filing cabinets (including the one in the play) have four drawers, not three. So what does Mrs Klein call her fourth drawer? And what might she keep in it? What, in the Kleinian administrative universe lies beyond (or below) the ego, superego and id. Possible answers welcome in this posting's comments section. (Facetious ones, hopefully.)

PS1 How can I have six sessions in a week? Isn’t that transgressing a central rule of analysis? No. Freud himself regularly did six-day weeks for his patients. (I’ll be writing more about Freud’s work practices when I get back to writing about my dissertation.)

PS2 Kleinians, of course, would never do six-day weeks. That would mean they couldn’t demand of their patients** on a Friday morning: so how do you feel about how much you will miss me over the weekend? Or, of a Monday: so tell me about your missing me over the weekend.

PS3 Yes, I do know that ‘spiel’ is a masculine noun in German but ‘ein klein nacht spiel’ just didn’t roll right.

PS4 The play’s run finishes tonight.

* The structural model — the ‘second topography’, to the French — eclipsed the previous, topographical which divided the mind/brain into conscious, unconscious and, sometimes, pre-conscious. Almost without exception, modern analysts slip — promiscuously, with polymorphous perversity even —between the two models.

** At first, I typed ‘parents’ — a significant slip, of course, and one that neatly matches (and ironises) Kleinians’ view of the transference thing. The patient as parent to the analyst is as good a construction as any to start a discussion of the meanings of transference.

Next up I shoot a model

Friday, 4 December 2009

Eine kleine nacht spiel, part five: the so-what of it

My teenage son and I walked away from the theatre, north on Upper St, past the Hope & Anchor, the rock basement where I spent so many hot and sticky evenings in the late 1970s — when my theatre, I guess, was seeing Joe Strummer in the pink zoot suit he wore as a 101er, clambering over amps and barking Them’s Gloria.

Well? I asked my son.

Hmm, he said. (Or something of the like.) What was it about? he asked. What was the point of it?

If I’d been really on the button, I’d have said: That you came to ask what was the point of it, that was the point of it.

But I wasn’t and I rambled a bit about how sometimes the things which have an obvious meaning later come to seem as if they have actually have no or little meaning.

At least he didn’t suggest that it’s not just psychoanalysts make bad parents but students of psychoanalysis, too. Too polite for their own good, perhaps, today’s teenagers.

Next up The sixth of the five parts of Mrs Klein. (I told you the collective noun is a complex of analysts.)

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Eine kleine nacht spiel, part four: the so? of it

So . . . when I wrote the thing about my evening with Mrs Klein, I divided it into five sections, mimicking the five sessions of a full analytic week. Or, rather that's what I thought I did.

In fact, I divided it into four, only missing out the fourth section and skipping straight to the fifth. So, as someone who has learned to seek (if not always find) significance in even seemingly straightforward errors, I found myself faced with the question: what should I do with this unexpectedly blank Thursday afternoon session? How might I fill the space?

I thought about this . . . and I thought about this . . . and I thought about this . . . and, suddenly, my fifty minutes were up. See you tomorrow.

PS1 Yesterday afternoon I recorded a podcast for The Word magazine, for whose latest issue I've written a piece about swearing. It was fabulous fun, a whole hour of talking seriously and laughingly about my book and swearing with two old work colleagues, David Hepworth and Mark Ellen — both of whom I've known since I was half the man I am today. In fact, since I 'wore skinny ties and dressed like a member of an Island records power pop group — the Jags, say', said Mark Ellen. 'Not in a bad way, though,' he added with his customary exquisite tact.

You can hear our full podcast here.

Warning
It carries a parental advisory warning.


PS2 Someone has also posted links to the Troggs Tapes on it — which I don't mention in my book but maybe should have.

Next up After the play is over

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Eine kleine nacht spiel, part three: the what did I think of it

What did I think? Of the production, that’s easy. It was as excellently acted, carefully directed and arrestingly staged as you come to expect in Lottery theatres. Of the play itself, though? That’s far harder. Its structure and its writing are both fine, of course. Well, better than fine, in fact. Far better. But there’s something beyond that which, well, I don’t even really know myself . . .

A few thoughts, though . . .

* The blood-red red of the set made me think of the womb — it is MK’s consulting room

* There was something of The Servant or Pasolini’s Theorem about the play — the outsider who comes in and takes over

* Paula Heimann was, I finally realised after much head-scratching, played by the actress who was Ruth in Spooks — a Ruth, in fact, who was no stranger to fiction (suitably, given the above)

* It’s a truism (and, in my experience, true) that analysts don’t make good parents — this play certainly more than hints at that

* Melanie Klein analysed Melitta — no analyst would do that now but, surely, even at the time, it must have seemed improper at least

* Paula Heimann, in time, also fell out with MK — though there is no hint of this future discord in the play

* Hanna Segal — who did become MK’s representative on earth and who is still alive — blamed MK’s own mother for her ‘bad’ mothering of Melitta

* The analytic world is fractious beyond all imaginings — even more so than the play presents

* Analysis is — if you believe it has any meaning at all — a form of biography, in good part, at the very least

* A love of gossip is one of the human universals, according to anthropologist Donald E Brown

* In discussing the history of psychoanalysis, analysts are wont — very wont — to dismiss biographical discussion as ‘mere gossip’

* Psychoanalysis prides itself on its unblinking view of humanity — though maybe not of psychoanalysis or, more particularly, psychoanalysts or, even more particularly, the ‘great’ and ‘good’ ones

PS1 Nothing to do with psychoanalysis (or any of the other things I usually blog about) at all but . . . there is a print and pot sale of students' work at Morley College (near Waterloo) tomorrow lunchtime. The work (at least some of it) is of staggering quality. I went today and bought all your Christmas presents. Well, ones those of you I actually bother to buy presents for. The teapot and harlequin set of half a dozen cups and saucers I'm keeping for myself. If you go, say hello to my friend Duncan.

PS2 This is the third of a five-part post. If you just pitched up, you might like to start here.

Next up Tomorrow belongs to . . . Thursday afternoon with the Kleins

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?

Monday, 30 November 2009

Eine kleine nacht spiel, part one: the where of it

A father and (younger) son outing to a mother-and-daughter evening: Mrs Klein, a play, at the Almeida Theatre in Islington. Oddly, although I go to the theatre quite a bit, I’d never been to the Almeida. Which, given its reputation, is even odder.


A regular — an enthusiastic regular — had described it to me as ‘a jewel’. He was right, of course. It’s a Lottery theatre, one of that turn-of-the-century generation of rebuilds funded by channelling the hapless dreams of the poor into bricks-and-brushed-steel arenas for dreams of the rich. From Lottery tickets to theatre tickets.


A century or so ago, Frank Matcham was responsible for creating something like two hundred theatres of a distinct type in Britain. (Hackney Empire, London Palladium, Buxton Opera House etc etc.) I reckon that, a hundred years from now, the Lottery generation of theatres — though not as numerous — will be seen similarly, through a prism of stylistic similarity.

With its amused joining of original building and modernist additions, the Almeida is happily typical of the type. Concrete access ramp meets classical columns — with bar and education facility. It also had the best-dressed and most attractive looking audience I’ve ever seen at the theatre. You really felt as if you were out for a night with Islington society.

First, I wrote ‘the great and the good’, then I typed it out. Not just, embarrassedly, because it was a lazy cliché. But because any notion of there being such an entity as ‘the great and the good’ could surely not survive the merest brush with Freudian thought, let alone an evening round the Kleins.


PS1 This is the first of five blogs about Mrs Klein and her two daughters, one a day for the rest of the week — kind of like a week of analysis.

Next up
I get to the play — and the two daughters

Sunday, 29 November 2009


Now that's what I call (filthy english) music

I decided that those of you who weren't at the launch party might be interested in the tracklist of its soundtrack. So here it is. The page numbers refer to pages in the book. The photograph was taken outside 55 5th Avenue, NY NY and refers to . . .

1 Shave ‘Em Dry Lucille Bogan

‘. . . in a studio above 5th Avenue, sometime on Wednesday, 19 July 1933, a thirty-seven-year-old black woman gathered herself together, stepped up to the microphone and began to sing.’ (page 181)

2 Mother Fuyer Dirty Red (with Bob Dylan)
‘Born in 1916 and widowed in 1968, Beatty Zimmerman has only ever given one interview, in 1999, to her (and her son’s) hometown paper, the Duluth News. She told the reporter: ‘One thing Bob does like, and I know he hates the publicity, but I know you have to write something nice – and everybody likes a good recipe – he does like chicken every way.’(page 134)

3 F**K Off (Dirty Rooster) Slim Gaillard
‘Asterisks were established by the early eighteenth century. The word is from the Latin asteriscum, little star – as we acknowledge when we refer to the exam result A* as an A-star rather than an A-asterisk. It’s derived from an early printers’ symbol used to mark dates of birth.’ (page 259)

4 Don’t F**k Around With Love The Blenders

‘In 1953, Joe Davis (label owner, producer, all-round music business hustler) had a bright idea for the Blenders, a New York doo-wop group who’d been together since church choir. They’d cut a track called Don’t Mess Around with Love. He got them to recut it as Don’t Fuck Around with Love, then slipped this dirty version on the sly to dee-jays so they’d play the original, clean one on their shows. The promo scam didn’t work.’ (page 186)


5 The Rotten Cocksuckers Ball The Clovers

‘In 1953, the Clovers, turned up for a session at their record label Atlantic’s central Manhattan studio. They told their label boss and producer Ahmet Ertegun that they wanted to record something of their own this time. The engineer set the tape rolling. The tune was The Darktown Strutters’ Ball – a 1917 song which some claim was the very first jazz recording ever made. The Clovers sang it acappella. Only the words were different.’ (page 186-7)


6 Think Twice (Version X) Jackie Wilson & Lavern Baker

‘Then there’s the version of Think Twice cut in Philadelphia, in 1966, by Jackie Wilson and Lavern Baker, for Brunswick records – a Mafia-controlled label, as it happens.’ (page 187)

7 Cocksucker Blues Rolling Stones

‘From the period when schoolboys would hang around the railings around Piccadilly Circus waiting to be picked up,’ said my informant. ‘Certain people from Rocket Records were rumoured to be regular customers.’ (page 191)

8 Fucking Ada (edit) Ian Drury & The Blockheads
‘Ian himself could, as it happens, be a complete and utter arsehole. Also a bastard, a fucking cunt and a prick. Even by the standards of pop stars.’ (page 180)

9 Too Drunk To Fuck Dead Kennedys
‘I flicked through this iTunes fuck list, casually looking out for names I recognized. I found Amy Winehouse (Fuck Me Pumps), Arctic Monkeys (Who the Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys), Babyshambles (Fuck Forever), John Lennon (When in Doubt, Fuck It), P. J. Harvey (Who the Fuck?), the Super Furry Animals (The Man Don’t Give a Fuck), Ryan Adams (Fuck the Universe), the Dead Kennedys (Too Drunk to Fuck and Nazi Punks Fuck Off) and Portishead (Music to Fuck To).' (page 193)


10 Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole Martha Wainwright

‘A daughter’s view of her father, in which the usage is factual rather than metaphorical.’ (page 193)

11 Ashes KT Tunstall

‘These, of course, are just the fucks and cunts that appear on the label or tracklist. The iTunes search engine doesn’t find deliberate misspellings – Kunt and the Gang of Basildon, Essex, for example. Nor does it find lyrics. So no ‘Arseholes, bastards, fucking cunts and pricks’. No ‘fucking peasants’. No ‘Fuck you, little princess’ from St Andrews, Scotland, either. (page 194)

12 Fuck Was I Jenny Owen Youngs
And no ‘What the fuck was I thinking?’ from Montclair, New Jersey.

13 Flower Liz Phair

Nor ‘I’ll fuck you like a dog’, and ‘I’ll fuck you till your dick is blue’. (page 194)

14 Cunts Are Still Running The World Jarvis Cocker
‘When Jarvis Cocker wrote and recorded this, he didn’t put it on his new album but on his MySpace page. He edited its title, too, cutting it down to Running the World.’ (page 73)

15 Fuck Tha Police N.W.A.

‘Some familiar names. Dr Dre’s Fuck You, Eminem’s Just Don’t Give a Fuck, NWA’s Fuck tha Police . . .’ (page 193)


16 I Wanna Fuck You Dirty Snoop Dogg
‘. . . Snoop Dogg’s I Wanna Fuck You, Lil Wayne’s Fuck the World, Peaches’ Fuck the Pain Away . . .’ (page 193)

17 Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back) Eamon
‘In 2004, the British charts were topped by Eamon’s Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back) . . .' (page 194)

18 Fuck You Right Back Frankee
‘. . . which was then knocked off that spot by its answer, Frankee’s Fuck You Right Back.' (page 194)

19 Bitches Ain’t Shit Dr Dre

‘As Dr Dre of NWA once remarked ‘niggganigganigga fuckthisfuckthat bitchbitchbitch suckmydick’. (page 193)


20 Bitches Ain’t Shit Ben Folds
‘Quiet, reflective, piano-led recasting.’ (page 194)

21 I Like to Fuck Young Hot Rod
‘Porn star Tila Tequila’s contribution to the Young Hot Rod track includes her promise to perform oral intercourse ‘until I hurl’. (page 193)

22 Winin’ Boy Blues, Pt. 1 Jelly Roll Morton
‘Winin’ Boy was Mr Morton’s other nickname and the song was his theme tune. Its title was a reference to a certain pelvic motion at which he had attained particular virtuosity – or at least said he had.’ (page 186)

23 Fuck Christmas Eric Idle
‘In 2004, the FCC fined Eric Idle $5000 for saying fuck on an American radio station. He responded with a Noel Cowardish song, Fuck You Very Much – a title shared with the similarly jaunty 2008 ringtone chart-topper by Lily Allen.’ (page 193)

24 The Shag (Is Totally Cool) Billy Graves
‘Shag (1788) is perhaps a variant on shake – as also may be the American dance with the same name which, to much trans-Atlantic amusement, has been around at least since the early 1930s.’ (page 36)

Next up (tomorrow) On the couch with Mrs Klein (and her two daughters), five times a week (for one week only).