Tuesday, 18 May 2010

What would Freud have thought of Gordon Brown?

Watching Gordon Brown give his resignation speech in the street, I felt unaccountably uncomfortable. There were obvious reasons for this — inside my head, if not everyone’s.

* I don’t much like Gordon Brown — everyone has their reasons (as the movie has it*) but mine include:
his self-martyring manner, unbecoming in the over-12s;
his spending my money like a drunken sailor;
his centralist, dogmatic micromanagement which has infested so much of government;
his use of the word ‘investment’ as a synonym for ‘spend’ (as in ‘we are investing 44 billion pounds in . . .’)

* I don’t much like celebrities parading their children — I didn’t much like Rooney bringing his newborn son on to the pitch at the end of the last game of the season

* I don’t much like the non-separation of the public and the private — I don’t think Sarah Brown should be hidden away in purdah — rather that she should be getting on with her life and work — would Gordon have turned up for her work leaving-do, with kids in tow?

Yet still . . . there was something else that concerned me about the scene. I couldn’t figure out what it was but it hung around, uncomfortably. Then, in another context, I recalled something the pioneering English female psychoanalyst Joan Riviere wrote in a review of Freud's New Introductory Lectures** . . .

'Among all the manifold significances one's child can have, a major one is abundantly clear in all analyses: it represents oneself as a child, one's own id.'

And that was it, for me. What I was seeing was Brown’s use of his own children as representations of his own self — not just his own childhood self but his secret, urge-drenched adult self. (Of course, as a parent three-times over, I know I’ve done this — still do, I’m sure. But even the guilty may point the finger at other sinners.)

So what did I see in that moment that made me uncomfortable? Well, the first thing to consider is that this was the two young boys’ first public appearance — to my knowledge anyway. Previously, they had only two public ‘faces’. One, sheltered behind pixellation. Two, as metaphors used to demonstrate their father’s humanity — eg, the worked-up gag comparing his adversaries’ adult conflict to his two sons squabbling in the bath. Patronising, heartfelt, intrusive, genuine, fake, clunky — so much of Gordon Brown was there in that brief phrase, which probably wasn’t even written by him.

At the leaving moment, though, he (and, I guess, Sarah) did something quite new with their children. He brought them into the public arena. He stood them on his office desk — see the Guardian photograph. He (or someone) bought them new formal jackets. He depixillated them. A bride stripped bare moment.

It was clearly a very deliberate — though, of course, not necessarily fully conscious — act. Why suddenly de-privatise such an essentially private element of his life? No one made him do it. It was clearly his choice to put his boys on show.

What was going on? Starting from Riviere’s observation, what did Brown’s act show us about what she referred to as ‘id’ but I’m quite happy to think of as ‘inner self’ or some such. What part of inner Gordon was he representing? Something fairly basic and simple (not to say universal), I think. He was — though probably better not to tell him this — expressing his inner child.

By using his children as simulacrums of the hidden Brown, he was able to represent all those qualities he (and his pals) claim — tenderness, caring, inherent humanity, sweetness. It was a last, almost desperate attempt to rewrite his public self. See little Gordon, he was saying. I’m just a little boy inside, really. I might be wearing a suit and tie but I feel like I’m wearing a new-bought jacket with my favourite trainers.

More than that, though, he was also — possibly — revisiting his self-pity. Would you throw a child out of his family home? Would you put a young boy through all this misery, all this rejection? You wouldn’t do it with a dog, would you? Why me? I’m a nice little boy really. You’d think that, too, if you got to know me. Which you never will now.

All supposition, clearly. I have only two pieces of back-up. One, the sheer and odd novelty of the event — why depixillate for just that moment? Two, the look on his wife’s face. Of course, there was distress there — a touching level of care about her husband, mostly, I should think. But there was more than that, I think. She looked uncomfortable — in contrast to his almost manic street preaching speech. Is it possible that, at some level, she realised there was something disquieting about this public parading of her two little boys?

* Regle de Jeu: ‘The awful thing about life is this: everyone has his reasons.’

** Being a polite (and orthodox Freudian) sort, Riviere didn’t crack the obvious gag. That is, whatever one may have thought of this late work of Freud’s, he could have been prosecuted under the trades description act for its title. There’s nothing (well, not much) new about it. It’s certainly not introductory. And they’re not even lectures but essays — written to be read and never spoken aloud.

PS1 If that was all a bit too psychopolitical for you, have a look at this brief disquisition on a marathon road trip, blood sugar levels and the relationship between the self and others.

PS2 It turns out that one of the young women playing with yogurt pots in the previous posting is the girlfriend of a friend of my elder son’s.

PS3 Forgive a childish moment of my own but here is something I heard a commentator say of Mark Webber’s placing on the grid for the Monaco Grand Prix: ‘It’s the first time he’s had back-to-back poles.’

PS4 I’m appearing at Women’s Word, a feministish book festival in a few weeks — more details in an on-its-way posting.

Next up The sound of silence — nothing to do with the absence of Gordon Brown in our public life but a little something left over from when I was still on the course.


Jonh Ingham said...

Pete - For me the creepiest part was that he was making a supposedly heartfelt, personal speech about his family - and he read it! Is he so emotionally stunted that he can't spin from the heart a few sentences about his feelings for his family? On this evidence methinks not.

Peter Silverton said...

sadly, i think the evidence backs you up

he is, after all, the son of a vicar . . .

it's said that politicians are either vicars or bookies — both have their advantages (myself, i'd rather the country was run by bookies)

assuming brown is a vicar, what was blair? (major and thatcher, also)

Lo Jardinier said...

I didn't see the speech, but your interpretations fit with what I've seen of GB - and the several reasons illustrate your latest post on how what we do is determined.
Vicars and bookies (can't find the source of this) sounds like dogmatism v pragmatism, in which case it seems to me Britain's had about 30 years of the former. Maybe the coalition will find surprising popular support if it works pragmatically. Isn't there a Freud quote about our super-egos coming not from our parents' beliefs but from our grandparents'? In which case till now our dogmatists have ruled with the morals of the late 19th-early 20th century. The rest of us have moved on.