Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Where was I?

Oh, yes. In Exhibition Rd, heading north towards Hyde Park and a talk at the Royal Geographical Society — I’d never been there before.

It was by the analyst Ron Britton and it was entitled Between Brain and Mind? I had no idea of the meaning or significance of that question mark at the end of the title before the lecture. And I was no wiser after the lecture. Obviously, it was about the relationship between physical structure etc and consciousness etc. But, basically, as he had no interest in the former, he had nothing to say about its relationship to the latter.

The only point I really took away was his distinction between comprehending and understanding. That is, in a way, a version of the second two-thirds of the Confucian maxim: I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand. He used the phrase ‘getting it’. I got it

I remembered a bit about Ron Britton from my course, but not much. He was a Kleinian, I remembered. And he’d written about Wordsworth’s early poetry — the Prelude and Ode: Imitations of Immortality. These poems are, as you might guess if you’ve read them, big in the analytic world.

I quoted him in my dissertation, in fact. I could repeat what I wrote but I won’t. You wouldn’t like the language. I’m not sure I did. The gist, though, was that he came up with a smart idea about how art was arrived at/created: by a continual feedback loop between the two Kleinian ‘positions’mental states, that is. I’m not sure if it’s right — or even necessary — but it’s smart and fun.

Which his lecture wasn’t. It rambled. It missed the point. It ignored the subject of the title. It asserted where it should have argued. It went on and on.

I dozed a little, I must admit. So it’s possible that I missed the good bits, though I doubt it.

There was a good bit during question time, however. Someone from the audience challenged his lack of interest in — and understanding of — neuroscience. He — and his fellow panellist, Peter Hobson — took umbrage, albeit in a very academia-ish way, smooth and accepting.

Essentially, they asserted their position: that neuroscience offers nothing of interest to our understanding of mind. That is, of ourselves. Psychoanalysis: that’s the thing. Of that, they are certain. Of that, they sing. True believers.

It’s a row I’ve seen before. In fact, it’s the row going on in psychoanalysis at the moment. In one corner, the neuropsychoanalysts — led by Mark Solms, a South African who also makes wine. In the other, the traditional Kleinians — led by Rachel Blass who, being a suburban New Yorker, also, er, whines. I heard a debate between the pair of them and it was great fun. The Blass position was completely assured in its own logic. It was like Labour activists’ view of the Conservatives. Essentially, she couldn’t credit her opposition with a brain. There was an air of Prime Minister’s Question Time about the way she argued — fabulously well and completely convincing but, ultimately only in the moment.

To me, for what it’s worth, the neuropsychoanalysts seem more, well, measured. An odd choice of word, perhaps, but the one that came straight to mind. They seem more worldly, less propelled by their own logic.

Significantly, there seemed to be very few psychoanalytic heavy-hitters at the evening with Ron Britton. There were also, to my eye, no non-white faces and far more women than men. Is now the place to mention that there is a theory — a suggestion, anyway — that the reason psychoanalysis’ wider social influence has declined is related to the increasing number of women in the profession?

No, don’t hit me. There is an argument to be made. I will come back to it, too. Soon. Well, in time.

A little reading for the early evening . . .


Lo Jardinier said...

Following your link to Mark Solms's journal, I found a wonderfully clear interview with him on video - he's a good lecturer. Your unflattering portraits of british psychoanalytic luminaries are making me worried you might be target of a fatwa from the BPA...what would that be? Ah yes, having to crawl up Primrose Hill being shouted at...
All the best for Thursday night.

Peter Silverton said...

mark solms is fun and clever and open-minded . . . the british psychoanalytic luminaries are mired in a kind of ageing fog - it's an open secret that there is not enough young blood coming into the organisation . . . and like all failing organisations, it hesitates to look at itself for an explanation for its failure . . . (cf last labour government, pontiac cars etc etc) . . . a fatwa from the bpa? maybe they'd just exile me to a paranoid-schizoid position - kind of a like a modern equivalent of the punishment of tantalus or, as you suggest, chained to the top of primrose prometheus-style, left with the pigeons pecking out my liver