Friday, 21 May 2010

Just shut up, won't you

This is a posting that somehow went missing in my internal post office. I think it's a follow-up to this but it still seems to have an independent life of its own.

As a group, we don't just mark ourselves as separate from the new intake. Like all students, I guess, we also mark ourselves as separate from the lecturers etc. Last year, I tracked this marking by our increasing capacity for silence.

Analysts are comfortable with silence. More so than just about anybody. They are used to having someone in their consulting room who is silent for long periods. Silence is, of course, a communication in itself.

Most other people are uncomfortable with silence. They fill in gaps in the conversation as quickly as they can.

As a group of students, we started out in the second category but, bolstered by each other, moved towards the first. At the start of the course, if a lecturer asked a question, someone would have a go at answering it straight away. Some lecturers, it must be said, were less than generous in their responses to answers and questions. Most of us quickly decided we'd rather not be made to feel stupid so we kept quiet.

Over the weeks and months, we became both more comfortable at asking genuine questions and more comfortable in staying silent when we felt we had nothing to offer - whether because we didn't want our heads bitten off or because we hadn't done the reading or because we weren't particularly interested in the seminar.

As the year passed, our capacity for remaining silent grew and grew. Sometimes it was genuinely productive. We were thinking stuff through, ruminating, wondering. Sometimes, we weren't, though. We were being snotty.

At least once, the whole group seemed to decide - spontaneously and for whatever reason - that we just didn't feel that generously minded towards the lecturer. So when we were invited to join in, we said nothing. Confident in our capacity for silence, most of us didn't even hide our gaze. It wasn't that we didn't understand the seminar or have things to say about it. Just that, collectively, we wanted to withdraw.

It was a kind of strike, I guess. A childish one, I know. But kind of fun in the way childish rebellion can be.

A little something for the weekend Having laughed at Chinglish, now is your chance to sneer at Teabagish.

Next up The second of five big Ds and Freud: Determination (less boring than it sounds, honest)

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.