In the single-bedroom flat I used to cry the night through as my mother walked the floor with me, rocked me and fed me past the small, insensible hours, not to wake the neighbours; though often upstairs there might be half the Group Theatre going till daybreak – a tiny, bohemian airpocket:
Jimmy Ellis (in the Group, before Z Cars), or Mary O’Malley, and over from next door, next door but one maybe, George
McCann, Mercy Hunter, John Boyd and the BBC, talking politics or shop, intrigue or gossip the night through.
But perhaps on this occasion there’s only the baby cutting in and out of silence in a high spare room where the McCanns have just lodged their visiting poet who by noon will cross from the Elbow Room to the studios in Ormeau Avenue, and deliver his talk, unscripted, on ‘Childhood Memories’; whose sleep now, if sleep it is, remains unbroken through the small, insensible hours between the whiskey nightcap and a breakfast of whiskey.
Weightless to me, the heavy leaves on a sumach drag down their long stems ready to fall, and spend their lives on one inflamed, extravagant display, when light like the rain teems over and through them; ruined, pendant, parading every colour of fire on a cold day at the edge of winter.
The performing fleas were among the highlights of P.T. Barnums traveling circus. The tiny creatures demonstrated their strength by drawing carriages 131,000 times their own weight; they also played music and walked on water. Now, walking on water is not so hard if youre a flea. And it has nothing to do with fleas being less dense than water. Theyre not. It has to do with one particular property of water: surface tension.
Water is made up of molecules in which two hydrogen atoms are attached to an oxygen atom. Everyone knows that. But not everyone knows that there is also an attraction between the hydrogen atoms of one molecule and the oxygen of another. These hydrogen bonds, as they are called, are quite weak, yet they have a significant effect on water. Attraction between adjacent molecules causes the water surface to develop a virtual skin. Just try to push your finger slowly into a glass of water. The surface will actually bend before the finger punctures it. Or try placing a paper clip clearly heavier than water on the water surface. If you do this carefully enough, the paper clip will float. And so will a flea.
Among the theorists on our psychoanalytic psychotherapy training reading list in Edinburgh, Fairbairn stood out for me, not only as a psychologically and philosophically satisfying theorist, but as a mentor in the process of learning that the training involved. He clearly acknowledged what he had learnt from his own theoretical mentors, particularly Freud and Klein, and also had the capacity to present different formulations and his revisions of these over time. His writings manifest his own “mature dependence” (Fairbairn, 1941, p. 34), including what Mac-murray described as “sincerity in the mind” (Macmurray, 1935, p. 76).
Fairbairn expressed very clearly what he thought and believed, in a way that encourages rather than inhibits serious debate and further development. The following passages, in which he took the measure, practically, of his own work and that of psychoanalysis as a whole, are important in this regard.
In his paper published in the International Journal of Psycho-Analysis in 1958, “On the Nature and Aims of Psycho-Analytical Treatment”, he wrote:
HISTORY IS THE LONG AND TRAGIC STORY OF THE FACT THAT PRIVILEGED GROUPS SELDOM GIVE UP THEIR PRIVILEGES VOLUNTARILY.
Martin Luther King
“Letter from Birmingham Jail”
I GIVE YOU THIS ONE RULE OF CONDUCT. DO WHAT YOU WILL,
BUT SPEAK OUT ALWAYS. BE SHUNNED, BE HATED, BE RIDICULED,
BE SCARED, BE IN DOUBT, BUT DON’T BE GAGGED. THE TIME OF TRIAL
IS ALWAYS. NOW IS THE APPOINTED TIME.
John Jay Chapman
Commencement address, Hobart College, 1900
AT TIMES, people face circumstances they feel compelled to challenge. They direct themselves to attack intensely the way things are because the sum of those things, or one aspect they find particularly appalling, is destroying human possibilities.
This work constitutes a special kind of calling, one that takes courage in the face of organized adversity. If evocateurs evoke potential and capability, then those who challenge the injustice of a system, provoking its members to abandon the current design, must be named provocateurs. While many people bravely endure and personally triumph over injustice, fewer devote themselves to eliminating the injustice for themselves, for others, and for future generations. This is the calling of the provocateur.