False Self: The Life of Masud Khan

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This is the definitive biography of one of the most engaging figures of British psychoanalysis. M. Masud R. Khan (1924-1989) exposed through his candor and scandalous behavior the bigotry of his proponents turned detractors. Khan's subsequent downfall, which is powerfully narrated in this biography, offers interesting insights not only into Khan's psychic fragility but into the world of intrigues and deceptions pervasive in the psychoanalytic community of the time.Winner of the 2007 Gradiva Award for the advancement of Psychoanalysis and the 2006 Goethe Award for Psychoanalytic scholarship.

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Part 1. Colonial India (1924–1945)

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CHAPTER 1

EARLY YEARS IN MONTGOMERY

No matter how much I have translated it all into metaphor and myth, my childhood is still alive and real to me, and my feudal upbringing gives me any virtues I possess.
Masud Khan 1

Masud Khan's childhood home was in Montgomery (now Sahiwal), an area in the northwest part of the United Provinces of India known as the Punjab. The land had been conquered by the British in the latter half of the nineteenth century after a savage conflict in which Khan's father and uncles were allied with the British.2 After the conquest, his family continued to maintain close military ties: of his eight half-brothers, seven would have celebrated careers in the Indian and then the Pakistani army. In the West, Khan claimed, probably accurately, that his was the first generation in which there had not been a murder. He told a friend: “In my country, life is very cheap. I could have men disposed of for a mere five hundred rupees—that is how we might deal with difficult situations. My people do not feel Judeo-Christian guilt: my people feel vengeance.”3

 

Part 2. Early Years in London (1946–1959)

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CHAPTER 3

A MISUNDERSTANDING

Yes, Destiny is the summation of all those circumstances we pre-arrange unknowingly.
Masud Khan1

In October 1946, Khan arrived at Oxford. At age twenty-two, he was alone in a totally new environment: “I [had brought] 37 suitcases of luggage, and was told that only one suitcase was allowed. So I put all the rest in the hotel opposite, which was fortunately available. I was shown my room. I had grown up in vast mansions, and here was this small attic room, with one small bed, a mirror, table, and no heating. I slept every night fully dressed in my clothes and overcoat; even so, I nearly froze to death.”2

Prior to leaving India, he had written Dr. John Bowlby, training secretary of the British Psycho-Analytical Society (BPAS), to discuss arrangements for a personal analysis. Bowlby wrote back asking him to telephone upon his arrival. Thus it was that, immediately after settling in to his quarters at Oxford, Khan went to London. He checked into the Savoy, a luxury hotel, called Bowlby's office, and was given an appointment for the next day at 11 a.m.3

 

Part 3. The Divine Years: Khan at His Peak (1960–1964)

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CHAPTER 7

MASUD AND SVETLANA

One either surrenders to the dynamism of life—inside and outside oneself—or one stays petrified in a manipulative spectorial attitude towards it. I want to live, and be lived through by, life.
Masud Khan1

How very drab and colourless most humans are. And how infinitely lucky I am to have you, my love.
(Letter, Khan to S. Beriosova)2

Masud Khan's deepest and most lasting love, without question, was Svetlana Beriosova (1932–1998). A year into their affair, while he was still married to Jane Shore, he told Beriosova that their relationship was something completely new for him: “I actually had never experienced the reality and necessity of a woman until I met you. I had ‘wet-nursed' them all. Only in you, through you and with you did I realise my needs, emotions and demands as a man from a woman.”3 Thomas Main, a fellow analyst, commented, “Svetlana was the jewel in Masud's crown.”4 Khan would write that the best relationships are ones in which people change each other, and certainly he and Svetlana met this criterion.

 

Part 4. Contributions to Psychoanalysis

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PART 4

CONTRIBUTIONS TO PSYCHOANALYSIS

NTRODUCTION

I am convinced I give of myself better to people through my work and writing than through my living with them.
Masud Khan 1

To have a lasting impact, an innovator in psychoanalysis has to publish, and Winnicott and Khan made enormous contributions through their written records. Winnicott published in professional books and journals as well as in the popular press. Khan published primarily in journals and his major papers are collected in four volumes: The Privacy of the Self ( 1971), Alienation in Perversions (1979), Hidden Selves (1983), and When Spring Comes (1988; published as The Long Wait in 1989 in the United States). The first three volumes of Khan's collected papers contain the writings that are his most significant contribution to the literature of psychoanalysis.

The Privacy of the Self is a relatively conservative book that contains papers showing how Winnicott's ideas about infants can be applied to the treatment of adults. This first book was and is extremely well regarded; reviewer Janet Malcolm summarized it as “a sane and civilized” book that “with its meditative essays on psychoanalytic history and clinical theory and humane Winnicottean case studies, remains one of the best introductions to psychoanalysis in the contemporary literature.”2 An article entitled “The Concept of Cumulative Trauma,” contained in this book, is the most widely cited of Khan's contributions.’3

 

Part 5. Starting to Fall (1965)

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CHAPTER 18

THE FALSE SELF

Only the True Self can be creative and only the True Self can feel real.
D. W. Winnicott 1

I have had to invent a “Masud” for myself and live by him.
Masud Khan2

Khan had entered the decade of the 1960s with a career, a wife, and a network of friends that left him feeling blessed. He seemed to have made a transition to Western living, and there was every reason to predict a future that would build on the very satisfying present. But by 1965, he was going downhill on a slow and relentless slide. The divine years ended, never to return. The success had been real, but he still had major psychological problems that nobody, not even Winnicott, understood. His damaged foundation was not getting repaired.

When an analysis fails, it can always be said that an analysand failed to make use of the analytic opportunity. It is equally credible to suggest that the analyst failed to provide the kind of space that the analysand could use. Both perspectives can be considered simultaneously. This chapter focuses on Khan's False Self pathology, and it will be shown how, with Winnicott's cooperation, he avoided the experience of regression to dependence, which was the treatment of choice for that condition.3

 

Part 6. Blessings and Humiliations (1966–1970)

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CHAPTER 20

LOSING HIS ANCHORS

[1966] was a year of sustained terror, violence, confusion and humiliation and fervid chaos in my life. I lost and willfully chose to lose all the habitual anchorages that had sustained me for twenty years in England.
Masud Khan1

Ten great years [Svetlana and I] had together, 1956–1966.
Masud Khan2

Amsterdam, 1965, is a marker for the ending of Khan's divine years because the overall lack of understanding of his letter changed him. In his private world, it was perfectly acceptable to make a point using stories that were not exact truths and there was nothing wrong with the letter that had so incensed Frances Gitelson. Khan's preferred communication was through exaggeration, distortion, and even lying, with the goal of expressing the essence of a truth. In contrast to Robert Stoller, Khan did not value a straightforward account of events. In fact, he did not even care about external truth; he told Stoller, speaking seriously, “My realities are psychic realities.”3 In the West, he often quoted Oscar Wilde, who shared this way of thinking: “Nothing that actually occurs is of the smallest importance.”4 People who were willing to “play” with him did not object to this manner of communication and indeed they were regularly inspired by it.

 

Part 7. “And Worse I May Be Yet” (1971–1976)

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CHAPTER 25

“THE MOST TRAUMATIC YEAR”

This [1971] has been the most arduous and traumatic year of my entire life.
Masud Khan 1

The year 1971 got off to a bad start. Khan had gone alone to Pakistan, where he went “from a private nightmare in London straight into an anarchic mess in my estate affairs.”2 Pakistan was in crisis as there was a presidential transition and stress regarding the politics of East Pakistan, which would soon split off to become a separate country. In the midst of this turmoil, Khan was forced to sell over half of the land surrounding his estate. Seven peasants were claiming ownership of a portion of the land he was selling, so he negotiated a 350,000-rupee settlement with them through the inspector general of police. He wrote to Smirnoff on January 1: “Pakistan is seething with anarchic socialist unrest and the whole population is just waiting with impatient zeal to grab hold of all varieties of properties. There are no civic values or intellectual perspectives. It is all an almost hysterical ferment in which anything could happen to anyone.”

 

Part 8. Nine Lives of a Cat (1977–1980)

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CHAPTER 32

SURVIVAL

He [speaking of himself] felt sure that slowly, given a patient tolerance of non-being…, he would come alive [again].
Masud Khan1

The Education Committee continued its investigation into Khan's socialization with students even after the committee members learned of his cancer. Then Joseph Sandler, the analyst of Margarita's husband, reported to Hanna Segal, the chair of the committee, that the husband had told him that Khan was having an affair with Margarita. Segal's response was to suggest that the alleged affair was probably a fantasy of the husband. Sandler told me: “Segal said the affair was fiction and that I should analyze [this candidate] more.”

Kleinians are often criticized for giving such privilege to the importance of fantasy that they neglect reality. Segal's incredulity may be an example of this. She was also following proper procedure—in her administrative role, she held to the principle that nothing could be acted on in response to second-hand information. As soon as the husband made an official complaint, she investigated further and discovered something that all the students already knew: Khan and Margarita were living together openly.2

 

Part 9. Majesty and Incapacity (1981–1989)

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CHAPTER 37

THE SHADOW OF A MAN

You have so much inside of you that has scarcely been tapped. But you cannot simply wait for it to flow out, as was the case in the past. You now have to warm your cold soul, and that will take courage and persistence. Letter, Robert Stoller to Masud Khan 1

Khan's belief in the importance of play was central to his personality, and for his first fifteen years in the West, he had played very well with his friends. He told stories, lied, and cheated as part of his play, but the Westerners understood this and enjoyed him.2 Zoë Dominic told me affectionately: “Sud was such a piece of fiction. He had a habit of telling anecdotes so that you couldn't tell if it was a fable or the truth.” She called this habit his “fable manner.” Several people remembered that Masud loved to say: “If you want facts, go to the encyclopedia. If you want to talk with me, I'll tell you a story.” Ironically, it was a bad sign when he was factual. Barrie Cooper told me: “You could tell when Masud was drunk, because then he didn't lie.”

 

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