Speak of Me As I Am: The Life and Work of Masud Khan

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Judy Cooper has unravelled the many enigmas and perplexities of Masud Khan's intriguing personality....a work of exquisite scholarship based on careful scrutiny of unpublished documents and extensive interviews with those who knew Khan intimately.

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PART ONE. I have been a stranger in a strange land

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Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.

[Rudyard Kipling, “The Ballad of East and West”]

My heart is in the East, and I in the depths of the West. My food has no taste. How can it be sweet?

[Yehudah Halevi, “My Heart Is in the East”]

Who was Masud Khan?

Masud Khan was a fascinating man. He was a mass of splits and contradictions. At times he led a life that was remarkable for its monastic austerity and ascetic discipline, at other times he was driven to immediate gratification and romped around with the self indulgence of a wealthy playboy.

Khan seemed to live in that “transitional space” between inner and outer experience that he understood so well. It could be said that he lived in the interface between fact and fiction, truth and metaphor, reality and fantasy.

Indeed, he was given to “spinning yarns” and invariably presented “fictions” (Khan, WB 1971h, p. 903) about his life and experiences, so that even those closest to him were never clear about many aspects of his past. They were never quite sure whether what he said was true (Rycroft, pers. comm., 1991; Smirnoff, pers. comm., 1991). As his colleague, Pearl King (pers. comm., 1991), told me: “He was very skilled at confusing the story.” His “yarns” were repetitive, yet varied. He glossed over his past, so that you never really knew whether he was prince or pauper.

 

PART TWO. The damaged archangel: theory, clinician, critiques

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PART TWO

THE DAMAGED ARCHANGEL: THEORY, CLINICIAN, CRITIQUES

 

2. Khan as theory-maker

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Every gypsy tells fortunes according to his own stars.

[Eighteenth-century Bohemian proverb]

The need for an object

Although he is very much a theorist in the object relations tradition, Khan was chiefly preoccupied with the notion of self and of finding a satisfactory way of conceptualizing it. Unlike Klein, who stressed the object, Khan was concerned with how the self expresses itself and the fact that the experience of self requires an other there in order to achieve it. Other theorists have written of similar ideas in terms of “primary narcissism” and “mirroring”, but Khan, extending the ideas of his mentor, Winnicott, is set on answering the question: how does a realization of self come about in the analytic setting?

Because Khan believed that the experience of self was only meaningful in relation to the other, his theory and practice were built around being able to identify what kind of object a patient needed at any given time, what kind of object he was for a patient at any given time, and their use of him. He felt that any analyst dealing with schizoid patients needed to have a strong sense of himself as a person and that, hopefully, this firm sense of self in the analyst would generate an awareness of the object in the patient. Throughout his writings runs the leitmotif both explicitly and implicitly that someone in the analytic dyad needs to be in touch with the significance of the object before a patient can be aware of missing the object.

 

3. Khan as clinician: technique and practice

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The condition is curable

But the form of treatment must be your own choice:

I cannot choose for you.

[T. S. Eliot, “The Cocktail Party”]

Khan’s theory of psychoanalytic technique

What one has to negotiate some sort of alliance with is the patient’s practice of self-cure, which is rigidly established by the time he reaches us. To treat this practice of self-cure merely as resistance is to fail to acknowledge its true value for the person of the patient. [Khan, 1970b, p. 97J

Freud maintained that it was the interpretation of resistance and of transference that constituted the specific characteristics of his technique. Let us now define resistance:

In psycho-analytic treatment the name “resistance” is given to everything in the words and actions of the analy-sand that obstructs his gaining access to his unconscious. [Laplanche & Pontalis, 1973, p. 394]

Freud (1926d [1925]) later differentiated five types of resistances, three ascribed to the ego: (1) repression, (2) transference resistance, and (3) that of secondary gain; and (4) those unconscious defences coming from the id, and (5) those coming from an unconscious guilt and need for punishment arising from the superego.

 

4. Critiques of Khan’s work

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Thoughts hardly to be packed

Into a narrow act, Fancies that broke through language and escaped;

All I could never be,

All, men ignored in me, This, I was worth to God, whose wheel the pitcher shaped.

[Robert Browning, “Rabbi Ben Ezra”]

Theoretical points

The question that all this leads up to is: Have we the means in our theoretical concepts and our clinical setting to cope with the needs of these [schizoid] patients? Can we explain the how and why of their behaviour and can we help them to work it through to integrative wholeness from within themselves in the analytic setting? [Khan, 1960a, p. 23]

In his theoretical writings, Masud Khan managed to place the psychoanalytic experience within the history of Western culture. The Harvard-educated psychoanalyst Arthur Couch paid tribute to him saying:

He was a real intellectual. He had a first-rate intellectual mind, there is no doubt about that. He really knew the literature and the whole history of the literature. He knew all the different theories and used them, and he also knew how to make links between the various theories. At the 1975 International Psycho-Analytical Conference in London he was quite brilliant. He was that rare combination of a great theoretical and intellectual mind, together with humanity and clinical intuition. Khan had a classical base, but he also worked in the here and now transference. Even though I don’t agree with his theory of psychic space and internal objects, he could interweave and cross-fertilize various theories, and he was unique in this. [Couch, pers. comm., 19921

 

5 Conclusions

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And you, my father, there on the sad height, Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

[Dylan Thomas, “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night”]

Khan’s life could be seen as both triumph and tragedy, for he triumphed in those very things of which he was both sufferer and perpetrator. The balance between pathology and creativity is so fine with Khan that at any moment he might topple in either direction. His roots and the particular background he came from contributed both to his brilliance and to his pathology. They are two sides of the same coin. It is not difficult to see how his life links up with his theories and his behaviour. He wrote well about those things he recognized in himself, and he acted out conflicts that he could not remember and for which he could find no words.

Undoubtedly, the way Khan experienced his mother had an effect on his theories—he goes into detail regarding the effect of the mother’s deficiencies on her child. He knew from his very essence and being about splitting and the schizoid’s predicament, about perversion being a way of sexualizing these splits and of attempting to deal with cataclysmic anxiety. Khan also knew about cumulative trauma, which could result in adolescent breakdown.

 

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