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Psychoanalysis and Culture

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Through her numerous books and papers in learned journals, Hanna Segal has made contributions that have profoundly influenced contemporary psychoanalytic thinking. This influence extends far beyond the world of psychoanalysis per se: her work on aesthetics and symbolism and her contributions to political and social theory have made an important impact on the academic world in general. In this book, David Bell provides an extensive introduction and theoretical background to the field, situating psychoanalysis itself in contemporary culture. In the following chapters, outstanding academics and psychoanalysts demonstrate how psychoanalytic ideas inform their own disciplines and interests, encompassing philosophy, sociology, literature, film and the life cycle. The book shows the relevance of psychoanalysis beyond the consulting room to the understanding of human affairs in general. It is particularly fitting that this book is in the Tavistock Clinic Series, given the Tavistock's long tradition of engagement with the arts and with social theory.

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1. Primal Grief and 'Petrified Rage': An Exploration of Rilke's Dutno Elegies

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Duino Elegies Ronald Britton

In her seminal paper ‘A Psychoanalytic Approach to Aesthetics’ (1952) Segal quotes Rilke’s lines ‘Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to bear’ (Rainer Maria Rilke, 1st Elegy 1.4/5). She put forward the idea that a satisfactory work of art is achieved by a realisation and sublimation of the depressive position and suggested that ‘to realise and symbolically express depression the artist must acknowledge the death instinct, both in its aggressive and self-destructive aspects, and accept the reality of death for the object and the self (1952, p, 203). Segal links the ability to use symbols to the working through of the depressive position (1957) and to the artist’s creation of symbolic forms: ‘ugliness - destruction - is the expression of the death instinct; beauty … is that of the life instinct. The achievement of the artist is in giving the fullest expression to the conflict and union between these two’ (1952, p. 203). I hope to show in this paper that nothing could exemplify this better than Rilke’s struggles to write the Duino Elegies.

 

2. Death by Daydreaming: Madame Bovary

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Ignis Sodri

Madame Bovary first appeared in instalments in the Revue de Paris. On its publication, in 1856, it rapidly became apparent that Flaubert and his publishers were to be prosecuted for an assault on morals and religion; the publishers immediately decided to suppress one particular scene that they felt would produce a scandal. Flaubert was furious, of course. The scene was the famous ‘cab’ one, where Emma Bovary and her second lover, Leon, make love all afternoon in a closed horse-drawn carriage that is driven continuously, curtains drawn, through the city of Rouen, in front of the bewildered eyes of the bourgeois. In his famous defence, Flaubert’s lawyer based his case on the assumption that nobody could be inspired to commit adultery by such a tragic and horrifying story of a woman who loses her mind and commits suicide in such a gruesome way. He also quoted, in full, the whole of the censored ‘cab’ scene, showing that it contains no explicit sexuality at all. In fact all that the readers, just like the bourgeois of Rouen, are allowed to see is the crazy coach apparently possessed by a ‘frenzy of locomotion’. To support his view, Flaubert’s lawyer quoted several sexually explicit lines by famous, well loved authors, which had escaped censorship at that time.

 

3. The Singing Detective: A Place in Mind

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David Bell

Segal has pointed out on many occasions that real originality comes about almost as a by-product of a compelling inner need. It emerges from that need, cannot be imposed upon it. This is clearly exemplified in the work of Dennis Potter who, in order to realise his central artistic intentions, broke the mould of television drama. In works such as Pennies from Heaven and Blue Remembered Hills, he combined different dramatic conventions, breaking down the barriers between inner and outer reality - not to obscure the distinction between them - but instead to embark on a deep exploration of their relationship.

Potter is preoccupied with fundamental problems of the inner world but in The Singing Detective,1 his masterpiece, he makes this concern quite explicit. The central character, Marlow, exists in the narrative in two different identities: he is both a patient in a hospital bed and a figure of this man’s internal world. The structure of the work is non-linear, weaving back and forth between different ‘realities’ (memory, fantasy and external reality). These different narrative threads reach an ever-increasing coherence as the drama develops over the six episodes. In this way the form of the drama continually illuminates the content.

 

4. Turning a Blind Eye: The Cover Up for Oedipus

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John Steiner

My dear, I am sorry to say this, but no-one has understood before now that ‘Oedipus’ is not about the revelation of truth but about the cover up of truth. Everybody knows who Oedipus is from the start and everybody is covering up. Just like Watergate. Just like all through history -die lie is what societies are based upon. And it has nothing to do with the Oedipus Complex because Oedipus never had a complex. (Pilikian, 1974)

In recent years it has become evident that our contact with reality is not an all or none affair and psychoanalysts have become particularly interested in situations where reality is not simply evaded but is in addition distorted and misrepresented (Money-Kyrle, 1968; Bion, 1970; Joseph, 1983). In this paper I want to consider one such situation, namely that in which we seem to have access to reality but chose to ignore it because it proves convenient to do so. I refer to this mechanism as turning a blind eyel because I think this conveys the right degree of ambiguity as to how conscious or unconscious the knowledge is. At one extreme we are dealing with simple fraud where all the facts are not only accessible but have led to a conclusion which is then knowingly evaded. More often, however, we are vaguely aware that we chose not to look at the facts without being conscious of what it is we are evading. These evasions may lead to a sense of dishonesty and to various manoeuvres which deny or conceal what has happened by creating a cover up.

 

5. Psychoanalysis: The Last Modernism

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Michael Rustin

Introduction

I argue in this paper that psychoanalysis in Britain, particularly in the Klein-Bion tradition, has remained firmly ‘modernist’ in its approach. In this respect it has remained consistent with the perspective taken up by Freud, though of course in many other ways the psychoanalytic tradition has shown itself flexible and capable of much creative development. Segal’s work has been exemplary in both these respects, demonstrating a commitment to understanding through the paradigm of psychoanalytic thinking whose scope - which encompasses clinical, aesthetic, and political spheres - has been characteristically ‘modernist’.

The term modernism gains its meaning from two different antitheses. The first of these is the contrast between the modern and the traditional. Freud was self-evidently a modernist in this first sense, bringing the perspectives of what he saw as science to bear on a hitherto undiscovered territory - the mind - and calling into question all sorts of received assumptions about the proper sources of authority and belief, not least those of religion. The second, and more recent antithesis, is between the modern and the post-modern. This framing has sought to place ‘modernism’ as the product of a specific historical moment, and has called into question its claims to be writing a new script for humanity and to be providing a new source of legitimation for its beliefs. In particular, the claims of reason, of science, of universal moral truths, and of a linear idea of historical progress, are put into question within this frame of thinking. Spatial difference tends to replace temporal sequence as an organising category, and plurality and variety are preferred to hierarchies of rationality and moral virtue. The ideals of emancipation and enlightenment are reappraised, within these terms, as potentially just another form of domination, and the liberatory claims of the stratum of intellectuals who upheld them are unmasked as aspirations to power.1

 

6. Emotion and the Malformation of Emotion

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Richard Wollheim

It is a great honour and a great pleasure for me to have been invited to contribute to this volume. In advancing psychoanalytical theory, Segal has enriched the philosophy of mind. I have learnt many things from her work. But to say this is not to exhaust the great debt that I owe her for the help, encouragement, and criticism that I have received over more than three decades. This essay is, I am aware, an inadequate recompense.

1. In 1991 I gave a course of four lectures at Yale University on the topic of the Emotions. These were the Cassirer lectures, and part of the charge was to produce, in due course, a text for publication. In the summer of 1992, while in England, I used two separate occasions to present some of my ideas to psychoanalytic audiences. The second of these two occasions was a ‘conversation’ at the Freud Museum, where John Steiner was my interlocutor. As the meeting was drawing to a close, Segal asked me a question, to which I had no answer. I promised her one in due course, and this belatedly is it.

 

7. Pride

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Michael Feldman

‘A consciousness or feeling of what is befitting or due to oneself or one’s position, which prevents a person from doing what he considers to be beneath him, or unworthy of him; especially as a good quality, legitimate, “honest” or “proper pride”, self respect. A high or overweening opinion of one’s own qualities, attainments or estate, which gives rise to a feeling and attitude of superiority over, and contempt for others, inordinate self-esteem.’ (Oxford English Dictionary)

The concept of Pride, as the above definitions attest, covers a number of different states of mind, from healthy self-respect at one extreme, to a state which is dominated by destructive qualities at the other. In psychoanalysis, therefore, we may on the one hand be concerned to help the patient achieve or sustain a benign and justifiable pride in himself and his achievements, or on the other hand be dealing with what seems like an intractable and deadly process which attacks and undermines any constructive efforts on the part of the analyst or the patient himself. Between these two extremes, as I will illustrate there is also a form of Pride which though it serves as a defence against dependency, loss and feelings of inadequacy, is less malignant. In addition to focusing on the way pride expresses itself in the individual, pride can also be a powerful organising force within groups, giving rise to a range of cultural and social phenomena in peace and war.

 

8. Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Migration

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Ledn Grinberg and Rebeca Grinberg

As old as mankind, human migrations have been examined from many points of view. Numerous studies have considered their historical, cultural, sociological, political and economic implications. It is remarkable, however, that this theme has received such little attention from psychoanalysts, especially since so many are immigrants themselves.

The decision of an individual or a group to emigrate arises from internal and external factors. An individual’s past, his predominant psychological characteristics, and the particular moment in his life will determine whether or not he decides to emigrate and, if he does, the quality of the migration. A situation of personal (or collective) crisis can lead to emigration which, in turn, can become the origin of new crises.

Migration triggers different types of anxieties in the person who emigrates: separation anxiety, persecutory anxieties arising from confrontation with the new and unknown, depressive anxieties over loyalties and values which give rise to mourning for objects left behind and for the lost parts of the self, and confusional anxieties arising from failure to discriminate between the old and the new. These, together with the defensive mechanisms and the symptoms they may cause, form a ‘psychopathology of migration’; the course taken will depend on the individual’s capacity for working through the anxieties, the feelings of being uprooted and the feelings of loss.

 

9. 'In My End is My Beginning'

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Pearl King

Soon after I qualified as a psychoanalyst in 1950, I, together with a group of colleagues, who had trained with me in die British Psychoanalytical Society, approached Segal with the request that she run a clinical discussion group for us. The group included Harold Bridger, Tommy (A.T.M.) Wilson, and Elliot Jaques, all of whom worked at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, where I had also worked during some of my training. It was during this period chat I first goc to know and work with Segal.

The atmosphere in these clinical discussion groups was lively and enthusiastic, as one would expect from a group of colleagues who had recently qualified as psychoanalysts and who hoped that their recently acquired skills and ways of understanding mental problems would enable them to help whoever approached them for treatment, however ill they were, and some of the patients that we discussed were very disturbed. I think that our approach was chat if Psychoanalysis could not cure them it could at least improve their condition.

 

10. A Psychoanalyst's Look at a Hypnotist: A Study of Folié à deux

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Folie a deux has been described many times in psychiatric and other literature. I believe that Klein’s (1946) concept of projective identification illuminates how and why this syndrome arises, and while projective identification has been described extensively since Klein, I cannot recall that it has been described as occurring simultaneously between two persons with similar fantasies. This is the main thrust of this paper.

When I was three years old, I observed the doctor from the Mission examine my mother, which, doubtless, influenced my choice of profession. I devoured stories about medical heroes, while devouring the heroes too. My parents seemed to be always ill or suffering and anesthesiology became my first choice of medicine (to anaesthetise my internal objects?).

My fascination with Mesmer and Bernheim led me to experiment with hypnosis and in my first papers (1954 and 1955), I used hypnotism for major surgery, apparently for the first time since the days of Esdaile in 1846, and I was soon in demand for the treatment of hypochondriacal, psychological, and psychosomatic disorders. These are conditions in which there is both a high spontaneous recovery rate and frequent conversion to other conditions, so that any practitioner of suggestion, however bizarre, has ‘success’ in a fair proportion of cases.

 

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