Tradition, Change, Creativity: Repercussions of the New Diaspora on aspects of British Psychoanalysis

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A companion volume to It is a New Kind of Diaspora. Taking up where that book leaves off, it traces some of the consequences of the emigration of German and Austrian psychoanalysts to London, particularly in the context of the British Psycho-Analytical Society's "Controversial Discussions".The first part of the book, "Tradition and Change" traces some general issues related to the Discussions, in particular drawing on documentary sources from the Archives of the British Psycho-Analytical Society. The second part focuses on one crucial issue in the Discussions - the differing interpretations formulated about the psychic life of babies during the first six months of life. Throughout this section, and the rest of the book, Dr Steiner constantly stresses the larger social and political contexts within which psychoanalysis exists. The last part examines the legacy of the Discussions in the work of one of the most distinguished Kleinian analysts, Hanna Segal, and in particular her work on creativity and aesthetics.

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1. The Freud-Klein Controversial Discussions (1941-1945)

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I

In his The Nine Gates (1961)—a book that perhaps deserves more attention, and not only from specialists in the history of Judaic thought and traditions—Langer has collected many Hasidic stories and parables. One of them goes thus:

It is not easy to read aloud from the Torah, for it has no vowels and no diacritical marks to distinguish the letters. You cannot recognize the Hebrew ch from k, v from b, s from t and so on. Every word has its own melody and has to be intoned when read out. The next word has an entirely different melody. A skilled reader must know all this by heart, if he is not to cut a sorry figure. A devout audience is very critical and excitable. Each little letter of the Torah hides a profound mystery. The more sublime mysteries are contained in the vowels, while those that are still more sublime are to be found in the annotations. But the most sublime mysteries of all lie submerged in the undefined sea of whiteness which surrounds the letters on all sides. No one is able to unravel this mystery, none there are that can fathom it, so infinite is the mystery of the whiteness of the parchment, that the entire world we live in is incapable of comprehending it. No vessel is fit to receive it. Only in the world to come will it be understood. Then shall be read not what is written in the Torah, but what is not written: the white parchment…

 

2. Introduction

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In this part I wish not only to pay formal tribute to the work of Joseph Sandler; what I would also like to do is to study certain aspects of those extra-analytical sources that were either present implicitly in the Scientific Meetings held during the Controversial Discussions (CD) or used explicitly by the participants at those meetings. I have chosen this topic because, even today, we very rarely consider the way in which extra-analytical factors—related to what in German would be called der Zeitgeist [the spirit of the time] and der Ortgeist [the spirit of a specific cultural and geographical place]— influence our work. And it seems to me that the Freud-Klein Controversial Discussions, held in London between 1941 and 1945 (see King & Steiner, 1992; see also part one of this volume) and, more particularly, the scientific papers given and the debates held during the Discussions are a notable example of the importance and the usefulness of looking at psychoanalysis in this way. What I would like to make clear, nevertheless, is that when in this part I refer to the Zeitgeist and Ortgeist of the CD, this should not be understood as a sort of Hegelian, metaphysically inspired interpretation of history. Whilst use of the term Geist [Spirit] might imply this rather metaphysical meaning, as Gombrich (1979) has rightly warned us, I use it in the sense of a general trend in the cultural life of an individual, or of a community, at a particular historical moment in time, which, in turn, implies “belonging” to a specific cultural and socio-political environment. These various trends, which are consciously or unconsciously present in the cultural life of an individual or of a community, can have many elements in common; they can, in some cases, allow the coexistence of many contradictory views, hypotheses, and convictions; and they can also produce very significant and specific hybrids. Indeed, as is always the case in the field of the human sciences, it is difficult to use these descriptive categories in too rigid a manner, because Zeitgeist and Ortgeist interact with each other. By Zeitgeist one should therefore perhaps understand ideas, cultural trends, and so on, evolving simultaneously within different cultures and “Orten” [places] or countries. I think that psychoanalysis is a fine example of this phenomenon. Just consider the assumption that the basic characteristics of the unconscious are universal, that they belong to a sort of universal Zeitgeist, and that, in Freud’s view, they could also be seen as being metahistorical.

 

3. Clinical, theoretical, and epistemological themes

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After the rather long Introduction, what I shall attempt to do now is to remind the reader of some of the main characteristics and themes of the SD. This, I think, will be of some help for the more detailed and focused observations that I will be endeavouring to make later on—and which form the main aims of this part— on the interaction between what was discussed in the SD and its extra-analytical context. Because space is obviously limited, I cannot give the whole context of the CD as such, and even my references to the main themes of the SD will, out of necessity, be selective. I have to take for granted, therefore, that the reader is already aware of the general socio-political context in which the CD took place: namely, the Nazi persecution of the Jews; the forced immigration of Jewish analysts to England and other countries (Brecht et al., 1993; Lockot, 1985, 1994; Muhlleitner & Reichmayr, 1995; see also Steiner, 2000c); the Second World War; and the general situation in Great Britain at that time, not least this country’s endeavours to defeat the Nazi Regime, and all the difficulties that this brought with it, even as far as the British Psycho-Analytical Society was concerned. I also have to take for granted that the reader has some knowledge of the history of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, in which Freud played such an eminent part, and will be aware of the role that was later played in the Society by Freud’s pupils and by his daughter Anna, and that Anna had been analysed by her father (Huber, 1980; Muhlleitner, 1992; Sterba, 1982). I also presume a knowledge of the history of the British Psycho-Analytical Society, its roots, and its cultural characteristics (Hinshelwood, 1995b; Meisel & Kendrick, 1986; Rayner, 1990; Steiner, 1991). I also take for granted that the reader will be aware of the ways in which the early British pioneers of psychoanalysis were trained in Vienna, Berlin, and Budapest, and the implications of this in terms of the allegiances and the conflicts that existed among the first generation of British psychoanalysts. I will, however, be returning to some of these issues during the course of this volume.

 

4. The Viennese psychoanalytic baby

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The summary I have given of the SD and other documents is germane to the issues I discuss in this chapter. I hope it is clear that what I attempt to demonstrate is not to be interpreted as an endeavour to arrive at an explanation that will reduce the creativity of Freud, of his daughter, of Klein and her followers, and of the indigenous analysts to being the inevitable product of their cultural backgrounds. Individual creativity escapes any final, absolute, definitive explanation, and I am still old-fashioned enough to believe in the motto individuum est ineffabile. What I attempt to show, rather, is how, in certain specific cases, the protagonists of the Discussions were able to find conscious, less conscious, and unconscious support for their creative trends of thought in a particular cultural background. This could, or did, reinforce their creative views and their unconscious motivations, and could, or did, help these creative views to be channelled in a particular direction. But what matters is that none of them could have arrived at any of their conclusions had they not had this support.

 

5. Sigmund Freud: a child of his own age

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What is significant, to my mind, is that the information pertaining to the chronology of the baby’s psychic life to which Freud refers was in fact quite readily available. Some of it was part and parcel of the Zeitgeist in which Freud lived and was obtainable even in the years preceding the discovery of psychoanalysis. Freud consulted these sources at various stages in his career, including during the important period that, apart from the work I have already discussed here, also led him to write his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d). Some of these sources, in their own way, made mention of sexuality, although Freud criticized them for not being aware of the extent to which sexuality played a part in child development. And, of course, these sources did not, by definition, use either the notion of “the unconscious”, or the notion of “unconscious fantasies and phantasies”, as Freud did. Many of them were not interested in sexuality at all. Yet, if one reads them and does not, of course, exaggerate the impact they might have had (although naturally one cannot ignore it, as has been the case to a certain extent up to now), one will note that they seem to form a sort of curious and significant principium auctoritatis; one that was never to be totally discarded by Freud and, as a result, also indirectly influenced those who studied or worked with him, thus introducing into our field those extra-analytical variables that are the subject of my enquiry. At the same time, the interaction with these extra-analytical variables was inevitably opening up the data of these same sources to alternative interpretations. Furthermore, without at times being completely aware of this complex interaction, those who, like Melanie Klein, later questioned Freud’s, his daughter’s, and her co-workers’ views also questioned these extra-analytical data and the use their colleagues made of them (i.e. the fact that the evidence produced by it was taken as read). Yet, at the same time, Melanie Klein and her co-workers were themselves, in one way or another, invariably influenced by this very information because they too interacted with it and discussed it during the CD. And, indeed, at times even they used extra-analytical sources in support of their arguments.

 

6. The complex psychoanalytic parenthood of Melanie Klein’s London baby

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Let us now see whether it is possible to say something about the British Zeit- and Ortgeist that contributed to the shaping of what I have called the “London” psychoanalytic baby. I have placed the word “London” in the title of this chapter into quotation marks, and I have also referred to “the complex parenthood” of this baby, for this is a rather more complicated case than that of the Viennese baby. As the reader will soon become aware from the paragraphs that follow, one will be forced to asked oneself: how many London babies were there, exactly?! Was there just one, or were there several? With this question in mind, let us begin with the issues relating to Melanie Klein’s London baby, whose origins are rather complicated per se. Indeed, it is impossible to deny that this baby originally came from Vienna, from Budapest and Berlin, and that at a certain point, in order to find a more suitable environment in which to grow, it had to emigrate to England where, as Pearl King (1983a) has remarked, a certain amount of interest in the psychoanalysis of small children had begun to be expressed even before Klein’s arrival in the mid-1920s. It goes without saying that when we talk of Klein and her work, we cannot fail to consider certain aspects of the psychoanalytical and cultural Zeit- and Ortgeist in those central European cities where she grew up, received her training, and began to observe and treat her small patients. However, as we have seen with the Viennese baby, matters are not that clear-cut: to be aware of this, we need only cast our mind back to the way in which Darwin’s work filtered through to Preyer and others and the influence that, in one way or another, these and other extra-analytical sources had on the Viennese.

 

7. An ideal nursery and a commitment of empathic relatives: Susan Isaacs’s contributions to the growth of the London psychoanalytic baby

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Indeed, Isaacs’s approach and the way she handled matters appear to me to be a clear, if not the clearest, example of how the complex origins of the so-called “London” baby had found, in Britain’s particular cultural climate, an “ideal nursery and a community of empathic relatives”—to paraphrase and to use in my own way the title of Isaacs’s paper “The Nursery as a Community”, written for On the Bringing Up of Children (Rickman, 1936).

Where is one to begin? One should, perhaps, start with what at first glance would appear to be a very minor example of the way Isaacs’s proceeded, but which, on closer attention, is extremely revealing. What comes to mind is what she observed at one point during the SD, when she quoted C. Buhler’s work of 1930 on the longitudinal observation of babies (Isaacs, “The Nature and Function of Phantasy”, 1943, in King & Steiner, 1992, pp. 301-303, 306).1 When one reads her paper, one might be tempted to see in her statements some odd coincidences, for her discussions remind us of many of the issues we have observed to date. Indeed, Isaacs’s paper clearly demonstrates that it is impossible to isolate Klein’s way of thinking totally from its extra-analytical sources, at least in relation to the chronology of what happens from the beginning of the newborn’s life to its third month, from the third to the sixth month, and then in the second half of its first year. In order to explain this, Isaacs used both Bernfeld’s and Buhler’s observations, but in the main she relied on Shirley’s (1931-33) research, as this provided her with the most up-to-date evidence for her purposes. Isaacs gave a very clear interpretation of the material she had selected from Buhler’s and Shirley’s work. But it is in her use of Buhler’s work that her observations seem to become particularly relevant, as she compares it with her own research and with her and Klein’s assumptions on the baby’s internal life and concludes that Buhler’s observations are too passive and negative even as regards the first two months of life because the sample Buhler had used was based on institutionalized babies who, of course, had not had any normal kind of contact with their mothers (Isaacs, 1943, in King & Steiner, 1992, p. 306).

 

8. The emergence of the indigenous (British) psychoanalytic baby

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We have now arrived at a point where I think it would be impossible to conclude if we did not spend some time making a few observations on the contribution of the so-called indigenous contingent of the British Psycho-Analytical Society. We do not have proper papers, and therefore we have to rely on their interventions and on what other material there is available. But it is in studying this aspect of the Scientific Discussions that one will note the strength of that cultural umbrella that Melanie Klein’s indigenous colleagues had held out for her, allowing Klein’s London baby to survive and to grow.

Yet perhaps the most interesting thing is what their attitude, or the forma mentis of an indigenous cultural tradition, reveals and contains in embryo. If one looks at what was said by them during the Discussions, it would be difficult to claim with absolute certainty that the indigenous members of the British Society either questioned or rejected in toto the chronology of the baby’s internal life during its first six months and later, as it had been hypothesized by Melanie Klein, Susan Isaacs, Paula Heimann, and their followers. Nor is it possible to claim that they accepted the hypotheses of the Viennese. Yet not all of the members of the indigenous contingent were totally in support of either Klein’s views or those of the Viennese. E. Sharpe, S. Payne, and others—but Brierley in particular, as she was the most critical of Klein’s way of thinking and tended to side with the Freudians (King & Steiner, 1992, pp. 470-472)—all asked for further clarification on the first six months of the baby’s life and also pointed out the role that was played by the environment during this time (see King & Steiner, 1992: Sharpe, pp. 804-812; Brierley, p. 816; Klein, p. 832; pp. 838-839). They guardedly agreed on Klein’s description of the earliest phases of the object relationship (King & Steiner, 1992: Payne, pp. 803-804). Sharpe’s views, for instance, seemed at times more inclined to see the baby and the mother as a dyad during the first months of the baby’s life (King & Steiner, 1992; Sharpe, p. 3381). It is in these debates that one can catch sight of a different psychoanalytic baby surfacing, and where one is able to anticipate that its parents would be the indigenous members of the British Psycho-Analytical Society, notwithstanding the fact that the baby was the result of a theoretical and clinical mediation between the Viennese and the Kleinian “London” baby. And this is the reason for my having placed so much emphasis on the need to recognize the London baby’s complex parenthood. In the years that followed, it would be Winnicott, above all, who would help this baby to be born and to grow.2

 

9. Conclusion

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In using Joseph Sandler’s views and in developing them in my own way, I have tried to underline the different routes that can be researched to ascertain the influence that a certain Ortgeist and a certain Zeitgeist may have had on the participants in the CD and SD. As was also stressed in the Introduction, the purpose of my taking the CD as an example has been to try to call attention to the complexities surrounding the personal, cultural, historical, and even socio-political elements that characterize our discipline. If too much emphasis is placed on the “here and now” or on our discipline’s internal history and concepts, one might be apt to forget this, as one might also be prone to forget the role that is played, even in our everyday work, by all the extra-analytical points of reference and other factors that influence us as psychoanalysts.

Ideally, where the evidence and the sources were available, I should of course have studied the interaction between analytical and extra-analytical sources, including the conscious and less conscious repercussions that these would have had on the participants in the CD—on all those who took part in the debates, minor protagonists included. This would have enabled us to attain a rather more precise reconstruction of this particular episode in the history of psychoanalysis. These are problems that concern not only the CD or the history of psychoanalysis. Indeed, be it in the field of literature, politics, society, or culture, every trained historian well knows just how revealing and important even minor figures or protagonists can be, if one really wants to feel the “pulse” of no matter which historical event (Dionisotti, 1971; Ginzburg, 1990,1999; Momigliano, 1990,1993; Stone, 1981).

 

10. Hanna Segal’s approach to creativity and aesthetics

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You see … people hold the mistaken view that I am well educated…. I am not well-educated…. I am, I would say, cultured, in the continental sense, but I am not actually well-educated. I read what I like to read and I am, I would say, a voracious reader… and I see what I like to see…. But I would not say that I am a systematic scholar.

“I owe a lot to the members of my family, not only to my father, but also to my mother. She was a woman with a great sense of life, extremely flexible and adaptable even when things were not easy, like in Poland after the First World War, and later on. … And I owe a lot to my husband and to my sons. … For instance, look how I came to Dilthey in 1947. I was reading Susan Langer’s Philosophy in a New Key at that time. I found it very stimulating, but my husband sniffed at the book. … He is well educated, you see. … he is a mathematician. He obviously knew about these things, and he said: ‘Look, you should read Dilthey on this topic. What he has to say on it is much more interesting.’ He translated Dilthey for me, as I do not think there was anything in English of what he gave me to read of Dilthey’s work, and that absolutely kicked me, particularly what he has to say about the ‘Nacherleben’ [reliving]. At that time I was struggling with it. I was struggling over how to account for total identification with a work of art. I already thought that it made no sense to identify solely with some aspects of the work of art. Rather, one needed to identify with the creative process, and Dilthey’s views actually corresponded with what I was trying to express. Since then, I have used him: and I have tried to read a bit more, but just think of the volume of Dilthey’s work … couldn’t study him systematically … as I told you, I am not a systematic scholar … would have to say that I am a very sensually related person.…Something needs to deeply touch me and to emotionally and perceptively attract me. … In a sort of … would say, dramatic way. I also have to say that, somewhere in the back of my mind, I have always the physical correlation of what happens.”

 

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