113 Chapters
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Medium 9781855758230

The Ill-Child

Symington, Neville Karnac Books ePub

The poetic art expresses something which cannot be expressed in prose or any other art form. This poem is concerned with my relation to my mother as a child. It has however reflections within it that come from knowledge garnered later in my life.

The Ill-Child

His face was a grinning moon Cracking jokes in laughter Christmas Day at Uncle John’s With cousins giggling after.

Port, wine, food and games A theatre of sweet merriment A microcosm of the year Concentration of contentment.

Father and twin brother John With hostile wives in labour Had spawned this divers flock Of children all in favour.

A blight upon the festival Cracked skin about his lips With balm Mum anointed them His head upon her hips.

She saw the eczema of the heart Which sorrowed into malady In depths like Mariana’s trench Hid a foul disease in tragedy.

A picture of a floppy babe Surprised upon the inner screen The minute hands were stretching fast Towards her bosom seen.

They could not reach as far as her Lying trapped in a catatonic ilk Consumption in her armly joints A reckless draught of unboiled milk

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Medium 9781855751392

14. The autonomy of the self

Symington, Neville Karnac Books ePub

This chapter is based on two papers written in response to Brian Muir’s “The Enigma of the Self” (1993), which is a critique of Kohut. I have expanded various points that Brian made and taken them forward in my own way, so hopefully the reader need not have read his original paper to understand my arguments.

It is possible for me to be so engrossed in myself that another person is only perceived to the extent to which he impinges upon me. With such an orientation of mind, I shall try very hard to avoid any such impingements. However, there are a lot of human beings around, and, try as I might, it is difficult to avoid them. As Fairbairn pointed out, I find—much to my annoyance—that there is something in me that drives me towards human beings.

When I was a baby I was driven, faute de mieux, towards a breast. It was an unwelcome discovery when two eyes appeared behind that breast. “What”, I cried and bawled. “That breast is mine, it belongs to me, it has no right to attach itself to those two eyes.” So I put in a complaint to the Babies’ Rights Commission.

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9. Meissner's Critique of Freud

Symington, Neville Karnac Books ePub

Quite by the way, why did none of the devout create psychoanalysis? Why did one have to wait for a completely godless Jew?

(Freud, 1963)

The most comprehensive assessment of Freud's attitude to religion is to be found in W. W. Meissner's book Psychoanalysis and Religious Experience. Meissner examines Freud's arguments in his main texts on religion, and then in particular discusses the great debate on religion that took place between Freud and Oskar Pfister, a friend and colleague. In this chapter I shall look at this debate, and Meissner's perceptive commentary on it.

 

Freud published The Future of an Illusion in Imago in 1927, and Pfister published a reply the following year entitled The Illusion of a Future. Pfister, a Lutheran pastor working in a parish in Zurich, discovered Freud's writings in 1908 and from that moment became an enthusiastic disciple. Despite being a firm believer in the Christian faith, he and Freud remained firm friends. It was probably Pfister's unbounded respect for Freud's genius that enabled Freud to tolerate his friend's disagreement with his own religious position. Freud was thus pleased that it was Pfister who replied to his article against religion (the subtitle of Pfister's article is ‘A friendly dispute with Prof. Dr. Sigm. Freud’). He knew his article would call forth replies from defenders of religious faith, and this being the case, a reply from Pfister was more welcome than from some other quarter, which would probably be more hostile.

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Medium 9781855751392

2. The psychotherapist's education

Symington, Neville Karnac Books ePub

I follow Fairbairn (1958) in saying that emotional contact is what people most deeply yearn for and what fundamentally gives meaning to a person’s life. Men and women derive their deepest satisfactions—in their work, hobbies, domestic life, and guiding aspirations—when they tap into the reservoir of emotional contact. Such contact, however, is only effectively made through a signal emitted from the true self of another. I therefore contend that the only interpretations that are effective are those that proceed from the true self of the psychotherapist. I am conscious that such a bald statement may be more acceptable to the reader if it is expressed negatively, that is, that interpretations that proceed from the false self cannot touch the emotions of the patient.

The requirement in many psychotherapy trainings that the would-be psychotherapist undertake personal therapy for himself is to assist him in reaching a knowledge of his true self and also to assist him emotionally to do so. The development of a person’s emotional capacities is clearly central to any psychotherapy training, and without it all intellectual striving to master concepts becomes a hollow endeavour.

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14. The Human Condition

Symington, Neville Karnac Books ePub

‘Did you say the stars were worlds, Tess?’
‘Yes.’
‘All like ours?’
‘I don't know; but I think so…Most of them are splendid and sound – a few blighted.’
‘Which do we live on – a splendid or blighted one?’
‘A blighted one.’
‘’Tis very unlucky that we didn't pitch on a sound one, when there were so many more of ’em!’

(Hardy, 1984)

The message of those great masters of spiritual living, the masters who arose in the Axial and post-Axial Eras, was that the human purpose is not to survive bodily at all costs. To offer sacrifice may bring rain, may bring a richer harvest, but there is more to life than this – there is an inwardness, the fulfilment of which gives life its purpose. Attention to this inner life and its development brings a serenity that surpasses the more transitory pleasures of existence. The fruit of attentiveness to our inner life is compassion for our fellow human beings, for all living things, and for our world. This was the message of the masters: cultivate the good, attend to what is inner, and have compassion for your fellow man and woman. It was a message which was spoken with disarming simplicity; to achieve the goal they put before their followers, however, was a task of supreme difficulty.

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Medium 9781855758230

Adult Poems

Symington, Neville Karnac Books ePub
Medium 9781912573578

Chapter Eight: Disaster and Recovery

Symington, Neville ePub

Sometime after Christmas 1968 when I had been banished from the family and was wallowing in self-pity I received a telegram out of the blue from Josephine Earth asking me to contact her and giving me her telephone number. I rang her and she invited me to visit her at Overstrand near Cromer in Norfolk. So I drove up one Friday, arriving in late afternoon. I spent the evening with her, the night with her, and by the next day had proposed marriage to her. Two months later in the Kensington Register Office we married. Fourteen months later we had parted. If I ever need evidence of my madness I have only to hold this episode up in front of me as a salutary reminder.

The madness lay in the fact that her violent and savage behaviour towards me was quite evident prior to marrying her. She had been married to a GP called Paul Earth and he had committed suicide. It was not difficult for me to see that being married to Josephine had been a contributory factor. She talked about Paul incessantly. I was still seeing Dr St Blaize-Molony for psychoanalytic psychotherapy and I mentioned this to him but I remember saying to him that this was alright because it satisfied the homosexual part of me. I don't believe that anyone could have stopped me. I was in the grip of a violent and inescapable force. A tyrant goddess had got hold of me and no rational process could release me from it.

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Medium 9781855759848

CHAPTER FOUR: Freud’s truth

Symington, Neville Karnac Books ePub

I wrote a review of Richard Webster’s Why Freud Was Wrong (1995) for the Sydney Morning Herald in 1995 (30 December). I decided to include it in this book because there has been so much ill-informed de-bunking of Freud, and Webster’s book seems to epitomize this philistine deluge. Rather than concentrate upon Freud’s thinking, the author does what psychoanalysts are often accused of: reading a motivation into the author of the theory rather than examine the theory unsullied by this personalist bias.

This is a long book, consisting of 528 pages of text and a further 100 pages of appendices and notes. If the reader, relying on the publisher’s credits, believes he is embarking on a work of originality and scholarship, he is in for a disappointment.

The classic biography of Freud is the three-volume masterpiece written by Ernest Jones, his devoted disciple. For its detail and understanding of psychoanalysis, Freud’s brainchild, it is unsurpassed. However, Jones was a fanatic who failed to differentiate clearly the good from the bad in Freud, and Webster fairly quotes some of Jones’s worst excesses. Probably the best corrective account is to be found in Ellenberger’s Discovery of the Unconscious (1970), where in a long chapter on Freud the author places him soberly in context and unidealized. Webster relies on Ellenberger and also on Sulloway and Thornton, but, surprisingly, makes no reference to Ricoeur, whose philosophical treatise on Freud still remains the most comprehensive cultural evaluation of Freud that we have. Webster believes, though, that the critique of Ellenberger and others needs to be taken further.

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Medium 9781855759848

CHAPTER TWO: Was Freud influenced by Brentano?

Symington, Neville Karnac Books ePub

I wrote this paper in 1975, when I was still a student at the Institute of Psycho-Analysis in London; it was published in the Bulletin of the British Psycho-Analytical Society.

I had read Brentano’s Psychology from the Empirical Standpoint (1973) and was immediately convinced that he had defined the contours of psychology in an accurate way. When I learned that Freud had attended his lectures for two years at Vienna University, I thought it likely that he would have been influenced by him. As I say in this chapter, Freud does not mention any debt to him, but I have noticed over the years that it is often the unmentioned figure that is the most influential in a person’s emotional and intellectual life. I believe this was so for Freud. His stress in later life on an active subject in relation to internal objects seemed to have come right out of Brentano’s psychological schema.

The fact that Brentano did not believe in the unconscious should not deter us from thinking that he could have influenced Freud. This sphere of activity from a psychically active subject in relation to inner representations is frequently unconscious. This was not the case for Brentano, but only because he had given it all his psychic attention. For the majority it remained unconscious, just as Freud became conscious of areas of the mind that are unconscious to most of us.

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Medium 9781855752030

15. Narcissism and the Human Condition

Symington, Neville Karnac Books ePub

Egoism consists in this: absolute opposition, an impassable gulf is fixed between one's own self and other beings. I am everything to myself and must be everything to others, but others are nothing in themselves and become something only as a means for me. My life and welfare is an end in itself, the life and welfare of others are only a means for my ends, the necessary environment for my self-assertion. I am the centre and the world only a circumference.

(Soloviev, 1918)

In the development of object relations theory, psychoanalysis changed from being a natural science into an ethical signifier in the sphere of emotional relations. Winnicott said that when the child is born he is in a stage of ruthlessness, and that in favourable circumstances this changes into the stage of concern. Many an adult, said Winnicott, is emotionally deficient and still stuck at the stage of ruthlessness, and it became a goal of treatment to assist such a patient into the stage of concern. Similarly, Melanie Klein had the view that the infant is born into the paranoid–schizoid stage of emotional development and an adult may become fixed at this stage of emotional development, unable to progress to what she named the depressive position.

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Medium 9781780490694

Chapter Seven: Historical Determination of Problems

Symington, Neville Karnac Books ePub

Psychoanalysis is a system of thinking inserted into a particular historical niche. Does this mean that now that this piece of history is over, that psychoanalysis is over also? I think the answer to this question lies along the following lines. Freud was a genius and like all geniuses he was rooted in the emotional problem of his time and also in the thought fashion of his time and yet he transcended it. A genius always transcends his contemporaneous time slot.

What has to be done by the successors of a genius is to isolate the transcendent aspect, detach it from its historical time slot and then insert it into the social customs of our own contemporary period. What is necessary is to reach down to the essence of the process and thus to explore carefully to see what psychoanalysis really is. The philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, said: “It is a well-founded historical generalization, that the last thing to be discovered in any science is what the science is really about” (1958, p. 167).

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Medium 9781855752658

MEDITATION FIVE. God and the worm

Symington, Neville Karnac Books ePub

In my paper called “The True and the False God” (Appendix A), I try to differentiate between God in the way I have been speaking about the absolute, the infinite, and the popular idea of God as a figure who directs us and tells us what to do (visual aid: Intensifi-ers—see frontispiece). The seers who gave rise to the Upanishads understood what I call the true God is the way. The Chandogya Upanishad is one of the oldest. There is also a type of power of God that is quite different from that. There is a story that most people, certainly of a Christian education, will find familiar:

He got into the boat followed by his disciples. Without warning a storm broke out over the lake, so violent that the waves were breaking right over the boat but he was asleep. So they went to him and woke him saying, “Save us, Lord, we are going down!” He said to them, “Why are you so frightened, you men of little faith?” And with that he stood up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and all was calm again. The men were astounded and said, “Whatever kind of man is this? Even the winds and the sea obey him.”

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17. The Domain of Psychoanalysis

Symington, Neville Karnac Books ePub

Religion is about an aspect of this world to which we are usually blind.

(Macmurray, 1936)

The domain of psychoanalysis is built upon three poles: an activity, an object and a subject. Knowledge of these three poles is essential to an understanding of psychoanalysis. Equally important are the manifestations of transference and counter-transference. We start with activity.

 

A patient comes for psychoanalysis because he suspects he is responsible in part for the problems which are hampering his life. Responsibility refers to those activities which find their origin in him but of which he is unaware. Psychoanalysis is the elucidation of those activities of which the patient (and probably the analyst) is unaware. What are these activities?

Freud made a distinction between those things which we are able to be aware of but are not, and those things which we actively oppose being aware of. I may not at this moment be aware of my breathing in and out because I am intent on typing, but there is no activity forbidding such an awareness. The breathing of which I am unaware is morally neutral. In a similar way, as I am typing a plane flies overhead, but I am unaware of it until my son comes into my room and draws my attention to it. Again, the plane flying overhead has no moral category attached to it. It is a fact of which I am unaware. The plane and the breathing are morally neutral. Activities of which I am unaware Freud named preconscious. Activities whose awareness I actively oppose Freud named the unconscious.

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Medium 9781855759848

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: Failure of internalization in modern culture

Symington, Neville Karnac Books ePub

There are two ways in which an object can be present in the mind. I shall call these two the “photographic” and the “artistic”. Two people are facing the same scene. One has in his hands a camera, which he pulls up and points at the landscape and clicks. The other has an easel, a palette, and paints, and after three hours of industry she has a representation of the scene in front of her.1

This model is designed to highlight two different ways in which something is present in the mind. In the photographic mode the thing is “taken in” as a whole, and the mind of the individual is like a film upon which the scene is imprinted, like the impression of a seal upon wax. In the artist’s mode there is an active engagement with the object. The artist makes a selection; she decides which moment of light she will represent; she will decide what to leave out and what to include. The artist will know that scene better a year later than her friend, the photographer.

It is a common dictum that a person learns through teaching. It is something I can personally vouch for. When I have to explain the contents of a book to pupils in a classroom, I come to know and understand the book a good deal better than when I sit back and “drink it in” in my comfortable armchair. I remember Juliet Mitchell saying to me that any serious reading requires note-taking. In other words, there is active engagement with the object. George Orwell complains in “Politics and the English Language” (1971) that the language is being deadened because rather than constructing our own similes and metaphors, we reach for one from the supermarket shelf and put it indiscriminately into our basket.

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CHAPTER FIFTEEN: The murder of Laius

Symington, Neville Karnac Books ePub

The story of Oedipus is a myth. A myth functions as a dream in the social group. It also has this function for the individual within the group. Laius, then, represents an inner psychic reality. This is a detective story, but one that is a bit different from the usual format. We know there has been a murder; we do not know who the murdered person is; we want to know why the murder is hushed up.

When the people of Thebes saw the royal carriage ride past, carrying along their king and queen, Oedipus and Jocasta, all looked well. How fortunate it was that Oedipus, this knightly prince from Corinth, had sallied forth into Jocasta’s bedchamber and so had made up for the untimely death of Laius. All looked well in Thebes that day.

Of course, this knowing reader knows better than did those innocents in Thebes. Yet do we? What was so dreadful about Oedipus being bound in wedlock to his mother? Oh, incest, the reader will say. We all know there is a taboo against that. We all know that is wrong. All societies have condemned it. This is factually not true, however, because there are exceptions—for instance, in the royal house of Hawaii before it was colonized by white Americans. But the question is, “Why is incest wrong?” or, “Is it wrong?” Is it perhaps a taboo that we should long since have abandoned in this scientific age?—in this age of liberal values? Let us address ourselves to the first question: why it is that there has been such a far-reaching taboo on incest and then see whether that answer suggests lines of approach to the other question.

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