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DISAPPOINTMENT, STOICISM AND THE FUTURE OF PSYCHOANALYSIS AND THE PUBLIC SPHERE

by Robert M. Young

Abstract: Having looked back over the contributions I and others have made to this conference over the last decade, I want to reflect on the gap between what we hoped to do and where we find ourselves ten years on. One of the words I hear most often from people of my political generation is 'disappointment', which has its good side, since it means that one has not lost touch with the vision of the sixties. We have seen a lot of dreams shattered and don't have a friend who feels at ease, but we have, hopefully, gained a huge new tool of insight: containment, which leads to trying to work in the depressive position rather that exclusively with splits. I also reflect on stoicism as the personal and political stance appropriate to containment.

I note that many of us, including me, are now professors, heads of programmes, editors of book series, in short, insiders, where we were (but only relatively speaking) outsiders then. What price have we paid, and in what spirit have we accommodated to the existing - nay, changed for the worse - order of society? I reflect on what we can now hope to sustain and perhaps expand, including some thoughts about access to new means of disseminating and institutionalising progressive ideas and practices, including distance learning, email forums, Internet Relay Chat and the world wide web.

I have not found it easy to compose this short talk. This is partly because I am the only person who has been on the planning committee of this conference since the beginning, and I am sad and regretful that I am now stepping down, even though I am sure that it is the right thing to do. It is not easy partly because I want to tell the truth but am not sure I can find it in myself or out there. I then find myself having good reasons (which may emerge in due course) for being tactful on behalf of values and projects which are more dear to me than complete candour on this occasion. And yet that sort of reticence is one of the things I most want to criticise.

Some of you will know and others will not that this conference was conceived more than a decade ago in the context of a number of new initiatives which contributed to a sense of a more creative space in the culture of psychoanalysis, in particular, the development of programmes in psychoanalytic studies at the then North East London Polytechnic, under the guidance of Mike Rustin and Barry Richards; Free Associations journal (involving most of the people who originated the conference) and Free Associations Books (involving Karl Figlio, Les Levidow, and me); the Freud Museum; and very soon after these conferences got going: the Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies at Kent (avowedly inspired by our work) and THERIP, the Higher Education Network for Teaching and Research in Psychoanalysis. It seemed as if a relatively sclerotic psychoanalytic establishment could be challenged and opened out to a more exploratory political and cultural perspective from an alliance among these new initiatives, none of which was beholden to any established psychoanalytic institutions or viewpoints.

The University of East London now has the largest undergraduate programme in the country which is rooted in the psychoanalytic perspective, and their MA in Psychoanalytic Studies, taught jointly with the Tavistock Clinic, is the best of the dozen or so such MAs in the British Isles, while the Centre for Psychotherapeutic Studies at Sheffield has built up in a small number of years the largest and most diverse postgraduate psychoanalytic programme anywhere. Free Association Books has brought out about three hundred volumes. In addition to the journal Free Associations there is a new American one, Journal for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society, a new electronic journal called Psychoanalytic Studies (soon to appear in hard copy, as well), another on Human Relations, Authority and Justice, Mike Rustin now co-edits Soundings, devoted to re-thinking left perspectives. Psychotherapy trainings are affiliating themselves with universities at a fair rate, thereby increasing the likelihood that they will no longer be run by small, inward-looking and conservative cliques which are properly accountable to no one.

Mike Rustin, Paul Hoggett, Barry Richards, Andrew Samuels, Andrew Cooper and I are professors, and we are involved in thriving and innovative programmes. Karl Figlio heads up a new and exciting programme at Essex (where Bob Hinshelwood and Joan Raphael-Leff were last week appointed to job share a new professorship). Margot Waddell heads a thriving doctoral programme at the Tavistock, where she also edits a new book series to be published by Duckworth. A goodly number of us has published one or more books, while papers presented to this conference have found their way into a number of collections and many journals. I know of more than half a dozen email forums on the internet which grew directly out of this conference and related initiatives and of as many web sites.

I said I’d mention new means of disseminating and institutionalising progressive ideas and practices, including distance learning, email forums, Internet Relay Chat and the world wide web. I have prepared a little document about this. What we do here and in our academic courses can and should be propagated world-wide by distance learning and on the internet. Three will begin from Sheffield in January. There are also many dozens of email discussion forums which are independent of us and which centre on our concerns. You and any number of people can hold a seminar or meeting all in the same internet ’room’ by the use of IRC, internet relay chat (I mean simultaneously). The world wide web is a place for low-cost electronic journal publishing and for posting writings for discussion with one’s colleagues. It is a hugely facilitating environment, and I hope you’ll join in as soon as you can. We have been slow to make use of it. This conference has its own web site where I put Mike Rustin and Andrew Cooper’s position paper from last year, along with other writings, and no one from the conference has yet commented, but it’s not too late. I’ll put his and my papers from today there, along with any others which people would like to let me have.

So why am I disappointed? That word came to me as something to think about rather than just feel in one of the group sessions at a Public Sphere Conference a couple of years ago, when some one I admire said, quite simply, that his main problem was dealing with disappointment. That one sentence provided me with an immediate and almost overwhelming centre for many of my disparate feelings. Mark you, disappointment is not despair, and I even think one can feel deeply fulfilled yet disappointed (you may wish to disabuse me of this fragile alliance of feelings). Quite soon after that a book turned up by Ian Craib (1994), the title of which is The Importance of Disappointment. I knew of events in the lives of both of the people dwelling on that term which could justify the word, but they also meant something about the times, in particular, about the snares and delusions of idealisation, the toll of growing older without one’s dreams coming to fruition. Craib’s notion of disappointment turns out to be something like the Kleinian notion of the depressive position.

I could but won’t tell you about my own quite personal disappointments. In the public domain, however, I will mention some. Free Association Books was stolen from me, morally, if not legally, and no longer has a radical agenda. It has dropped the motto of which I was so proud, which Joel Kovel urged me to adopt from ‘The Communist Manifesto’: ’an association in which the free development of each is the condition of the free development of all’. I carry on at a much reduced level of output under the imprint of Process Press, the motto of which is drawn from the reflections of the last moments before being purged of comrade Rubashov in Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon (1940). You may or may not know that the character Rubashov was based on Nicolai Bukharin, meant to be a decent Bolshevik, and that Koestler was hated by the official left for telling the truth about Stalinism. The motto is: ‘only purity of means can justify the ends’. I chose it in a spirit of comment on my erstwhile colleagues at FAB and on the whole history of belief that the means justify the ends.

I bought back the Free Associations journal from the new owners of Free Association Books but, rather like the New Left Review, its board has ceased to meet. The staff of the Freud Museum found themselves under fire from their orthodox governors but have managed to pursue a remarkably radical agenda while having to be extraordinarily financially creative in order to make ends meet. The programme at Kent fell under a shadow because of how its student and staff were being treated, and it is unlikely to be allowed to expand. THERIP has become centred in Lacanianism, and people of other persuasions have drifted away. It is sad that these organisations turn out not to be as independent as they were thought to be a decade ago and that they never managed very much co-operation. Indeed, the co-operation between the University of East London and Free Associations journal which has kept this conference going is a notable exception to the general rule.

I have also been saddened by the fact that, on the whole, psychoanalysts and people from the Tavistock Clinic have drifted away from our annual conferences. In short, it would be difficult to argue that those of us who considered ourselves to be on the side of the angels are behaving or faring much better than those we criticise. I could easily spend the remainder of my time illustrating this point with anecdotes about people who attend or have attended this conference over the years, including, of course, myself, members of the organising group of this conference and people with whom I have worked in other contexts. In particular, I have seen in university life forms of timidity, ruthlessness and beggar-my-neighbour as bad as any I have seen in commercial life. In particular, I have seen appointments committees turn their noses up at distinguished candidates with remarkable academic credentials and appoint safer ones with less original minds.

When I entered the subculture of psychotherapy I have to admit that in spite of all my academic work showing that there is no value-free knowledge or practice, I believed that it would, at last, provide me with a haven from sectarianism and horrid behaviour. I thought that my professional life as a psychotherapist would be just me and my patients. If I had not managed to change the world, like many ex-would-be-revolutionaries, I might at least hope to shift something significant in myself and some of my patients. You will smile at my naiveté. It was soon apparent that one had to get trained and that having got trained (which involved many political and personal compromises), one had to get referrals and that one was in an organisation which was a member of the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), then withdrawn, then of the British Confederation of Psychotherapists (BCP), dominated by the Institute of Psycho-analysis. Arguing that the organisation should rejoin the UKCP led to three votes to do so, carried by clear majorities, yet the powers that be simply ignored the votes and lobbied the students and members so that a fourth vote went the other way. This occurred in an artificial atmosphere, since successfully challenged, that in the end we would have to choose between these two bodies.

I am not here going to go into why I advocate the UKCP as the right home for leftists and democrats and why I believe the BCP to be unacceptably elitist and undemocratic (I have done so in Young, 1996a). My point for the present is a broader and simpler one: being a psychotherapist is no haven from politics, including particularly undermining and manipulative politics — undermining because those in charge are at the same time assessing one’s inner world to see if one is suitable to be qualified and to receive referrals. It is no wonder that some trainees of a nominally radical frame of mind have kept out of this ongoing debate and have had their careers prosper partly as a consequence of keeping their heads down. Others, having completed their trainings, have thrown themselves into the arms of the governors of the caste system. I am thinking, in particular, of two sometime Trotskyists of my acquaintance.

This brings me to my disappointment in the subculture of psychoanalysis, broadly conceived. It is highly balkanised and operates a well-structured caste system. I have seen people move from independent to deferential, by which I mean from resisting kow-towing to the British Psychoanalytical Society to being deferential to it, something which I note can happen during second analysis with Institute members. This involves an interesting notion of ’maturation’; I think it is better described as ‘adjustment’ and a species of ’realism’.

But stay: there is a perfectly coherent position which says that one has to choose one’s battlefields and fight for what one can. There are positions involving noblesse oblige, whereby one foregoes certain perquisites of elitism on behalf of the wider society and a better world. One such is to stay in and work for the National Health Service or other institutions in the public sector. Another is to teach in an institution which is less high up the pecking order or further away from Hampstead and Oxbridge than one might otherwise be. The University of East London is at the bottom of the list of all British universities in the qualifications on entry of its students, yet it has some impressive scholars and programmes. The University of Sheffield is not only in the North, it is in Sheffield, where the air is the most polluted in the country, yet it has the largest psychoanalytic centre. Bulgaria, where I am engaged with others in trying to change the mental health services from Pavlovian and incarcerating to psychodynamic and facilitating, has the least attractive and most menacing capital city of any country I have visited, yet some of the world’s most eminent group relations consultants are working there.

I think that such vocational choices are admirable, or relatively so. However, I also think they are a long way away from the politics which brought me to psychoanalysis and to this conference and related activities. The difference is that I belong to a political tradition which says that the process constrains the result: hence the name of my press. It is here that I think we have backslid remarkably from the politics of the libertarian left. I know that there are others who will say that we should worry less about how we work together. I have even heard it said that the great efflorescence of admirable psychoanalytic work which has come out of the Tavistock and the Institute of Psychoanalysis can perhaps be partially attributed to their stable hierarchies. I would reply that I admire that work but that none of it — except perhaps some by Bion — touches centrally on the social, cultural and political work which is needed to save the world. Paul Hoggett’s (1992) does, but my list doesn’t get much longer, and it is notable that he is only now signing up for the more respectable psychoanalytic road and has so far not been embraced by the institutions he has approached at the centre of the existing power structure. I am suggesting that we have to carry on and maintain this independent space. It is precious and means a lot to people outside this room, as well.

I promised to say something about containment, stoicism and the future. I think the biggest lesson we learned from the aftermath of the politics of the sixties was profoundly anti-Reichian. De-repression is not enough; as Marcuse showed, it only produces repressive desublimation, ersatz freedom. The concept of containment developed by Bion from Klein’s ideas is central to a way forward, but we have not yet learned clearly to distinguish containment from conformism. We need to evolve containing ways of being rebellious and subversive. To say this is not easy is an understatement. In order to rebel, it still seems to me that one has to enter the paranoid-schizoid position, to exploit splits, to take sides, to be, as they say in parliamentary politics, ‘in opposition’. Not to do so means that one’s efforts to change the status quo are always vulnerable to seeing the other person’s point of view too clearly and/or to co-optive pathologisation, a technique which has been in rampant use in recent political disagreements in training organisations and in the profession more widely. I have heard many lose their political radicalism as a by-product of ’a good analysis’.

I wonder if there is a position in addition to Klein’s paranoid-schizoid and depressive ones and Steiner’s stuck, sometimes paralytic, pathological organisation. I am advocating something like the notion of the ego ideal in practice, which is the psychodynamic equivalent of Trotsky’s notion of ’permanent revolution’ or Mao’s slogan that ’even in a march of ten thousand miles one still has to take the first step’ or Rudi Dutschke’s idea of ’realistic [subversive] fantasies’. I do know that once one has become a reformer or agitator or rebel or subversive, it is very difficult to re-enter the depressive position without selling out. Those of us who try to change things find ourselves moving from being thought mad (usually called paranoid or demonising or diabolising by a complacent power elite) to a painful re-entry whereby we swallow what we know and bear conventional reality as stoics. The Roman Stoics usually withdrew from public life, comforting themselves that they had the right moral approach, whether or not they could act on it. If they found themselves in an impossible situation, suicide was an honourable way out. Indeed, Marcus Aurelius opened his veins in a warm bath. I would like to find a resolution short of that but have yet to do so. In moments of near-despair, I sometimes wonder if all we have achieved with our chairs, departments, programmes, publications and internet sites is what the conservative Italian sociologist, Vilfredo Pareto, called ‘the circulation of elites’. On a good day I feel we have done more, but that’s a precarious feeling.

This talk has been low on concrete policies. I believe that these can only be conceived and fought for from within a clear psycho-political perspective, something which it is hellishly hard to conceive and hold onto in the absence of a subculture, if not a movement, of leftist mental health workers and teachers. Each of you will have his or her own programme. Mine includes getting more psychoanalysis into undergraduate teaching; getting more therapy, including short-term analytic therapy, into the NHS; training more clinical psychologists and counsellors psychodynamically; increasing black and other minority representation in the psyche professions; and building bridges between psychotherapy and the policy of ‘care in the community’ (guided, I propose, by the thinking of Peter Barham: 1984, 1992; Barham and Hayward, 1991). On the theoretical front, debates about gender identity, sexuality and deviant or non-conformist sexualities seem to me to be important and unresolved issues (see, for example, O’Connor and Ryan, 1993). The concepts of perversion and of perverse ethics preoccupy me at the moment (Young, 1994, 1996).

I continue to believe that in the beginning was the value — not the word, not the fact — and that all institutions, theories and practices are embodied politics. I believe that this series of conferences, broad church though it is, is founded on the vision of integrating progressive politics with psychodynamic approaches to human nature, psychotherapy, groups, institutions, culture and society. We are some little way into achieving this integration, but we have a long way to go. My motto on the internet is from Albert Camus’ essay ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’: ‘One must imagine Sisyphus happy’. When I don’t want to be identified as an academic I use a secondary signature. It’s motto is this: Citizen to biker: ‘Just what are you rebelling against?’ Brando replies, ‘Whadaya got?’ I’m still working on moving beyond those as my most hopeful slogans, and I hope you’ll continue to bear with me.

Revised version of a paper presented in the keynote debate of the Tenth Annual Conference on Psychoanalysis and the Public Sphere: ‘The State Psychoanalysis is In’, University of East London 22 November 1996.

REFERENCES

Barham, Peter (1984) Schizophrenia and Human Value. Oxford: Blackwell; reprinted Free Association Books, 1993

______ (1992) Closing the Asylum: The Mental Patient in Modern Society. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

______ and Hayward, Robert (1991) From the Mental Patient to the Person. Routledge; reissued as Relocating Madness: Free Association Books, 1985.

Craib, Ian (1994) The Importance of Disappointment. Routledge.

Hoggett, Paul (1992) Partisans in an Uncertain World: The Psychoanalysis of Engagement. Free Association Books.

Koestler, Arthur (1940) Darkness at Noon. Cape; reprinted Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1947, etc.

O’Connor, Noreen and Ryan, Joanna (1993) Wild Desires and Mistaken Identities: Lesbianism and Psychoanalysis. Virago.

Young, Robert (1994) ‘New Ideas about the Oedipus Complex’, Melanie Klein and Object Relations. 12 (no. 2): 1-20, 1994.

______ (1996) ‘Is "Perversion" Obsolete?’, Psychology in Society no. 21: 5-26.

______ (1996a)The Culture of British Psychoanalysis and related Essays on Character and Morality and The Psychodynamics of Psychoanalytic Organizations. Process Press (in press).

All of the articles by Young are available on the internet at

 

http://www.shef.ac.uk/uni/academic/N-Q/psysc/staff/rmyoung/index.html

© The Author

Address for correspondence: 26 Freegrove Road, London N7 9RQ

robert@rmy1.demon.co.uk

 


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