Sunday, 29 March 2015

Friedrich von Hügel

Who? Well, he was a German writer of about a century ago. I think he may have been a priest and/or theologian. Now with about three exceptions the writings of German theologians interest me as much as the ‘writings’ of Jeffrey Archer, but this chap has to be added to the list of exceptions, if only for one thing he said. I rather think I’ve put it in the blog before, but it needs repeating because so many people continue to blunder in (‘I was only trying to help’) where angels fear to tread. He said or wrote it to his niece, and I have it, clearly printed out, pinned up in my house, though few seem to notice, and never the people who should:

The golden rule is, to help those we love to escape from us; and never to try to begin to help people, or influence them till they ask, but wait for them.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Unimaginable, Unthinkable, Bewildering…

Readers might like to look again at yesterday’s post about Angela Merkel’s reaction to the aeroplane crash, in particular at the two comments below it. ‘Peter’ (he does not give his full name) confirms what I should have suspected all along: the BBC got it wrong. Merkel didn’t say ‘Unimaginable’; she didn’t even say the equivalent German word. (The usually reliable Pons/Schöffler-Weis English-German dictionary gives ‘Un(aus)denkbar’ for ‘Unimaginable’, but my limited German suggests that means rather ‘Unthinkable’). Peter tells us what she did in fact say, and I have replied to what he (mostly quite fairly) says.

My excuse is that I was brought up to believe the BBC to be truthful and reliable in its news reports. Old habits die hard, and I fear I must temporarily have forgotten that the BBC has eagerly embraced the fashion for ‘Dumbing-down’ and is, more and more, run by semi-literate philistines. I apologise for taking them at their word.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Lack of Imagination

The BBC reported this morning that Angela Merkel thought it ‘unimaginable’ that the co-pilot of the aeroplane that recently crashed, killing all aboard, crashed the plane deliberately. Very odd: why, being German, did she use that English word? Probably she didn’t; probably she said something in German, and that is the BBC’s translation. I suppose we must take it on trust that it was a correct translation, in which case two questions arise: because Frau Merkel cannot, it seems, imagine something, is it therefore unimaginable? And if she cannot imagine something that, terrible as it is, I’m sure everyone else can, does this not suggest that she is not very imaginative, in fact not very bright? So actually that raises a third question: do we really want someone dim and unimaginative as political leader of the most powerful country in Europe? Let us hope that the people investigating the crash are rather more intelligent.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

No new post today

Sorry about that, but I'm just not up to it; I've had this Γρίππη thing, which keeps changing form like Proteus, for a month now. And the English-style weather that currently covers this part of Greece doesn't help.
There are however over 500 older posts available, and I bet you haven't read them all.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Mehr Licht

‘More Light’. Those are reputed to be Goethe’s last words. The simple two-word phrase has an air of profundity, inviting metaphorical interpretation, but other reports say the phrase was actually embedded in a longer sentence of mind-numbing banality: he was just asking someone to open one of the shutters.

Another possibility is that he was saying something else entirely: Goethe apparently spoke with a strong Hessisch accent, and someone from a little town in the area told me he might have been saying ‘Mir liegt hier so schwer…’: a straightforward complaint about how ghastly he was feeling.

But why, anyway, should we care a rancid frankfurter what Goethe’s last words were, when we have so many of the other words he spoke and wrote? Is there any reason someone’s last words should have special significance? Is it not more likely that, being old, tired, ill, indeed dying, he might have said something trivial or even silly?

People’s last words are too often remembered and quoted. At least Goethe didn’t die, like William Pitt, (can’t remember if that’s the elder or the younger), saying ‘I think I could eat one of Bellamy’s veal pies’.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Well Maybe it is a bit sort of scientific

What I said yesterday about psychoanalysis not being scientific needs a bit of revision, especially since it may have given the impression that psychoanalysis, for  those who ‘believe in’ it, is some kind of religion. It probably is for some people; not too many I hope and certainly not for me.

 Any real, bona fide, kosher scientist will tell you that scientific advance proceeds by speculation; the formation of theories, often far-fetched and certainly as creative as the ideas of poets or composers. He might — like Newton — wonder what, say, light actually is, and say to himself ‘Perhaps it’s a stream of very tiny particles, not themselves visible, that enter the eye.’ Now there’s no way that theory can directly be tested — the particles are invisible, and perhaps weightless too — so he thinks further — pushes his speculation into a corner — and says ‘Well if it is, then so-and-so ought to happen,’ and this is, with any luck, something that can indeed be tested, so he devises an experiment to see if he’s right. If he is, then he hasn’t ‘proved’ that light is indeed a stream of tiny particles, but he has — this is important — failed to disprove it. If he’s a conscientious scientist, he will try to devise further experiments, all designed to, if possible, disprove his idea. Finding he can’t, he hasn’t ‘confirmed’ his hypothesis, but what he has done is shown that we can, for the moment, carry on as if light is a stream of tiny particles, and, if it’s a good theory, find that it has explanatory value; that it enables us to understand various observable facts. At no point does it matter at all whether or not light ‘really is’ (whatever that means) a stream of tiny particles. (Perhaps there is no such thing, for light or anything else, as a ‘really is’, but that might look too much like a leap into a terrifying existential void.)

So if we look at it like that, psychoanalysis does after all have a reasonable claim to be scientific. It posits the existence of something quite unknowable called ‘The Unconscious’ and finds that if we carry on as if there really were such a thing, we can explain lots of things and, more to the point, reduce the sufferings of neurotic people.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

The Science of Psychoanalysis

Freud, because of his deep insecurity, (we have to remember he was the one psychoanalyst who didn’t have a psychoanalyst) desperately wanted psychoanalysis to be scientifically respectable — scientific — a science. He tried to prove that it was, but his proof is flawed. Invalid, in fact.

It’s a great shame. If only he’d had the courage and confidence to say ‘Actually, I don’t give a nun’s wimple if it’s scientific or not.’ Then he wouldn’t have laid psychoanalysis open to those repeated criticisms that it isn’t ‘after all’ scientific.

The psychoanalysts — or perhaps they should be called metapsychoanalysts — who almost as desperately try to prove that it is, ‘after all’, scientific, are barking up the wrong tree: it isn’t scientific, (which is not to say it can’t use, just as literature or painting do, scientific methods and tools), but it doesn’t matter. There are more ways of relating to the world than the scientific one.

Don’t worry, (yes all right; nobody was), I’m not about to trot out the hoary idea that psychoanalysis is an art — though it’s worth pursuing that some way — I’m rather more concerned to say why it isn’t, indeed can’t be, scientific.

It’s because the most important concept of psychoanalysis is the Unconscious. And the Unconscious is, in one respect if no other, like God: it is unknowable. If we know something, we are conscious of it. And so whatever it is, it’s not unconscious.[1] Nothing can count as evidence for its (his) existence, so, by the positivist criteria of science, it makes no sense to talk of ‘God’ or ‘The Unconscious’. There are those who simply know that God exists: that is to say, they are privileged to have been made aware in some way of the spiritual dimension. And if you haven’t been made aware of it, you haven’t, indeed you’re likely to deny its existence.

Similarly, there are those — quite a lot of thoses, among them those who have been the subjects (it’s the wrong word, but there hasn’t yet been found a right one) of psychoanalysis, who simply know that the Unconscious exists.

So there. Science Schmience.

[1] On re-reading this, I see I’ve committed a logical sleight of hand here: I have confused the object of thought with the thought of the object. The point, however, is that, for simple logical reasons, one can no more ‘know’ the Unconscious than one can look at something that is destroyed, or at least changed into something else, by light.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

A Strong Song Tows Us

That’s one of the last lines of Basil Bunting’s long poem ‘Briggflatts’, thought by many who have more right to their opinions on poetry than I do to be the best long English poem of the twentieth century. It’s also the title of a huge Biography of Bunting by Richard Burton. I started reading that a couple of months ago, and was annoyed when Burton failed to point out that Bunting — who was very attached to the north of England — had to move right down to Reading, at the other end of the country, for his secondary education. The failure made a few short passages of the biography incomprehensible, and I wrote to Burton to complain. (I had to write via his publisher, as of course those populist devices search engines thought I must be looking for the actor, then grudgingly allowed I might want the Victorian adventurer, and never even suggested I might mean Robert, the author of ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy.’ Richard Burton the biographer of Bunting was very difficult to find.)

I have now finished reading Burton’s monumental book, (I have had a lot of other reading, and writing, to do meanwhile) and now feel thoroughly ashamed of my nerdish nit-picking. Bunting disapproved of biographies of poets — ‘By their works shall ye know them’ — though to his credit it is from Burton himself we learn this. So a biographer of Bunting has to tread carefully, between a mere adventure story like a popular sensational biography of, say, Byron or Shelley, (and Bunting’s life was almost as adventurous) or the ultimate in real obsessive (though fascinating) analytic nerdishness of J. Livingston Lowes’s ‘The Road to Xanadu’, in which he relates, literally word-by-word, a Coleridge poem to events in the poet’s life. Burton has done a magnificent job, and its strongest feature is that it returns us again and again to the poetry itself. I think Bunting himself would have approved of Burton’s book, and Bunting’s approval was not lightly given.

So apologies, and congratulations, Richard Burton.

Here are two pictures of the great poet:


Friday, 20 March 2015

Divided by a Common Language

As G.B. Shaw said of America and England.

‘Shirley Temple was nauseous’ changes meaning when it crosses the Atlantic. In America it is impossible to be both pissed and happy; in England it’s quite usual. But then, the English can’t be pissed and sober at the same time, but Americans can. In England it’s also impossible to be simultaneously mean and generous; in America it’s just unusual. An American visitor setting out alone for a stroll might be disconcerted, perhaps imperilled, by his English host’s well-meaning instruction ‘Be careful to walk only on the pavement’, while English passengers are regularly terrified by American pilots telling them ‘We shall be airborne momentarily’.

Once, while driving through the Rockies with an American friend — well, she was doing all the driving, as I don’t really know how to drive a car, even on the wrong side of the road — I said at a petrol (gas) station ‘At least let me pay for the petrol I mean gas’ and went in to do so, not realizing the stuff was so cheap over there that my largesse was insignificant. The lady at the cash register said ‘Where are you from?’ ‘England.’ ‘Oh, I just love that accent!’ ‘I haven’t got an accent; you have,’ I replied icily. Some English friends of mine visiting America were told that ‘For foreigners you sure speak English good.’ On which subject, an American, when I ask how he is, will often reply ‘I’m good,’ and will then look puzzled when I suggest that that is not really for him to say, and not what I asked.

But if I start to talk about the distinction between adjectives and adverbs I shall probably go on to remark that Americans also seem not to understand the grammatical distinction between active and passive voices of verbs, and shall end by saying that Americans just don’t speak English very well. (Good).

Thursday, 19 March 2015

When we are Jung we are easily Freudened

Stupidity and Ignorance, continued

I was writing the other day about the distinction between these two, and saying that people who make a business of presenting things to the public — radio and television presenters especially — should never be, or pretend to be, either, but all too often are. (Or do; I fear the grammar is going a touch awry here; I’ve been ill.)

It happens of course in print too; more and more since the great dumbing-down started about thirty years ago. One doesn’t even need to look for it; it jumps out at you.

A month or so ago I was looking through the big quarter- and half-page advertisements in the back of the London Review of Books. It has become the favoured publicity place of organizations connected with psychoanalysis, of which there is a bewildering variety, all of them with confusingly similar names, and all of them at each other’s throats instead of the throats of their common enemies. Just like socialist parties. An advertisement for seminars on Psychoanalysis and Politics said ‘It would be hard to underestimate the importance of Freud’s contribution to political thought’, so I sent an e-mail to Marjory Goodall, the lady who is arranging bookings, to suggest this might be a Freudian slip. She didn’t reply, or even acknowledge receipt of my message, and put the identical advertisement, with no correction, in the next issue of the LRB. So in her case we must add discourtesy to ignorance and/or stupidity. And I happen to know she is the secretary of the organization that, above all others in the world, is most responsible for the guardianship of Freud’s intellectual legacy. Oh dear.

In the same two issues of the LRB The Society of Analytical Psychology (allies? related in some way? Oh dear me no!) advertises some courses and talks, including one on ‘T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland’. Eliot’s poem is of course called ‘The Waste Land’, and one needs only a very little sensitivity to language, of which poetry is the quintessence, to see the crassness of this mistake. But I didn’t even bother to write to them: The Society of Analytical Psychology people are Jungians, so half the time they are off in La-La Land and cannot be judged by normal intellectual standards.

I think I should add that I have great respect for the works of Jung himself. Anyway, here is yet another picture of Sigmund, this time with his one-time close friend Carl Gustav:

Oh, dear: absurdly but no doubt significantly, I can’t find a photograph of just the pair together; this will have to do:


Wednesday, 18 March 2015

‘All the votes have nearly been counted’.

Thus BBC World Service this morning. There was a time when ‘BBC English’ was paradigmatic. Mainly for pronunciation, but there was the implication that the BBC could also be relied on for grammar, syntax, sentence structure, and clarity of meaning.

I am currently helping a Greek teenager improve her English. We work with the Cambridge English Proficiency textbooks, but unlike her ‘official’ English teacher at school, who is Greek, I don’t take these texts as gospel, having several times found bad mistakes in them. We also read the Harry Potter books together. It is interesting that these books get fatter and fatter as the series goes on. This is because the early volumes were subjected to fierce editing, which they all very much need, but when the author became famous no-one dared alter or cut a word or a comma. J.K. Rowling-in-money is, to put it mildly, not the finest prose stylist, but she’s a lot better than the BBC, and a lot more fun.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The dreaded Γρίππη

Γρίππη is, roughly, 'flu, (influenza, from the Spanish for 'influence', from the belief that it is caused by some sort of miasma), and the Greek word fairly obviously derives from the French 'La Grippe'. Anyway enough etymology; suffice it to say that I've got it, so don't feel up to writing a proper blog post; indeed I've had to postpone an urgent translation job. Normal (or as normal as it gets) blog service will be resumed as soon as I feel a touch better.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Poets Laureate (Again)

Tennyson, one time poet laureate, is no longer fashionable. ‘Tastes have changed’, they say. Whose tastes exactly? Yours, mine? Those of some arbiters of taste who officiously presume to instruct us in such matters? Our present poet laureate is Carol Ann Duffy. Here is one of her poems:



Not a red rose or a satin heart.


I give you an onion.

It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.

It promises light

like the careful undressing of love.



It will blind you with tears

like a lover.

It will make your reflection

a wobbling photo of grief.


I am trying to be truthful.


Not a cute card or a kissogram.


I give you an onion.

Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,

possessive and faithful

as we are,

for as long as we are.


Take it.

Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding ring,

if you like.


Its scent will cling to your fingers,

cling to your knife.



I should say at once that actually I think that’s sort of small-magazine-acceptably good; certainly far better than other poems of hers I have read.

Now here’s a short extract (once popular as a song lyric) from a very long poem (you can guess just how long by the line numbers, and this is just a bit of part one) by Tennyson:


COME into the garden, Maud,
  For the black bat, night, has flown,
Come into the garden, Maud,
  I am here at the gate alone;
And the woodbine spices are wafted abroad,
  And the musk of the roses blown.

For a breeze of morning moves,
  And the planet of Love is on high,
Beginning to faint in the light that she loves
  On a bed of daffodil sky,
To faint in the light of the sun she loves,
  To faint in his light, and to die.


I won’t even bother to ask which of those two is more to your taste. What I do ask is ‘which of those looks, to even an amateur critic’s eye, to have needed more work, more transformation of mere personal feeling, in the effort to make what is known as a “work of art”?’

(Answers by e-mail please, to )



Sunday, 15 March 2015

Silly Mid Off

This morning’s VOA newsreader told us that in a recent speech President Obama said ‘A college degree is the surest ticket to the Middle East Middle Class that is.’ I think this intriguing slip was the newsreader’s rather than Obama’s, and I think Americans not in it regard ‘The Middle Class’ as a more desirable destination than the Middle East. Americans go to the Middle East mostly to ‘persuade’ the locals to adopt something like the American Way of Life, and are often quite violently upset by the sheer ingratitude of the people they are ‘Only trying to help’. Funny people, Americans.

I was going to write today about a more than usually silly BBC presenter, but was distracted by the VOA chap. You can’t tell if VOA presenters are silly or not: they resemble that thing on computers that reads simple monolingual texts aloud.


Saturday, 14 March 2015

Greek as she is spoke

Even after thirty-odd years among Greeks, speaking, reading, and writing the language, I make mistakes, often ones as daft as those of beginners. Only this morning, having run out of both milk and ouzo, (disaster!) I rang a friend down in the harbour, knowing she was coming up to this village later, and asked her to bring me them. For the ouzo she would have to go to the supermarket and ask for ‘the kind Simon drinks’, but I told her not to pay as I would pop into the shop in a day or two. (Try that in an English supermarket.) But for the milk, she said ‘Oh I’ve got some in the fridge; I’ll bring it.’ ‘But I don’t want to deprive you,’ I said, or thought I said. Actually I’d said ‘But I don’t want to sterilize you.’ And a couple of years ago I was dismantling an engine and couldn’t get the flywheel off; one needs a device, an ‘extractor’, which grips the flywheel like an octopus and pulls it off. I went to a local mechanic and asked if I could borrow an  Εξορκιστή. ‘Well I don’t think that’s quite what you need Simon,’ he said. I had asked for an exorcist.

One that I’m always afraid of getting wrong — and I was comforted to find that some Greeks are too — is the difference between ‘Synharitiria’ — ‘I rejoice with you’ — said when someone gets married or has a baby or whatever — and ‘Synlipitiria’ — ‘I mourn with you’, said when someone has died. Getting it wrong might give one a reputation for Wildean wit in some places, but not in a small Greek island.

An English friend of mine, returning to Greece after some years absence, went into a café for a coffee ‘with milk’ but couldn’t remember the word for milk. (Gala of course, from which we get galaxy, as in the Milky Way.) She thought it must be something like ‘laca’ and so when the waiter asked what she’s like she in fact said ‘A coffee, wanker.’ And an American friend — she was in fact the cultural secretary at the American Embassy in Athens — was asked by her Greek teacher to narrate, in Greek, her typical daily routine. ‘Every morning at eight o’clock I get up,’ she told him. She thought she told him, but he was helpless with laughter. When he recovered he explained she had said ‘Every morning at eight o’clock I get an erection.’

Oh, a picture. Here, sitting next to me in front of the Parthenon, is possibly the worst mistake I have made in all my years in Greece:   

Friday, 13 March 2015

More about Coleridge's 'Biographia Literaria'

I was writing yesterday about Samuel Taylor Coleridge. (Yes I was; perhaps you didn’t look.) For all that he is one of the best-known of the Romantic Era poets, his actual poetic output was quite small. Even his contribution to ‘Lyrical Ballads’, the book co-authored with Wordsworth which is generally considered about the most important volume, from the point of view of the history of poetry, in the whole Romantic movement, was only three poems, two of which were fragments. This is admittedly excluding that great work ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, which was probably only put in the book to fill it up and because it couldn’t find another home; it is quite out of place there.

Perhaps the main reason for his not having written, or at least published, as much poetry as his reputation might suggest, was that half the time he was stoned out of his skull on opium. He liked to make long lists of projected literary works, but rarely got further than compiling the list. But we do have one great, in two senses, prose work: the Biographia Literaria, from which I quoted yesterday. It is fascinating to dip into this, opening it at random: almost every page shows why he managed to complete such a long work; he so obviously enjoyed writing it, and that enjoyment comes through in the reading. I recommend it.

Here’s the title page of the first edition; sorry about the quality of the image; scanners didn’t have very high resolution back in 1817:

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Biographia Literaria

I’m not quite sure when Coleridge’s ‘Biographia Literaria’ was first published, but much that he says in it about writing style could be usefully read by many present-day writers, particularly of poetry. One poet who followed his advice — or perhaps didn’t need to, having worked it out for himself — was the unjustly neglected Basil Bunting, who said that after he had written a poem he would read through it, crossing out at least half its words. Poetry is the quintessence of language. Here is a very short extract from Coleridge’s book; he is talking about one of his school-teachers.

In our own English compositions, (at least for the last three years of
our school education,) he showed no mercy to phrase, metaphor, or image,
unsupported by a sound sense, or where the same sense might have been
conveyed with equal force and dignity in plainer words. Lute,
harp, and lyre, Muse, Muses, and inspirations, Pegasus, Parnassus, and
Hippocrene were all an abomination to him. In fancy I can almost hear
him now, exclaiming "Harp? Harp? Lyre? Pen and ink, boy, you mean! Muse,
boy, Muse? Your nurse's daughter, you mean! Pierian spring? Oh aye!
the cloister-pump, I suppose!" Nay certain introductions, similes,
and examples, were placed by name on a list of interdiction.

For you picture fans, here is one of Samuel Taylor Coleridge himself:

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Punch and Judy

When I was a child, growing up (after a fashion) in South Coast seaside towns, you could still see Punch and Judy shows on the beach. A narrow red-and-white striped tent, about six feet high but with a footprint of only about two or three feet square, was occupied by The Punch and Judy man, whom one never saw: he showed glove puppets through a small proscenium opening near the top of the tent, and did the voices with a sort of miniature kazoo in his mouth.

The standard story, subject to various additions and lots of business, had four characters: Mr Punch, with his characteristic hunched back and a downward-hooked nose that almost met his upward-hooked chin. Mrs Punch whose name was Judy, then there was their baby, and towards the end a policeman. Judy would say that she was going out shopping, and Mr Punch should look after the baby. After Judy had gone, the baby would start bawling and Punch would try various things to calm it, finally, in rage, battering it to death.

Judy then came home and made a tedious fuss about the murder of their baby, so Mr Punch battered her to death too; he always had a big stick. Enter the policeman, carrying a gallows, and explaining to Mr Punch that he must be hanged for his crimes; would he please put his head through this noose? Mr Punch says that he can’t quite see where he has to put his head, would the policeman please demonstrate? So the policeman does, whereupon Mr Punch pulls the noose tight, hanging the policeman, and ends the show with his catch-phrase ‘That’s the way to do it!’

We children loved it, roaring our approval at each violent death and ‘That’s the way to do it!’ One can sort of see why the show is never seen these days. Shame.


Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Enough About The Unconscious Already

I promise this will, at least for a while, be the last post on this subject, but I just have to come to the point all this was, I hope, leading up to. (Oh, all right, ‘To which all this was leading up.’ Oh. ‘Up to which all this was leading’, OK?)

We have, if not established, then at least strongly suggested that in the psychoanalytic relation, even more than in other human relations, language is vitally important. (‘Duh. Surely it’s important in nearly all human relations?’) Yes, but especially important here, and there are human relations in which it is of no importance at all: every summer here in this little Greek island I see Greek and German children who are old enough to be fluent in their own language, but not any other; who are not yet old enough to go to school in fact, playing together. And the fact that they have not one single word in common is not a ‘minor obstacle’ to be ‘overcome’; the ‘problem’ doesn’t even arise. They don’t even notice, at the time anyway, that they can’t really talk to each other, though they may remark later to their parents that ‘That boy who’s staying next door talks really funny.’

But that’s by the way: in psychoanalysis, a common language is vital; the whole enterprise doesn’t just collapse, it can’t even start, if there’s no common language. Interpretations of dreams, ‘slips of the tongue’, ‘unusual’ behaviour, invariably rely on linguistic play. This has a particular personal significance for me: my own analytically oriented psychotherapist (Yes, like a character in a Woody Allen film, I have one) is in fact French. True, her English is perfect: she is bilingual in French and English. I happen to be bilingual in Greek and English. She knows no Greek, and I speak French vachement, that is to say, comme une vache l’espagnole. So when she offers an interpretation it is in English, but it is surely likely to be coloured by her life-long immersion in French language and culture. And my interpretations will be coloured by forty years immersion in Greek language and culture.

So my question is, how much does this matter? Is it a good thing, opening up new areas of the unconscious to investigation, areas that might not be accessible in a monolingual relation? Or is it a bad thing, likely to slow us down or lead to misunderstandings? (Though in psychoanalysis there is I think no such thing as a ‘misunderstanding’). Well I dunno. I think there is only one person who might be able to answer that, namely Adam Phillips. And I think his answer would be ‘I can’t answer your question’.

Monday, 9 March 2015

The Unconscious is Linguistic, continued...

I was talking about the way something — perhaps just a single significant word — can be taken into the unconscious and emerge transformed. Yes I was; perhaps you weren’t paying attention.

The locus classicus is Freud’s patient who, although not at all overweight, exercised excessively, obsessively, to the point that he was damaging rather than improving his health. It turned out that ‘really’ he was anxious about his girlfriend’s interest in a visiting English cousin, whose name was Dick. ‘Dick’ is the German word for ‘Fat’. (Interestingly, Freud doesn’t mention the English slang meaning.)

Why the inverted commas round ‘really’ above? In popular speech, ‘really’ is used when telling people that they are deceiving themselves. We tell the greedy child — or dog — that he is not ‘really’ hungry, and if we ‘really’ care about child or dog we wonder if the real hunger is for love. It is when we don’t want to admit something to ourselves that the unconscious plays its games, taking the mere name of something, working its conjuring tricks, and giving it back in acceptable form: one can be hungry for love as one can be hungry for food, but it’s not done to ask for love, so one asks for food instead. Freud’s patient couldn’t admit to himself that he felt anything so ignoble as jealousy, a wish to ‘Get rid of Dick’, but healthy exercise, which can also ‘Get rid of Dick’, is OK.

More on this tomorrow. Meanwhile, here is a picture of a Freudian Slip:

Sunday, 8 March 2015

The Unconscious is Linguistic

So said Jacques Lacan, and one imagines him, having delivered this gnomic or Zen-like utterance, sitting back with a smug smile and folded arms, or perhaps just getting up and going home, but certainly not offering any kind of amplification or explanation. Actually it doesn’t matter, because if — and it’s a big if — you decide that Lacan, unlike most 20th Century French Intellectuals, is worth persevering with, you will find that almost everything he said was said more clearly by Freud 100 years earlier. The best that can be said of Lacan is that he is the poet of Psychoanalysis. Freud was its prose writer, and a very fine prose stylist he was too, and that fine style carries across into the Standard English translation of his works by Strachey.

But what does it mean, ‘The Unconscious is Linguistic’? Well, if you’re at all familiar with the techniques of psychoanalysis, and sometimes try (perhaps just for fun) to interpret a dream — your own or someone else’s — and relate its content to the events, thoughts, and memories of the dream-day, you will often find that some word, thought of or heard or read during the dream-day, has entered the unconscious and re-emerged transformed, and that the transformation is in some way linguistic. The unconscious loves word-play. The ‘World of Dreams’ (sorry about that — don’t you just hate it when people talk of ‘The World of Football’ or ‘The World of Clitoral Carcinoma’ or whatever? But sometimes it’s just the right expression) where was I? Oh, yes: the world of dreams is the unconscious’s licensed playground, but it happens in waking life too, when we’re not paying attention or, especially, when we’re trying to hide something, usually from ourselves.

Look, people have told me they like my blog posts to be short (or perhaps to disappear altogether) so I’ll stop now, but: ‘To be Continued…’

Oh. Here’s another picture of Lacan:

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Police Intelligence

There is an old joke about the I.R.A. kidnapping the child of some rich and important person, then sending him home to deliver the ransom note. The English love to make jokes about the alleged stupidity of the Irish, but on the news this morning I heard a splendid example of home-grown English stupidity:

It seems a schoolgirl ran off to Iran to join the loony Salafists of ISIS. The police called in the girl’s friends for questioning, and the friends’ answers provoked concern and suspicion in the police mind. Clearly the parents of all these girls ought to know certain things about their daughters, so a policeman who knew how to write wrote letters to their parents.

Then — wait for it — they gave the letters to the girls to take home.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Engage Brain, Please

The reason for my silence of the past few days is that from time to time the sheer triviality and empty-headedness of people, their bovine indifference to all that really matters, is more than I can bear and I lose patience. Yes, I mean you lot out there. But a fine Irish poet has put it far better than I can:

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was

Spawning snow and pink roses against it

Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:

World is suddener than we fancy it.


World is crazier and more of it than we think,

Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion

A tangerine and spit the pips and feel

The drunkenness of things being various.


And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world

Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes -

On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one's hands -

There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.




Oh, the picture: you do like to see pictures on the blog. here, then, is the writer of the above: