Sylvie Guillem – Life in Progress

Three pieces, any of which are worth a trip around the world. “Techne”  is breathtaking. Literally adrenalin injected straight to your heart, “Bye” is whimsical, clever and poignant. I suspect because of it’s content it will capture the headlines.

But..

“Here and After” – choreography by Maliphant. This is life, the universe and everything.  This is truth expressed line by line. It’s . It is as if she and Emanuela Montenari are your very chromosomes awakening.  Beauty. It’s every adjective at once. Pick any one – charisma, sexuality, longing –  I just don’t have the words…. just go see it.

 

(Last chance Hiroshima 28th December……)

The Psychopathology of Everyday Nationalism

Considered and thought provoking article from Jock Encombe…psychologist and psychotherapist living in Edinburgh in these interesting times..

“In his groundbreaking 1901 book ‘The Psychopathology of Everyday Life’, Freud introduced the world to the ways in which the unconscious intrudes upon our superficially rational lives.  100 years on his ideas are now embedded in how we try to understand reality.  It is curious, therefore, that there has been so little examination of the nationalistic psychology that underpins the Yes campaign.  There are perhaps two main reasons for this. Firstly the very use of the word ‘Yes’ has given it the advantage of positive unconscious bias.  A No vote really does feel more negative.  And secondly, ably served by its deniable cybernat shock troops, the Yes campaign has played a skillful and aggressive hand in accusing Better Together supporters of various thought crimes.  Not believing in Scotland or the Scottish people. Not having ‘Scottish’ left of centre values.  Not believing in social justice.  Being in effect bourgeois, fearful and selfish.  There have even been SNP posters that suggest voting for Better Together equals supporting child poverty. The result of this is a powerful combination of intimidation and sentimentality that has made many Better Together supporters nervous about putting their heads above the parapet.

Psychotherapy teaches us that when people are attracted to visions of a perfect future and then become aggressive towards people who do not buy into their fantasy, they are in denial about some aspect of themselves.  So what, therefore, might a psychological understanding of the appeal of Scottish nationalism look like?

From a broad historical perspective there are many episodes in Scottish history that have inflicted trauma on our collective psyche: The Jacobite rebellion. The Darien Venture. The Act of Union. The clearances.  The impact of rapid, massive industrialisation and de-industrialisation (much more than any other European country experienced). The sectarianism that continues to scar the West of Scotland. The humiliating collapse of our banking industry.

When a patient comes to therapy with a similar personal history, an underlying pattern of narcissism and magical thinking is often revealed as the psychological process by which they have learnt to cope with their experiences.   The process works by seeking to avoid unbearable feelings of worthlessness by either angrily projecting them onto others (‘You don’t believe in Scotland’), or by escaping into grandiose fantasies of wholeness and perfection (‘Independence will make us the wealthiest small country in the world’).   While providing temporary relief, however, magical thinking is ultimately doomed to fail.  The return to reality is always painful and often destructive.  Furthermore it is a pattern of behaviour which, if the underlying psychological hard work of acquiring self-knowledge is not undertaken, is destined to repeat itself.  It is perhaps worth noting that middle-aged men seem particularly vulnerable to these kinds of behaviour.

The cataclysmic collapse of RBS – which ensnared many of its employees and shareholders in its inflated vision of world domination – is a vivid example of the dangers of narcissism that has led to shame and economic misery for millions of people.  It is interesting to note that George Mathewson, the former Chairman of RBS who notoriously recruited Fred Goodwin as his successor, has long been a Yes supporter.  While Alex Salmond was of course also employed there as an economist in the 1980s.  Another interesting parallel is between Goodwin’s ‘Make it Happen’ slogan and Salmond’s similarly vague and aspirational ‘this is our moment’ language.

While imaginative fantasy can have a psychopathological dimension it is of course also the raw material of creative work. This explains the appeal of independence to many of Scotland’s artists.  Imagination alone, however, will not provide the economic stability or jobs without which any kind of sustainable, agreeable national life is possible. Or without which child poverty has any chance of being alleviated.  We should not forget, either, that many of the least attractive nationalistic figures in history were skilful weavers of propaganda and romance.  Or that dangerous ideologies have always found artistic support. The quasi-racist attack by Alasdair Gray on Vicky Featherstone, the English founder of the National Theatre of Scotland, is one example of this.  There is a tone of romantic totalitarianism to much of the Yes language, a kind of hectoring misty-eyed kitsch that needs challenging.  As Milan Kundera observed in ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’:

 “Kitsch is the aesthetic ideal of all politicians and all political parties and movements… In the realm of totalitarian kitsch all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions. It follows, then, that the true opponent of totalitarian kitsch is the person who asks questions.”

The great British psychotherapist Donald Winnicott believed that to live happily and well we need sufficient psychological maturity to accept the messy ‘good enough’ nature of relationships and life. The Union is by no means perfect but it is certainly good enough – and with the enhancements of further devolution is likely to get better.  Writing in the 1930s Winnicott also believed that such a realistic and mature approach to life, in time, would always overcome the seductive pull of nationalistic and totalitarian ideologies.

Being part of something that provides security and stability, for all its imperfections, is surely a wiser choice than gambling on an outcome that carries such a high risk of division and regret?

For the sake of balance it is necessary to concede that some aspects of the psychology of Better Together can also be legitimately criticised.  As can the negativity of some of its campaign tactics.  But the need for balance should not obscure the central point that, in Orwell’s words, “Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception” – or that many of the SNP’s tactics have created a climate of fear and deception in Scotland.

Beyond the macro-economic arguments there are important questions to be answered about some of the SNP Government’s other activities:  The frightening centralisation and undemocratic arming of our police force. The politicisation of our Civil Service. The harrying of business leaders and other public figures who oppose independence.  What we need now, therefore, is less sentimentality and more clear thinking.  All of us who have a vote, or the opportunity to influence people who have one, need to ensure that realism and generosity of spirit prevail over illusion and intimidation.”

Jock Encombe is a psychologist and psychotherapist based in Edinburgh. The views in this article do not represent those of any organisation with which he is associated.

Atheism’s empty tomb

Check out this week’s Spectator. Atheism’s empty tomb. “new atheists are now hitting the intellectual buffers. The problem that confronts them is as stark as it is simple: our morality has religious roots…A.C Grayling.. reveals a frankly dishonest account of intellectual history.. their unattractive polemics have surely helped to push some semi-Christians off the fence, onto the faithful side – including A.N. Wilson and Diarmaid MacCulloch”.

.. and me. much, perhaps most, new atheism is dishonest and manipulative. I’m particularly struck by Dawkins’ misrepresentation of evolutionary science. (Read Pierre Teilhard de Chardin).  I have often wondered what a professional psychoanalyst would make of the motivation of the atheist evangelists.  (Something, perhaps to do with killing your father?)..

 

Paths and Lines

 

Manuel de Landa “A Thousand Years of Non-Linear History” Individual paths intersecting, creating a particular history which itself is a braid, track or path. He demonstrates this in geology, chemistry, biology and sociology. He shows how new “things” are brought about by emergent reality. Completely new dimensions suddenly arising from complexity. An example in the coming together of individuals to make societies – which have their own life.  (Of course humans themselves are emergent properties of the cells that constitute them, and the cells of the proteins, the proteins of the atoms etc).

Robert MacFarlane “The Old Ways” A book about paths, their singularities and particular effect on the individuals who stamp them out and tramp them. He brings to life the rich diversity and potential within each of us and in relation to the universes we choose to inhabit.

There is both coincidence and divergence in their writing. Both are academics, of different persuasions certainly, but with an intersecting message. The track shapes the reality, which is at least two-dimensional (the path not the place). The “Old Ways” is dizzyingly beautiful. Prose poetry as amphetamine. MacFarlane affects where de Landa effects.  The “History” is of the head – where “Old Ways” is a potion which jolts your heart and spins the compass by which you travel.

New, higher order spheres of existence are constantly emerging from the web and intersection of our paths. Existence is a braid woven together.

It matters how we travel. Everything is relevant – our thoughts, faiths and relationships – in shaping the emerging collective realities. It is the world of our celtic and anglosaxon forebears (beautifully brought to life in “The Way of Wyrd” Brian Bates, again academically inspired). We are at the same time the Three Sisters, spinning at the foot of the tree Ygdrassil, and sailors charting a course over the warp and weft of the seas of realities that they create, and in the face of the winds that result.

One obvious conclusion is that we should at least travel.

The aborigines have their creation story as songlines made by ancestors running through the dreamtime. Travelling, purposeful motion, is an imaginative act. All of MacFarlane’s achingly vibrant stories – journeys at sea, across and through mountains – arise because he, himself, set out. Contrarily, even if we are stationery, we move. The world turns around us and turns us around. It’s just that we are jostled at hazard by and in the oceans that we occupy. At least when we align ourselves and step forth we create a wave, an impetus which allows the rudder of our boat to have purchase and by which we can steer.

It’s the journey that matters. The destination is our object – our guiding star – which patterns the travel that is our actual existence. We never arrive, because we’re already here. Together. Treading out the path. In a ship. Sailing.

Ivor Culture

Hey P

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I haven’t heard from you for a while? Anyway I was reminded of you because last night I saw this great Mark Morris show to Ivor Cutler’s music and poems. I thought of you there in Glasgow. Have you ever been to London? What a great place. Saw an exhibition by Paul Klee (hadn’t crossed my radar before.. blown away). Somehow Ivor and Paul seem to belong together – an unlikely couple I know, but there you are… maybe they’re in the dog haus together?

By the way, 3 years after your birthday I’m still working on my present of you – or your present to me (Now? ha ha?). I’ve put a recording below. Don’t know if you still read my letters, but if so hope to hear from you soon.

P

D

On Composure

From “On kissing, tickling and being bored” Adam Phillips

The writing is a pleasure of itself; so much so that I suspect sleight of hand, the magician’s smile. Composure is proposed as a defence against and in the face of – “the cumulative trauma of development”. As Freud would have it, composure is part of the ego’s defence against the body – “a form, largely unconscious, of vigilant self-control”. Winnicot perhaps would view it as an affect of the mind, itself a defence against the uncontrolled environment that faces the infant; a form of self-reverence with the mind as substitute for mother.

Beautiful. Elegant. Revealing. What though, of the magician and his context? Is in not in the nature of an analyst to view development as a accretion of trauma; therefore to see all aspects of the psyche as defensive? This is not to blame, or take issue; simply though to point out that most writing about the mind has come from those treating mental disturbance – from Freud onward.

Instead of starting from Ruskin, “to compose, is to arrange unequal things”, where would Jung has begun? Perhaps in balancing opposites – anima and animus – and allowing for the potential of their resolution into a new state. In his language composure would perhaps have been a state evoked by integration, rather than a shield against inevitable trauma.

I would dearly love to know what Adam Phillips thought. Whatever it were, it would be a delight to read, and in itself worthwhile.

After Linear Time: Anthropological Ruminations on the Afterlife

A review of “After Linear Time: Anthropological Ruminations on the Afterlife” an article by Phoebe Cottam UCL

At heart this essay questions the basis and nature of anthropology. This academic discipline is apparently caught up with a desire to be seen as a formal science – however “that anthropology is a science is a significant point of contention within the discipline”. Certainly within UCL there appears to a striving to prove anthropology’s objectivity. This is reflected in the seminar on discussion on “afterlife” which prompts this essay response. The seminar appears to have commenced with a demand to disavow any belief in afterlife and to consign any non-materialist beliefs to the “observed” and presumably inferior races and civilisations.

Cottam asserts that anthropology is a science – “firstly for its positioning within an ontology I call scientific, secondly for its commitment to objectivism”. The first half of this statement appears to be a statement of an axiom and the second to anchor the study of humans within objectivity.

The essay quotes Wallach and Schmidt (Repairing Plato’s Life Boat with Okham’s Razor) with their definition of scientific worldview comprising:

– The atomist hypothesis
– The mechanistic hypothesis
– The materialist hypothesis
– The time irreversibility hypothesis

The rest of the article questions the earlier assertion that anthropology is a science, essentially by attacking the latter time irreversibility hypothesis, which is a fundamental assumption of both mechanism and materialism. Anthropologists find many societies have a concept of co-existing linear and non-linear time , for instance “the two forms the Maya imposed on their past, historical time and cosmic time”. Essentially if existence transcends linear time then a fundamental tenet of the ontology of science is undermined. This leads to the essays’ eventual conclusion that there is a belief system operating within anthropology that wishes to suppress other beliefs – “we cannot presume an anthropological discussion of the afterlife to be apolitical”.

The essay might equally have made a significant evidence based challenge to each of the three other pillars of the scientific-materialist paradigm. However at heart it is pure logic that undermines any claim by anthropology to be a science. A study of man by man must always involve the subject with the object, and it has been proved within mathematics (Godel’s incompleteness theorem) and science (Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle) that because of an infinity of self-referential feedback loops that all “knowledge” is unprovable and can ultimately be traced back to an original axiom or belief.

As Douglas Hofstadter puts it (Godel Escher Bach) “By the way, in passing, it is interesting to note that all results essentially dependent on the fusion of subject and object have been limitative results. In addition to the limitative Theorums [eg Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorum], there is Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which says that measuring one quantity renders impossible the simultaneous measurement of a related quantity. I don’t know why all these results are limitative. Make of it what you will.”

Faith is at the core of all, and we would do well to step outside the edifice of thought that it gives birth to, and openly acknowledge our intrinsic beliefs. Atheist materialists simply start from that as an axiom (see above for the 4 hypotheses underlying the scientific worldview). Their dishonesty is to pretend that the resultant logic chain somehow proves the initial premise. Other great religions at least simply state their belief as just that – belief.