Freud the psychoanalyst, Freud the family man

I’ve had a good week, lots to blog about this week. I nearly wrote lots to blag about: a slip of the pen Freud would have been proud of! I won’t dwell on an analysis of it as a slip.  No blagging though, I’ve had a good week.

I’ll start with the end of the week and work backwards. I’ve just spent a couple of days in London for the Spring Psychoanalytic Poetry Festival at the Anna Freud Centre. Bill and I travelled down by train on Friday morning, got to Manchester Piccadilly in plenty of time for a relaxed coffee and to buy enough picnic in Simply Food to last a family of five for a week, settled into our seats on the Pendalino, which left bang on time. When we weren’t eating I had lots of quality reading time: The Interpretation of Dreams. We were in the centre of London from the centre of Manchester in just over two hours, relaxed and happy. Lots of advantages over driving; and not too expensive either with a senior railcard. Win win.

We took a black cab to our hotel. We’ve found it’s not so much more expensive than the underground on short journeys and you get to see parts of the Capital you don’t see from the tube. We were settled into our hotel room by about four o’clock. It was a lovely sunny, spring day, just warm enough to say winter’s a thing of the recent past. We decided to go out for a walk to find the Anna Freud Centre in Maresfield Gardens. It was only a ten minute walk from the hotel. On the way back we passed the Freud Museum, which was still open so we went inside. Fascinating. The staff were so helpful and friendly. The girl in the shop was pleased to see I had the same colour Doc Martins on as her; we spent a few minutes discussing the many virtues of Airwair.

Anyway, we had a look round the museum. There was something uncanny about seeing the analyst’s couch, with Freud’s chair placed at its head, his study left just as he worked in it. Of course, he only spent about twelve months in this house. Forced by Nazi persecution to leave their home in Vienna, Berggasse 19, the Freud’s came to London in 1938. Sigmund was old and infirm and he died a year later at the outset of war. But there is so much we associate with Freud and psychoanalysis in this museum which was once a family home. It is wonderful to be so close to one of the great minds of the twentieth century. And no more so than while watching the home movie playing in one of the upstairs rooms. Here is Freud the family man, filmed in part by Anna, his psychoanalyst daughter. In this film other family members bring gifts and love to the Freud’s on the occasion of their golden wedding anniversary; except an aunt who stayed in Austria and perished in the camps: a stark reminder of the evil the Freuds had left behind in Vienna. Here is Freud the man, Freud the husband, father, grandfather. Here is a family enjoying a family party, playing with the children, playing with the family pets. Here is a family Hitler condemned as ‘sub-human’, a warped attitude that sent the world to war a year after this film was shot. What a small distance we’ve travelled since, with the rise of the political right on both sides of the Atlantic, people voting for exactly the evil politics their fathers and grandfathers went to war to defeat. I despair sometimes.

Probably the most moving aspect of this home movie for me was to hear Sigmund Freud’s voice in a very rare recording of the uphill struggle he had in getting his developing thought on the human psyche accepted. I have read so much Freud since I started this PhD, getting my small brain around his huge thoughts. I don’t agree with everything he said, but it is groundbreaking thought. I stand with the post-Freudian feminists in opposing much of his male dominated psychology; but I also recognise that without Freud there would be no post-Freudian feminist reaction. So I respect and admire an original thinker. Until Friday afternoon in the Freud museum ‘Freud’ was bookfuls of difficult words to decode and make sense of. Hearing his voice, seeing the home movie forced me to see Freud the man. I was unashamedly moved to tears. I approach his books from a more sympathetic viewpoint now: the Freud museum did that for me. In celebration I bought a bean-bag Sigmund to sit on my study bookshelves alongside his heavy words. I tried to post a photo of my ‘little thinker’ Freud doll but no-go. You’ll have to take my word that it’s uncanny how Freud-like it is.

The next day, yesterday, we went to the Spring Psychoanalytic Poetry Festival at the Anna Freud Centre. Bill opted to accompany me even though he could have done anything he wanted in London for the day. He is a very supportive partner and I thank him for it. But I also know he was at saturation point by the end of the day! I loved it. The morning concerned itself with psychoanalysis and the arts: ‘Poetry and Psychoanalysis’ (Valerie Sinason), ‘The mind of the artist’ (Mark Solms), ‘Signs for an Exhibition’ (Eliza Kentridge).

After lunch we saw four poetry films, the best of which in my opinion was ‘You Be Mother’ (Sarah Pucill 1990). Here was a film full of sexual and menstrual symbolism: emotion, disintegration, constraint. Three other poetry-films were interesting but didn’t excite me in the same way. Fortunately Sarah Pucill couldn’t attend the conference due to illness. Don’t get me wrong, I wish her no ill will and I hope she recovers from her illness quickly. But the three other poet-filmmakers were in attendance, either actually or virtually via Skype and I felt their commentaries about their films and the making of the films detracted from the experience I added as a watcher. Sarah Pucill couldn’t do that for my favourite among them and for that I was grateful. The reader is part of the package: when a poem (or a film; or a poem-film) is finished and ‘out there’ it doesn’t just belong to the artist any more. The reader (or watcher; or reader-watcher) brings his/her own experience to that of the artist and enriches the art. I wanted my experience of ‘You Be Mother’ to stand, not be diminished by the artist’s commentary, however interesting that may have been. You can find the film here: https://vimeo.com/22228013 Let’s see what you think.

The Conference ended with Maurice Riordan giving a close reading of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem ‘Santarém’, which was fascinating for me: she is one of the focus poets in my research into the mother-daughter relationship. Conference closed with Pascale Petit reading, among other poems, from her collection ‘What the Water Gave Me’, poems inspired by the art of Frida Kahlo. The end of a wonderful day of psychoanalytic poetry, art and film. Bless Bill’s heart, he was all in by the end of it. I could have done another three days! But we called a cab to Euston and wended our weary ways home.

The other major event this week worth including in this blog post was my meeting on Tuesday evening with Laura, my composer from RNCM, in relation to the ‘make an aria’ project. We have our RNCM consultation this Thursday coming and need to put together an opera scenario and place our aria within it. We had a lovely meeting over coffee in the 8th Day cafe on Oxford Road, a favourite haunt of Manchester’s vegetarian students. We came up with a broad outline of our scenario in three acts. After research, I found the name of our tragic heroine, Lilith (this is a Syrian name meaning ‘of the night’); our villain is Tariq (‘he who pounds the door’). On Saturday morning from my hotel bed at 3.00 a.m. I gave these characters a backstory and worked the first draft of our scenario. I’ll revisit it later today and email it off to her for her input prior to Thursday’s consultation. I’m enjoying this project enormously so far.

Apart from all this I had writing time this week too. On Sunday I wrote the first 350 words of my Freud Chapter (working title). A very small step, I grant you, but bearing in mind Mao’s famous saying ‘ the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’ I’m on my way. On Tuesday morning, yes, you guessed it, at 3.00 a.m. I woke with the real opening paragraph to the Freud Chapter (working title) going through my head. I wrote it down. After breakfast I scrapped the 350 words I wrote on Sunday and began with my 3.00 a.m. inspiration. By lunchtime this had grown to 1200 words, about 20% of the planned chapter. So, I have done remarkably more than the single step needed to start the journey and although progress is slow it is tangible. I’ll have something to send to the team prior to my meeting with them on April 12th and that feels good to report. I’ll add to it this week; I’m optimistic that the chapter will be first-drafted by the meeting.

So, enough. My poem. In the light of this weekend’s conference I am posting a poem I wrote inspired by the art of Leonora Carrington following a visit to Tate Liverpool with friends last May. The poem was entered in the 2015 Manchester Cathedral Poetry Competition and was placed third, which was lovely. The 2016 competition has just opened for entries. You can find details here: http://www.manchestercathedral.org/poetry The judge this year is Jo Bell, who actually won the competition a couple of years ago. The closing date isn’t until June, so you have lots of time to think about and perfect your entries.

Ix Chel and the Madonna

The Magical World of the Mayas Leonora Carrington

Tate Liverpool May 2015

 

One eye a telescope the other a microscope

you see it all, how the land is a woman

reclining—sleeping or dying—her breasts pert

 

her belly taut while Mayan temples

and Catholic symbols spring like Cain and Abel

from between her knees and each tries to win

 

her best breast. You see it all, how the earth

blurs the binaries of night and day, truth and lie,

old and new, gods and God until they all seem

 

the same somehow, indistinct, not to be trusted.

You see it all, how a thousand crucifixes can pierce

her left breast, pierce her heart and still Ix Chel

 

breathes through her death throes, how the wood

of Calvary grows on her abdominal plain even

as the Ceiba tree withers, its branches bleached,

 

leafless, its roots in the realm of the dead atrophied

to stumps that can no longer suck the waters

of faith. You see it all, how Madonna and Child

 

process across her skin and her skin rends open

exposing the powerless jaguar god of the underworld

where the Monkey Twins hide themselves behind human

 

death masks, learn to live out eternity in the dark.

You see it all, how Kukulkan still slithers across

an angry sky crying I’m here, I’m here and none hears

 

but the dying few, how Chaak the thunder god

weeps tears plump as pears at Ix Chel’s passing

and the Popl Vuh hands down its myths to anyone

who will listen and you listen and you see it all.

 

Rachel Davies

May 2015

 

 

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