April 2009


freud-klein

All this study in psychotherapy is humdinging fantastic.

I don’t remember being so completely absorbed in anything since I discovered Buddhism 10 years ago when I couldn’t stop reading and gravitating to that subject in my mind.

The study of how we come to be is endlessly fascinating to me.

How a lump of cells and blood is launched in to an environment that constantly tunes and develops that lump’s way of responding to the world. Everything I read naturally applies to me as a human – because everything I read is about how I might have become the way I am.

Among the million and one interesting things that have struck me in the last month or so is the idea of Freud and society. Sue Gerhardt‘s brilliant book pointed it out to me but other people have suggested it along the way.

Freud (like Marx) was writing at the apogee of the Industrial Revolution. People across Europe were being turned into appendages of machines, working long hours at looms and mills, forbidden to talk to one another, forbidden to emote. The rationalist view of the world had come to a cruel pinnacle. Emotions were messy – they got in the way of productivity.

Freud came along in the 1890s and started to suggest that actually our emotions were much more central to the project of society than society had cared to accept. In fact our primitive desires, our drive to seek pleasure and avoid pain, were the motive force of almost all our social actions. Nonetheless, Freud still thought that free-flowing emotions were a menace to society – at best they should sublimated into art or poetry or some such social lubricant.

Freud’s (revolutionary) exploration of the emotions was picked up by capitalism (especially in the USA in the first half of the 20th century) and seen in just this way: how can we solve those pesky emotions and convert them into something culturally useful and, most importantly, stop them being something that gets in the way of efficient production.

It was only in the last half of the 20th century that capitalism saw a new angle.

If desire was the motor of life – and drove every human being from cradle to grave – then why not cultivate desire like crazy – but make sure it’s desire for cars, clothes, films, lifestyles and my little ponies? Suddenly Freud was not a bandaid for annoyingly neurotic workers but instead the inspiration for a zillion ad campaigns.

But actually Freud was wrong. Our drives are not satisfied willy-nilly. It’s not like our libido is a massive body of water that dams up if blocked and overwhelmingly seeks for release. Libido is not like electicity. What we desire is linked to a specific object. Psychotherpists like Winnicot, Bowlby, Sullivan and Erikson all realised that we have drives to connect – not simply drives to eat or drink or ejaculate. It matters very much who we love.

And what does this mean for us in the 21st century driven wild by a million billboards telling us where to direct our desires?

It leaves us frustrated. If our drives were blind and didn’t care where they discharged then a Big Mac or a prostitute or a shiney new car would be just fine to satisfy our desires. It wouldn’t matter how we discharged only that we did.

But if, as research shows, that we have a drive to connect to satisfying objects (the mother, the milk-laden breast, the emotionally attuned caregiver) then attaching to all these hollow substitutes will drive us crazy.

We’re constantly being goaded into phoney satisfactions because Freud didn’t follow through. He was beginning to move towards the idea of object-attached drives when he died but his followers clung to the pure drive theory for a long time. Long enough for Madison Avenue to pick it up to sell jeans.

“Your desires must be satisfied – so why not satisfy them with some white underwear (with Marky Mark inside, just to sex up the carrot)?,” the ad men say. But 50 years of that is now wearing thin. If desire for meaningful nourishment is consistently thwarted, eventually the human being starves to death.

winnicot

I thought I’d missed seeing David Byrne in London and then last week I thought ‘fuck it, I WILL see my teenage hero’, so I sniffed out a pair of tickets on eBay and took Rachel along.

I was so excited. I can’t recall the last time I was so excited about a gig. Even the thought of being in the same building as him seemed rather cool.

byrne3

David Byrne is the only person on the planet that I have ever written a fan letter to. I was proabably 16 and very concerned that not enough people appreciated Talking Heads in 1986 England. So I sent a 8 point manifesto about how we could remedy that and asking a few discerning questions about the lyrics of some of my favorite songs.

Then – around the time of University and Berlin – Talking Heads dipped out of my musical favour. I think it was too deeply programmed into my teenage years to be an acceptable soundtrack for my new adventures in sex and clubland. I needed something hard and new.

And so Talking Heads languished in my musical cupboard for almost ten years. It was like poetry. Somehow, once I discovered that it was OK to be gay – I felt that I didn’t need that cryptic pseudo-cool to hide behind.

But just as I re-discovered poetry, so I rediscovered Talking Heads and indeed that whole golden but tortured period of my teenage years.

In Brazil last October, I fell back in love with the me that loved Nathan Rushin, my boyhood crush, endlessly and vastly. The me that longed and longed and longed. And the me that knew every single word of Stop Making Sense inside and out.

Even more recently I’ve recognised that the unrequited longing that coloured most of my teenage was not a developmental dead-end (as I had imagined) but was actually a vital mental faculty: the ability to long. The transitional space – the space that creates itself out of a crazy pointless longing. This is the space that keeps us fresh and creative. That stops us stagnating in our own pond.

byrne2

David Byrne saved my teenage from rotting away.

And this evening, bouncing down the steps of the Royal Festival Hall to the very front, to dance and whoop and stand two metres away from my teenage hero, felt like I was closing a loop.

It was the first time I’d seen him live. And his simple, funny, relaxed, snowy white-haired presence was wonderfully un-ideal and comforting. I didn’t feel that complex geometry of cool that used to fascinate me. I was so happy to actually see the man who was so brilliantly geeky in CBGBs, who wrote songs about buildings and food, who still posts pictures of buildings and food on his blog.

I thought he was a poetic trope when I was a teenager and now I was standing next to him as a human being.

For example, I noticed how pleased he was to be appreciated. He looked truely delighted when we all whooped and screamed our rapture at the end. It must still be enormously gratifying.

I considered how it must feel to write a great song 25 years ago with some mates in a cold New York loft, perform it over and over for 2 decades and then hear a thousand people singing back the words to you in gratitude for writing it in the first place. That’s a kind of closing circle too. Our creations connect with people. It is perpetually valid to make a noise, sing a song, create a phrase. No matter what happens to it out in the world.

Everything that happens will happen to day
& nothing has changed but nothing’s the same
and every tomorrow could be yesterday
& everything that happens will happen today

byrne1

[picture source]

pony1

many thanks to Alina for the beautiful pictures.