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On the Way HomeReview - On the Way Home
Conversations Between Writers and Psychoanalysts
by Marie Bridge (Editor)
Karnac Books, 2007
Review by Anthony P. Bober
Oct 16th 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 42)

On the Way Home features four writers talking with psychoanalysts varyiously interested in literature.One, Waddell, has a PhD in classics and literature, while another, the editor, studied modern languages.  These dialogues accessible to the general reader gravitate to the British Isles, taking place in public meetings at London's Institute of Psychoanalysis.

They explore parallels between processes in writing and in psychoanalytic sessions.  Recorded conversations unfold without the organization of non-fiction writing, the reader expecting neither topical ordering nor an index.  So the editor ends up tying ribbons around the wrapping paper.Bridge stresses parallels and common issues in the introduction, such as to:

--find meaning through telling and hearing stories (2)

--respect developmental history ("the child is father to the man") [3]

--learn more about "minds" (not defined) in the action that emotion is (3)

--discover (3) "the self inside the self that we are"

--wrestle (3) with "externalised inner voices"

--see (4) "Facts slide into fictions."

--note (4) that novelistic "shiftiness" is the psychoanalytic need

  constantly to revise perspective

--realize (4) the implied dance of writer and protagonist as the work of the "analytic couple"

Beyond these the reader shares with them, especially the psychoanalyst, the "attitude of trusting . . . identification . . . central to a thoughtful experience" (6).  This identification emerges through immersion (6-7) as "reserved surrender to the text."  Finally, analytic listening and involved reading create a distanced surrender (7) Theodor Reik called "listening with the third ear," an engaged hovering well known to group-dynamicists.

Moving from the last conversation to the first brings us from more traditional Freudian framings of the writer’s craft to analyses more situationally ad hoc.  Yet all demonstrate the modern thrust toward methodology over dogmatic and threadbare concept.  Oddly, none of the analysts report much of what Freud actually said about literary creativity, ideas well summarized by Ernest Jones under "Literature" in the third volume of his biography.  This recalls what I once wrote in a review, "Recent writers remind us that Freud placed little emphasis on the maternal relationship but much more on the father. . . ."  Three novelists, one of whom writes a fictionalized biography, join a biographer of literary figures including D. H. Lawrence and Yeats.

Paradoxically, perhaps, the novelist Rose Tremain reports that writing as a "refuge of interiority" (20) is an invented world with "immense liveliness and substance" marking "a qualitative difference . . . between the times when I am writing and the times when I am not writing."  Specifically, this writer packed off to boarding school after the divorce of her parents pens a girl whose mother dies.  This character, in The Cupboard, creates another self named "Claustrophobia" engaging "imaginative capacities to tide [her] over periods of stress and absence. . . ."  Another psychoanalyst mentions the escapist downside (126) of creative imagination to the novelist Philip Pullman concurring "We visit somewhere else in imagination but we can't live there" since you're then "cut off from real sources of life [and] your energy becomes attenuated. . . .  We've go to live here."

"Yeats wouldn't have gone near psychoanalysis because he actually realised this [knowing something without being instructed and how to use that in his art] was the source of his imagination. . . ." (79)  This recalls Rilke's struggle and ultimate refusal to undergo analysis with the Master, as revealed in the recent book Freud's Requiem.  And similarly for psychoanalysts (79), "what informs our capacity actually to be alive with our patients is . . . what we are still very much struggling with in ourselves. . . ."  A psychoanalyst in the audience said (90) "It made me think of how people who are creative--artists, writers, musicians--are often quite frightened of the prospect of entering into analysis, because of this fear that somehow the creative juices, once known and understood, will just dry up."

The presentations regale us with tasty psychodynamic aphorisms by poets; Dryden characterizes poetry (10) as "that which moves the sleeping images of things towards the light" and Keats refers to the "Negative Capability" mindset for poetry writing as "being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact or reason" (129).  Further psycho-literary concepts show up in the form of Maslow's Deficiency- motivation and Being-motivation (18) as "minus K knowledge" versus K knowledge.  In "minus K" "the accumulation of facts and material  . . . doesn't increase understanding in the person" while "K" promotes that understanding.  Into one of his works Pullman puts a needle gauge (127) "alethiometer."  This device clearly concretizes Heidegger's Greek term "aletheia," related to the Hades river of forgetfulness, Lethe.  It measures "truth" in fiction as "Being uncovering."

I showed the book to two writers I know.  One with a master's in literature liked nothing, even from the writing side of it, except for the "organicism" of page 50 and considered the conceptualizations to be "bovine."  The other, a horror novelist, liked it a lot, from both sides.  He recognized how the careers of many writers whose biographies he knows have been like Roman candles--one flame-ball up to a dozen, and then, "Pssh," it's all over.  He underscores the fear that loss of the wrenched guts may end both the urge to write and a livelihood.

This ex-pedagogue reviewer suggests, in conclusion, the following for structuring more productive outcomes for further conversations:  a detailed glossary of key concepts mentioned in the text, such as Melanie Klein's "Depressive Position," or, as an alternative, a list of them as sources audience members may review prior to the talks; breaking the audience into groups according to their knowledge of the the writers' works in order to generate and focus questions for discussion after a brief introduction by the discussants.  Seated among those know the works less the writers would have to sharpen their formulations.  Finding some way to warm up the audience would deepen and sharpen the articulation of points made. 

© Anthony P. Bober  2007

A.P. Bober has studied a psychology spanning Skinner and a humanistic-clinical view based on existential phenomenology and had been a PhD candidate in a substantive yet philosophic European-based sociology including the "critical" view.  His teaching augmented courses in group theory/"small-group developmental dynamics" (lab) while introducing "sociology of knowledge" and "issues in biological anthropology," with publications in the first two fields.  Currently he is writing a book on mystical experience as metaphorically tied to neuroendocrinology.


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