Adam Phillips talking with Christopher Bucklow: 13th March 2003
I’m in a place where there are shops. I’m watching people go about their lives when a girl comes over to me. She observes that I am not yet merged; that I am alone in my body and that it is my duty to have other lives collapsed into mine - or for me to share someone else’s body. I take this news as if it were only common sense and we go to the place where people are fused. The four to be merged - three girls and me - go into the machine. Moments later we come out again. Two girls are merged, another is joined, like a siamese twin, and I share a hand with her. Everything is wrong. And then I’m free, there is no more action, only the discovery that the girl who first came to me is an alien and that it is her people who have made the machine. Her people live by eating souls. Long ago when there was no life in our young galaxy they came across the immense spaces between galaxies from one far older than ours. Here they sowed the seeds of life amongst the planets of our stars. And now they have returned to gather in their crop and we are persuaded to merge so that the task of harvest will be lighter. CB 1986
I am walking along the Palisades overlooking New York City. I am walking with a woman who is unknown to me personally, we are both being led by a man who is our guide.The city is in ruins - the world has been destroyed. It was twilight; fireballs were in the sky, heading for the earth. Giants from outerspace - from the far reaches of the universe - have caused the destruction. In the middle of the rubble I can see two of them casually scooping up people by the handful and eating them. Our guide explained that the giants were from different planets and live harmoniously and peacefully together. In fact the earth was conceived by these giants. They cultivated our civilisation like we cultivate vegetables in a hothouse and now they have returned to reap the fruits they had sown. Later I realise that the destruction of the earth was a wedding feast for their newly united king and queen. Unknown, analysand of Edward Edinger, 1950s.
[They put me in mind of: “Put your sickle in and reap: harvest time has come and the earth’s harvest is ripe”. Revelation. 14: 14]
Adam Phillips talking with Christopher Bucklow: 13th March 2003
CB The last time we talked I left someone out of the embassy. And I hope if we discuss her now, then we’ll be able to bring out some of the contrasts between Freud and Jung that I’d like to explore. My whole experience of changing profession - becoming, as it were, the field I had studied - came about through a series of dreams. And later having thought about them and where they came from I began to figure this member of the embassy who is perhaps a deep strategy officer, or an angel in the cypher room who is allowing leaks to pass between the departments. It leads me in to territory that is quite Jungian in the sense that the figure in the dream is a woman, and she seems to bear a message proposing an ideal future state of mind or of being. She seems to represent some sort of internal homeostatic device that had been triggered - set off by some kind of imbalance. Also the dream is fairy-tale like - or rather perhaps, if one could imagine such a thing - like a science fiction sonnet - tightly packed, involuted - like a celtic knot - like Donne for instance. For me dreams are wonderful in this way in the sense that if you hold one in your mind’s eye... if you hold this thing in your mind and turn it around and over in three dimensions, as it were, all the strands turn back on - and into one another. But to return to the point, I suppose my question would be about the counterpoint between Freud and Jung on such matters. Can I take it that there wouldn’t be that homeostatic mechanism posited in Freud and that for Freudians dreams don’t offer advice?
AP What occurred to me is something to do with the contingency of encounters. So that you find yourself having certain kinds of dream and you think of them as Jungian. And then all sorts of things follow on from that. if you’d gone to a freudian or Lacanian or a Kleinian it would have been read in different ways and those would have had different consequences. In a way if one was more Jungian one would think of this in destiny terms, as though something in one’s self and the cosmos conspired together to produce this specific story called a destiny. Or, and I think this would be a more Freudian idea - or a bit Post-Freudian Freudian, the idea that actually what one did with one’s psychic productions would be very much a function of the gratuitous nature of one’s encounters. You could have had the first of these dreams, bumped into me, told me your dream and I would have said “Oh gosh, x, y and z” and then the ripples would have spread out differently.
CB. I didn’t tell my experience to anybody. I just looked through the psychological literature to see what various people made of dreams like mine. All the dreams had a sonorous quality that seemed not to be of everyday reality. But I suppose what you are arguing is that it is in my constitution that I chose Jung.
AP. Yes you’ve got affinities to certain kinds of accounts. And that’s the interesting thing - it clearly worked for you. For reasons you know and don’t know you’ve had these affinities, you’ve followed them and they have been very productive.
CB. But I pick up a contrast between the two schools. And it’s one that influences who I read in any depth. I’d relate it to my thoughts about origins in our first conversation. Freudianism seems to be very interested in origins -- going back to childhood where certain patterns were set. That could be very predestinarian? And the other side of it would be that Jungianism seems to do with eschatology, teleology - destiny - as you said. Those would also be very deterministic. So that the two camps could be fighting over different versions of destiny. But the contrast has to do with the sense or absence of a sense of a forward-looking development?
AP. Yes and you can also see how there might be a wish that one would have a destiny, because it would be as though there were something more powerful than one’s self that was dictating or forming one’s life. People would divide now - modern people - around people who would want there to be something more powerful - god, the state, one’s genes, one’s childhood, and those who would feel that actually in a more existentialist way that one is one’s choices and that one’s choices come from nowhere except the act of making the choice.
CB. And that is very attractive. I could mention what I actually did with my work after these dreams - it was very much to do with asserting choice - very much ‘against nature’. But can you say more about the whole Freud - Jung thing. I suppose what I’m asking is about the idea of the psychopomp - the female figure in my dreams. There is a tendency to interpret that in very different ways. How do you think of that contrast?
AP. I think one could provide an account of a very fundamental difference in contemporary outlook on what I suppose a life is. Because if, in Freudian terms, dreams are always disguised and they are always disguised representations and fulfillments of childhood wishes - more or less - there’s more to them that that but that’s the gist of them. So that when one is looking at a dream from a Freudian point of view one is always translating, redescribing and indeed getting to the hidden material, the forgotten material. So that if you had gone to a Freudian analyst with the figure you are referring to as a psychopomp - at least two things would happen, one is that the analyst would be asking you for personal associations, the other is that there would be a working on a disguise model, a suspicion model rather than a manifest model. So that you might present the fairy-tale-like drama of your dream, but the analyst if he were a Lacanian-Freudian figure would be more likely to pick out an element of the dream that was really rather irrelevent. So that you might mention for example at one point walking across a grassy field. Now instead of saying to you what do you make of the psychopomp, the Freudian-Lacanian would say “why grass do you think?” So in otherwords the freudian would be assuming it’s precisely the under-emphasised, the under-privilaged bits of the dream that is where the action is - where the personal history of desire is disguised.Whereas, at least a certain kind of Jungian would be prepared to look at the dream as a tableau of a quasi allegorical sort in which each figure in the dream would be representing a part of the self, but of archetypal significance potentially. So the Freudian would be looking for buried history and the Jungian would be looking for prospective wisdom.
CB. I suppose, early on, that Freud would have been anxious to make a separation between his ‘science’ and the ancient views of dreams as foretelling the future. But prospective wisdom may only be a sensing on some level of how behaviour could be modified in the future to obtain a better adaption to the environment - or a better mental equilibrium than the equilibrium state one has adopted in one’s period as a child - as a novice human being as it were. Would that imply that the Freudians neglect prospective wisdom as an epigenetic quaulity that we may contain - that we may have evolved?
AP. Yes I think that would probably be right. In a way what the Freudians would be doing is showing you how you can’t bear the shock of the new - that you are always wishfully trying to turn the present into a version of the past. And so the aim of the analysis of that would be to the freedom to see the present as genuinely present. But certainly there would be no sense that a dream had any wisdom to tell you about the future, there would be no sense that a dream had a predictive quality, because from a Freudian point of view there are wishes, there are not predictions.
CB. But wishes, by their very nature, look forwards or backwards - they’re either prospective or retrospective. We wish that something would happen or would not have happened. And guaging a course of future action involves modelling several predicted outcomes. doesn’t this take the sting out of ‘prediction’ - as a concept? So is it that the Jungians wouldn’t wish to be confined by the past: wouldn’t be interested in the idea that one’s origin, through the playing out of the spin of one’s life would naturally lead to certain outcomes? And that the Freudians feel confined by the sense that they see Jung as suggesting a predicted destiny?
AP. I think that a Freudian might see that any sense of ineveitability in one’s life would feel like a bit of pathology. Freud said (there’s a very interesting paper that might interest you called ‘Remembering, Repeating and Working Through’ which he wrote in 1914) where Freud said anything one cannot remember one repeats as an action. So that effectively, if you can remember something you can then as it were transform or redescribe it. So Freud is saying all our repetitions are signs of trauma. They are all places where there has been a repression. We must not remember, all we can do is reenact.
CB. I identify quite closely with that. I see my life up to a certain moment as an endless repeat. Then it became so painful - or the repeat cycles had been doing some work elsewhere within me so that “I’ was prepared to see the source of the repetition - so painful that I couldn’t repress it anymore and it broke through. This figure I call the psychopomp seemed to be the first harbinger of the puncture - which let me off the cycle. What would a doctrinaire Freudian make of this do you imagine?
AP. In a way I think the account would be rather like yours; which is one repeats things but then paradoxically, if one is lucky, these repetitions become so unbearable that there has to be a transformation. So it’s as though something in one - and one could call it all sorts of things - forces one to make a life-choice. I would say that’s a basic paradigm of change for people like us.
CB. So then I would have to say to that doctrinaire Freudian that in a way there is some kind of homeostatic system always checking the balance. And the unbearableness would be like the Christian concept of the felix culpa - the fortunate sin. But as it is, it gave me a new awareness of certain things about myself. If I’d have kept on keeping on as I was I would have been in a terrible state.
AP. But I think a lot of that would depend on the kind of world you were in. If you’d been living in a world where people were saying ‘this is what life is like - you’ve really got to struggle with this because life is extremelty painful’ for example - and let’s imagine you were a genuine Christian, then the account you’d be getting of what was going on inside you would be quite different. If you happened to be in an environment where these things could as it were be returned to you in a different form then you have a chance to transform them, but you could be living in a world that simply reinforced them. So I think a lot of the consequences of what one goes through depends on the world one’s made, but then one changes one’s environment - you find people who will give you something different back.
CB. I’m thinking back. In a funny way I was very solitary in my position.
AP. Weren’t there any artists?
CB. Not really.
AP. None of the Great Dead?
CB. I don’t think there were, because my ‘take’ on them had been so different. By ‘take’ I mean I’d transformed my heroes so much into images of myself that their nature was unavailable to me. But the wierd thing was that I was interested in the right people for me - for what one might call healing myself - almost instinctively you might say - like the way an animal has of knowing what minerals it needs to find to cure an ailment. And here’s another repetition: I kept repeating my interest in them - Blake, Carlyle, Teilhard - or versions of them - as the repetition of my dilemma kept returning me to go. But I never made anything out of them. I transformed them into something very rationalistic - a desperate straining to turn the world into a mirror that can confirm you are what you are and that it’s all fine. But what is looking for that cure if there isn’t something that must also be the psychopomp - that actually is saying ‘well I’ve had enough of this, I’m going to puncture you’. How can this be usefully redescribed if a Freudian was going to think about that? It seems to me that Freudianism has grabbed the moral high ground of legitimacy and Jungianism has been demonised as quackery. And this kind of experience is always assigned to the later camp.
AP. Which is absurd. I think that the problem is - its difficult to generalise because I don’t know enough about the world - but one of the problems is that Freudianism won’t let itself be genuinely pluralist. Psychoanalysis wasn’t invented by Freud, it was invented by Freud and Jung and all those people together. And I think it would be much better to say some people prefer Jungian stories, some Freudian, some Kleinian. It is the very doubts of the Freudians that needed to demonise the Jungians. My guess is that there is a great deal of doubt and fear in the orthodox psychoanalytical tradition and the evidence of this is the need to marginalise anyone else as a crank - and this is absurd. Modern people are going to want different kinds of stories. We shouldn’t have to be saying what’s true and untrue. We should just say ‘what’s useful?’
CB. I would relate that to the need for stability that we talked about last time - for the need for fantasies that stabilise the natural instability of the interior cultural space. The Freudians are part of a movement that has invented something that highlights that instability - but perhaps they can’t bear what they’ve found?
AP. I would modify it. We need these stories to stabilise what is unstable but we also need them as transitions, that they are what Robert Frost said are “momentary stays against confusion”. This is why I think William James is better than all these people in a way because he doesn’t have an ideological conviction. But he does have a view that we are looking for things that we need to get us from A to B. Actually we don’t know where B is. But I or you find yourself in a certain state and use the cultural resources that are available.
CB. They are tools: artifacts.
AP.Yes they’re useful tools and more or less useful at different times and in different places.
CB. Lets go back to the idea of mental organs that we touched on in the last conversation. After my initial dream and the insights it sparked I located those insights as concerning the state of the external world. And this was consistent I see now with the way I habitually located my psychic life outside of me - in those projected organs. What I thought was that I’d had a valuable insight into the state of the psyche of the culture as a whole - and that I might share it with others through my work. But then later I saw that it was related to or referring to internal states within me and was perhaps unique to my family and upbringing and perhaps not relevant at all to others. These are steps to self awareness - to self consciousness I think.
AP. But it is like a story of being able to transform experiences. Its like what you have to do in order to transform an experience to make it viable to work for you. So that you are not exactly aware that you are suffering something and at each stage of this process it isn’t that you aquire more self consciousness exactly, but you’re able to digest or to think about more of it: it becomes like material that you could use for something - something that could be called your development. Its like making fuel out of trauma - or nourishment out of trauma.
CB. My sense of things after seeing that the whole insight experience had been an internal event was to feel that I had crawled up into a space - a plateau and thatlooking back from where had come from was no longer necessary - that i din’t need to obsess about that stuff anymore. It had been the engine for my work for a number of years but now it felt like it was time - up on the plateau to see what I could build without looking back down into the valley - to stop being defined by it.
AP. One could have a dicontinuous model or a continuous model. On a continuous model you would be all the time working over the experiences you had - on a discontinuous model you would get to a place where - as you said - you would forget about things so that other things can come in and occurr to you.
CB. Ironically the space is the least comfortable space.
AP. Uncomfortable and productive?
CB. Yes, but I wonder if it is less productive than autopilot mode? As I think you said last time - “symptoms organize you”. Alright... I want to go back now to when we first talked about instability - and institutions as mental organs - as stabilisers. I didn’t quite get to where I wanted to go with that when we first spoke about it. You had spoken about the probelms encountered when a culture de-traditionalises. And so, bringing it back to personal experience, it would be like this; it seems to me that on an individual level the god organ is grown to stabilise opinion - remember we contrasted ‘mere’ opinion to instinct or law. The theologians and redactors who first grew the organ were as one would expect engineering that organ in their own psychological image. Psychic collectives, - cultures, nations - function very well in traditional mode where the arterial connections to that organ are still in place but invisible to the users in fact. Just how well they function can be seen in the last ditch attemps of fundamentalisms to preserve or return to that psychological mode. I suppose I am figuring my own personal situation in the external world here - because I myself have detraditionalised.
AP. You could think of the god figures as the artifacts that make all the other artifacts in the culture work. And that when you detraditionalise your society - you secularise - it’s a bit like what you were saying before when you said your psychic lfe was outside you. Well clearly a great deal is put outside yourself and into the god in a traditional society. So what then happens to people when they start taking back the things they invested in their gods and put them back into themselves? Well one of the things which might happen is that they find themselves infused with a great deal of power and therefore a great deal of terror because these gods are very cruel and so its as though god has become a dustbin for all those parts of ourselves that we simply cannot bear or don’t know what to do with. So we’re suddenly landed with all this psychic stuff and then there is a real dilemma which is how do you contain it or what happens to it when it isn’t far away from the psyche. And that’s going to change the way we think about everything. And so in the detraditionalising of a society one is loosing all the containing functions and one is effectively having to reinvent the wheel.
CB. I think there is a kind of dignity involved in that. In relation to the traditional Christopher Bucklow, where his modes of operation seemed to be held by so many external sub-parts that cradled the central part - well as I said, it is wierd now to be standing alone - uncradled by these organs.
AP. And it wouldn’t be wierd that one is at one’s most vulnerable doing that.
CB. No, that’s right. And yet there are considerable pleasures too. But I want to think now about something we talked about after we’d recorded the last session. You know off tape when I asked you about your own knowledge of yourself you said you weren’t interested in self-knowledge. I was suprised.
AP. Well I think I mean - I don’t want to be glib about this - what I meant I think there is that there are periods in one’s life when people like us - if there is an us in this room - need - we have recourse to something we think of as self-knowledge to deal with a problem and then self-knowledge disappears as a preoccupation until the next crisis. And I think there is a risk, which I think psychoanalysis cultivates, which is that in the project of self-knowledge you become a bit like a character in a novel - that you have such an elaborated sense of who you are that this becomes merely another defensive strategy. You see in a way psychoanalysis should cure one of a need for self knowledge, so that one could go into the world and just see what happens. I think that what people are suffering from is self knowledge - they come to psychoanalysis and say “my problem is that I am...” well, of course there is no more perfectly formed knowledge that a symptom; “I am agraphobic” this is a massive piece of self knowledge. I think the need itself is the problem not the solution. I think the psychoanalysis that I value shows people what they are using self-knowledge for - and would partly want to free them from that desire. I don’t mean they’d all become zombies, but I think people would become capable of being less self-monitoring. Because the question is always “Am I acting out of character” - why do you need a sense of character in the first place?
CB. I’ve always said that this process of art-making might cure me of the need to make art - I mean the particular generative process that I use now - which is all about self-analysis. Some artists are frightened of opening up their creative motors to analysis for precisely this reason. For me I want to know what it is: if this is a process I want to take it all the way and see where it leads rather than use it as an engine to produce form.
AP. Yes and the risk would be, well let’s say it for me, I might call myself a psychoanalyst, but it could become like a superego demand, so it turns into ‘you must be a psychoanalyst’ or indeed ‘you are a psychoanalyst’. Well I think whats difficult then is to distinguish the desire from the duty. One thing could easily become the other.
CB. I want to move on here to another point that arose from our last conversation. When we talked about disguised intent and you spoke about Beatrix you said something like “your daughter - her job is to find a way of being charming and obtaining what she needs” I... well, the fantasy when one comes to someone like you is that there may be some knowledge sitting behind your eyes that is of a different nature than one can imagine, so that one might get a few hints of a way of being that is not the way one is. There may be a quality of seeing that you possess which... so that when I listened to what you said I thought you were arguing for the status quo. That seemed at odds with my sense of you from your books. I can relate to it because I see no difference in status between a nuclear reactor and a tree. Both are nature to me. But then I also feel there is a position after that where my wishes are also legitimate forces of nature - a position where one made decisions about what the world should be. Actually the polarity nature-culture implodes if you think this way - and there is neither - everything just is. Anyway I was suprised to think that you were fascinated by things that are. But then it seems from what we’ve just been talking about that there is something after one is free of one’s self that is beyond such a position.
AP. It’s like I would like to be able to entertain both states of mind - on the one hand a tree is like a nuclear reactor. But in another part of my mind I want to live in a world of trees and not a world of nuclear reactors. So that it’s as though there is an aesthetic self that has preferences and priorities and another version of the self that sees the whole thing as the same. It’s like a part of one’s mind where one sees differences and therefore rates qualities and another part that says well this is the world, this is it. And it would seem to me that one is always dealing with that conflict and I wouldn’t want to resolve it. I wouln’t want to ditch the sense of the world where a tree and a reactor are all parts of nature. I really want there to be a conlict between that part of my mind and the other part which says in a certain situation I might do everything I could do to ban nuclear reactors and protect trees. On some level we’re engaged in a project of projecting and protecting the things one values. And that’s a good way to spend one’s time. And that’s the moral project.
CB. So locate that in the thing about Beatrix.
AP. Well on the one hand we can admire her for finding a way of getting what she wants which is called charm, on the other hand we might as her parents, if we happen not to like charm, we might try to teach her to be something else. And she’ll have to deal with the conflict of what we’re wanting for her and what she wants to be. So we can have two views - we can say charm is charming - we can take it on its own terms. And we can say “Actually I don’t like charm, I like something called integrity. So I want you Beatrix to cut out the charm and start being staightforward”. And Beatrix could say to me when she’s old enough either “Fuck you, Adam” or “Well that sounds quite interesting - is there another way of being?”
CB. I suppose hovering over this whole thing for me is that I feel like I’ve been on a trajectory towards truth and I’d be anxious that that could contain all kinds of very unhelpful attitudes that I’d rather not play host to. I’d worry about what I call the Messiah complex - or about the sort of claims to absolute rightness made by religious people. But still I can’t get away from the idea that in relation to those other selves - those former versions of Christopher Bucklow - that I have seen more deeply into the hidden motives; I see better how I work now - well I see a little of it.
AP. But I would want to persuade you that there is no authentic self - that there are just preferred selves. So what you call your more truthful self I would want to redescribe as the self you prefer and calling it a more truthful one gives it a rhetorical dignity or a weight that helps you persuade yourself and us that its more valuable than something else. I’m not sayin it isn’t, I’m just saying that I would prefer to say there are all sorts of performances inside you - some you prefer to others and therefore some are clearlymore valuable to you than others.
CB. It seems we are back to that cost-benefit self that we spoke of in the first session. But I must say that the truthfull self or the clearer view of the self that I have found is not stable - as we talked about before too. It’s - or rather they are - devious, cunning, altruistic, selfless - many contradictory, shifting states. But you know it seems to me that the antagonisms of the psychological schools come out of a need for a stable essence.
AP. Well I think all the psychological systems have the same problem - which is that they are all based on essentialisms - they all have some basic sense of what is fundamental - they all want to persuade us that something is fundamentally us and I think Isiah Berlin was right - we can’t prove our first principles, we can only love them. I love the idea, and it makes a lot of sense to me that sex is the fundamental thing. In that sense I am a Freudian, but I can’t say I believe that this is the truth about life because I am not in a position to pronounce on the truths about life.