Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy in North West London

Reflections

The Blue Guitar


The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said "You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are."

The man replied, "Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar."

And they said then, "But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are."


(Wallace Stevens)


Borges
1899—1986

A young poet asked the giant, not only of Argentine literature, the universally lauded writer Jorge Luis Borges if he could pay him a visit. The great man was by then advanced in years, blind, decrepit and close to death. The answer was, yes. The meeting took place and the young man told his host some details of his troubled youth—reading Borges, he said, had helped him to face life and survive. What Borges tells his young visitor is very moving for there is no hint of arrogance or condescension whatever.
    The task of art is to transform what is continuously happening to us, to transform all these things into symbols, into music, into something that can last in man’s memory. That is our duty. If we don’t fulfil it we feel unhappy. A writer or any artist has the sometimes joyful duty to transform all that into symbols. These symbols could be colours, forms or sounds. For a poet, the symbols are sounds and also words, fables, stories, poetry.

    The work of a poet never ends. It has nothing to do with working hours. You are continually receiving things from the external world. These must be transformed and eventually will be transformed. The revelation can appear any time. A poet never rests. He is always working even when he dreams.

    Besides, the life of a writer is a lonely one. You think you are alone and as the years go by if the stars are on your side you may discover that you are at the centre of a vast circle of invisible friends whom you will never get to know but who love you and that is an immense reward.
I guess the young poet would never forget that meeting.



The Clown

The clown is an archetypal figure and, contrary to what is often thought, not so far removed from wisdom. In King Lear the jester reflects a suppressed side of the aged autocratic king clinging to power, that part of the psyche that is instant in the interplay between gravity and humour. In the action of the tragedy he stays with his master to the end throughout the king's breakdown and depression, and so represents a fundamental loyalty to a belief in the vital place of yielding and reparation. He is the Fool, but a fool only to those with a fixed attitude.

Another example of the clown is Dostoevsky's Idiot in which the epileptic Prince Myshkin represents the wise fool. Perhaps in his love for Nastasya he identifies her with himself in his beleif that suffering is purity. But his naivety that the other characters regard with a mixture of pity and admiration and, in some cases, reverence is a rare capacity to be able to see through to the way things are.

Like Lyov Nikolaevich, Schweik in Jaroslav Hašek's unfinished satirical novel The Good Soldier Schweik has an openness which seems devoid of attitude, which makes him a figure of fun and a butt for the indoctrinated and the sadistic. He is, at the same time, one of the enduring figures in literature, a delight, and represents a vital potential of the human psyche to be in touch with reality.

At the same time, the figure of the clown is close to a perception of the idiot-savant as the character Kaspar Hauser in Werner Herzog's film of that title who emerges from a dark cell where he has been forced to spend his childhood and adolescence alone in the dark. The description might well also apply to Schweik who seems to lack a self-protective instinct, approaching government officials and prison guards with an identical and ludicrous trustfulness.

The charcter of Janos in Tarr's film The Werkmeister Harmonies is ridiculed for his poetic visions of a universe which in the disordered lives of the inhabitants of a small town on the Hungarian plain appears to have lost all point and in whose hearts violent turbulence is brewing. In the tavern the hardened locals treat Janos with a certain awe, but also as if he were a dancing bear.

Perhaps it would be a mistake to see the representatives of the clown type as pathological; maladapted is nearer the mark. Yet in their disconnection from the pragmatic and conflicted order that is taken as the norm they appear able to pierce through to human truths society has for whatever reason obfuscated and disordered. It is their destiny but also their fate, for the clown is a lone figure, attached to a prominent personage maybe, as jester to King Lear for example, but all the same, separate.

Kenneth Williams was a clown as was his co-star Charles Hawtrey. Both were lonely private men who became increasingly forlorn with age, both died in the same year (1988). I read that scarcely anyone attended Hawtrey's funeral. I happened to spot Kenneth Williams with his mother - in a pharmacy in Kings Cross in the 1980s. He had no notion who I was but gave me a sad smile which I won't forget. Miriam Margolees said of him, 'his life wasn't as happy for him as he made it for all of us... he had the gift of creating laughter, but he didn't have the gift of creating it for himself'. Or there's David Walliams' interview on Desert island Discs and remember Stevie Wonder's lyrics in Tears of a Clown: 'Now if there's a smile on my face/ It's only there trying to fool the public... ' and, of course, the famous sad clown Pagliaccio, a character in a play within a play, the comic face of the deserted Canio, in Leoncavallo's opera Pagliacci.


In reviewing a project on early infantile autism which ran between 1960 and 1970 Donald Meltzer who supervised the research group and co-ordinted its findings wrote that he came away with an unexpected fondness and admiration, despite his not having conducted any of the actual therapy, not only for the children caught up in an incapacitating condition, who underwent individual psychoanalytical treatment with a team of dedicated therapists participating in the project, but admiration for the strategies of autism itself. He recognizes 'something heroic... a germ of some greatness, some "leap in the dark" as Kierkegaard would call it'.

The way Donald Meltzer expresses this seems to me to have application to the clown figure who wanders isolated through literature and cinema, the figure of Baptiste, for example, in Marcel Carne's great Les Enfants du Paradis (1945). Baptiste (played by the actor Jean-Louis Barrault) is a mime artist (and Meltzer points to a tendency in the children featured in the study to mimicry of the surface [my italics] appearance and behaviour of their objects than of their mental states and attributes) and to me, Baptiste is more of a spirit than completely a man, an idiot-savant in the realm of finer feelings. 'I suspect I am witnessing', Meltzer continues, using a breath-taking comparison, 'his [Kierkegaard's] "knight of faith" gone wrong at the start, the eccentricity of the true individual... [which] can start very early... [but which] can outgrow its source and proliferate as an illness.



Klaun by Frantisek Tichy

Reflections 1 #01





The Trickster

He is not a clown though he may change his shape, a cameleon more like. He won't be tied down. Is he a psychopath? Does he sense no responsibility to show who he is? Does he hide from himself? Does he fear some sickness, a deadly fear he hides from himself? Who knows?

He's a liar - that's it! But does he know it? His lies are so minute, so instant, so immaterial, you're right to think he probably doesn't even notice. He is a conman you want to believe in. He charms the birds off the trees but seldom delivers the goods. His sleight of hand holds a room in his palm -until you are exhausted, and a little mad si tu le vieux. He hypnotises.

Look at his face, see how it changes shape. Well, he is a trickster, an artful dodger. Listen to him speak. He has his own slippery syntax. His conjunctions change the points soundlessly. 'Really' is a favourite word of his. He's the gingerbread man. He is an entertainer if you enjoy being fooled. He is not a fool; you are. He has a long history, the trickster, so Jung says.

In picaresque tales, in carnivals and revels, in magic rites of healing, in man's religious fears and exaltations, this phantom of the trickster haunts the mythology of all ages, sometimes in quite unmistakable form, sometimes in strongly modulated guise [comic strips, vid. Jung's footnote]. He is obviously a 'psychologem', an archetypal psychic structure of extreme antiquity.

Look out for him.




Reflections 1 #02
Erasurerevelation (photo) by Aleksander Rodchenko
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