Thursday 16 May 2024


Those of you who follow my blogposts will know that my journey - my odyssey through my lifetime - has been enriched by discovering the writings of Richard Rohr (Silent Compassion, 2014/2022) and Hugh McGregor Ross's analysis of George Fox as a mystic (George Fox - A Christian Mystic, 1991/2008). I have also found Ross's studies of the Gospel of Thomas a deep source of wisdom, but as yet have not read enough to create a post on these matters. Here are the relevant links:

For Ross:

For Rohr:

I can now add the ideas and writings of Martin Stanton to my list of guides to a deeper understanding of how best to make sense of the odyssey we all make by virtue of being alive. 

Martin Stanton - circa the 1980s

Making Sense (2020) is Martin Stanton's remarkable critique of mainstream psychoanalysis in its academic and clinical ideology and practice. Martin is the child declaring that the emperor's clothes are only imagined. Professor Judith E. Vida in Los Angeles hits the spot when she writes:

'Making Sense  is a radical proposal that the real life complexity of thought, emotion, and experience will always resist closure, resolution, fixing, getting over it, interpretation, diagnosis, and so-called 'normality'. Martin Stanton generates poetic new metaphors for living that are as supportive as they are expansive, providing morsels of practical wisdom, each at once juicy, sweet, and savoury - and full of new nourishment.'

I should also say at this point that I did not find Making Sense an easy book to read. Martin has more learning than I do. My grasp of Greek mythology is only basic; Martin moves with ease and fruitfully

through this extraordinary Grecian mind-scape. My knowledge of the contemporary world of karaoke music was zilch; Martin has educated me to my advantage. My understandings of the life-cycle of the caddis insect and the origin of the bezoar stone were strictly limited. I sensed a vix satis -?- mark around the corner (the scarcely satisfactory, in the extreme, but we are still going to pass you category) just as my Latin translation paper warranted back in 1967; again, Martin has taught me much - and set me on the road to learn more. It's an uncomfortable experience swimming in the ocean of your own ignorance.  But please be brave and dive into these waters. You will find it worthwhile. 

It was only after I completed my first read through of Making Sense that I watched Martin's interview with Dr Anastasios Gaitanidis, recorded in 2015. Martin had provided me with the link to this interview in our correspondence. Yes, at this point I can explain that Martin and I are back in email contact and reading each other's work having lost almost all connection for fifty years since sharing the same history teacher, the late dear David Patterson, at DGS (Dartford Grammar School) - see this tribute 'in memoriam' blogpost here; Martin was in the year below mine but we shared a walking holiday in Devon with a school party organised by David in 1968.

Martin Stanton in 2015 - a screen-shot from his interview with Dr Anastasios Gaitanidis

This blogpost is my opportunity to share my understanding of Martin's thinking, as evident in this interview, with you, my fifty or so readers, those within my email network now that Facebook/Meta and I have severed our connection. Incidentally, it took 180 days before Meta wiped all traces of me from their system - ah, the relief and delight! I had been found guilty of transgressing against their marketing policies. Someone had made a complaint. I scratched my head, puzzled. I suspect a neoliberal Tory was at work, energized by discovering I had written a book with Corbyn's name in the title; they get everywhere these NLTs. 

My apologies in advance if I have failed to do justice to Martin's thought in this abridged blogpost format. Martin begins, as indeed he ends, with an emphasis on the power of feelings - and on understanding the importance of celebrating life. The analyst and the therapist should be there to support the client. We use our range of sensations and feelings together with our cognitive understanding to make sense of the world but sometimes this so-called cognitive understanding undermines our network of feelings. Martin is no fan of CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy); there are no quick fixes if you want to make a fuller odyssey. The emphasis in psychoanalysis and therapy should be on the quality of life not on analysing the meaning of life. 

We all have our story but always there are the unconscious areas. Celebrating life means going deep into your life and recognising all its contradictions and uncertainties. All of us can reach the alleluia moments of joy and perhaps touch a little madness. Psychoanalysis should be a revolutionary celebration of diversity and the uniqueness of the individual. We need to become our own theory-makers and leave the space for our own feelings to emerge. The creative process takes you forward on your own Odyssey. 

Martin is dismissive of the logic imprinted into the algorithms used by online dating agencies. They miss the point. People cannot be paired mechanically by matching characteristics they appear to share. The gaps in people's stories are where the dangers may lie but also the excitement and the uplifting qualities. I am reminded of the wisdom of the late professor of sociology at Manchester, Frank Musgrove, who declared that the health of a society lies at its margins. Likewise for the health of the individual. Musgrove captured for me the heart of what being a child of the sixties is all about. Normalization, as Martin says, should not be normal. It may not even be that good. There is the danger of annihilating the fullness of life. Martin denies that he was ever a 68er, as the French say 'a soixante-huitard', although he was in Paris in 1968 having followed his French girl friend back to her country and had come out of a Parisian cinema specialising in Russian Marxist film to see the lines of riot police advancing through a haze of tear gas. Yet I think he was, like me and others, shaped by that revolutionary spirit that glimpsed there was an alternative and more fruitful way of making better sense than our parents or the wider society had achieved. 

In society, we are offered solutions when things go wrong but too often they miss the mark. Psychoanalysis should not be seen as a therapy nor as a cure, it is a way of enabling you to make a more fruitful journey in your personal odyssey through life, helping you to align yourself more knowingly on this passage. Martin has reached his present understanding through a lifetime of diverse influences. The years in Paris in the 1970s at the Ecole Normale Superieure where he attended classes and lectures by Gilles Deluze, Felix Guattari and Michael Foucault; his own experience of psychoanalysis as an analysand; his first degree studies at Sussex, then the post-graduate years at Oxford - all this before his appointment as a lecturer at Kent where he later set up the nation's first university Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies in 1986, aged 36. 

Martin sees two figures as critical in their contributions to the world of psychoanalysis: Sandor Ferenczi and Jean Laplanche.

Sandor Ferenczi (1873-1933) was a Hungarian psychoanalyst and close associate of Sigmund Freud. During the early 1920s, Ferenczi moved away from Freud's method of adopting a position of neutrality in relation to the client and instead developed a theory and practice of more active intervention by the analyst in which the analysand is accompanied in their creative regression journey 'back home' into the traumas of the early years. The analyst bears witness, helping the client stay positive. Martin notes that it was Ferenczi's unprecedented work with the traumas of casualties from the battle fields of the Great War (1914-18) that convinced him of the reality of regression to childhood memories at times of acute crisis. Martin published an introduction to Ferenczi's pioneer work in 1991 which has encouraged more awareness of the significance of the Hungarian's ideas, not least the power of analogies and the productive use of free-association. Martin follows where Ferenczi led by detailing what Martin calls the bezoaric effect (1998), which was developed from an analogy with animals' production of bezoar stones from digestive regurgitations in wild and desert terrains. 

Back Row (L to R): Abraham A. Brill, Ernest Jones, Sandor Ferenczi
Front Row (L to R): Sigmund Freud, G. Stanley Hall, Carl Jung 
A gathering in 1909 at Clark University, a private research university in Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Jean Laplanche (1924-2012) was a French author, psychoanalyst and winemaker. He became an Emeritus Professor at the University of Paris where he taught from 1970 until1993. One of Laplanche's major contributions to psychanalysis consists of his 'General Seduction' theory in which he reformulated Freud's seduction theory as a general theory of the origins of the repressed unconscious. The aim of Laplanche was to account for the development of the unconscious in human beings as a normal process. He highlighted what he termed 'enigmatic signifiers' which were transmitted via parental messages and constitute key elements in the creation of the unconscious. Laplanche argued that there was a realm of difference between the complex dimensions of adult communications and the unformed psyche of the child. He accepted that the mother often speaks seductively to her baby, perhaps caressing its naked body whilst breast-feeding - but the mother's experiences and fantasies are far beyond the comprehension of the infant. For Laplanche, such mother-child interactions are the usual state of things, and neither aberrations nor psychopathology - see Ladson Hinton (2009) in the Journal of Analytical Psychology.

In fact, the infant is bathed in enigmatic messages from the very beginning. These messages from the adult other are often sexualised, and are partly or largely unconscious to the sender. Laplanche call this situation 'primal seduction'. The infant cannot make sense of such adult messages, and through 'primal repression' they remain as the unconscious core of subjectivity. They can be disruptive elements for the growing child and remain so into adulthood but what they signify is an enigma and remain so, like finding a hieroglyph in the desert and being unable to translate it. The enigmatic signifier is of vital importance in the development of the subject as they make their own journey, forming relationships and mapping their own cultural influences, in the course of their lifetime. Such importance becomes obvious in the clinical situation during analysis. 

Laplanche spent two weeks at the University of Kent as an invited academic and was, in Martin's words, 'a big influence'.    

Jean Laplanche - a screen shot, aged in his eighties.  

I hope this blogpost may have been of interest and stimulated some thought. These are matters that go to the very heart of our being. It is perhaps remarkable that we are still so unknowing about so much concerning our nature as sentient beings. On the other hand, the unconscious was always likely to be the last taboo.      

No comments:

Post a Comment