Saturday, July 19, 2014

I probably should have said this earlier, but I now blog over here:  Come thither, like me, follow me, pat my head and tell me how good I am!  (if you wish, of course)

Saturday, January 12, 2013


I haven't done the Guardian's cryptic crossword for a while, but I tried the latest from Araucaria at lunchtime today.  It was headed:

Special instructions: Araucaria has 18 down of the 19, which is being treated with 13 15. This puzzle was originally published in the December issue of the magazine, 1 Across.

As usual, I tinkered around the edges for a while, getting a couple of minor clues without grasping the big ones - and then, 18 down came to me: "sign of growth [6]".  The rest gradually, and I do mean gradually, fell into place.

What a way to announce that you are dying - to construct a crossword on the theme of cancer and palliative care, and still have the cheek to include a clue like: "101o under the ice?[4]"

Cryptic crosswords have made me laugh before, but I have never felt sadness before.  I know nothing about the man save his clues - indeed, I didn't know his real name before reading this this evening.  The tributes below the article and the crossword are beautiful.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

2012 in review

I see I have only written 3 posts this year: one on Hawksmoor, one on Lacan, and one on the Olympics. That seems like a fairly representative hoard.

My head has been filled with psychoanalysis and counselling (I’ve been studying since March of last year, and in therapy since March of this) and church architecture (which, slightly surprisingly, has obsessed me since I visited St Mary Woolnoth, St Margaret Lothbury and St Stephen Walbrook in the Spring.

I wonder if my very limited output has any relation to being in therapy – i.e. as one declares stuff about oneself for a pretty intense hour each week, and then follows that hour with counselling lessons, private self-examination etc, is there much space left to write? I’m not sure.

Anyway, it doesn’t require too much self-examination to list my favourite music of the year – plus, of course, the playlist from our annual review of the year with Alex.

So to start, my 12 albums from ’12: 

1/ How to Dress Well, Total Loss
2/ Burial, Kindred
3/ Sun Araw / M Geddes Gengras / the Congos, Icon give thanks
4/ Dawn Richard, Armor on
5/ Jessie Ware, Devotion
6/ Killer Mike, R.A.P. music
7/ Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Mature themes
8/ Julia Holter, Ekstasis
9/ Sleigh Bells, Reign of terror
10/ Donald Fagen, Sunken condos
12/ Triad God, NXB

Honorable mentions: Sand Circles, Animal Collective, the XX

Over-rated of the year: Frank Ocean

Major disappointment of the year: Flying Lotus

Miraculous comeback of the year: the Beach Boys

Not quite got around to yet: Kendrick Lamar, Scott Walker

Review of the year (tracks chosen by Alex, Robert, Steph; Alex, Robert Steph etc):

Tracks not covered above: Kodiak, “Spreo superbus,” Jeremih, “773 love,” Advisory Circle, “Everyday hazards,” Spoek Mathambo, “Let them talk,” Frank Ocean, “Pyramids,” Leonard Cohen, “The darkness,” Lone, “Stands tidal waves,” Plan B, “Drug dealer,” Hiawatha, “Dogs of war,” Thundercat, “Walkin’,” Lord Boyd, “Shark dad,” Nicki Minaj, “Come on a cone,” Charli XCX, “Stay away,” Mohn, “Saturn,” Animal Bodies, “Thought and consequence,” Aux 88, “Phantom power,” Ariel Pink & R. Stevie Moore, “SteviePink Javascript,” Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call me maybe,” Azealia Banks, “1991,” Cooly G, “Playin’ me,” Korallreven, “Sa sa samoa (Elite Gymnastics remix,” Shadow Shadow, “Riviera,” Gatto Fritto, “Beachy head,” Grimes, “Oblivion,” James Ferraro, “Sushi,” The Men, “Ex-dreams,” Solar Bears, “Cosmic runner,”

Tuesday, June 05, 2012


St Mary Woolnoth is the smallest and oddest of Nicholas Hawksmoor’s London churches. It is comparable in a way to St George’s Bloomsbury, in that both are built on small, irregular sites in the middle of the city. But where St George’s baffles through its surfeit of competing styles, bizarre accoutrements and incongruous Hanoverian iconography, St Mary Woolnoth is compelling because of its coherence.

Its design, both inside and out, is utterly original: peculiar, punky, brutal (one is tempted to say brutal-ist). Hawksmoor takes the towers of the Stepney churches, beheads them so that they become squat little boxes with balustrades for tops (the effect is a little like the joke where a grown man puts shoes on his knees) and places them on top of an entablature. The entablature lies on a set of Corinthian columns, and these are separated (by a coffin-like podium with three punched-out windows) from the severely rusticated doorway. 

I should point out here that I have described it upside-down, for no eye would ever start at the top and work downwards. The violently horizontal grooves which inscribe the west front (including two wonderfully modern Tuscan columns and the steps leading up to the door) gives the impression that the building is broader than it is, and also shorter. This is apt, given the tiny plot which Hawksmoor had to work with. It lurches at you, twitching aggressively at you like an animal on a lead, so that you are afraid to turn away from it. Keep your eyes down, don’t look up.

So far, so wild. The interior is something else altogether, and of course it gains something from being so perilously close to, yet cloistered from, the Royal Exchange and the Bank and the Mansion House and the cars and buses that hurtle across the intersection of so many roads. Close the doors once you’re inside and hope nobody disturbs you. Now you can look up – and you will quickly discover you are in a cube within a cube.

The inner cube has three deliciously white Corinthian columns at each corner, supporting a rich entablature which, as Ian Nairn points out, projects forward slightly at the corners. A subtle shift, but one which accentuates the squareness of the square, and the brilliance of the light shining through the semi-circular windows above. Around the perimeter of the outer cube, bits and pieces scattered out of sight, inviting you to explore: two organs (only one operational), the intricately carved reredos and the almost obscenely twisting columns at the altar, various monuments and dedications, and a tribute to Eliot (or rather, his tribute to the church). Happy exploring – but you will be drawn back to the inner cube before too long.

These are generalities. I haven’t mentioned the details: the niches on Lombard Street with their columns placed on the diagonal, the little door marked “vestry” (how is there possibly room for one?), and (the cherry on the top) the teller over the pulpit whose shape echoes the ceiling. It’s details like these that get under your skin. I have fallen asleep thinking about this place, and I have woken up thinking about it. You may laugh, but that’s how it is. Nairn writes that “the real focus of the church is yourself, wherever you are standing. If the Saint Chapelle or Die Wies transports outwards, this forces inwards, quintessentially Protestant. You are forced in through yourself, and this is not a romantic view but the strictest spatial analysis.” So perhaps that explains it.


Up to 30 jobseekers and another 50 people on apprentice wages were taken to London by coach from Bristol, Bath and Plymouth on Saturday before the pageant on Sunday as part of the government's work programme.

Two jobseekers, who did not want to be identified in case they lost their benefits, later told the Guardian that they had to camp under London Bridge overnight, to change into security gear in public, had no access to toilets for 24 hours, and were taken to a swampy campsite outside London after working a 14-hour shift in the pouring rain on the banks of the Thames on Sunday.

Friday, January 20, 2012


Thursday, January 19, 2012


The theories of Jacques Lacan are well-known, if not always well-understood. But the application of that theory into psychoanalytic practice (as opposed to, say, film or political analysis) is discussed far less. The first chapter of Bruce Fink’s book Lacan to the letter, a methodical untangling of the Ecrits, focuses on Lacanian technique as practiced in the consulting room.

The starting point for Lacan is that the ego of the neurotic person is not too weak, but too strong. It represses anything – a prejudice, say, or a fantasy – which does not fit with how he likes to see himself. The ego refuses to allow such ideas in, and rather than dealing with them, it pushes them down, rejecting their integration. But however hard the ego tries to repress them, they still exist, poking through as painful and confusing symptoms. The goal of analysis, for Lacan, is therefore to loosen or unfix the ego and to help the person to come to terms with these difficult concepts.

This goes against the grain of the prevailing ego psychology which dominated psychoanalysis when Lacan was writing and practising. Ego psychology takes its lead from Freud’s second topography of the psyche – the topography of ego, superego and id. It tries to get the patient to model his ego on the analyst’s (on the basis that the analyst’s ego is healthy – a kind of role-model for the distressed). The strengthened ego may then more successfully crush the crude drives of the id.

For Lacan, this is both impossible and undesirable. Impossible, because it depends on the analyst having a ego which the patient will choose as a prototype; undesirable because it alienates the patient from prejudices and fantasies which he has every right to face up to.

Using the analogy of a game of bridge, Lacan suggests that there are four ‘players’ in therapy. The analyst appears both as ego (the personality and image which, for all her training, the analyst inevitably wants the world to see) and as Other (the holder of truth or authority). The patient also appears as ego, but his unconscious must also plays its hand. In other words, the patient arrives with two voices – that of his conscious ego, and of his unconscious. He meets the analyst as a person, but more significantly as a figure which can help him – an authority figure, a holder (in some sense) of truth or of language itself. It is rather like going to see one’s GP – we recognise her as a person (with feelings, tastes, preferences etc), but we go to see her because she is a GP and she can diagnose and cure our particular problem.

Lacan drew this fourfold relationship as a diagram:

From top-left, S is the patient as a subject of their unconscious; other (autre with a lower-case a) is the patient’s ego; Other (Autre with a capital A) is the analyst as holder of authority; and ego (also an autre with a small a) is the ego or projection of the personality of the analyst. This diagram helps to see the two possible partnerships between analyst and patient – the ‘imaginary’ realm of the ego psychologists, and the ‘symbolic’ realm of Lacan.

When the analyst interprets, he is heard by the patient as doing so not from the position of flesh-and-blood person, but “as the person he is imputed to be by the analysand in his transferential relation to him” (Fink 2004: 6). The analyst cannot therefore think that she can step out of the relationship and interpret the transference as if she were not a part of it. If she does, the patient may see (and criticise) himself from the point of view of the observing analyst. He will step into the analyst’s shoes, which may help him to understand himself better, but will only prolong his alienation from himself.

This – the analysis of the transference by two egos – is the ‘imaginary’ transference of the ego psychologists. It is arbitrary – because it depends on the foibles and tendencies of the analyst – and it only operates on the surface. It may also have unintended consequences: “the analyst who believes she is adopting the most dispassionate tone of voice in speaking to the analysand is taxed with being hypercritical, like the analysand’s father it may turn out, and thus another dimension of the transference, the symbolic dimension, persists despite every attempt to eliminate it” (Fink 2004: 7). Despite the best efforts of the two egos, the patient’s unconscious remains alive and kicking.

‘Symbolic’ transference does something different. Here, “the analyst strives ... to analyse on the basis of ... the Other” (Fink 2004: 7). Not on the basis of what the analyst thinks, the values and beliefs she holds, her blindspots and biases, but solely on what she hears.

What does it mean to take the place of the Other? For starters, it does not mean taking the position of ‘I’ – for example, the common technique of immediacy, in which the therapist might suggest, “I feel like you are angry with me” – since this is one ego talking to another. Such a comment may feel accusatory and the patient may strengthen his ego in defence. Any attempt to speak to the healthy part of the patient’s ego (in Lacan’s words, “the part that thinks like us”) is narcissistic (after all, if I am an analyst, what’s so special about my ego?). Instead of a partnership between the analyst-as-Other and the patient-as-unconscious-subject which seeks to interpret, the analyst ‘confronts the analysand with the reality he supposedly refuses to see’.

So – again – what does it mean to situate oneself as the Other? Very briefly, the Other (with a capital O) is a radical form of otherness which we absorb and learn from childhood onwards. If you think of language, rules, codes of conduct, family histories etc, you get the rough idea. It is through the Other that we understand our place in a society. In childhood, we interpret conversations between our parents and try to understand how we fit into the world they describe. If they talk about the books they love or the God they worship, we will understand that we live in a bookish or a religious family, and must therefore decide whether or not to read or worship. If one of our parents cheats on the other, we try to decipher how we fit into that adultery – do we identify with the wronged parent, or the adulterous parent, or both? Whatever we choose, we take our subjective form from what we hear and try to understand.

The Other relates to something symbolic which is publicly known – a cultural frame of reference, a set of laws or codes, the things we are told by our parents. It is out there – both in the sense that it is publicly available to us, and also something separate from us. In Seminar I, Lacan describes the treatment of a North African patient with symptoms relating to his hands. His previous analyst had fallen back on psychoanalytic tropes such as shame about masturbation, and the analysis was not successful. This analyst had ignored the Koranic laws which unconsciously were so integral to the patient (his father had been accused of theft, which the Koran says must be punished by the cutting off of one of the thief’s hands).

By occupying the place of the Other, the analyst must try as far as possible to set his ego aside: “the analyst is able to hear a slip precisely because he has managed to put himself aside, so to speak, precisely because he has managed to take the analysand’s speech not as a personal attack but rather as directed elsewhere, directed at something or someone else.”

Interpreting the transference as a personal attack, and basing one’s interpretation on how the analyst believes the patient feels about her (even if her thesis is correct) is, for Lacan, an abuse of power. Why ‘even if her thesis is correct’? Because this still entails interpreting the transference solely on the imaginary axis, on the basis of ego vs ego.

Fink illustrates his point by citing a number of case studies. Freud’s famous case study of the Rat Man is a lesson in interpreting on the symbolic level. Aware that the unconscious speaks in signifiers (not signifieds), Freud observes the complex grammar with which the Rat Man speaks and, through a forensic scrutiny of the Rat Man’s words and their link to his very painful symptoms, speaks to the Rat Man’s unconscious. But Lacan (a Freudian purist) is far more critical of Freud’s treatment of an attractive young woman who dreams of a sexual relationship with another woman in order to escape from her marriage (and her father). Here, Freud interprets the transference only on the imaginary level, suggesting that “beside the intention to mislead me, [her] dreams partly expressed the wish to win my favour.” Whether or not Freud is right here is immaterial – he is clearly analysing from the position of his own ego, and therefore missing the bigger picture. (Lacan suggests that Freud generally finds it difficult to move beyond the ego level when analysing attractive young women...)

I won’t go into the other case studies. But by way of conclusion, Fink’s final section – entitled “why we should not encourage our analysands to identify with us” – is worth exploring a little further. For Lacan, there is a fundamental question that we all have to grapple with: why can my desire to be something never quite be satisfied? Why can desire itself never be fulfilled? We all yearn to be something – to be richer, more respected, better loved, more worldly etc. Yet, however much we succeed in becoming these things, we never quite achieve our objective in a way that sufficiently satisfies us. Our endless efforts to be something better hide the fact that what troubles us is a fundamental and unfulfillable want-to-be – and it is this that we must face up to. Identifying with somebody else, trying to be what they are, is an easy way out – and even when we occupy the place of our object of desire, our want-to-be stubbornly remains. As Fink concludes, “it is a misfortune to identify with someone, for it keeps me from grappling with and going beyond my lack of being. It leaves me with the same inadequacies or failings as my analyst. Now that is unfortunate!”

Friday, December 23, 2011


Strictly speaking, not a review at all. Just a precis of my top records of the year, and a playlist of songs mostly from this year, compiled by my wife, friend Alex and myself, and played over pizza and wine on Wednesday night.

Top 15 albums of 2011 first:

1/ Kurt Vile, Smoke rings for my halo
2/ James Blake
3/ Rustie, Glass swords
4/ Burial, Street halo (ep)
5/ Tim Hecker, Ravdeath 1972
6/ Oneohtrix Point Never, Replica
7/ Toro y moi, Underneath the pine
8/ Wiley, 100% publishing
9/ Metronomy, The English riviera
10/ Radiohead, The king of limbs
11/ Ford & Lopatin, Channel pressure
12/ Kate Bush, 50 words for snow
13/ Gang gang Dance, Eye contact
14/ kode9 & Spaceape, Black sun
15/ Paul Simon, So beautiful or so what

Honorable mention: the CD which came free with the festive edition of Homeless Diamonds (St Mungo's magazine of poetry and paintings, itself free).

I suspect some of the ordering from 10 onwards could do with some tinkering; Gang Gang Dance may be in there purely on the strength of "Glass jar".

No place for Battles or James Ferraro - haven't really heard the former, and came to the latter too late in the year. Reissues of the year: Beach Boys' Smile and Harald Grosskopf's Synthesist. Disappointments: Kate Bush, Panda Bear, Gang of Four (the worst album I heard all year).

That'll do!

Now for our 2011 playlist (not sure how Glen Campbell slipped in there ... guess just because I love that song):

merry Christmas!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Click to expand - or click here to see a larger version.

Monday, November 28, 2011


Still too busy to blog, but not too busy to big up the industrial action on Wednesday. It's clearly going to be a huge walk-out (plenty of my friends and colleagues who do not take the decision to strike lightly, and may not have done so before, are brassed off enough to withdraw their labour this week), and the huger the better - as Seamus Milne points out, fine words alone will not make the government budge. Only action on a nationwide, millions-strong scale will make a difference.

And far from weakening the economy, defending pensions will help workers in the public and private sectors by maintaining demand. It's the economy, stupid (though I did thank Francis Maude last week for accidentally highlighting the massive economic contribution the public sector makes).


Got it?