It is always perilous to read the newspaper.
The news is mostly heart-breaking or, worse, bad-enough to throw one into impotent rage. And perhaps it is this predictability which gives the tiniest good news the strange power to make one absurdly optimistic. Last week the news about Hamilton Naki – have you heard of him before now? – threw me into such rage and despair that I was still seething days later. So it wasn’t surprising that when I read the news about the Welsh Assembly – did it register with you as news? – I guzzled it as if it were the antidote to last week’s poisonous despair. I felt inspired to write of my journey and offer some reflections.
THE COLOUR LINE – Must someone suffer for Hamilton Naki?
Friday April 25, 2003 “www.guardian.co.uk” The Guardian
Rory Carroll on the remarkable story of Hamilton Naki: “Two men transplanted the first human heart. One ended up rich and famous – the other had to pretend to be a gardener. Until now.”
As a non-white boy living in a white-Nation, among so many still vaunting imperial glory even as it was obviously shredding to tatters, I was more puzzled than amazed when I read, in 1967, that the first human heart-transplant had been carried out in South Africa. Why in that sink of iniquitous inequity and not in Cambridge or Chicago? What excuse did these centres of excellence have for failing to be first? It was like Accrington Stanley winning the European Cup.
The name of the white surgeon was differently intriguing, Christian Barnard. By then I knew enough of what only later came to be formally called ‘institutional racism’ not to expect a nominally Christian state to show equal justice and compassion for all the God-made citizens who had to obey its laws. But I did wonder how a man whose very name imitated Christ, lived the Golden Rule given by Jesus. Perhaps he was in flight from his name, and saw himself as one of Mary Shelley’s modern Prometheans: hadn’t he placed life-fire into dead tissue! In an instant all those tacky sentimental pictures on countless million Catholic bedroom walls, the Sacred Heart, took on a new meaning – the secular replaceable heart of an Other.
But Barnard wasn’t Zeus, let alone Prometheus. He didn’t act alone. He had helpers, and foremost among these was Hamilton Naki. Was he an assistant – I digress again to football. Something strange has happened in the vocabulary of football commentary in the past seven years: the noun ‘assist’ has come to be accorded almost the same respect as ‘scorer’, breaking the fantasy that a team’s only important player is the scorer.
So finally in The Guardian 25 April 2003 it was revealed that the greatness of Barnard’s act, and I do believe it to be a mighty achievement, was facilitated by the greatness of his publicly unacknowledged assistant, Naki. This unassuming, uneducated man learned from scratch and then trained many other medical students the surgical techniques that were absolutely crucial for the historic transplant. But being a black South African – oh what horrifying “ineluctable modality of the visible”, in Joyce’s magnificent phrase, to be black in the glare of subequatorial daylight – he could not be brought forward to stand beside Barnard as his photograph was taken and flashed round the entire world, to show the glory of our species in being able to transplant the life-sustaining red muscle that all of us, of all colours, lives by.
And why? Because such an image, such a truth that it took a white man AND a black man to transplant the red muscle, would in an instant demolish the towering totem of lies about the genetic and impassable inequality of the races that the white State had erected, and the rest of the world supported, to justify its brutality and greed. So Naki was asked to stand at the back and continue to pretend to be the hospital gardener. The public pretence of his irrelevance was maintained for fourty years.
When I read this story I was so angry. In fact so angry that I didn’t dare, for fear of harming myself, to begin to imagine how I wanted those who had been complicit in this pretence to be punished: yes even, and perhaps mostly, Mr Christian. In what realm could I find and shake his body and shame his soul with the question: “How could you live that lie of your solitary genius, how could you stay there and watch your assistant and his kind be utterly degraded for decades?”
THE GENDER LINE : Let us Praise the Welsh
A week later, I found some salve in these few lines in the same paper.
Nicholas Watt, political correspondent Saturday May 3, 2003 “www.guardian.co.uk” The Guardian
Women win half Welsh seats. Welsh assembly becomes first legislative body in the world to have equal numbers of men and women. A world record was set yesterday when the Welsh assembly became the first legislative body with equal numbers of men and women.
Did you pause reader at that news? Did it seem like an epiphany? How ought one to think of its meaning? The item says ‘world record’. We must keep in mind the long years, the long millennia, it has taken to get to Cardiff: and we, and obviously we men more than women, should feel utterly ashamed; an individual and a species-guilt, and shame, at this delay. So finally, in this tiny corner of the planet – usually mentioned as a comparative geographical unit to frighten everybody about the burning Brazilian rain-forest on the other side of the world, or to quote Bolt’s Sir Thomas More mocking Sir Richard Rich for selling his soul “for Wales?” or as the butt of TV presenter Anne Robinson’s poor humour – a human grouping arrived at the living fact, and not just the idea, of gender equality.
One species of two gender, but until now only ever one gender making laws for both. Yes, let us give due praise to the Welsh. But let us also think of the reasons for this disparity: those very reasons that will keep the rest of the planet in disgrace for decades. For one can be sure that whereas tyranny will deny equality, opportunism will spin pretences: even in the brave new world of New Labour. Freud’s writings give us a way into understanding these seemingly eternal hypocrisies.
Think back to that photograph from June 1997, last millennium, of “Blair’s Babes”: Big Boy Tony with the greatest number of female MPs in British history to enter the English Parliament. The journalist’s tag is of course ridiculously inappropriate with its immediate reference to the Playboy mansion year-photo: Hugh and the Class of 19–. Bunnies. Only a male journalist would casually mock and diminish the potential gravitas of the new female lawmakers in this way. Somewhere in his unconscious, and that of many men, would be the barely formed idea of the all-powerful Father of the Primal Horde with access to and power over all available females.
Despite the taunts of its daily detractors, psychoanalysis continues with its project of demystification and the facilitation of the attainment of a higher plane of adult consciousness and mutual respect. Very few people note the regression and even infantilism endemic to politics and lawmaking. I don’t mean by this the familiar references to the pathetic teenage braying and hooting in the Chamber: but rather something more subtle and structural. The primary symptom of what might called this “institutional pathology” has been wonderfully disclosed by the accident of equality in Wales.
My theme is equality, and before I proceed with Freud I want to honour another superJew, whose words give the context of my title.
“A self-ordained Professor’s tongue,
Too serious to fool,
Spouted out that liberty
Is just equality in school.
‘Equality’ I spoke the word
As if a wedding vow,
Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now”.
There is something so wonderful about a young man in his twenties trying to fathom the moral grandeur of the concept of ‘equality’ and finding the pearl of human matrimony. And he does this despite knowing, having heard, his Professor’s dark sarcasm in the classroom. The self-ordained melds the secular and theological aspects of teachers familiar to the Jewish tradition. But the weariness of the song’s narrator is carried by the chorus: life has taught him that the Professor was right after all, and that it was a hubristic teenage fantasy to believe that he was wiser than his teacher in believing in the possibility of equality.
How does psychoanalysis conceive of ‘equality’? There is the strange but ordinary developmental progress. Infancy begins with the infant’s experience of omnipotence. Then follows the disillusion of weaning and the humiliation of unpredictable dependency. Her awareness of others is grounded in the awareness of her comparative weakness in any competition to recover equal let alone superior access to the desired parent.
This climaxes with the terrors of the castration complex. The lesser paradise of the latency period is then shattered by the biological turmoil of puberty and the knowledge that cathexis and desire are predicated upon fascination with unchosen differences: one might have an equal number of sex-bits as others but the person one desires actually desires someone else’s bits: and one knows that, for oneself, another person’s bits will only be second best, not equally best. Finally one might be superordinate to but also eternally responsible for one’s own children. Such parenting requires one to resist the temptation to manoeuvre one’s spouse into being a parent for oneself or to be revenged upon one’s children as ancient siblings. Where does equality fit into all of this?
In one of his most magnificent and illuminating phrases, ‘the narcissm of minor diffrerences’, Freud defines the boundless human capacity for finding differences, and usually to justify greed and tyranny, emotional and political. A different developmental and sociological puzzle is how a child’s sense of human equality is maimed and poisoned by the actual practices of religious and political creeds which assert in their written texts the fundamental equality of all humans. Freud was equally sceptical of both Mariolatry and Fuhrer-worship. All religions have glorified mothers. No religion yet has been kind-enough to actual mothers.
Psychoanalysis, as a profession of practitioners and of theorists, is distinguished from all others in that almost from the start and certainly by the second generation, it was a living exemplar of equality. Freud gave Lou Andeas-Salomé his highest praise, and soon there were great female theorists, Anna Freud, Melanie Klein, Helene Deutsche.
It might be said that the perennial task for the adult, each and every adult, is to struggle with the concept of equality and to live it, for that is the only hope of subverting my ever-present sub-rational impulse to assert ad hominem inequality and my ‘right’ to greed and tyranny.
by Kalu Singh