The Freud Museum

Events Archive

3 March 2007
10am - 5pm


in clinical practice, art and anthropology

“The psycho-analyst, in the light of his knowledge of the psychoneuroses, approaches the subject with a suspicion that even thought-structures so extraordinary as these and so remote from our common modes of thinking are nevertheless derived from the most general and comprehensible impulses of the human mind....”
Freud (1911) Psychoanalytic Notes on an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia S.E. 12 London: Hogarth Press.

Observing Paranoia
Paranoia - being ‘out of one’s mind’ - and paranoid phenomena - distrust, suspicion and delusional beliefs - are common in psychotherapy and everyday life. They often erupt with unexpected force in the therapeutic space, and are insusceptible to ‘reason’. Yet as Golda Meir famously said: even paranoids have enemies. For the psychotherapist and the citizen, an understanding of Paranoia and its reasons is an important task in the modern world.

Morning Session
Coline Covington
Paranoia: The enemy we need to create (Introductory Remarks)

Darian Leader
Paranoia from Freud to Lacan

Glenn Bowman
Trauma, Paranoia and the Social Imaginary

Afternoon Session
Michael Sinason
Paranoia about the existence of an internal other -
a serious clinical and social problem

Elizabeth Cowie
Possession, paranoia and the experience of art

Chair: Coline Covington

Speakers' biographies
Michael Sinason is a consultant psychiatrist, Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and Fellow of the British Psycho-Analytical Society. He works part time in the NHS and has a private psychoanalytic practice. Published articles on clinical topics include: Who Is the Mad Voice Inside? (1993) and How can you keep your hair on? (1999).

Elizabeth Cowie is Professor of Film Studies in the School of Drama, Film and Visual Arts at the University of Kent, Canterbury. Publications include Representing the Woman: Cinema and Psychoanalysis (1997). Her recent work has focussed on, among other topics, documentary film, memory and trauma.

Darian Leader is a founding members of CFAR (Centre for Freudian Analysis and Research) and a psychoanalyst in private practice. He is the author of many books including Why Do Women Write More Letters Than They Post? (1997) Freud’s Footnotes (2000); Stealing the Mona Lisa: What art stops us from seeing (2002); and (forthcoming) Why do people get ill? Exploring the mind-body connection (2007).

Glenn Bowman is a senior lecturer in Anthropology at the university of Kent and director of the MA programme in the Anthropology of Ethnicity, Nationalism and Identity. He has published extensively about the psychology of ethnic violence, ‘national identity’ and political distrust. He is currently Honorary Editor of the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.

Coline Covington is a Training Analyst with the SAP and the BAP (Jungian Section). She is former editor of the Journal of Analytical Psychology and former chair of the British Psychoanalytic Council. She has published numerous papers and has co-edited two books, one with Barbara Wharton, Sabina Spielrein: Forgotten Pioneer of Psychoanalysis (2003, Routledge), and the other with Paul Williams, Jean Arundale and Jean Knox, Terrorism and War: Unconscious Dynamics of Political Violence (2002, Karnac). She is in private practice in London.


Venue Details
Tavistock Clinic

Visit their website for more information.
Conference Report

Observing Paranoia was organised to coincide with the PARANOIA exhibition curated by Predrag Pajdic. The exhibition explored issues of distrust, suspicion, delusion, fear and terror in the post 9/11 world, and consisted both of overtly political art and art which addressed the emotional fall out from paranoid splitting and delusions. The interface between social reality and psychic reality is most clearly seen in paranoid phenomena, so that paranoia, a serious psychosis, is at the same time part of 'everyday life'. In the Schreber case, Freud notes:

"The psycho-analyst, in the light of his knowledge of the psychoneuroses, approaches the subject with a suspicion that even thought-structures so extraordinary as these and so remote from our common modes of thinking are nevertheless derived from the most general and comprehensible impulses of the human mind ...." (Freud (1911) Psychoanalytic Notes on an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia SE 12 London: Hogarth Press 1958)

It was in this spirit that many of the conference speakers approached the subject. From the psycho-dynamics of the Big Brother house, to cinema, outsider art and the politics of former Yugoslavia, the speakers offered a range of cultural references to draw on the interplay between inner and outer reality. These politico-emotional resonances are not without humour, however, and in her opening remarks at the conference, chairwoman Coline Covington told how, having forgotten her passport at a US airport, ' The woman at check-in looked at me in a panic, grabbed a nearby microphone, ordered the other people in the queue behind me to stand back and announced ìthere is a risk of alien attackî'. Coline went on to make connections between paranoia, the overvaluing of 'identity' and the increasing abhorrence of difference and 'otherness'. Freud's concept 'narcissism of minor differences' seemed prescient of current realities.

In a compelling historical exposition, Lacanian psychoanalyst Darian Leader distinguished between paranoia and 'the paranoid' as a general experience that can invade all our lives at various times. Paranoia exposes the fragile nature of our relations to reality and the possibility of a seismic shift that undermines it. For Lacan paranoia manifests itself as a disturbance at the level of the signifier. We no longer know where we are in the symbolic world and, by implication, who we are; the delusion, which is the most noticeable feature of paranoia, comes in to re-establish meaning at the place where it has been lost.

Anthropologist Glen Bowman was also concerned with the question of where one is placed in the world, citing the film Caché (Hidden) in which the protagonist is filmed from the place of a hidden camera. Seeing himself from the place of the 'other' his life begins to unravel as the forgotten past returns. The anthropologist in the 'field' and the child in the family, also have to place themselves in relation to others, and in a subtle analysis of shifting economic, political and emotional forces, Glen took these situations as models for identity formation (nationalism) and social antagonism in the political world; Palestine, Serbia and Croatia. Psychoanalyst Michael Sinason may have used the situation in the former Yugoslavia as an example of his radical concept of 'internal cohabitation', a state in which two 'selves' inhabit the same body. To illustrate his idea Sinason showed extracts from two films: 'How to get ahead in advertising' (a 'comedy' in which a man is taken over by a boil on his neck which grows into another head and personality) and a documentary following the psychiatric treatment of a child suffering from OCD who is tormented by another boy inside his head ('Idiota'), bullying and urging him to self-destructive acts. Sinason's ideas are not easy to understand within the usual paradigms of psychoanalysis - for him the 'internal other' is not a result of splitting or 'a mind in conflict', but a separate personality with its own interests that can 'take over' the known self. Elizabeth Cowie continued this theme in her paper 'Possession, Paranoia and the experience of art' in which she explored ideas of trauma, anxiety and aesthetic experience in the anthropological cinema of Jean Rouche. Jean Rouche influenced and was influenced by the surrealists, and his documentary 'Les Maitres Fou' (1955) about an African 'possession' ritual, is a radical depiction of other modes of thinking and being, juxtaposed with 'Western' reality. In thinking about the place of art in our lives, Cowie explored the experience of an audience when they encounter the 'traumatic real'.

In keeping with the aims of the Freud Museum public programme, the 'Paranoia' conference was a truly inter-disciplinary event. We would like to thank all the speakers who provided such a thought-provoking and enlightening series of talks.


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