The Freud Museum

Events Archive

5 December 1992

Ecological Madness

Conference Report

The museum's day conference "Ecological Madness: Psychoanalysis and our ecological dilemmas" took place in December 1992 at Sutton House, a lovely and well-equipped National Trust house in Hackney.

We organized the conference into four themes:

TECHNOLOGY
CONSUMPTION
THE ENVIRONMENT, and
THE MYTHOLOGY OF NATURE

It might perhaps surprise you that these themes arose in writing the new museum booklet Freud in England, and each has a direct relation to Freud's life or work. In Civilization and Its Discontents, for instance, Freud argues that technology is a kind of projection or objectification of the "fairy tale wishes of childhood". In Freud's personal life his self-confessed addictions to smoking and collecting antiquities could be thought of as paradigm examples of the process of "consumption"; while his often expressed hatred of Vienna coupled with his extreme reluctance to leave the city indicates an ambivalence to his immediate physical environment, which may have wider applicability. Finally in his essay "The theme of the three caskets" Freud deals with the mythopoeic origins of the very category of "nature" and points towards a darker side of this invention. So we saw these categories as connected in a very direct way to some of the central concerns of the Freud Museum.

What of the papers themselves? Hanna Segal, whose commitment to the anti-nuclear campaign is well known, introduced the conference and explained how psychoanalysis can be used to throw light on social issues, and why it is important to do so. In the technology section, Barry Richards examined some of the contradictory feelings people have about the motor car, for which he coined the terms "technophilia" and "technophobia".

Susie Orbach used some of her clinical work with patients suffering from eating disorders and compulsive shoplifting to draw out some of the underlying features of modern consumption, while in the same section Judith Williamson brought in part of her collection of advertisements to illustrate how human wishes are orchestrated through cultural symbolism.

Bob Hinshelwood examined the historical changes in our views of the "countryside". He suggested an underlying phantasy of aggressive parental coupling as the connecting thread between them. Finally Andrew Samuels presented an erudite critique of Green politics and argued for an alternative kind of political practice based on his (Jungian) notion of the "female trickster".

Over eighty people attended the conference, which was expertly and enthusiastically chaired by Bob Young of Free Association Books, and most of them contributed to the lively discussions after each paper.

The full text of the papers by Barry Richards, Susie Orbach, Bob Hinshelwood and Andrew Samuels, along with an introductory paper by Ivan Ward is published in the Winter 1994 issue of the British Journal of Psychotherapy. I think it is fair to say that all of the contributors saw this as the start of a dialogue between the Green movement and psychoanalysis which we hope will bear fruit in times to come.

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