‘SUSIE ORBACH INTERVIEWS…Andrew O’Hagan and Will Self.’
The first in a new strand at Southbank Centre on ‘Psychoanalysis And The Arts.’
Wednesday 15th July, Queen Elizabeth Hall
By Rosie Goldsmith
A world-famous psychoanalyst and feminist writer and two internationally acclaimed novelists and social commentators: we knew we were in for a stimulating evening of debate. But about half way though, the debate moved upwards, outwards and beyond our expectations: Andrew O’Hagan plunged into a dark corner of his writer’s soul and declared:
‘Most writers don’t have a personality’. And then: ‘Will Self is probably more stable than I am!’ and thirdly: ‘Novelists are a species engaged in self-annihilation’.
You could have heard collective jaws drop in Queen Elizabeth Hall. Even an impartial Susie Orbach raised her eyebrows. Rich pickings for a therapist there, I thought. In fact Andrew O’ Hagan did once take one of his ‘characters’ – on paper – round to Susie’s consulting room to ask her verdict on the character. He explained: ‘not for myself’.
Andrew O’Hagan – who read to us from his work-in-progress, a novel which goes inside the fantasy mind of a female analyst – then again shook up the audience by saying: ‘Writing is an advanced form of hysteria’.
In answer to an audience question, Andrew said he had not had therapy.
Will Self, though, said he’d had every possible version of it (although he’d been ‘therapy-free for ten years now’!) and admired it because, ‘ it helps turn hysterical madness into commonplace unhappiness.’
Susie Orbach – careful not to analyze the two boys (not her role tonight) -commented that from her point of view, writers and artists are often afraid of being analyzed because they may lose some of their creative madness. ‘In fact,’ she says, ‘we can help them to express it better.’
Will Self read from his book, ‘Liver’- about a woman dying from cancer and in a plane on the way to Switzerland to visit the Dignitas clinic (in order to end her life) is involved in a plane crash. ‘Is it possible to feel fear of death even if you are about to commit suicide?’ he asks. It seemed, yes.
These three provocative thinkers and eloquent speakers then pushed us all to consider the 20th/21st century novel, which they agreed has become ‘entwined with psychoanalysis’. But is that combination benign symbiosis or does one feed off the other?
‘Most novels today are just ‘Id-less!’ Andrew proclaimed. And Will added:
‘The psychoanalytical discourse had been mainlined and can be picked up in superstores at bargain-basement prices!‘ (As you can tell, there were also laughs to be had.)
And Will went on – in his purring, low drawl – echoed by Susie and Andrew: ‘What happened after Freud was that the ego became central to the narrative – and the work of the novelist it to present the ego artistically.’
At the beginning of the evening, Susie Orbach had offered up her premise:
‘Both literature and psychoanalysis,’ she said, ‘involve the investigation of the self; both have the endless capacity to be interested in others; both are describing or organising narratives and the psyche.’
The whole evening proved her points. We all reeled out of Queen Elizabeth Hall, psyches, egos and Ids shaken and stirred but profoundly satisfied.
Filed under: London Literature Festival 2009 | Tagged: Andrew O'Hagan, arts, psychoanalysis, Susie Orbach, Will Self | 1 Comment »