Replica(n)ting empathy – or “What psychoanalysis can do for YOU”

Blooming heck. It’s not every day that you get to spend two hours in the presence of someone who, with zero flashiness, expands  the floor of your mental cage every five minutes or so. (1)

There was a CIDRAL (Centre for Interdiscplinary Research in Arts and Language) panel/symposium thingie at the Tin Can on Oxford Road, on “Psychoanalysis, Morality and the Senses

Chaired by Prof Jackie Stacey, it had a panel made up of Adam Phillips (psychoanalyst, writes for LRB etc) , Dr Monica Pearl (Lecturer in 20th Century American Literature, EAC, UoM) and Professor Ian Parker (psychoanalyst, Manchester Psychoanalytic Matrix).

The format was simple – Phillips described/riffed on some of the ‘set texts’ and these were responded to by the other panelists before the Q and A. The format usually enrages me, but was saved by the sheer quality and suppleness of the observations on offer from the panellists, and the clarity and concision of the questions.

Things I picked up on –  (and apols to anyone and everyone whose insights passed me by)

I need to read “Punishing Parents” (hi mom!)

Lacan’s observations of the dangers of enacting desire (into knowledge) and of three passions – for love, hate and ignorance.

Phillips’ point that we shouldn’t underestimate how scared people are of each other [scared, scarred by childhood humiliations and intimidations] and that this anxiety leads to people defending themselves and becoming violent [not physically, not so much these days – see Norbert Elias – but emotionally, verbally].

Philips’ observation around the importance of how to stop intimidating and humiliating each other.

Two  Winnicottisms

  • “Madness is the need to be believed.” [Poor Sarah Connor at the beginning of T2!]
  • “Psychoanalysis is there to facilitate the capacity to be surprised.”

Some of the Phillipics

  • “The kind of psychoanalysis I’d like to be involved in is about finding good unsentimental ways of being kind to each other”
  • “Any art that helps us transform frustration is worth having.”
  • “On the fear of (beginning to be) kind – “Perhaps the happiest life is to lose our lives to a communal kindness.”

On the dangers – in demanding more knowledge of life partner, of missing the point of intimacy, and of the dangers of “attempting to create a collusive mystification”  (what a GREAT name for a band. If I could play an instrument, I’d be in the Collusive Mystifications!!).

I know these are frustratingly (!) allusive and vague, but you really did Have to Be There.  Or read the books.  This topic came up, in a question and response – the books (and reading) are useful insofar as they move us to questions, to questions, to questioning and revising.  (Scribbling on the palimpsests with the contents of our kluge-y brains. But I digress…)


The films Blade Runner and Groundhog Day are important to think with about the crucial questions of identity, empathy, kindness, the Good Life.

The Q and A started out as a sausage fest (three men), but then women spoke up.  By the end it was pretty much 50:50, reflecting the audience. However, the questioners, bar one, were 40 plus, and the young half of the audience said nowt.

Perhaps the viciously tiered lecture theatre (an unfriendly space for dialogue).  And perhaps also – however unintentionally and indeed unwanted – the obvious brilliance of the panel (I was going to say “intellectual firepower,” but that needlessly imports violent imagery. Perhaps “intellectual banquet,” or “feast’” or “wellspring”? Suggestions welcome.)

What to do? The same as you can do to avoid a gender split – before the Q and A say something like “please take two minutes to discuss with someone near you. If you think you have a question but you don’t know if it’s a good ‘un, try it out on that someone, ask their help honing it, improving it.”

Usually when you do this, more hands that are not attached to dangly genitalia go up.  And maybe younger ones too?


“Verdict” – a rip-roaring success.

Future CIDRAL events can be found here.


(1) As in, Chomsky-esque levels of smart.

2 thoughts on “Replica(n)ting empathy – or “What psychoanalysis can do for YOU”

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  1. Oh so you like Chomsky do you? I can’t imagine though how this lecture/debate rolled out but I do like the groundhog reference. I had a discussion about how panel-style lectures among powerhouse intellectuals are the best. Invite me next time!

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