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03/06/2019 - 05/26/2019

open to public
Organizer: Freud Museum London
Venue: Freud Museum London
20 Maresfield Gardens
NW3 5SX London
United Kingdom
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Wunderblock is an exhibition of new work by artist Emma Smith, drawing on original historical research into the post-war fascination with the infant mind.

This research, undertaken by the Hidden Persuaders Project at Birkbeck, University of London, examines ‘brainwashing’ during the Cold War. Smith’s exhibition particularly focuses on this history in relation to the child.

In the wake of World War II there was considerable anxiety about how children’s minds could be shaped or influenced to support fascism, communism or liberal democracy. A generation of children had also directly experienced the devastation of war, separation from their families, or life in institutions. Child psychoanalysis and psychiatry gained a prominent role and it was a time of great innovation and debate. However, observing and interpreting the developing mind, nurturing infant mental health, and supporting good parenting, also became powerful political issues. These were inextricably linked to the interests of the state, and aspirations for generating democratic citizens.

The mother’s close relationship with her newborn became a central preoccupation. The war years and the Nursery School Movement had helped enable women of all classes to work. Post-war research and debate offered conflicting messages, and put women under pressure to return to the home. Arguably, political interest in children’s care inside and outside the home was concerned as much with regulating populations, as with supporting the child and recognising their rights.

Smith’s exhibition turns some of this complex history of debate about nature and nurture, and about benign and malign influences over the child, on its head. Smith asks ‘What is the agency of the child?’, ‘What is innate to the infant and in what ways are they an ‘expert’?’; and, crucially: ‘To what extent does the baby or child influence their environment, and shape the adult’s world?’. Inspired by the rich material surrounding infant observation in psychoanalysis by practitioners such as Melanie Klein, Anna Freud, Margaret Lowenfeld and Donald Winnicott, as well as the emergence of child-centred pedagogy and the anti-psychiatry movement, Wunderblock considers how we might engage with this history and meet the child from their own perspective.


05/10/2019 - 05/12/2019

open to public
Organizer: Psychoanalysis and Politics
Venue: Swedish Psychoanalytical Association
Västerlånggatan 60
111 29 Stockholm
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“I am under no illusion”, wrote Freud (1912-1913) “that in putting forward these attempted explanations I am laying myself open to the charge of endowing modern savages with a subtlety in their mental activities which exceeds all probability. It seems to me quite possible, however, that the same may be true of our attitude towards the psychology of those races that have remained at the animistic level as it is true of our attitude towards the mental life of children, which we adults no longer understand and whose fullness and delicacy of feeling we have in consequence so greatly underestimated” (98-99). There appears to be a double movement in this passage, a movement of distancing in the contrast between the more and the less developed, alongside a movement of approximation. As Frosh (2013) puts it, “psychoanalysts often draw on the language of the ‘primitive’ to refer to ‘unreasoning’ elements of people’s psychic lives. Thus, a notion that someone might be evincing a ‘primitive fantasy of destruction’ is a very familiar one, but what is not acknowledged is that this terminology not only has its roots in a colonial opposition between ‘primitive’ and ‘civilised’, but it also reproduces this division ‘unconsciously’ when it is employed.” Edward Said (2003) has famously emphasized the opposite movement, Freud’s refusal to erect an insurmountable barrier between ‘the primitive’ and ‘the civilized’, Freud as “an overturner and a re-mapper of accepted or settled geographies and genealogies” (27). Late in Freud’s theories, in Khanna’s words, “the “scene of memory” always necessitates a consideration of the splits that come to be acknowledged in the ego, which are like the interferences caused by the memory’s insistent confrontation with a false unified and unifying sense of history and the subject” – “The age of colonial travel and exploration was that of Freud’s youth. That of his old age was the moment of Nazi suppression. The future, to which he referred when writing of his threatened children, would be that of the split and defensive ego, when a nation-state would be unable to exist without rupture and beyond betrayal” (64).

‘Colonial fantasies’ referred to in the title may be understood as fantasies to the effect that the other, and the other’s territory, is yours to take and yours to denounce because inferior – less efficient, less rational and/or less complete in some sense. These inferior others and their domains may be eroticised. To Sander Gilman, “Central to the model and to the understanding of the Other is the definition of the Other in sexual terms, for no factor in nineteenth-century self-definition was more powerful than the sense of sexual pathology” (216). “The Other’s pathology is revealed in her anatomy, and the black and the prostitute are both bearers of the stigmata of sexual difference and thus pathology. […] The “white man’s burden,” his sexuality and its control, is displaced onto the need to control the sexuality of the Other, the Other as sexualized female” (1985, 107). In Freud’s writing, to Gilman, the rhetoric of race was excised only to reappear in his construction of gender “through the assumption of the neutrality of the definition of the (male) scientist” (1993, 40). “Freud [1926e] explains that “we need not feel ashamed” about our lack of knowledge of female sexuality, he metaphorizes woman as the “dark continent,” and in this blurring of her specificity he transfers the shame that “we need not feel” about our lack of knowledge onto her” (Khanna, 2003, 49). H. M. Stanley introduced the metaphor of the “dark continent” in his explorer’s narrative of Africa, and here it comes to stand for the other of man and of Europe.

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