Archives are relicts of a life. Bits of paper, shopping lists, advertising fliers for stoves, oil heaters and cars, personal messages and notes, are clues to the day in day out matters that people think about. Clara Geroe’s archive has many such things, all tossed into a suitcase and left for posterity. One smiles to discover a note in Geroe’s handwriting scrawled upon the back of some learned paper: ‘Would you like to dine with us tonight?’ To whom was it addressed? Probably the person was sitting next to her, both of them lulled into boredom by some psychoanalytic conference speaker or other. Was it the end of the day? Or just after lunch with another three lectures to go? Did she disagree with the speaker? Or had it occurred to her that she had forgotten to extend that particular invitation?
These are the little things found woven into correspondence from colleagues, poems, a paper for her interest, books, pamphlets and even a recipe collection. Archives are treasure troves of oddments. Some discoveries are totally astonishing and unexpected. Archive work is a risky business.
In her early years in Australia Geroe’s English teacher, the author and literary critic Nettie Palmer, introduced Geroe to her family: Vance, her husband and a leading Australian author, and her daughters, Aileen and Helen. It is a side story in Sylvia Martin’s excellent biography of Aileen Palmer, Ink in her Veins. Geroe, a cultured woman, and deeply interested and knowledgeable in literature and the arts, may have appreciated the Palmer’s friendship. Aileen Palmer’s work during the Spanish War, and her driving ambulances in England during the blitz, would have been known to Geroe. Aileen Palmer also studied French literature at the University of Melbourne and wrote a thesis on Proust. At the time of publishing her book, Martin said, no copy of the thesis was to be found. When Aileen broke down after her return to Australia from London, it is possible the Palmers sought advice from Geroe. Martin discusses Aileen’s hospitalization and psychiatric treatment at length. For a time she was a patient of Geroe’s – something Martin also discusses in her book. Perhaps Aileen liked Geroe enough to give her a copy of her thesis. Maybe it was a forgotten loan only to turn up almost thirty two years after Palmer’s death in Geroe’s archive…
Here is the link to Aileen’s story retold in Martin’s piece, The Lost Thesis, ‘published last week in the online journal, ‘Inside Story’.
Each year on the third Saturday of May, in that space between autumn and winter, Melbourne hosts the Freud Conference at the Melbourne Brain Centre in Parkville. It was begunin about 1982 by a group of academics from the University of Melbourne,students of the late Professor Alan Davies. and the founders of the Melbourne Psychosocial Group. Among them were the philosophers, Douglas Kirsner and Ron Gilbert. Together with the political scientist and historian, Judith Brett, the group invited all who were interested to schlepp down to Lorne, a coastal resort a couple of hours south of Melbourne, for a weekend of wining, dining, and talking about Freud.It featured long beach walks, lectures and time for contemplation, and reading in the final days of the indian summer.
When the conference moved to Melbourne in the early 2000s it became a day event but retained its status as an annual ‘must’ on the calendar, for all who wish to explore psychoanalytic thought and its application to society. Its attraction also lies in the fact that anyone with an interest in the subject can attend. It is not open to ‘members only’ to this or that psychoanalytic organisation, It is a space within which to give and receive knowledge, drawing on local and international developments.
Australia is a long way from Europe and the United States. It is not an easy trip but it is one that has been made often. A peek into Australia’s online newspaper archive will show how often a reporter would troop down to the docks to welcome people from their overseas study trips. Or someone would arrive for a lecture tour. The Freud Conference continues that tradition inviting internationally renowned guest speakers to stand alongside local ones. a long Australian tradition of looking outward, and inward, for knowledge development and exchange.
A scroll through the Freud Conference blog hosted by Chris Hill, from the Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Association of Australia, gives a taste of the event, and access to the papers that have been presented. Maryanne Prodreka representing the Australian Association of Group Psychotherapists, Ros Glickfeld from the Australian Psychoanalytical Society and Chris Hill constitute the organising committee.
Next year the the conference theme will be ‘Love in a Hostile Environment: Thoughts on the young adult, the couple and the society we live in’.
It is a reason to visit Melbourne too. The conference flier with details about registration etc is here.
I have been working on Clara Geroe’s archive for the last twelve months. It is a scholar’s joy to touch the papers, to read her writings, the crossings out and rewording, as she struggled to find her way in the English language. Vitally, the State Library of Victoria has granted me a Regional Fellowship – with funds donated by the late Marion Orme Page, to do this. I have been given a gift, an opportunity with time attached to work in a raw archive, discovering stories hidden in the darkest corners ofa suitcase of letters, boxes of reports and a shelf full of books. The library’s resources will complement this collection with others in its keeping. Geroe was not alone in her migration from deep European culture to another perched on a land with a depth of history they did not understand. Up until the early 1970s Australia’s colonial settlers called themselves ‘British’ even though many were born on Australian lands and had never seen Britain. A sort of turning away from the place they or their forbears had landed.
Geroe’s address books – there are multiple versions – help track her path. European addresses give way to British and Australian, modified again and again. Who she talked to, wrote to and remembered, are significant markers. These are clues to the woman: how she felt about her work and her very lonely task as the only fully trained psychoanalyst in Australia from the moment of her arrival in Melbourne on 12 March 1940. The way she shaped her thoughts and words, her guiding lights, and the people she loved, are part of her story. It follows the trajectory of many women whose emigration was forced upon them. Their arrival in a strange land was an abrupt culture shock. Some disembarked from the ship that brought them, took one look, and returned to Europe. Others made new careers, while others – such as the Melbourne philosopher, Raymond Gaita’s mother, and so movingly recorded in his book, ‘Romulus my Father’, were unable to manage the mental distress of migration. Clara Geroe, as she came to be known, was a highly educated, cultured woman, a product of the avant gard world of Budapest. As a result of Hitler’s rise to power in Europe she became one of a new generation of migrants – a Hungarian refugee in this colonial settler Australian place in the antipodes
Dr G. Lazar Klara trained in Budapest with the Hungarian Psychoanalytical Society. She did not have the funds to undertake the training independently, the psychoanalyst Michael Balint explained in an interview in 1966. Instead she was taken on as a patient of the Hungarian Society’s Clinic and became one of Balint’s training patients. The Bulletin of the International Psychoanalytical Association(IPA) shows that her paper, on her treatment of a young girl, presented to the Hungarian Society in 1930, was followed by ratification of her membership in 1931. Geroe’s speciality was ‘pedagogic psychoanalysis’, following the idea that children should be brought up on psychoanalytic principles. Her focus on the treatment of children led to her involvement with the children’s clinic at the Hungarian Psychoanalytical Society and later, her work with the Friends of the Children of Hungarian Labourers. In 1938 she was ratified as a ‘Trainer of Pedagogues’ by the IPA.
In her younger years Geroe was one of a number of women analysts working in Hungary during the 1920s and 1930s. Anna Borgos, a Hungarian based scholar of women in psychoanalysis, shows that Geroe along with Kata Levy, Emmy Pikler, Alice Balint Eva Rosenberg and Edit Gyomeroi and Charlotte Balkanyi and others were in frequent contact with Anna Freud. After their own emigration to Britain, many found positions in Anna Freud’s Hampstead Clinic. Geroe maintained her connection with Anna Freud for many years – seeking and finding support from Anna Freud and, in return, during the bitter years of the war, sending food parcels and gifts for the Home children. During the late 1940s she encouraged several young Australian women psychologists to further their careers in London: Ivy Bennett, Cecily de Monchaux and Maria Kawenowka. Australia’s loss was England’s gain, or in Bennett’s case, the United States. All went on to significant contributions to the psychoanalytic world, choosing to not return to Australia.
“I am up against a hard task’, Geroe wrote in 1940. Her work in Australia was to train analysts alongside her clinical work with adults and children She was, early on, an employee of the Melbourne Institute of Psychoanalysis before joining its board in 1945 and moving full-time into her own practice. For the remainder of her life until her death in 1980 she held seminars for students and interested people, gave lectures, and became involved in the New Education Fellowship. In the early years she kept up her work as a pedagogic analyst all the while meeting her commitment to the training of analysts. And slowly, brick by brick, and with the help of others and often enough, opposition, she set up the frame an institute. What kind of institute it was, and what it became, and why, will be my focus for the next little while. A book for Routledge is at the end of it, all going well. That is another gift… and the beginning of this journey. The posts that follow, along with others, will peg out the process.
Bulletin of the International Psychoanalytical Association, 1930, 1931, 1932.
Anna Borgos, (2018) Girls of Tomorrow – Women in the Budapest School of Psychoanalysis, Norman Libra, Budapest, 2018.
Raymond Gaita, ‘Romulus my Father’, 2008.
Bluma Swerdloff, The reminiscences of Michael Balint. Tanscripts of interviews ( 6.8.1965 and 7.8 1956) Oral History research office, Columbia University, copy in University of Essex Library.
Sylvia Martin, Ink In her Veins: The Troubled Life of Aileen Palmer, University of Western Australia Press, 2016.
It is difficult to not turn away when someone’s life is not working out well. It’s easier to shun. Work colleagues, unable to cope with difficult behaviours, might ease the person from their midst. A family might banish that brother, sister, son or daughter to a silent place. When respectability is everything mental distress can shake to the core.
Sylvia Martin takes us into these shadowy silences in her biography of Aileen Palmer, a translator and talented poet and novelist. Plagued by mental illness during the second half of her life- or was it, in part, the mental distress of wartime trauma? – Palmer never truly flourished as a writer despite the talent of her youth. Instead she remained within the protective cowl of her family: her parents, the writers Vance and Nettie Palmer and her sister, Helen Palmer. Regarded on a par with royalty in the Australian literary world from the 1930s the Palmers moved with socialistic, communistic elite. They held a central place in Melbourne’s literary circles which included Clem Christesen, the founder editor of the journal Meanjin, his wife, Russian born, Nina Maximov Christesen who launched the study of Russion and Slavonic Studies at the University of Melbourne and the historian Brian Fitzpatrick . Nettie Palmer’s biography of the writer, Henry Handel Richardson certainly underlined Richardson’s importance as an Australian author who centred her work on the colonial experience and the vexed question of identity. The author Katherine Susannah Pritchard was a presence in Palmer family life – and a mentor to Aileen. Vance Palmer’s books: The Passage published in 1930 and The Rainbow-Bird and Other Stories, published in 1957 sold more than 50,000 copies each between 1959 and 1974. The Passage found its way onto high school reading lists. Helen Palmer, an educationalist, sometimes poet and, along with her sister, a member of the Communist Party , also has a place in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, in a biographical written by fellow Communist Party member, Robin Gollan a historian of the Australian left. Aileen, it seems, was put away. Until Sylvia Martin found her.
Aileen Palmer was born in 1915, Helen in 1917. At the time her parents were struggling to make their living from writing. Neither had an independent income: both came from middle class families. Nettie’s own background centred upon the Baptist Church where good deeds were prized over monetary gain. Vance’s family valued respectability and decency. Rebellion, if that was what it was, did not venture much beyond these bounds despite the couple’s professsed political radicalism. Neither entirely came to terms with Aileen’s choices including her sexuality. Both sisters appear to have struggled against the strictures of their parents’ iron grip. Aileen was the one who did not get away.
When Aileen was a small child the family moved to Queensland so Vance and Nettie could afford to live on their writing. During her teens she attended Presbyterian Ladies College in Kew, Melbourne, and went on to the University of Melbourne to study French literature along with German, Spanish and Russian. She graduated with a first class honors degree in French in 1935. All the while she wrote. Her semi autobiographical novel, ‘Poor Child’, was written during her late teens, explored her passion for a beautiful teacher – part of a rite of passage as she grew into adulthood. At university she was part of a friendship group of women whose political and literary views, if not their sexuality, appealed to her. Aileen was a young woman in formation – using the space that university life provided to explore ideas and identity.
After her graduation the Palmer family went first to England where Aileen immersed herself in the local politics. She travelled alone to Vienna working as a translator at the while Hitler’s fascism asserted its power. She rejoined her family in Barcelona at the time of the July 1936 insurrection. After her parents departure Aileen volunteered for the Communist led International Brigade and worked as an interpreter at the English Hospital at Granén on the Aragon Front. She returned to London, and drove ambulances during the Blitz. She appears to have had a serious love affair with ‘B’, who while never identified, appears to have been a woman. Nettie Palmer, her mother, may not have known about this even though, Martin notes, Aileen’s preference for women was clear.
Aileen’s years in Spain and London were the time of her life. It ended in 1945 when she returned, reluctantly, to Australia at her sister’s request after her mother suffered a mild stroke. Helen promptly moved to Sydney leaving Aileen with their parents in Melbourne – subject to their ways that stifled Aileen’s creativity and sexuality. Nor did the milieu in which she lived help. Aileen’s life was built upon the conventions, constraints and assumptions of elder daughterly duty. Unable to reconcile herself with unconscious strictures within her family’s life, Aileen broke down. She became an alcoholic; her mind snapped, and for the rest of her life she was admitted to hospital for long periods where she was treated with new and experimental forms of psychiatry. She attempted psychoanalysis and tried to write.
But this writing, unlike her juvenilia, was often designated the product of a mentally ill person with signs of manic behaviour (p. 276) and was not taken seriously. Martin does not agree with this view. Nor, eventually, did her sister who began to see the beauty in Aileen’s poetry, and the rhythms and cadences of her writing ( p. 276). Aileen was able to put her emotional experience into words, Martin says. Is it that the clumsiness of psychiatric treatment of the day has obscured talent? This is not to say that the treating psychiatrists were ignorant of such qualities in their patients. But good work has been lost even if talent has not been undermined. I have heard of paintings, given to carers in gratitude by such talented people, destroyed because they were thought of as ‘mad art’. Fortunately someone was wise enough to keep Aileen’s work and donate it to a library.
Martin’s archival mining has produced a number of Aileen’s poems including this one: ‘The dead have no regrets‘ read at the 2016 commemoration of the British and Irish volunteers who went to Spain from 1936 to 1939.
Maybe Aileen Palmer absorbed her mother’s ambivalence about the entire literary enterprise. Palmer had put aside her poetry Aileen was born. She hoped, too, that her daughter would not have ‘ink in her veins’ suggesting that her experience as an author had led her to conclude that a writer’s life was not a desirable one. Palmer continued to write and promote other authors, helping describe Australian literature to the rest of the world and Australia itself.
Aileen may not have known, consciously, of her mother’s doubt, but absorbed it, as if by osmosis. She wanted more than anything to be remembered as a poet, Martin writes. But her mother’s injunction, internalised from the the cradle, confused her. Her more emotionally robust younger sister was not as encumbered. Nor did she suffer, as Aileen did, the mental illnesses that also plagued their uncle, ‘Wob’, Vance Palmer’s brother. When Aileen finally published her book of poetry, World Without Strangers, it almost co-incided with her mother’s death in 1964. As if by then, Martin writes ‘she could cast off her mother’s shadow’. ( p. 265).
While Martin’s portrait of Aileen takes us into the Spanish Civil War and to the London Blitz, her writing about 1940s and 1950s Melbourne intellectual circles adds much to the historical record. In 1940, true to form for she was always in the front line when it came to doing good, Nettie Palmer volunteered to assist with the Victorian International Refugee Committee and began teaching English to newly arrived Europeans refugees – among them doctors and architects. One of them was Melbourne psychoanalyst, Hungarian doctor Clara Lazar Geroe who had arrived in Australia in March 1940 with her husband and son after intense lobbying by a group of doctors and their supporters. These included Sydney psychoanalyst Roy Coupland Winn and in Melbourne, Paul Dane, Norman Albiston, Reg Ellery and Guy Reynolds. These were Melbourne’s leading psychiatrists working at a time when new ideas and treatments were developing: electroconvulsive therapy, insulin treatment and other medications. Such methods were revolutionising psychiatric treatment – particularly for those suffering psychotic illnesses. Ostensibly this new medication relieved symptoms enough for people to be treated on an outpatient basis, rather than incarceration. But not without severe side effect and wild experimentation such as the sleeping cure; with lithium where learning about side effects was part of the process. Patients still had long spells in hospital: but months rather than years. At times treatment must have felt worse than the illness. And if Aileen told her story about her life in Spain and England it appears that her carers regarded this as part of her delusional system. Martin relates these events without judgement. Rancour is left to the reader.
Even more so upon reading Martin’s account of Aileen’s psychoanalysis with Clara Geroe. Nettie Palmer had taught English to Geroe – well enough for her to begin practising psychoanalysis in 1941. At this time Nettie recorded conversations with Geroe: about her frustration about her refugee life; her inability to move about the community without a permit and the prejudicial behaviour she had experienced at the hands of a police officer. ” You say your’re a doctor! Can’t you read the rules? Says it’splain hatred of the intellectual”. ( p. 237). Geroe’s dissatisfaction with her emigration and loss of her intellectual world is apparent.
Aileen was to remark that her treatment with Geroe did not help. In fact it made her more depressed, she said. Geroe did her own bit of undermining. She employed Helen Palmer as a typist requesting that Aileen not be told. She seems to have wanted to be part of the Palmer’s lives. One wonders whether such fragments, recorded in Nettie’s diary, are clues to another story about Geroe’s longing to connect with the world she had lost. Was it that Geroe wanted to recover the place she had left behind in Budapest more than she wanted to practice as a psychoanalyst? Or was it that her ideas about psychoanalysis and how it is practiced are no longer in favour – if they ever were? Geroe was a long way from the land of her birth, training and the accountabilities these implied. Aileen, shocked by her Spanish and English experiences, and by her subsequent emotional collapse, appears not to have found the treatment she needed.
There is much to learn from this biography about a very troubled person who tried so hard. Martin’s accumulation of evidence, carefully collated, is written without judgment but all the while building a portrait of a woman interacting with her world, conscious and unconscious. I walked the streets Aileen. I rode beside her on the battle fields and stood watching, shocked while she pulled bodies from the rubble in London. And then there was the downhill slide…
I finished this book with sadness for a life and talent not realised. I wanted more for Aileen Palmer. A biographer cannot do better.
Deborah Jordan (2013), ‘In defence of Vance and Nettie’, Overland, No. 10, October 2013.
My piece about psychoanalysis for the Australian edition of the online daily, The Conversation was published last Friday. It has had a good reception, I think. I will leave it to you to decide.
”The Conversation’, by the way, draws its authorship from academia. With the assistance of an excellent editorial team who tolerate the vagaries of non journalists writing journalism, it covers a broad range of issues with intelligence and depth.
Session III : Thursday 18 May 1944
Matilda is living near Belsize Park Road, part of a community of German-Jewish refugees who had fled Hitler in the early years of the war. After a period working as a fire watcher during the Blitz she was employed as a clerk in an organisation assisting refugees.
Recently she has been romantically involved with two men – Robert whom she met several months ago and Monty, with whom she has been going out with for a long time. Both are serving in the military forces in some way. It means they are away, overseas, for long periods. There are long gaps between meetings.
She has been puzzled about her response to Robert with whom she had felt, upon meeting, that there was much to bind them together. Potentially. She had felt herself to be in love, but doubted her capacity for this. But then? She is writing in her second language, or her third. It is difficult to decipher meaning as a result. Her thoughts seem disjointed, her tenses are all over the place. She might be unable to write down her thoughts. The intense feelings are too much, maybe. The mind, I think, is not an orderly space. She writes,
I have some of that feeling of panic and emptiness. I vaguely feel that something is wrong with Robert and wonder at the same time whether this is not a projection on to him of my own vacillating emotions? With Monty I feel warm and comforted in that warm and paternal presence, although I often come across traits that disturb me: sentimental, self dramatising, petit-bourgeois. But there is a kernel which is good and comforting. It is not for me a feeling of ‘This is what I have been dreaming of long ago’, as it was when I met Robert, but it is positive nevertheless.
My thoughts and feelings got curiously merged; I did not know to whom my tenderness and my desire went… I was surprised how small and far away Robert became, and then again when I talked to Mother at Guildford there was only Robert. Now he is far away again. And I feel alone.
Yet I don’t want to break the physical aloneness. Why? Seriousness perhaps? Or [am I, to be honest,] merely husband hunting? I feel I must tread softly with Monty and feelings may develop. But in almost everything he does I compare him with Robert…
28th December 1943
Suddenly it seemed a terrific problem. Monty is intense and – I still cannot help feeling – his somewhat self dramatizing letters which sweep me away on waves of emotion… leave me somewhat high and dry. And then again the knowledge that I don’t want him profoundly. That I am longing for Robert and yet might perhaps just as well give him up.
I feel I ought to marry but I don’t know why; that a lover seems preferable to a husband but at the same time needs more sefl confidence in me. That I wnat children but don’t want them now and am loth to accept the responsibilities…
Matilda’s journeys into inner London, to Harley Street to see Dr W, become central to her. She needs to explore these quandaries – about men, lovers, marriage and, through her dreams, her experiences as a German Jewish woman, a refugee, in London. This is her third session with Dr W.
I tell him about my fainting fits.
W: The easiest way to escape facing a situation. There must have been an unconscious emotional crisis.
She then tells him about a dream about Robert, and her wish that W solve this problem for her. After all, H, an old friend, or perhaps another therapist, was somebody who solved my problems for me. W. wont.
W: We move round and around the same problem until we outgrow it. -We have found that Mother is a very great influence.
M : Why? Because I open the door for her. Why do I?
Matilda does not seem to like the thought that her mother is so central to her.
Session IV: Tuesday 23 May 1944
Matilda tells Dr W about her reflections between the sessions…
Matilda: On the one hand I ask Mother about things I don’t really think her competent to . I ask her about small things and put the full responsibility upon her if things go wrong. On the other hand I don’t tell her anything at all and resent all… interference.
W: Both are symptoms of immaturity.
This comment stays with her long enough for Matilda to record. We do not know what transpired next. We are working with the gap between event and memory. What has been suppressed?
Matilda: I felt completely lost last Monday after leaving Robert.
W: That feeling can not be got rid of so quickly.
Matilda: Query: Was it sexual because of F.l?
I wonder whether she is referring to ‘Father Love’ here. Is she beginning to doubt the reality of her connection with Robert, seeing it as a enactment of her internal life?
Matilda: Dreams. Element of conflict. Mother on one side, [her father?] on the other. Neither is myself….
Matilda’s diary is hard to follow. Like the analyst we must follow these residues of her thought and find a pattern. She seems to be freely associating as she converses with herself about herself and about her experience of Dr W.
She begins with two dreams – about a man on a bike and an association: Unsolved question: Who is the man I feel is interfering?
Dream about railway station: Conflict of wanting to make contact with Robert but not quite daring. There is a dream about a flower, her feelings; an element of the emotional connection she is making with Robert.
W: I am not interfering in your relationship with Robert in any direction.
Matilda: I feel better about it since now I don’t feel I ought to marry, and can carry on for the time being. There is probably a lot of egoism in it in that I want to keep him, (Robert) until I can do without…
This is a guest blog by Alison Moulds, second-year DPhil student at St Anne’s College, University of Oxford. Her thesis examines the construction of the doctor-patient relationship, and the formation of a professional identity, in nineteenth-century medical writing and fiction … Continue reading →
A very interesting interview today on ABC Radio National – about the History of Mental Illness in Australia. Hopefully a transcript will be available soon. The link is below:
Robert Kenny, an Australian scholar, poet and writer, has a paper entitled, ‘Freud, Jung and Boas: the psychoanalytic engagement with anthropology revisited’, in the June 2015 edition of the journal Notes and Records: The Royal Society of the History of Science. It is a cogently and carefully written piece challenging accepted interpretations, if not wisdom, about Freud’s development of his social theories in the 1910s. The essay is part of a larger project Kenny has been working on since, at least, the publication of his book, The Lamb enters the Dreaming: Nathanael Pepper and the ruptured world in 2007.
Kenny’s argument centres upon Freud’s and Jung’s visit to the United States in 1909 to attend and lecture at a Congress at Cark University. It is no co-incidence, Kenny argues, that their encounter with the personage and the anthropological work of Franz Boas, who also lectured at the Congress, that there was a shift of focus to anthropological interests in the months and years immediately afterwards. In his lecture, Kenny writes, Boas challenged social darwinist ideas placing humanity of a scale of development from savage to civilised, arguing that culture was a response to environment and, essentially, throwing Spencerian theory out of the window. This culminated, in Freud’s case, the publication of Totem and Taboo and in Jung’s his book, Transformations. Kenny’s abstract reads:
Sigmund Freud’s and C. G. Jung’s turn to evolutionist anthropological material after 1909 is usually seen as a logical progression of their long-term interest in such material. It is also seen that they used this material ignorant of the significant challenges to the evolutionist paradigm underpinning such material, in particular the challenges led by Franz Boas. This paper argues otherwise: that both psychologists’ turnings to such material was a new development, that neither had shown great interest in such material before 1909, and that their turnings to such material, far from being taken in ignorance of the challenges to evolutionist anthropology, were engagements with those challenges, because the evolutionist paradigm lay at the base of psychoanalysis. It argues that it is no coincidence that this engagement occurred after their return from America in 1909, where they had come into first-hand contact with the challenges of Franz Boas.
Analysis of cultural subjectivity is central to Kenny’s historical writing. Very much influenced by the ethnohistorians, Greg Dening, Rhys Isaac and Inga Clendinnen, Kenny’s 2007 book, The Lamb Enters the Dreaming, traced the life of Nathanael Pepper of the Wotjobaluk people, who was born as the first white pastoralists were driving cattle and sheep into Victoria’s Wimmera region. The book opens one’s mind to the ways these pastoralists and the Wotjobaluk people thought about and responded to one another. Following Dening’s analysis of the encounter with cultural specificities across time and place Kenny argues for recognition of the respective, and unconsciously held, subjectivities of the pastoralistd and Wotjobaluk. If the social unconscious is framed by those unconsciously held constraints and restraints that shape action and response: if neither pastoralist or Wotjobaluk were able to find in the other affirmation of preconceptions shaped and held from birth, then it would have been difficult for either side to recognize, let alone think about the other, other than in their own terms.
Kenny’s latest essay opens further the question of how unconsciously held European subjectivity – particularly the formation of darwinist theory – influenced the way the development of the mind and the social was understood. Boas provided the inspiration and impetus to look at accepted ideas more closely, if not to see them in the first place. And in that sense Kenny’s essay also adds to a growing body of writing – Rudnytsky comes to mind – recovering the voices and writers that ultimately, and also found expression in Freud’s work.
Greg Dening ( 1980), Islands and Beaches: Discources on a silent land: Marquesas 1774-1880, Honolulu, Hawaii, The University Press of Hawaii.
Robert Kenny (2007), The Lamb Enters The Dreaming: Nathanael Pepper and the Ruptured World, Melbourne, Scribe Publications.
Robert Kenny (2015), Freud, Jung and Boas: the psychoanalytic engagement with anthrpology revisited, Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science, Vol. 69, Issue 2.
Peter Rudnytsky (2011), Rescuing psychoanalysis from Freud and other essays in re-vision, London, Karnac.