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Quotes

Quotes from ‘I have heared the mermaids singing’ by Christopher Bollas

Westin Moorgate and the psychoanalyst spent quite some time reflecting on this episode. They talked about what indeed it did mean to be a citizen, especially in this so-called Modern world. Initially they went through the usual societal tics: where were the police when you really needed them? Why couldn’t they turn the traffic wardens – who swarmed about the city like locusts – into a kind of neighbourhood Dads Army to protect people from the ordinary’ crimes of the day? But they soon got on to the fact that now and then we will all find ourselves alone with the potential for heroic action, or for failure as a citizen. A citizen had to be one who took responsibility for civitas, and therefore had an implied licence to intervene in certain circumstances when the law was being broken.

I have heard the mermaids singing - Christopher Bollas

I have heard the mermaids singing – Christopher Bollas

During their next walk the psychoanalyst had suggested to Westin that the Catastrophe had unconsciously ended citizenship because the state could no longer protect its citizens.  Even though people genuinely needed more police on the streets and were indeed frightened of terrorists, there was a latent rage against the failure of state structures to deliver on the promise of effective government of any kind, and so people were now developing an anarchic mentality. At the very moment of needing more assurance, since we could no longer rely upon the state to protect us, this failure led to what Anna Freud used to call ‘identification with the aggressor’. So when Westin stepped in to act as a citizen, he unwittingly offended everyone. No one thought well of his action. He was out of order.

I have heard the mermaids singing - Christopher Bollas

I have heard the mermaids singing – Christopher Bollas

Some of these thoughts were in the psychoanalyst’s mind as he headed to his office that morning, pondering the wisdom of his intervention with Bunnie Hopgood. He knew, however, that soon he would be immersed in Byron Mourncaster’s world of depression, and as he picked up his espresso from Hippo, still his cafe of choice, the thought occurred to him that depression might be a form of political responsibility. Maybe those who were depressed, he mused, were actually holding the state together. Maybe they were the quiet glue in a social fabric that was otherwise headed toward chaos as depression – in a way, protecting people from disorder, as they were too bummed to be anarchic.

Analysts are meant to listen to their patients with an open mind; but often enough they do go off the rails, and poor Myrna Fallbrook’s use of the word ‘bipolar’ was most Unfortunate for her in that moment. The psychoanalyst hated the word more than almost any other. He thought that people who handed the word out should be arrested on the spot.In America nowadays, everybody was ‘bipolar’ – they had moods, ups and downs, and because to be human in America was now a disease to be eradicated, this diagnosis amounted to a tool of ethnic cleansing.

The psychoanalyst pointed out to her that she seemed to have changed her frame of mind, to which she said that she was just in a grouchy mood and was sorry. The analyst acknowledged that she had reason to feel low, but also said he thought she was in a funk because she was truly angry and she had turned the anger inwards. It had originally been directed at Acton, but she had identified with him and now was angry with herself. This had worked for a while, he explained, because one could derive masochistic pleasure from such self-harm. It was a way of getting a kick out of a kick; further, it was a way of partly mastering helplessness, as one actively took part in the attack on the self. In fact, in that moment, depression was a sort of intermediate mood between elation (‘Aha, you schmuck, you’ve been caught!’) and dejection (`I’m through for ever’), so if one were engaged in a kind of self-punitive alliance with one’s presecutor then the depression of apparent worthlessness was somewhat offset.

By the end of the evening the group agreed that depression was, after all, a marvellous thing.

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