share


Interview with Darian Leader

A practicing Lacanian psychoanalyst, Darian Leader is one of a dying breed. It is no overstatement to say that psychoanalysis is not only out of fashion and widely scorned but largely dismissed as an outdated discipline borne of a personality cult; Leader himself has described analysts today as ‘mutants scavenging after a nuclear holocaust’.

 

What makes his position rarer still is that he is also a celebrated author; in the course of eight books Leader has established himself as an elegant and erudite voice of Lacanian theory in academic yet popular books commenting on love, the sexes, the history of psychoanalysis, the mind and the body. Much fêted by the artworld he has also written numerous essays on the work of leading British artists such as Antony Gormley and Marc Quinn – many of whom he counts as friends – and is often presented ‘in conversation’ with artists.

 

A remarkable feature of Leader’s writing is the seeming ease with which he can make complex and strange psychoanalytic concepts accessible to a general audience. This arises in part from the clarity of his prose but also from his ability to illustrate his concepts with examples taken from cinema, art, literature, the public canonical case studies and the privacy of the session – moving between high and low culture whilst avoiding the pitfalls of that method, now so in vogue in our post-cultural theory era.

 

This is no attempt at a showy parlour game of pop-deconstruction, but is a method merited because, as Leader explains, ‘What matters here is not the treatment of any one genre but rather fidelity to questions.’ It is in this way that readers are able to find his writings on the psyche and the arts educational in the best sense: they provoke us to consider more carefully, move beyond appearances and question further. Whatever the topic, we are invited to pursue Leader’s primary concern: the uniquely human capacity for meaning, and the questioning of it.

 

In recent years, in What is Madness? and the newly released Strictly Bipolar, he has emerged as a savage critic of ‘Big Pharma’, a campaigning voice against the rapid movement towards drug-based treatments for mental health disorders in health policy across the world. Whilst his literary work, art writing and policy politics may seem like somewhat disparate worlds to inhabit, at the heart of each remains his psychoanalytic practice.

 

His early books on the sexes and relationships, Why Do Women Write More Letters Than They Post? and Promises Lovers Make When it Gets Late inspired much startled praise, prompting the Guardian to conjure him in the public mind thus: ‘Imagine an Umberto Eco more into the self than semiotics, or Oliver Sacks as an agony aunt.’ However, even these ostensibly lighter books dealt with the darkest of human nature, and in turn prompt us to consider these elements within our own experience. When reading his books, as all psychoanalytic literature, one finds oneself playing at a game of identification; searching out (and overlooking) in the narratives presented, our friends, our family and ourselves.

 

In this play of identification, a figure harder to picture clearly is that of Darian Leader himself. There is something incredibly intimidating about interviewing a psychoanalyst, a person who is primarily concerned with conversation, listening to what is and is not said. There is also the consideration, if we note the traditional assumptions of the analytic dyad that the analyst appear as a neutral listening figure drawing out the transference of the analysand, that the analyst can be cast as a character trained in the art of concealing themselves.

 

It is therefore difficult to conduct a conversation about psychoanalysis with an analyst without an acute preoccupation with subtext. However, as we sat talking in his light, book-lined room I found Darian Leader to be an open, engaging and generous conversant. As I came to listen back to the recording of the interview I registered, apparently for the first time, the background noise of building works. Rattling, banging, drilling, clunking – the murmurings of unseen work being done by unknown agents in the background of the conversation.

 

Q

The White Review

— When did you decide you wanted to train as an analyst?

A

Darian Leader

— I was interested in analytic training when I finished school but I was a bit young. I went to Cambridge to study Philosophy and spent a lot of time exploring and investigating different traditions and trainings. In the end, the Lacanian one seemed the most serious and the most scientific. After leaving Cambridge, I moved to Paris, where I lived for nine years, and trained as an analyst.

Q

The White Review

— It’s interesting that you say ‘scientific’, because I assumed that it was your interests in philosophy, literature and art that might have led you to the Lacanian tradition.

A

Darian Leader

— I’ve always had a strong interest in the History of Science. I did an MA in Paris on an area in the late seventeenth-, early eighteenth-century History of Science, looking at the development of optics and how that was taken up into philosophical discourse. It was about how the notion of an internal world was created. What interested me were the links between scientific work, technology and discourse about what nowadays we would call the self. There was a religious framework to scientific work at that time and I did a lot of research on that for many years when I was in Paris.

 

This is something that still interests me a great deal, and having that as a kind of formation I always find it very puzzling that we live in an era of new pseudo-sciences. The disciplines that were never very sure of having any scientific credentials are now telling the traditional natural sciences what they should be doing to be scientific. It’s a very, very interesting inversion of what has actually happened historically in terms of the place of psychology and other disciplines in relation to the traditional natural sciences.

Q

The White Review

— What was it about Lacanian practice that interested you?

A

Darian Leader

— The theory interested me for several years before I knew anything about the practice, because to know about the practice you have to enter as a patient, as an analysand. So, at first what interested me was what I took to be the theoretical seriousness of it and the complexity, the sophistication of the theory, the fact that Jacques Lacan drew on many different disciplines – linguistics, anthropology, mathematics – using methods and ideas from all those other disciplines to try to build on Freud’s work. It seemed to me very convincing and well worth studying. I also liked the way in which it wasn’t knowledge on a plate, as it were – you had to make a real effort to study and it was in itself an education. It made you explore other disciplines, which was a wonderful experience.

 

Later on, when I actually started analysis I realised things were different and that to be on a couch talking about your personal problems was rather different from reading a book and trying to make sense of a text, and it was a very difficult experience. It’s not really something you can prepare yourself for in any way. No book can ever tell you what it’s like and obviously it’s different for everyone who undertakes it. It was a difficult and challenging experience which over time questioned the ideals and expectations I’d had about what it would mean to work psychoanalytically.

Q

The White Review

— Depending on where one reads about you, in different contexts – for example an introduction to a piece of your art writing or an introduction to an interview with you in a broadsheet – you are either described as an analyst or an analyst and writer. Have you noticed that?

A

Darian Leader

— Yes, that’s an interesting thing, isn’t it? A psychoanalyst and a writer. For me it’s all part of the same thing, I can’t see them being separate. I was always interested in writing, I always enjoyed writing – although for a long time I never wrote anything. Then when I was in Paris I wrote the draft of Why do Women Write More Letters Than They Post? Although it was published second it was actually my first book, which came out of my own experiences in … a love story, let’s say. When I came back to England I was asked to write a brief introduction to Lacan which was called Introducing Lacan, which was actually published first. After that, I did a kind of sequel to Why do Women and since then the work has focused more on clinical issues.

Q

The White Review

— Do you see those earlier works as lighter and more amusing? Perhaps more adolescent?

A

Darian Leader

— In terms of style, I’ve probably changed over the years, but they were very enjoyable books to write. I wrote them when I had a lot of time to read and I’d been teaching Comparative Literature in Paris. I spent several hours a day reading old books, eighteenth-, nineteenth-century essays and novels, and so I was able to do something which I really love doing, which is to enter the world of a particular writer – Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë – and reading all of their work and biographies to try to have a sense of what they were trying to do with their writing. In the last ten to fifteen years, nearly all my time is taken up with clinical practice, so I don’t have the luxury of that time to read or re-read a particular author’s work.

Q

The White Review

— Your next book, Freud’s Footnotes, was more academic in focus. It makes a case for the contemporary relevance and rehabilitation of psychoanalysis.

A

Darian Leader

— I’m very attached to that book. I often use it if I’m thinking about something or preparing a talk because it condenses so much work and research that I’d done over the years. Freud’s Footnotes looks at traditional things: the gender question in the 1910s and ‘20s; psychoanalysis and music; the internal world; where people got the idea of the internal world from; beating fantasies; and the relation between Melanie Klein and Jacques Lacan is also something I’m very interested in. In both The New Black and my bipolar book I try to find links between the work of Klein and Lacan. I like to put them together and see what comes out.

Q

The White Review

— You also write a lot on art, including writing essays for artists’ books and publications. How do those writings relate to your book Stealing the Mona Lisa,  which is ostensibly about the theft from the Louvre and eventual recovery of the Mona Lisa, but turns more upon the role of art in our lives and in the lives of artists.

A

Darian Leader

— I’ve always written about artists’ work. I started in Paris and when I came back I wrote some stuff for Marc Quinn, whom I knew from Cambridge. I’ve done a lot now: I’ve written almost forty essays about artists. Most of the work has grown through social things because most of my friends are artists or work in the artworld. I always feel that most of my friends understand psychoanalysis better than a lot of analysts because artists understand how framing works.

 

If you go to art school and do an art foundation course the first thing you may be asked to do is to take a familiar object, like that tape recorder or chair, and de-familiarise it. You make a huge model of it in felt or a tiny model of it or show how it could be different. In that process you learn how much of what we take to be the real world around us is the result of conventions, language and social processes.

 

Artists seem to understand that perfectly and so I’ve always had a kind of affinity. I talk about what I’m doing or discuss ideas more with artists than I do with analysts and through that I end up writing catalogue pieces or stuff about their work. The Mona Lisa book really came out of that although I was interested in the story of the Mona Lisa when I was in Paris.

Q

The White Review

— An interesting aspect of the story of the theft of the Mona Lisa is that more people came to see the empty space, the absence, in the weeks after the theft than had been to see the painting itself when it was present. Why do you think the theft was such a potent event?

A

Darian Leader

— It took the theft to give both the iconic status to the painting but also to make it move around. Its image was found on cigarette lighters, posters, chocolate boxes: you see the dissemination of the image that you’d never really had for any artwork before. There had been works of art that had been reproduced a lot and popularised but you’d never had a work of art that had such a wide dissemination until that theft. It’s very interesting to compare that moment of reality of the theft – when it became clear that it was a poor house painter who took it, that there wasn’t a huge conspiracy – with all the theories that were woven around it: at one point it was the Germans, an Argentinean mastermind… It’s an example of the way people build fantasies around the point of loss.

Q

The White Review

Stealing the Mona Lisa, along with The New Black, seems to be the book of yours in which loss comes most to the foreground, although it also features in Promises Lovers Make When It Gets Late and Why Do Women.

A

Darian Leader

— Well, in Promises there is also a loss of paragraphing. I forget what the exact circumstances were but there was a rush to get it to print and they lost nearly all the paragraph breaks in the book. If you see the book it looks like a kind of word sandwich, one long, huge paragraph.

Q

The White Review

— You’ve mentioned how in Freud’s writing the points at which he engages directly with works of art are when he has hit a conceptual barrier or practical difficulty within psychoanalysis. How does your writing on art and engagement with art inform your practice as an analyst?

A

Darian Leader

— It’s very precise in that when I am doing an essay about an artist, even if I know them already, I’ll go and spend a lot of time with them in the studio. I’ll go for several visits every week over a few months and I’ll look at all their work that is available, from their student days until now. I’ll get out old boxes and look at things and look at their old jpegs. It’s an attempt to enter into someone’s world and understand why they took the particular paths they took, at what moment things change, at what moment there was a movement in style from one track to another, and I always find that doing that brings up questions and makes me think about things that are useful for my practice.

 

For example working with Cornelia Parker about the idea of presence and absence in her work gave me some new ideas about what we call negative objects and the way that absence can function. With the Mona Lisa there is an absence created by the removal of the painting but in Cornelia Parker’s work absence can be modulated and used in different ways. Thinking about her work and talking to her really helped me to go further in thinking about that.

Q

The White Review

— Your more recent books, Why do People get Ill?, The New Black and What is Madness? have at their heart clinical material of quite a severe nature – psychosomatic illnesses, depression, psychosis. If you compare these texts to your earlier works would you agree that there is a way in which your writing has gotten progressively darker?

A

Darian Leader

— This is what Mary my partner says! That I used to write books with titles like Why do Women Write More Letters Than They Post? and Promises Lovers Make When it Gets Late and now they have titles like The New Black and What is Madness? For me Why do Women is a very serious book, and the issues within it are very serious, whereas with Promises I was trying to write a lighter book and I didn’t succeed in doing that because the issues are always about the pain of human relationships.

 

There is a thread that runs through the last books that you mentioned, The New Black and What is Madness?, which has to do with what in a human life can be turned into a story, and what can’t. What is susceptible to some forms of symbolisation and narrativisation, and what isn’t? And what do people do with what can’t be taken up into story? And what rules, methods, practices do people adopt to deal with those residues, those remainders? I think that’s the theme in all of those books, the thread that runs through them.

Q

The White Review

— That touches on what people find most difficult to understand about psychoanalysis and can be most sceptical of, that there is a strong emphasis on the need for narrative. When you read popular psychoanalytic works it can sometimes feel like the clinical cases that are given offer the most concise version of what is a very long story – the analytic process. You are presented the analysand’s symptoms, their background, a little bit of the working through and then, ‘This is the interpretation.’ So it can seem to the sceptical – or conversely to the naïve – reader that psychoanalysis is just about the interpretation, about providing a neat narrative.

A

Darian Leader

— Yes, exactly. In a way this is what draws a lot of people to analysis. They read accounts, case histories which look like nice, well-rounded stories – and people love stories – but at the same time it makes them sceptical because they say quite rightly that you can’t really bound a human life in such a narrow framework. But in the actual analytic work what you will find is that it takes many years working with each person.

 

First of all, what happens is that the person tries to present some kind of narrative of their life and it generally doesn’t work. There will be points of contradiction or failure in consistency which are where things get interesting, which you then try and explore. In the end the person might come up with a new version of their own history, which is incredibly important, and at the same time come to a recognition, painfully at the time, that there are certain things where there will never be the missing jigsaw piece that will explain everything. People are left with certain difficulties or problems that stories aren’t really the answer for and they have to find other ways to elaborate them or try and turn them into something else. You’ve always got those two sides.

Q

The White Review

— So would you say that psychoanalysis expresses actually a quite complex relation to narrative, a desire for it, and yet an acceptance that it won’t be complete?

A

Darian Leader

— Yes, it’s very difficult because people like things to be complete. It’s very difficult to recognise that maybe there are some areas of your family history or your childhood that you’ll never know about or some other aspects of your experience that perhaps will not change but you can still do something with them.

Q

The White Review

— There are many common themes through your books but as you mentioned earlier, your style has changed significantly and I wondered whether from your perspective your audience has changed? For example, in The New Black and What is Madness? there are whole chapters explaining core psychoanalytic concepts, as if to say to the reader ‘This is the groundwork that you need in order to understand what I am about to say to you.’

A

Darian Leader

— I will always do that. I write the odd journal article for people in the field but I don’t want to just address people in the field because for me psychoanalysis always involves trying to transmit something to an audience beyond just psychoanalysts, otherwise you get a kind of entropy and the whole analytic project gets kind of stuck. It always seemed very important to me for new people to come into the field, to get an interest in it, and how can they do that unless they find analytically orientated books, articles, whatever, that aren’t just speaking to the initiated? Also, it’s very useful to have to explain concepts that you might just take for granted. As you explain them you might find that they’re not very good concepts or that they need revision or junking, or that you don’t understand them yourself. It’s always a stimulating process to try to explain what you wouldn’t normally feel you have to explain.

Q

The White Review

— You trained in France, and it’s fair to say that France has more of a psychoanalytic culture and a culture of psychoanalysis that is more present in the public discourse than in Britain. There is also a larger perception here of psychoanalysis being at a crisis point. What does that climate mean for you as an analyst working in Britain now?

A

Darian Leader

— It’s very difficult because the Lacanian way of practice is unfamiliar to most people while in France, if you say you’re an analyst people generally have an idea what that means. Normally, here, most people don’t know the difference between a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, psychologist or psychotherapist. It ought to be said that the distinctions aren’t that clear anyway, when it comes to certain questions about those labels.

 

England has a very anti-intellectual culture and people prefer to see, to have, simple theories about how people work based on some kind of economic model: we’re one-dimensional, we have instrumental goals, we go to work, earn a wage, don’t cause too much trouble, aim for health, wealth, success and happiness. That is the kind of model that most people are familiar with, which many theories of mental functioning are based on.

 

The analytic model has always been trickier because it supposes that you can want two conflicting things at the same time. You can want failure and success, you can want wealth and poverty, you can want love and hate. So you’re immediately in a much more tricky and fragile field when it comes to using those basics to try and elaborate something about human subjectivity and the interactions between people.

 

In our times, people don’t want complexity, they want simple answers. It is why in the papers, almost every week we’ll read a new headline about some so-called scientific research into so-called mental illness, the gene for this, the gene for that, and when it’s all disproved six months later that doesn’t get into the paper. Biologists in the 1960s noted that the way in which the media feeds on great success stories but don’t publish the negative results, because there’s probably not enough space in the papers to do that.

Q

The White Review

— I’m still curious about your personal experience of being an analyst today in the UK. I’m thinking of a previous interviews with you that I read in the Guardian, where the interviewer asked almost entirely hostile questions like ‘Isn’t psychoanalysis just for the rich?’ and ‘Haven’t all its theories been debunked?’

A

Darian Leader

— I explained to the interviewer that I always charge people what they can afford so some people pay five pounds or in some cases less. I didn’t read the finished interview because I never like reading the finished interview because they always change it, but after the finished interview I had hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of often quite rude emails from people saying, ‘Can I come and see you for a pound?’ If they’d been a bit more polite they might have had an appointment but I was just deluged with people.

Q

The White Review

— What comes across in the fee question, and what some of the other questions asked in that interview tap into, is a certain societal and individual aggression towards psychoanalysis. Do you think that you are working in a hostile environment?

A

Darian Leader

— People hate psychoanalysis in this country. But I think psychoanalysis has always been in a hostile environment. There are some analysts who see themselves as mental health professionals, who want respectability and who do some really very silly research – what purports to be research – to try to make psychoanalysis respectable. If that’s what they like doing, fine. But ultimately, it is an ill-starred project.

 

Freud said that psychoanalysis will never be smiled upon by the public and if it ever is it won’t be psychoanalysis any more. It is a marginal, difficult, painful and uncomfortable activity and it will never be socially accepted. When people come into the field and want to train we always tell them, certainly in our organisation, to think very carefully because they are going to have to deal with a lot of hate for the rest of their lives. If you go to a dinner party and you say that you study dolphins, people might be nice to you, but if you say you are a psychoanalyst, you get people’s hatred all evening.

Q

The White Review

— Or their dreams?

A

Darian Leader

— Exactly, or their dreams.

Q

The White Review

— Returning to your most recent books, something new has come into the frame, which is your criticism of contemporary diagnostic categories and the increased use of tools such as anti-depressants, cognitive behavioural therapies and neuroscientific technologies in mental health treatment and mental health policy today. In addressing these issues, has the function of these books become different to your earlier books in which these themes are not the focus?

A

Darian Leader

— They are more polemical. It’s interesting that since I started doing that I’ve had a lot of anonymous hate mail and phone calls from so-called professionals who wouldn’t sign their names. What’s funny is that I never had that when I wrote about love and human passion, no one bothered me. The moment I start writing about mental health policy, you get this avalanche of hatred, which is interesting, sociologically. When you address the passions directly no one is too bothered about it but when you address people’s investment in the system things are trickier. It’s an economic system, it is based on money. What is sad about it is that the categories that most serious psychiatrists in our field realise are inadequate or false are still in use.

Q

The White Review

— Are you referring specifically here to the DSMThe Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders?

A

Darian Leader

— Yes. But also, in some parts of this country, you have to fill out a feedback form from your patient after every session. How is that going to affect the way you relate to your patient? Are you going to want to keep them happy? Because in some NHS practices the salary you receive is linked to patient satisfaction with your work in psychotherapy. So if you challenge someone, they might not be very happy about it. If you meet someone who has done a talking therapy and they say ‘Ah, I love my therapist, I had such a great time, I am a new person,’ you can almost bet that nothing has happened. If you meet someone and they say, ‘Oh god, I fucking hate my therapist, they really fucked me over, it was a nightmare,’ at least you know something has happened.

 

In this climate which is based on fixed outcomes and pre-determined aims, once you’ve made your diagnosis you know what is wrong with that person, you don’t really need to speak to them, then you’ll know what your outcomes will be. It’s a very normative view of human life: you put them in the machine and out they come, serviced and back to their work and back to their family and back into society. I mean, fine, it’s just not psychotherapy – to my mind, anyway. It’s not an ethical practice.

Q

The White Review

— What for you then, would be the ethics of psychoanalysis?

A

Darian Leader

— In a way it’s very simple. Psychoanalysis involves not responding to the patient’s demands. So if someone demands that you get rid of a particular symptom, you then actually follow another thread. If they make a particular demand on you, explicitly or implicitly, you follow it somewhere else. To put it very, very simply, for me that is what the analytic ethics are about. The interest is – if it is a neurotic person at least – in engaging and helping them to engage with unconscious material rather than keeping them happy or satisfying their ego or ego functions. It is not a happy business.

Q

The White Review

— If psychoanalysis is not normative, if you are not buying into the popular goals of wellbeing, productivity, etc., then what is the larger thing you are aiming at?

A

Darian Leader

— You’re not buying into wellbeing at all – but you have to see what’s particular to each person. So you can say analytic work involves the attempt to construct something of one’s autobiography, sure, but also the limits of that. It’s not normative in the sense that you then never know what’s going to happen, you never know what materials will emerge, what direction the work is going to take and you can never say this is the end point of the work. In the same way as you often can’t say what the end point of a conversation is going to be, you don’t know where it is going to go. You try and elaborate with the person their own response – solution might be too strong a word – their own way of dealing with the things that have tormented them, that have troubled them.

Q

The White Review

— In What is Madness? you highlight ‘quiet madness’ as an overlooked category today and suggest it’s best exemplified by untriggered psychosis. Through this you explore the difference between being mad and going mad. Why do you think that psychosis and quiet madness are such important categories?

A

Darian Leader

— They’re crucial because when you start thinking along those lines, as the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century psychiatrists did and Lacanians do today, you realise that you have to disassociate symptomology from structure. That people’s spectacular, attention-grabbing symptomology isn’t constitutive in any way of a proper diagnostic category: anyone can behave in an outlandish way. But the more that extravagant symptomology is linked to madness the more that is what we expect from madness. If someone behaves in a way that socially would be considered to be crazy it is more likely they are going to label them psychotic, whereas if they are well-spoken, carefully dressed, well-groomed and so on, it is much less likely.

 

Social psychologists pointed this out a long time ago but I think the more you try and elaborate the ideas, the more you see the way in which so many people want there to be a barrier between the sane ‘us’ and the insane ‘them’ and the way you can do that is to focus on the surface behavioural symptoms. Once you realise that that is false, that most cases of psychosis are untriggered, you not only then challenge these discriminating distinctions between us and them, but crucially you have tools to help people where the psychosis has triggered because in a sense you are studying with the knowledge of cases, what has allowed them to not go mad, what has allowed them to have a normal life and get on with things. When you figure out what tools, what instruments and practices have allowed that person not to trigger, it can then help you to formulate strategies for those people that have. That’s one of the most important things we can learn from those writers.

Q

The White Review

— How would you explain triggered and untriggered psychosis?

A

Darian Leader

— Psychosis is a structure of the psyche. There are different forms of it. In the book I talk about three: paranoia, the group of schizophrenias, and melancholia. What links them, perhaps, are questions of meaning, questions of morbid excitation, and questions of distance from what’s perceived as a significant other for them or the social field, in some instances. If there was one defining characteristic you could say that it is at the epistemic level of certainty. Whereas with a neurotic person at the centre of their psychical world there is a fundamental doubt, with a psychotic person in most cases – though not all – there is not a doubt but a certainty, as if something has been solved. Neurotic people haven’t found the solution, which is why they often gravitate towards psychotic people who seem to have the answers, because they feel that they know something about the world, what’s wrong with the world and how to live better or whatever it happens to be.

Q

The White Review

— Are you referring here to the logic of cults?

A

Darian Leader

— Yes, for example, but it can also be scientific theories or political movements – anything which revolves around knowledge. It can be psychoanalysis as well — if people are certain that Freud or Lacan have the missing piece to the jigsaw then that would be an example as well. No area is exempt from that, everything can be thought of in those terms. So the difference between a fundamental doubt and a fundamental certainty is probably the most obvious difference. But it seems to me that the other very, very important thing that was recognised by the early-twentieth century psychiatrists – less so today – is the difference between primary and secondary phenomena.

 

If you get on the Tube and you suddenly hear voices or your body starts to feel as if it is collapsing that would be a primary phenomenon. If you then develop a theory that the voice you heard was someone transmitting on the Tube because there is a plot which the CIA are involved in, that would be your attempt to make sense of your initial experiences so it would be a secondary phenomenon, it would be the person’s effort at self-cure. Today what we find is that in most contexts the primary and secondary would be lumped together, so the treatment would aim to get rid of not only the voices or the bodily sensations but also the person’s attempts to cure themselves. A more analytic approach would explore very carefully what those efforts at self-cure had been and to try to work with those rather than against them – so always separating the primary and secondary phenomena.

Q

The White Review

What is Madness?, along with your recent books, have strongly criticised mental health policy in the UK, the way madness is seen in society and the ways in which people interact with madness. In writing these books are you not only trying to disseminate psychoanalytic ideas, as you have said, but also aiming towards some kind of social change or engaging with the more socially political side of psychoanalysis?

A

Darian Leader

— Any author would be very happy if their books had some kind of social effect. I’ve had loads and loads of correspondence around the madness book, and it’s nice to see people in hospitals and people who work with psychotic subjects are reading the book, asking questions about it. It’s great to see that. We didn’t think that the book was going to do as well as it did, with my editor…

Q

The White Review

— Well, it is a serious book, with three in-depth case studies and three chapters on quite complicated psychoanalytic concepts. It doesn’t immediately strike you as being that accessible for the general reader. Does it make you wonder who is reading it, other than those who have corresponded?

A

Darian Leader

— I’ve got a lot of correspondence from psychotic subjects, people who’ve been through the mental health system who discuss things; a lot of stuff from the families of psychotic subjects asking questions, wanting to meet to talk about things; and a lot of correspondence from people who work with psychosis. So in a sense, that is the ideal audience for the book because it is people who are directly affected by psychosis, so it’s great to see the book has got through there.

Q

The White Review

— Does that reflect the way in which most people come to psychoanalysis, because of some personal experience or issue?

A

Darian Leader

— It’s the best way, I mean it’s the only way. If you go into analysis and say ‘I’m okay, I’m happy but I’ve got all this intellectual interest in Lacan or Freud,’ you’re not going to get anywhere. If someone comes and says they’ve just had some terrible drama in their lives or there’s some terrible sadness or misery or anxiety that has overwhelmed them, then you’ve got something to work with, you’ve got a motive for the work. It is a clinical discipline, it is not just making stories out of people’s lives.

Q

The White Review

— Is there any tension between your public writing and your practice? My understanding of psychoanalysis is that if you are an analyst, your analysand has to have restricted access to you as a person, in terms of what your home or personal life is and so on.

A

Darian Leader

— People do have restricted access but in the Lacanian world in Paris when I went to do my training in the mid-Eighties if your analyst was in a café you would go to another café or if he was at a party you wouldn’t go and shake hands. In the Lacanian world now, you will meet your analyst at seminars and meetings and there is much more of an emphasis on the work you do in the analytic session and less on silly protocols about external behaviour.

Q

The White Review

— Does that highlight a difference in the power relation between the analysand and analyst in Lacanian and traditional psychoanalysis?

A

Darian Leader

— The power relation is very interesting. In the Lacanian way of working, the analyst is more of a clownish figure, perhaps desperately trying to make sense of things and usually getting it wrong. You’re not an authority figure for the patient – only maybe for the first few meetings. After a while they realise that you are probably just as foolish as most people, as insensitive, showing the lacks that any other people will do, although some people might spend a long time trying to deny that if they want to have a image of a perfect analyst. At some point it will be the analyst’s job to disabuse them.

 

Sometimes the analyst has to say things that they know are false or ridiculous in order to make something happen. Analytic practice is like theatre. You’re not applying a set of rules but you’re using a totally artificial, bizarre context – someone laying on the couch and talking – in order to hear things in a different way. Think of the way that theatre operates in a repressive regime where people will use a play to get across a message that isn’t broadcast on the surface because of censorship so you have to use other ways to transmit something. Think of the play within a play in Elizabethan drama – you are using a false situation in order to try and make something happen at a deeper level.

Q

The White Review

— If we could talk further about dialogue, it seems that you spend your life talking…

A

Darian Leader

— I’m not that talkative, the analysand is talking – I invite people to talk.

Q

The White Review

— Where do you think our fascination with dialogue stems from?

A

Darian Leader

— Well, in Freud it is a Socratic method. He explicitly links it to the Socratic method. In order to confront problems in your construction or your own life, the only way you will confront those problems, contradictions and inconsistencies is through dialogue with another person through which you will hear your speech in a different way. If a person just goes about their life, they are not going to question how they perceive themselves because it is a given, but the moment someone is put on the spot and has to talk about their perceptions of their own history then they are going to start maybe seeing things don’t quite work, don’t quite fit, that there are questions that aren’t resolved, questions that need elaboration, things that happened in their life that they had never been aware of.

Q

The White Review

— Is there any mirroring of that in our fascination with reading interviews with cultural figures? That someone’s work, someone’s writing or their art, is not enough, that we want to read an interview because there is some feeling about them representing themselves in dialogue?

A

Darian Leader

— I think it’s different. With that fascination with that form of interview it’s about biography but not in the sense of the contradictions, the inconsistencies in their own account but rather the idea that – it’s the exact opposite – that we need to have a defined self-image of someone like an artist so that the work doesn’t trouble us anymore, so we can pigeonhole the work. It seems to me that this happens more with women artists than with male artists – there is more of an insistence on explaining the work through biography than with men. There is this idea that we need to make sense of this rather than what actually happens in analysis, that you make sense of a few things, then recognise and circumscribe things that don’t make sense and maybe try and do something with those things.

Q

The White Review

— What is your new book about?

A

Darian Leader

— It’s a shorter book, called Strictly Bipolar, which is a quote from someone who said he’s ‘strictly bipolar’, meaning he didn’t have anything else going on, because nowadays you get medication for everything that’s wrong with you. A typical person with a bipolar diagnosis will take five or six different drugs for all the different things that are wrong with them. The book looks at why the diagnosis of bipolar has risen by 4,000% and asks whether bipolar is a legitimate category.

Q

The White Review

— Does it feed into your work criticising the use of SSRIs and other psychoactive pharmaceuticals?

A

Darian Leader

— I don’t go into that a lot in the book or every book will be making the same argument.

Q

The White Review

— So no needling of big pharmaceutical companies?

A

Darian Leader

— Just a little bit, but not too much.

Q

The White Review

— It’s an interesting preoccupation that is very political. In those attacks you talk about the market-driven society and the economics of psychiatric diagnostic models…

A

Darian Leader

— Yes, it is very political. The whole field of mental health is now big business, which is the same as politics today: politics is economics. So these are political questions and it is amazing in the mental health world how little protest there is. I mean, there is significant protest but in terms of the national – the way things are – people aren’t saying no enough.

Q

The White Review

— It strikes me that as an analyst your engagement is with your analysands, but that maybe in taking on that engagement as primary, in the professional sense, you are then drawn into other battles on their behalf?
A

Darian Leader

— Yes, and you can ask the question, ‘What is it like for a patient who comes here who takes medication and reads something I write in a book or in the press about the dangers of medication?’ That is just something that we will have to deal with in the analysis.