Sunday, July 25, 2010


One of the many lovely things about reading fiction for a living is that it tends to make you an armchair (time-)traveller. Just in the last few weeks I've read books set in the 1990s, the 1970s, the 1950s and the 1760s; books set in Scotland, Leningrad, Berlin and Buenos Aires, the Netherlands, the English Midlands, Chennai, Chicago and country Victoria, just off the top of my head.

Many of the novels I read for review are partly or wholly set in times and places of brutal regimes. One juxtaposes 1970s Argentina with the German Democratic Republic (so-called) of the same era. Another is set in Leningrad in 1952, where survivors of the wartime Siege of Leningrad are now living under Stalin, speaking in whispers, fearing their neighbours, watching their own every move. A third is partly set in India, where everything that happens is immediately politicised and a herpetologist knows better than to try to find out who it was, knowing that he would come home that night exhausted and therefore not thinking or moving quickly, who left a deadly snake in a basket on his verandah.

So every time I see people snarling and squabbling over Rudd v Gillard, or even over Gillard v Abbott, much less get irresistibly drawn into said squabbling myself, I think of a phrase that has been much in my thoughts ever since I first came across it, one that has had a calming effect on many occasions and has reminded me again and again how extraordinarily useful and powerful a psychoanalytic angle can be in explaining our behaviour to ourselves: 'the narcissism of small differences'.


Deborah said...

It reminds me of Kissenger's famous quote about university politics, although the situation is not really analogous.

University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

Well, it's more applicable to university politics than to almost any other (and I think I'm seeing leftover attitudes from university politics in a lot of what I'm reading at the moment, too). I can remember having to listen back in the 70s to endless dreary yet violent discussions about who was and was not a Trot, which seemed to be a long way below 'pedophile' and 'dolphin murderer' on the badometer. And still is, I gather.

Lord Sedgwick said...

You got out easy. Stewne politix in the 60s were much worse, and less productive.

Elisabeth said...

A truer aphorism could not be found, Pav. Examples abound and not only in politics and literature. Families are full of them. Thanks.

Mitzi G Burger said...

I wish I could teach a lesson or two on Applied Freud. My Year 9 kids might get freaked out.

Emily said...

It is not just university politics as many have experienced (with consequent pain). What rings bells for me is how eerily reminiscent it all is of the theories of W.R.Bion (who was part of the Tavistock Institute) in relation to the intrinsic properties of all groups. Food for thought. Seemingly projection plays a much larger role in our daily lives than we care to acknowledge often enough.
After so many years of a large number of Australians following a leader like a pack of sheep now there is continued argument about who should lead. "Not him" "Not her" "Not them".

Anthony said...

I've often seen the Freud quote linked with the Kissinger quote, and, as an academic, always loved the Kissinger quote - until now! I never realised it came from Kissinger, which has ruined it all for me.

Then again, he gave one other memorable risposte that I recall. Someone from The Nation (was it Chris Hitchens? Or more probably an intern?) confronted the good Doctor at some event. "You're from that magazine that wants to portray me as a war criminal" he said. "No" said the journalist- this was the mid 1990s, Sudan etc - "We're trying at the moment to portray Bill Clinton as a war criminal"

Says the Doctor: "Bill Clinton does not have the strength of character to be a war criminal"

Say that last line again in an Henry Kissinger accent.

Anyhoo, Marjorie Garber wrote a nice book about interdisciplinary anxieties called Academic Instincts.

paul walter said...

What a perfect nugget to run across on a sterile, insomnia laden night.
I see Dr Goldsworthy in a fresh and unexpected light and honour the range and depth.

paul walter said...

What a perfect nugget to run across at a lose end on a sterile, insomnia laden night.
I see Dr Goldsworthy in a fresh and unexpected light and honour (envy) the range and depth.