ACP member David Hadley reviewed the The Bridge Foundation Bob Gosling Memorial Lecture on Migration and Loss: As ever, it did not disappoint and there was a packed house at the Watershed complex on Bristol Harbour on the last Saturday in January.
The strapline for the Bridge Foundation is ‘for Psychotherapy and the Arts’ and the value placed on this pairing is the legacy of Bob Gosling, psychoanalyst and founder member. This annual event is in his memory and takes a variety of forms to explore the application of psychoanalytic thinking in organisations and society.The double act of David Morgan, psychoanalyst, and poet JJ Bola illuminated the fraught issues around migration in these testing times in a way that made them accessible both at an intellectual and a deeply human level.
David developed his theme ‘Migrations and Loss: Inflamatory Projective Identification, Otherness and the Formation of a Precariat’, from a quote from ‘Civlization and it’s Discontents’: “it is always possible to bind a number of people in love as long as there are others left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness – the outsider may be different in only minor ways, but this will suffice”. He did this against a projected backdrop of an anonymous man in a tracksuit, carried precariously, face concealed, in the undercarriage of a juggernaut: the image of the illegal immigrant demonised by the media.
We learnt that this very man had been violently uprooted from work as an infant teacher in his country of origin, and had a passion to pursue that profession here. David spoke of his regular visits to work analytically with groups of such people ‘warehoused’ for ‘processing’ in hostels for immigrants and of the difficulties of finding a place to speak from, as a comfortably off and securely housed white male. Two major themes came from this and threaded through the morning: first the power of a human narrative to undo the othering that made objectification and projection possible; second, the need to locate within ourselves the sense of precariousness that haunts us all. David spoke of his own origins as the child of a farming family in Wales struggling to make a living from the land.
I found an identification in the image of the man beneath the juggernaut in that, in the context of what can feel to be irresistibly powerful political and commercial forces, it is hard to know how to speak out or face them, rather than be carried along by them, powerless. This found expression in a questioning by someone else in the audience of the optimism from David that there is a growing sense of outrage and resistance to the consequences of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. Now that paranoia, xenophobia and racism have found a home in the corridors of power so close to home, how are they to be resisted?
This brought in consideration the need for community and David drew on experiences of the resilience of the migrants who had come from appalling regimes and yet, in their work together, held on to hope. He made the link with the role of the psychoanalyst to hold onto hope in the face of internal catastrophe.
JJ had already read one of his poems ‘refuge’ that dwelt on the loss of, and the need for home in counterpoint to David’s talk in the first half. It can be found on http://www.jjbola.com. Here I can not capture the poignancy and pain that emerges as the poem unreels, of the repeating of persecution by those who should offer refuge, or of the sense of otherness both from the place of refuge and country of origin that JJ continued to convey as he spoke in the second half of the morning. You’d just have to buy the book, ‘Word’, as I did on the strength of the poems he read, or look on the website.
JJ came with his family at the age of 8 fleeing from the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His family are wordsmiths in many languages and he said his love of books came from the insistence of his father that reading take precedence in his adolescent activities. His father’s efforts, apparent from JJ’s ability to convey through words, both in his poetry and his joining spontaneous narrative, the complexity of his experience, had found fertile ground. The audience were held rapt.
What stuck in my mind are two things. First JJ described the difficulty of having uncertain legal status in this country until his second year of university. He told of friends just disappearing overnight, removed to country of origin, and accepting this as a fact of life. Until he obtained citizenship he saw his poems as just things he did, like a hobby. Only once this was confirmed did the conviction that these were powerful, creative communications emerge. This necessity for a narrative to find a home to have potency struck me forcibly.
A member of the audience commented on JJ having had a secure family within which he grew up and asked for his thoughts on those many unaccompanied children and young people who had found their way here now and were without such support. JJ acknowledged the painfulness of their plight but drew on his own experiences of peer and community support and the necessity of humour, sometimes black, in the face of such adversity. Again this sense of a home founded within community and shared experience loomed large.
This was an extraordinary event, held together with unobtrusive care by Dr Emily Ryan, Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist based at the Bridge, as chair. The Bridge program planning committee continues to deliver an extraordinary range of events within the wider scope of the work of The Bridge. http://www.bridgefoundation.org.uk