Random Associations. Or serendipity.

I went to the Garage coffee place in Canterbury yesterday, to read the final few pages of Freud’s `Introductory Lectures of Psychoanalysis.’ A friend had recently taken me around the Freud Museum in North London, and that had inspired the desire to know a bit more than the few cursory looks I had taken over Freud’s works in the last three decades. Fortuitously, I had Freud’s works in English in the Penguin paperback version on my shelf, and the first volume seemed a good place to start.

The key points Freud makes in these lectures delivered during the First World War in Vienna is about the orderliness of the inner world of people, the ways in which there is an economy between conscious and unconscious forces, and the kinds of symbolic grammar that can be applied, to impose a kind of rational sense on all of this. These texts are a hundred years old now, amazingly, but one still reads them with a sense of excitement that here, at last, was someone trying to conquer the world under the waking world. It is all the more extraordinary that Freud does it with such preternatural calm!

This reading is on the back of re-reading Proust’s great `Remembrance of Things Past’. I’d waded through this more as a feat to just say I’d done it than with any real comprehension in the early 1980s, and the sole memory I had of that was the way that Proust’s endless sentences with their sub clauses and sub-sub-sub clauses weave their way in and out of your consciousness. This reading, with thirty years of experience and life intervening, was much richer and more enjoyable. The question of conquering time and bringing the past into the present so that it is ever-present, really resonated with the things that Freud was writing about. In some senses, the past is always alive, and lives in the memory, ignited by things like smells, sights, things that happen through the day that make our waking lives a kind of palimpsest of different times and different intensities of experience.

While I was reading in the Garage cafĂ©, an extraordinary thing happened. A song came on the iPlayer. I vaguely remembered it, but not exactly. So I swallowed my pride and got up and asked the barista what the name of the piece was. `Different Drums’ he said, by the Stone Poneys. I checked. From 1967, the year of my birth. So not new! But I then remembered how I had come across it before. When I was working in Beijing as a diplomat in about 2000, I woke up in the China World apartments we were living in then, on one of these foggy city mornings, and this music was stuck in my head, which hung there for days. A few bars of it came back to me over the years, from time to time, but I thought it was just something I had dreamed up. But no! In 2018, on a sunny June Sunday morning, I learn this is a late 1960s pop song I have no recollection of ever having heard (but must have) or knowing about. Freud, or Proust, in practice, I guess. Not so sure what this says about my psychology though – the song itself seems a short, sharp complaint about how no-one seems to understand anyone else!

Books, Sites, Sights, and Other Things

So this is an experiment. I have posted many things on Facebook, and other sites, but I wanted somewhere a bit more durable to put up reviews, and other writings, some related to China, and some to other areas.

I write mostly about China, and am Professor of Chinese Studies and Director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College, London. But all things have a link with China, in some ways, and therefore my interests stray according to what books happen before me, or what places I visit and people I speak to. So this blog will be an attempt to write about some of these things. Nine_Dragons_Scroll

Without neurotic people, most great art would never have been produced – Marcel Proust