The Conservative Party Conference is one of those occasions when British Prime Minister David Cameron likes to let his unconscious do the talking. In last year’s speech, while attempting to reassure the country that the Tory party ‘represents’ poor children who grow up in social housing, said instead that they ‘resent’ them.1 This year Cameron was again trying to position his party in the centre ground of politics, particularly since Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party seems to have vacated – or shall we say redefined – it. His latest attempt to convey the idea that the Conservatives are ‘compassionate’ towards the people who suffer the consequences of their economic policies, needed to overcome his Chancellor’s announcement of the cuts to tax credits and other benefits granted to the lowest paid working households. Research suggests that these cuts will force 200,000 more children into poverty,2 the same poor children that last year Cameron claimed to represent, even as his unconscious begged to differ.
The issue of tax, then, and Corbyn’s promise to tax the rich, was high on the agenda. Alluding to Labour’s decision to seek the advice of various economists like Thomas Piketty, Joseph Stiglitz and others, Cameron ridiculed the choice of Richard Murphy, author of the book The Joy of Tax. The Prime Minister gleefully claimed to own a copy of the book, ‘I took it home to show Samantha, it’s got 64 positions and none of them work’. The effectiveness of this little joke, as the apparent discomfort of his wife made clear, depends upon the jocular confusion with the sexual therapy classic of the 1970s, Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex. Given that the opening line of Cameron’s speech declared that ‘the vast majority of people are not obsessives’, his tacit acknowledgement that in the bedroom ‘the tasks of nature are not his strong point’,3 is another example of his unconscious making mischief in its suggestion about Cameron’s distinction in this regard. Further, of course, the joke lets us in on the source of the resentment about paying tax for the benefit of the poor; it symbolizes the Other’s theft of jouissance.
Cameron’s suggestion that money compensates for the loss of jouissance was further supported by his admission that as a schoolboy he was a ‘hooker’, emphasising ‘that’s a factual statement not a chapter in Ashcroft’s new book’. While the term ‘hooker’ here is supposed to mean a position in rugby union rather than an American sex worker, the reference to Lord Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott’s biography Call Me Dave clearly evoked the sexual meaning and the sacrifice of jouissance for money. It also reminded everyone of the allegations in the book concerning Cameron’s familiarity with the idea that phallic jouissance (and its difficulties) is an effect of symbolic castration. The book is generally seen as an attempt to discredit Cameron, an act of revenge for his failure to promote Tory peer Ashcroft to a high office in government. Serializing the book, The Daily Mail chose to feature an anecdote about Cameron’s days at Oxford and an ‘initiation’ ritual that he had to undergo in order to join the ‘notorious Oxford dining society, the Piers Gaveston, named after the lover of Edward II, which specialises in bizarre rituals and sexual excess’.4 In the ritual, according to a fellow MP who remains anonymous, Cameron was required to insert his private member into the mouth of a dead pig. As Steve Bell’s cartoon in The Guardian illustrated, this anecdote provided a subtext to Cameron’s speech at the conference.5 Nevertheless, in spite of Ashcroft’s vulgar attempt, Cameron has not been damaged; the anecdote has been greeted with a mixture of incredulity and mild amusement. This is slightly curious, it seems to me, and perhaps indicates something about the public perception of Cameron. I suspect that the register of obscenity might have been higher if the anecdote had concerned Tony Blair, hinting at a darker side to the Catholic convert; or indeed one imagines a frisson of horror at the thought of the dour Presbyterian Gordon Brown … There is a certain vacuity to Cameron’s Old Etonian charm and ruling class amoral insouciance that distinguishes him from the moral ambivalence and inevitable compromise of Labour Prime Ministers. Reviewing Ashcroft’s book, David Aaronovitch notes that it emphasizes that ‘everything he has he was born into or was handed to him on a salver’, adding that ‘Cameron is merely an elegant empty vehicle that someone else is driving’.6
From the very start of his leadership of the Conservative party, Steve Bell has always depicted David Cameron fully encased in a bright pink condom. The image suggests that it is not the little organ that the Prime Minister is himself encumbered with that is at issue in politics. Rather it is his role as an imaginary phallus whose rosy glow renders every object equivalent in subjecting them to the same economic function. The other reason I assume is because of Cameron’s initial determination to ‘detoxify’ the Tories as the ‘nasty party’ – the condom suggesting that protection from the jouissance demanded by the rich can be compensated in cash, and that economic exploitation isn’t the worst thing that could happen to the poor.
1 The Independent. 01.10.14
2 The Independent. 08.10.15
3 See Lacan on the specific difficulties of the obsessional in Seminar VIII, xviii 8.
4 The Daily Mail. 20.09.15
5 Steve Bell, The Guardian. 07.01.15 http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/picture/2015/oct/07/steve-bell-on-david-camerons-conference-speech-cartoon
6 David Aaronovitch, The Times. 10.10.15
Richard Hoskins’s bestseller, The Boy in the River, originally published in 2012 in Britain, was made available last month to French readers. The book is an account of the murder investigation following the discovery in September 2001 of an African boy’s torso floating in the Thames near Tower Bridge. The child was unidentifiable and was named Adam by the policemen in charge of the inquiry.
The French translation may well be an opportunity to discover the book for those who missed the affair at the time. The torso was discovered exactly 10 days after 9/11, and, in France at least, the affair went relatively unnoticed. Richard Hoskins’s involvement in the case was personal from the start. Lecturing on African religion at the time, he was contacted by the London Metropolitan Police to help solve the mystery of Adam’s demise. But the book he wrote 10 years later (Adam’s murderers have yet to be brought to justice), is in fact a personal journey and Hoskins sets the scene in the opening chapters of the book : « if Adam could be laid to rest, then so could my own ghosts. Couldn’t they? »
Investigating Adam’s murder brought Hoskins 15 years back to the days when, a young newly-wed idealist, he established himself with his wife for a few months in the Congo (the couple ended up staying a full 6 years). Sue Hoskins became pregnant and gave birth to identical twin girls. The first was still-born but the second, little Abigail, survived. Hoskins and his wife had overcome the death of their other twin daughter when Hoskins was approached one afternoon by Tata Mpia, a local carpenter. The man claimed he too was a twin whose elder brother had died. He spoke of the living dead and told Hoskins Abigail’s elder twin was calling her « to join her in the shadowlands ». To prevent the impending death of Abigail, Hoskins, Tata Mpia instructed, should visit the nganga (witch doctor) and sacrifice an animal. Though disturbed by the man’s prophecy, Hoskins did no such thing. As a « Westerner », he tells us today, this was « a line (he) didn’t want to cross ».
Shortly after Tata Mpia’s visit, Abigail died of a fever. It is this traumatic encounter with death and witchcraft in the Congo that Hoskins was drawn back to in his investigation of Adam’s murder. The investigation in itself was clearly a turning-point as Hoskins moved on to become a novelist and a famous criminologist. He no longer considers himself an academic although he still lectures on occasion.
Interestingly enough, The Boy in the River, opens with a quotation of W. B. Yeats’s The Second Coming :
« Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world… » 1
And indeed, Hoskins interprets the growing number of cases of exorcism or human sacrifice he describes in his book against the backdrop of globalization, of a world where « the centre cannot hold » and where « things fall apart ». The belief in ndoki (withcraft) is widespread in West Africa and is fuelled by the growing numbers of « pop-up » fundamentalist Christian churches. To quote from an article published in The Guardian in June 2005, « … in a country that has been deeply traumatised by war, disease and corruption, (…) one of the few growth industries is Pentecostal churches, which are offering salvation after years of bloodshed." 2
In an interview he gave to Italian journalists in Rome on October 29th 1974, Jacques Lacan foretold the « Triumph of Religion ». « Science, Lacan declared, is going to introduce such earth-shattering things that religion is going to be needed to make sense of them ». For the power of religion stems from its ability to « clean up » after the advances of science, from its ability to deliver and invent meaning as an answer to the Real. In the words of Jacques-Alain Miller « The more dysfunctional things get, the more help we see coming from the fields of meaning » (« Au fur et à mesure que ça dysfonctionne, on voit le renfort arriver des disciplines du sens ») 3. Richard Hoskins’s interpretation of the current cases he investigates confirms Lacan’s prediction. Yet, Hoskins came back a changed man from the personal journey that took him back to his traumatic past. « It’s not so much that you take these cases back home, he told me, it’s the part of you you leave behind ». Despite the years he spent as an academic, Richard Hoskins has given up searching for meaning, a meaning that would give us solace and explain off the terrible crimes he investigates. Adam’s murder isn’t featured alongside Reggie and Ronnie Kray’s crimes or John George Haise’s bathtub in Scotland Yard’s new museum. For Adam, for Abigail, there is no closure.
1The quotation was picked upon by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe for the title of his post-colonial novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), in which a female character gives birth to 4 sets of twins, all of which are abandoned in the Evil Forest. Hoskins explains how twins were considered as unknown until recently and were thus feared and discarded, in keeping with religious beliefs.
3 Jacques-Alain Miller, Un effort de poésie, May 14th and 21st 2003.
Pediatrics, a US journal of international reference, recently offered a good exemple of the way child mental health appears in the modern discourse : it is mainly divided between ASD and ADHD, two coded acronyms that seem to cover everything. Two diagnoses whose surge keeps being highlighted. The prevalence of autism is said to have dramatically increased over the last decades, jumping from around 1 in 3000 (a key figure of the 1980’s) to 1in 150, with other studies announcing a prevalence of 1 in 50.
But there’s more. To top it all, the two clinical pictures appear to overlap. A recent study, focusing on a group of nearly 1500 autistic children showed that 20% of them had received an initial diagnosis of ADHD.
Compared to other children, young children previously diagnosed with ADHD would be more likely to receive a late diagnosis of autism. Therefore, we should be expected to keep the diagnosis of autism in mind when confronted to symptoms that do not point to it, and make sure that an ADHD diagnosis is not concealing autism.
The issue of autism is becoming more and more complex. Now, in order to anticipate a proper diagnosis, we should be thinking of something that is not suggested by clinical observation! And at the same time, we should be offering specific and early care for a disorder that is yet to appear. It all boils down to saying that what is a frequent diagnosis is ultimately something else in the making.
Locked-up inside himself, the autistic patient ends up being part of something that is not autism and that conceals it : a surprising topological image…