27TH ANNUAL SEVERNSIDE INSTITUTE PUBLIC LECTURE
Saturday 6th October
Armada House, Bristol, BS1 4BQ
10.30 – 11.00 Registration/Coffee
11.00 – 13.00 Lecture/Discussion
Hannah Arendt, Wilfred Bion and the Destruction of Thought
Presented by David Bell
Hannah Arendt is perhaps best known for her report of the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Arendt’s book on that trial is subtitled ‘The Banality of Evil’ to draw attention to the idea that such acts were carried out not by passionate monsters outside ordinary experience but by a mentality that is in many respects frighteningly ordinary, empty of thought and devoid of passion, in her telling phrase ‘banal’. The character of Eichmann the bureaucrat provided Arendt with a model of a devastating pathology of the mind – and she insists that such a mind must be appreciated and understood for what it reveals to us about our modern world.
Arendt’s concept of ‘thinking’, a process opposed to and therefore opposed by, totalitarian states of mind, and her related concept of ‘natality’ (that is the capacity of the mind to give birth to thoughts, to bear their development in ways we cannot control) are, it will be suggested, rich in psychoanalytic content particularly the work of Bion. Hannah Arendt’s work is highly relevant to our current conjuncture with the increasing domination of administrative procedure over thought and the creation of ‘superfluous people’ (an Arendtian concept) – most particularly refugees but also the many others who fall through the interstices of the world.
Dr David Bell is a Consultant Psychiatrist in the Adult Department at the Tavistock Clinic where he leads a specialist service (the Fitzjohns Unit) for the more complex cases. He has written extensively on interdisciplinary studies (the relation between psychoanalysis and literature, philosophy and socio-political theory). He is one of the UK’s leading psychiatric experts in asylum/ immigration/human rights. He is a former President of the British Psychoanalytic Society. His books include: Reason and Passion (1997, Duckworth), Psychoanalysis and Culture (1999, Duckworth), Paranoia (2003, Icon) and, with Rael Meyerowitz, Turning the Tide (2018, Karnac, on the work of the Fitzjohns Unit),. He participated in the making of a DVD ‘Iago on the Couch’ where he is in discussion with Simon Russell Beale and Terry Hands.
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