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Pollock's Freudian slip into real and mental excavation

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The very idea of symbolic meaning in built culture has been marginalised by the processes of mass consumption to a more superficial notion of style.

So Griselda Pollock's lecture at the AA was a valuable reminder of the rich veins of discourse latent in the forms and constructions through which cultures manifest their identities and values.

Professor of Social and Critical Histories of Art at the University of Leeds, Pollock presented a deconstruction of Freud's consulting room in Vienna, as recorded in an archive of photographs taken shortly before his departure and exile from Austria. The question she posed was why a man so intent on presenting his work as a significant new area of rigorous scientific thinking should have surrounded himself with artefacts drawn from 'mythico-poetic pagan thinking'.

Pollock suggests that Freud's collection of antique Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Chinese, and Jewish pieces speaks both of his character as a multidisciplinary scholar, and of a love of archaeology that represents 'a sublimation of childhood traumas'. She drew attention to the paradoxical relationship between archaeology and psychoanalysis. Both are focused on the operation of 'excavation' - of material artefacts in the first instance, and of memories in the second. Yet while the first is intent on a goal of preservation, that of the second is quite the reverse: a dissolution and annihilation of 'tormenting ideas' through that same process of recovery. Thus, suggests Pollock, the 'archaic and the infantile' alike take on a spatial dimension - they 'fall not into time but into a psychic space'.

Pollock's lecture levelled clear criticism at the obsession of contemporary Western society with this process of excavation, recovery and preservation of the material past, closely guarded and surveyed by the new institutions of the museum and art historian which were created during the 20th century. Disappointingly, she had insufficient time to present the theories of anthropologist Mary Douglas on 'the value of forgetting' to enable cultures to move on and redefine their values and identities. But she identified the roots of this psychological malaise with the emergence of the archaeological discipline at the end of the 19th century.

She argued that its impact was fundamentally to change western self-perception in relation to issues of 'memory and oblivion'. She also suggested, in no uncertain terms, that our culture's present 'obsession to hold onto the past' was inextricably entangled with a desire to suppress alternative, prehistoric, 'feminine-maternal' cultural structures.

Pollock claims such structures pose a perceived threat of 'alien destruction' in a contemporary world founded on 'the ideology of sexual difference' - an ideology constructed in no small part on the work of Freud himself, and inherent to the material built culture of the present.

Griselda Pollock was speaking on Time, Space and the Archive: the Archaeological Metaphor in Freud, at the Architectural Association

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