It is not possible to write well without reading. Reading is how writing is born – not because reading has to inform or provide information, but because it is in reading that the loose threads of what we wish to say emerge. The reading I have in mind is literary fiction, that is, language, which constitutes a kind of mystery – evocative of what Lacan in (Seminar XX) calls the “mystery of the speaking body”.

 The mystery to which Lacan refers goes beyond Freudian biology – with its vocabulary of life and death – to a real of the body. It is a body, or flesh, that speaks. The voice is that of the unconscious. What it says can’t be explained in words, or equated with data gained from experience. Its enigmas do not belong to life, but rather to jouissance.

The result is that the mystery at stake here – the primary encounter between the body and language – is outside meaning. But does that mean it is out of reach? What I have in mind is what WAP analyst, Bogdan Wolf, pointed to in 2016, when he likened the mystery of the speaking body to a music experience. Could a certain sort of reading – insofar as it operates, in the way that Wolf says music can – outside sense – be relevant to this mystery?

When Lacan evokes lalangue, embroidered upon by the science of language, it is, Wolf says, to make us hear the resonances of the body caught in the bland music outside sense. I am still working on this, and what I have to offer – in the spirit of exploration – is the possibility that books that grip us can be like a recurring dream, a formation of the unconscious we can’t stop. This reading has no aim. But, as in a dream, its residue can be haunting, just like the jouissance of a symptom, which speaks through us.

Franz Kafka employed poetic language to approximate the gestalt of such reading. It provides, he says, an axe for the frozen sea within us. “We should only read books that stab and wound. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for?” Such a waking-up suggests a function of psychoanalysis. That is not to draw a convergence between the two, but rather, as did Freud and Lacan, to wonder what writers do and how it either illuminates or disguises the unconscious.

Freud was drawn to this sort of inquiry, especially in his study of the Renaissance artist, Leonardo da Vinci. Lacan considered the French and Irish novelists, Andre Gide and James Joyce, both of whom were aware of psychoanalysis but avoided the couch. Gide tried an analysis with Eugenia Sokolnicka, a Czech doctor who studied with Freud, but gave it up after five sessions; Joyce resisted the idea of a treatment with Jung, though his daughter, Lucia, did see Jung for a short time, without any relief to her psychosis.

One writer who both had what he felt was an analysis, and wrote positively about psychoanalysis, is twentieth century English novelist and playwright, Graham Greene.

In 1921, at the age of 16, he had a six-month treatment with Kenneth Richmond, an unqualified practitioner with literary connections. It took place at Richmond’s London house, where Greene lived for the time it took for him to recover. The trigger for the treatment was Greene having a “breakdown” before running away from boarding school.

Greene’s distress arose from a classic Greene dilemma – the sort of inner turmoil that led to him being called the writer of the soul and the content of his work labelled Greeneland. At the age of 13, his secretive nature, which had led to him to hide – among other things – his reading from his parents, fell under siege when he was forced to become a boarder at the school where his father was the headmaster. For Greene it felt as if he was “Quisling’s son – he had a few friends but was also his father’s son and they disliked his father. … I belonged,” Greene says in his autobiography, A Sort of Life, “to neither side – I couldn’t side with the boys without betraying my father and they regarded me like a collaborator in enemy territory. The sense of inevitable betrayal, caught between two fires, I was ostracised”. The result was that loyalty as an unconditional allegiance to a person or cause, became a playing of roles – matching the demands of the other -while personal stands – the sabotage of identifications which psychoanalysis seeks, were equated with disloyalty.

This would profoundly shape his inner world and give his writing its distinctive psychological flavour. And it was also here that his later conversion to Catholicism had its roots. As Greene reveals in his travel book on Mexico, Lawless Roads, he asked for faith at school and got it: “I began to believe in Heaven, because I believed in Hell,” he writes.

Greene’s older brother Raymond, who was studying medicine and Oxford, recommended Kenneth Richmond because of his reputation for successfully treating school-boys, and also because he had a strong literary bent. He had reviewed a Jungian text, Dream Psychology, for The Times, and been told by its author, psychiatrist, Maurice Nicholl, that he would make a natural psychiatrist. Nicholl, who studied with Jung in Zurich, sent Richmond his first patient, and, through her, provided entrée to writers such as the novelist D.H. Lawrence and poet Walter de la Mare.

Richmond believed motivation lay with the unconscious, which was accessible via dreams but only in a coded form. To decode the dream was the job of the dreamer. Greene was required to offer a dream each day, and when he did not have one, he was told to make one up. Richmond sat at his desk with a stopwatch with which he timed Greene’s associations. The stopwatch was a tool used by Jung and – in the first decade of the 20th century – by Ferenczi, who also explored automatic writing as a way to map thought- association and representation. Jung’s method was to say a word, then ask his patients to free-associate, timing their responses by stopwatch. He would then note any disturbed associations, or those which took a longer time.

Richmond did not offer any interpretations. “So far as my own dreams and associations went, he told me nothing – he patiently waited for me to discover the long road back for myself,” Greene writes. “… Sometimes as the analysis progressed, he’d show little hints of excitement, as though he scented something for which he’d been waiting a long while. I too began to feel the excitement of the search.”

According to his wife Zoe, Richmond was reluctant to proceed too fast and too far. It was… of paramount importance that the patient recognized the problem for himself and how it could be solved. His way, his wife says, was never to force anything; to allow the patient to learn about himself, to make his own discoveries. “That is what he transferred to Graham, this life giving thing. You had to decide all by yourself. That was the whole treatment.

In A Sort of Life, Greene, gives an example of a dream and how Richmond reacted to it. He had, he says, dreamt about Zoe Richmond, then 31 and “a beautiful woman”. It was a dilemma for a shy boy, but – having agreed not to censor his dreams – Greene was duty bound to speak it.

“And now, Richmond said, after a little talk on general theory, we’ll get down to last night’s dream.

I cleared my dry throat. ‘I can only remember one.’

‘Let’s have it.’

‘I was in bed,’ I said.’



He made a note in his pad. I took a breath and plunged. ‘There was a knock on the door and Zoe came in. She was naked. She leant over me. One of her breasts nearly touched my mouth. I woke up.

‘What’s your association to breasts,’ Richmond asked, setting his stopwatch.

‘Tube train,’ I said after a long pause.

‘Five seconds,’ Richmond said.

Richmond, his wife told Greene’s biographer, Dr Norman Sherry, was a Jungian and Jung, as we know, fell out with Freud and called his practice analytical psychology, not psychoanalysis. For Greene, however, Kenneth Richmond gave the impression of “belonging to no dogmatic school of psycho-analysis… (he) was nearer to Freud than Jung,” A Sort of Life tells us, “but Adler probably contributed.”

A conceptual backdrop for Richmond was the notion that cure lay in discovering one’s own myth, an idea that has some resonance with Lacan’s exploration of obsessional neurosis in the 1953 paper The Neurotic’s Individual Myth

Greene – who throughout his life retreated from desire in favour of demand – may well have been an obsessive. In love, he tended to put off the instant of encounter, such that desire collapsed at the moment of action. What is un-deniable, is that what Lacan called the family constellation played a key role in Greene’s symptoms. In The Neurotic’s Individual Myth, Lacan points to the fundamental family relationships that structured the Rat Man’s parents’ union.

In Greene’s case that union marginalized others. Greene’s mother was remote, while his father, as the authority at home and school, represented the law in what for Greene was an impossible way. As a result, Greene developed an injunction by which betrayal was the inevitable outcome of human relationships, and disloyalty was a privilege one had in relation to society, by which he meant the right to write from the point of view of both sides of an argument.

Which is to say that, what Greene called according to his family romance, disloyalty, may have been an attempt to break identifications, and do what Lacan called speak well.

What Greene wished to avoid was accepted opinion. It was loyalty that he believed produced it, forbidding the sympathetic comprehension of dissident voices. Disloyalty on the other hand, encouraged, he felt, the sympathetic roaming through any mind. This formula led Greene to regret Shakespeare’s lack of disloyalty; had the Bard had it, we could have loved him better as a man, Greene felt.

For Greene, “Honour saps disloyalty”, an injunction that meant that after writing The Quiet American in 1955, he would not go back to Vietnam, even though urged by his publisher. The problem was that the Americans were now involved, and he would only have sympathy for one side.

When he returned to school after his time with Richmond, Greene no longer looked on rules as anything other than ordinances. As a shy responsible boy he didn’t openly revolt against his father, but his characteristic response to authority changed and this, according to his biographer, turned him ultimately into a rebel in religion and politics.

Richmond, Sherry says, liberated Greene and helped start him on the road as a writer. Greene, for whom the time with Richmond was ‘perhaps the happiest six months of (his) life’, describes his “psychoanalysis” as seeking the cause of his rebellion in himself, his loves and fears.”

One legacy was the centrality of dreams. Like Joseph Heller, whose opening to Catch 22, arose from a dream, Greene found dreams provided inspiration and helped him tackle writer’s block. “In periods when I can’t write, I keep a notepad beside my bed. When I wake at night I note the dream down. I’ve found that dreams are like serials: the installments can carry on for weeks. At the end they form a whole. If one can remember an entire dream the result is a sense of entertainment sufficiently marked to give one the illusion of being catapulted into a different world.”

This echoes Freud’s Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming, in which a child’s imaginary world is likened to a writer creating a fictional world, one that can be enjoyed in his mind, without provoking repulsion in the reader. Writing then is not only a substitution of – but also a continuation of – childhood games. Children, when grown up, replace their games with fantasies, of which they are ashamed. It is through creative writing that they are liberated. Games played by Greene, in childhood and later as a writer, were infused with scenarios of betrayal and death. Among his most intimate possessions, a libidinal pleasure he did not wish to relinquish, was Russian roulette, which he played with a revolver as an adolescent, and travel as an adult.

As he wrote to Vivienne Dayrell Browning during their courtship: “The only thing worth doing at the moment seems to be to go and get killed somehow in an exciting manner.” Seemingly as a defense against depression, Greene became a wanderer who would go anywhere and do almost anything to temper the boredom, which he did by writing in a particular way. In 1935, 14 years after his time with Richmond, Greene formulated how this worked: “the whole accumulation of the traveller’s past, notably the pain of childhood determine a journey,” he said, “and any journey – like a form of dreaming – is an attempt to express the pain in harmless images, slipping it past the censor, in the shape of a casino, cathedral (or) pension at Rapallo.”

Central to this formula was the idea of a deity, a supreme Other, but not exactly the entity Freud had in mind in much of his work. Greene did not, as Freud tended to, see religion as an illusion scientific progress would dissipate. He was closer to Lacan, who felt that the true religion, Roman Catholicism, would capture everyone in the end. But while Lacan saw Catholicism achieving this outcome through pouring meaning over the ever more insistent and unbearable real that we owe to science, Greene was, typically, more perverse. For him, both God and the Devil, while necessary, were untrustworthy. Why? Because both use comic, futile people, what he called “little suburban natures”, to serve their purpose: when God uses them it’s Nobility, when the Devil does, it is Wickedness. The result – Greene felt – is dull shabby ordinary human mediocrity.

Greene converted to Catholicism (when he married), in part because orthodox belief was necessary for him to portray the fullness and depth of the human soul. For all their vagaries about religion, Greene argued that writers like Dickens, Hardy, Lawrence, Henry James and his own favorite, Conrad, benefited from religion. By contrast, he said, Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster’s characters “wander like cardboard symbols through a world that’s paper-thin.”

Catholicism was alluring, not because it saved him, but because it saved the supernatural from being despicable. Creative writing, he held, and I’m going to add – a certain sort of reading – was a function of the religious mind. Rob human beings of the heavenly and infernal and you take their individuality. The importance of the human act for Greene depended on a religious sense – something that evokes myth and a way of accessing the resonances of the speaking body. Without this, Greene felt, there is no awareness of another world: the world against which the actions of human players, creations either read on the page or encountered in the street, are thrown into relief.

Lacan was also interested in Catholicism, declaring himself “the product of priests”. But he shifted from the field of religion to the structure of language, where the “it”, the unconscious speaks through the mystery of the speaking body. Greene’s writing may have done something similar. In what some consider his best work, A Burnt Out Case, for instance, the interest is in where to put faith, in a deity or the unconscious. It is an agency Greene also references in Brighton Rock, an interrogation of banal, everyday evil.

His work drew on geopolitics, but didn’t depend on events, rather a certain sort of reading of language, which, like religion, was at times, ineffable. This was intended, just as what he wrote, was unintended. He approached this by saying that the creative writer perceives his world once and for all in childhood, such that his career is an effort to illustrate his private world in public terms. Many of his characters are products of a lost childhood, one in which the world’s full of others wearing masks of success. It was a certain sort of reading that could navigate the gravity of this loss, and its notion of memory as a long broken night. Childhood as Edgar Allan Poe said knows the human heart.