The Writing of Anxiety: Imagining Wartime in Mid-Century by L. Stonebridge

By L. Stonebridge

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By L. Stonebridge

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Extra info for The Writing of Anxiety: Imagining Wartime in Mid-Century British Culture

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War, for Klein in this paper, fleshes out the phantasy lives of her analysands in vivid and violent ways. As for Anna Freud’s young charges, this reinscription of outside into inside and vice versa can lead to psychic catastrophe. As Klein puts it: ‘If the feeling that external war is really going on inside – that an internal Hitler is fought inside by a Hitler-like subject – predominates, then despair results. ’30 But if anxiety ‘blitzes’ the ego into catastrophe, crucially it is only through anxiety, Klein also argues, that the war-ravaged psyche can overcome its despair.

However much their carers might try and reassure the children by teaching them to read the writing in the sky, k there is a more tenacious anxiety at work in the Blitz that proves difficult to educate. Symptoms of anxiety are on the rampage in the war nurseries, kicking at the furniture, causing night terrors, buttoning the lips of normally garrulous children. In Freud’s 1926 account, the mother is both the cause of traumatic anxiety and the figure who can restore meaning and psychic continuity to the child.

Like Klein, Anna Freud is curious about the apparent mismatch between historical anxieties and inner ones. ’41 Why weren’t the children more crazy? In part, Anna Freud argues, because the camp was so familiar to the children (they had never known anything else), they didn’t know there was anything to be objectively anxious about (like being born into a Francis Bacon painting – or a Disney movie): but, by Anna Freud’s own admission, the children are ‘realistically’ anxious – they can’t bear the sight of black vans, for instance, dogs or, less explicably, feathers.

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