I guess it's a bit mean of me to put up a post about Jeffrey Masson's talk yesterday at Massey University, because it's too late now to invite any of you to come along.
You did miss out on a treat, though.
I first heard him speak in 2000, when he was invited along to one of my colleague Jenny Lawn's classes to talk about Freud. He hadn't been in New Zealand very long, and of course that was how most of us still knew him: as the author of The Assault on Truth: Freud’s Suppression of the Seduction Theory (1984), and as the subject of Janet Malcolm's In the Freud Archives (1984), which he took her to court over.
It came as a bit of a surprise to hear that he was now working on a book about cats (it would eventually be published as The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats: A Journey into the Feline Heart (2002)), and had begun to shift his attention from human to animal psychology.
When I was asked to oversee the Albany campus version of "Writers Read" -- a very successful series which has been running at Palmerston North for seven years and in Wellington for five -- I must admit that one of my first thoughts was that it would be interesting to look up Jeffrey Masson again and to see what he'd been up to over the last decade.
I do have to say that the book he's working on at present, about the nature of human agression, examined by contrast with other apex predators (there are almost two hundred, apparently, and they including Orcas, African lions, caimans and a whole slew of others), seems to combine the best features of his earlier, more "scholarly" work with his later, more "popular" books on animal emotions.
As his dog Benjy slowly circumnavigated the room, snuffling and making friends with each member of the audience, Jeff held us spellbound with the various theories that exist already about the roots of human aggression and murderousness. Was it the invention of agriculture which was at fault (as Jared Diamond claims), the domestication of animals, or the growth of organised religion? Whatever it was, something went wrong with us around 10,000 years ago which has been plaguing humanity ever since.
To some people, of course, such broadscale thinking is by definition a waste of time. What can one hope to achieve by considering such massive and unanswerable questions? It's a dangerous business, to be sure, but then clinging to the nitty-gritty detail of one's particular specialisation doesn't really absolve one of responsiblity for the rest of the world's ills.
I think everyone in the room yesterday would agree that Jeff Masson did a pretty thorough job of weighing the sources against one another; what's more, he was prepared to suspend judgement where insufficient data was available. It was a rivetting perfomance. A shame a few more of you weren't there. I really am sorry that I didn't have the foresight to warn you in advance that he was coming to Albany.
You can find out the original advertisement for his talk here. Do feel free to come along to any others in the series that take your fancy.
[Jeffrey Masson, ed.: The Illustrated Freud's Interpretation of Dreams (2010)]