Centre for Modernist Studies

Virus of Hate: Responses to Fascism in Psychoanalysis, Surrealism and Modernism

A symposium exploring the relationship between creativity, psychic life and politics in the first half of the twentieth century

12th January 2019. 10:30am-5:30pm (Registration from 10:00)

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill

This symposium explores the relationship between creativity, psychic life and politics in the first half of the twentieth century. It includes papers on how psychoanalytic theory was used to diagnose the extraordinary hatred that accompanied the rise of fascism in the 1930s, and on how modernist and surrealist techniques were marshalled to the task of finding ways of preventing it. Modernist and surrealist writing that both resisted and promoted fascist ideology will be examined, and questions will be asked about how responses to political hatred in the 1930s bear upon discussions of today’s political contexts. The symposium will conclude with a tour of the exhibition, ‘A Tale of Mother’s Bones: Grace Pailthorpe, Reuben Mednikoff and the Birth of Psychorealism’. The work of Pailthorpe and Mednikoff brings together many of the themes of the day: they developed a method combining psychoanalytic theory with surrealist art and writing, which they believed would provide society with a cure for what they called ‘the virus of hate’. The De La Warr Pavilion is the perfect venue for both the exhibition and the symposium. It was co-designed by German Jewish architect Erich Mendelsohn, who fled Nazi Germany in 1933, and was commissioned to build the Pavilion with Serge Chermayeff in 1934. Their work was completed in 1935, the year that Pailthorpe and Mednikoff met. 

Click here to download the draft programme.

This symposium has been organised by the Centre for Modernist Studies at the University of Sussex in partnership with the De La Warr Pavilion; it has also been supported by the Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research.

For more information please write to sussexmoderniststudies@gmail.com, or contact the conference organisers Hope Wolf (h.wolf@sussex.ac.uk) and Helen Tyson (h.tyson@sussex.ac.uk).

To book a place at this symposium please visit the De La Warr Pavilion website here.


the_flying_pigReuben Mednikoff, September 10, 1936 (The Flying Pig), Collection of Michel and Susie Remy, Nice, Courtesy of De La Warr Pavilion


Further Information

In 1941, in an essay titled ‘The Cradle and Politics’, the Surrealist and psychoanalytic artist Grace Pailthorpe wrote that the ‘trend and disposition of an individual’s political opinion is decided in the cradle and nursery days’, and argued that populist politicians were able to ‘ensnare’ the emotions of the masses by harnessing childhood fears and furies. In another unpublished manuscript, ‘Psychorealism: The Sluicegates of the Emotions’, Pailthorpe argued that art could provide a ‘safety valve’, a space in which to vent furies and frustrations. She rallied ‘doctors, psychologists, midwives, nurses, mothers and fathers and educators’ to implement her manifesto. In language that resonated with her medical training as a surgeon in the First World War, she argued that with their help it might be possible to ‘prevent the virus of hate ever again resuming its insidious work.’ In Pailthorpe’s view, the method she developed with fellow-artist and researcher Reuben Mednikoff might offer a way of stopping the kinds of political violence she and her generation had witnessed. ‘Hitler and Mussolini’, she wrote, ‘would never have become insanely dictatorial had they had, as children, ample opportunity to vent their infantile rages’. 

Pailthorpe’s work is little known today, but its political dimensions can be better understood by placing it within the context of modernist and psychoanalytic thinking. Like Virginia Woolf, who (although ambivalent about psychoanalysis) in her 1938 essay Three Guineas, traced the clamouring of European dictators to the ‘infantile fixations’ of nineteenth-century British patriarchs, Pailthorpe used the language of psychoanalysis to offer a political analysis of fascism. And, like the psychoanalyst, life-writer and artist Marion Milner, who, in her 1937 book An Experiment in Leisure presented what Maud Ellmann has described as a creative ‘program for resisting fascism’, Pailthorpe located creativity at the centre of individual resistance to the snares of populist dictators. For all three writers and artists, creativity played a crucial role not only in the analysis of but also as part of the resistance to the mass manipulation of the individual’s emotional life in an age of fascism. 

As the 1920s gave way to the 1930s, modernist writers, artists, and psychoanalysts shared a common anxiety about the ease with which individual emotions might be seized upon, and manipulated, not only by Hollywood movie makers and the mass press, but also, by the 1930s, by European dictators in thrall, as Milner put it, to the ‘crudest infantile desire to be king of the castle and to prove that others are dirty rascals.’ ‘King of the Castle’, was also the title of a 1938 painting by Reuben Mednikoff. As scholars including Denise Riley, Jacqueline Rose, Lyndsey Stonebridge, and Michal Shapira have all noted the psychoanalytic portrait of the mind can be historically situated: it is no coincidence that psychoanalysts writing in the wake of the First World War, during the Second World War, and in its wake, were drawn to theorise a violently destructive element at the centre of the child’s, and consequently the adult’s, psychic life. For modernist writers, artists, and psychoanalysts, this historical period demanded new creative forms with which to record, to resist, and to remake a shattered world.

‘Virus of Hate: Responses to Fascism in Psychoanalysis, Surrealism and Modernism’ coincides with the opening of the exhibition ‘A Tale of Mother’s Bones: Grace Pailthorpe, Reuben Mednikoff, and the Birth of Psychorealism.’ The exhibition explores how two Surrealist and psychoanalytic artists excavated their earliest memories (including memories of birth, weaning and sibling rivalry) in order to understand their adult relationships, critical reception, political context and spiritual beliefs. The exhibition is curated by Hope Wolf, Co-Director of the Centre for Modernist Studies at the University of Sussex, with Rosie Cooper, Head of Exhibitions at the De La Warr Pavilion, Martin Clark, Director of Camden Arts Centre, and Gina Buenfeld, Curator at Camden Arts Centre. A tour of the exhibition will be included within the symposium programme, and audiences will be invited to take inspiration from the papers presented over the course of the day to offer their own responses to the artists’ works.

The exhibition will open at the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill, on 6 October 2018 and will open again at Camden Arts Centre, London, on 12 April 2019. For more information on the exhibition and a short film see: https://www.dlwp.com/exhibition/tale-mothers-bones-grace-pailthorpe-reuben-mednikoff-birth-psychorealism/