Writers Read Series 2012:
Lunchtime Reading and Discussion -
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
Wednesday, May 2nd
12 noon-1.00 pm
This is the first this year in our Albany Writers Read series, sponsored by the School of English and Media Studies on Massey's Palmerston North, Wellington, and Albany campuses, and co-hosted here in Auckland by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Our speaker, Dr Jeffrey Masson, is a bestselling American writer on human and animal psychology, now resident in New Zealand. His controversial The Assault on Truth: Freud’s Suppression of the Seduction Theory (1984), which caused a furore among orthodox Freudians, has been followed more recently by a number of very successful books on the emotional life of animals.
Jeff will read from and discuss his forthcoming book Apex Predator, about human beings and orcas (killer whales), followed by a brief question and answer session.
Light refreshments will be provided.
More about Jeffrey Masson:
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson is a writer who lives with his family in New Zealand. His wife Leila is a pediatrician and they have two sons: Ilan and Manu. They live on a beach in Auckland with three cats and Benjy the Failed Guide Dog.
Jeff has a Ph.D. in Sanskrit from Harvard University. He was Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Toronto. While at the university he trained as a Freudian analyst (from 1971-1979) graduating as a full member of the International Psycho-Analytical Association. In 1980 he became Project Director of the Sigmund Freud Archives.
Given access to Freud's papers in London and the Library of Congress, his research led him to believe that Freud made a mistake when he stopped believing that the source of much human misery lay in sexual abuse. Masson's view was so controversial within traditional analytic circles that he was fired from the archives and had his membership in the international society taken away. Janet Malcolm has written a book about this episode (In the Freud Archives - the subject of a libel suit by Masson) and Jeff has published a series of books critical of Freud, psychoanalysis, psychiatry and therapy.
Skeptical that humans could be understood (at least by psychologists) Masson turned to animals. In 1995 he published When Elephants Weep, an international best seller, followed by the equally popular Dogs Never Lie About Love.
Since those two books he has published seven more books about animals, looking in every one at their emotions: About cats he wrote The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats; He looked at fatherhood in the animal world and the lessons to be learned for humans in The Evolution of Fatherhood; writing about the emotional world of farm animals in The Pig Who Sang to the Moon turned Jeff into a vegan.
Leila, and Jeff are vegans. Manu, Ilan and his rat are vegetarian. Their four cats could not be persuaded to follow either philosophy, and are, alas, carnivores. Benjy could be a vegan, but Jeff feels that he should not force him into this lifestyle, which should be a choice.
Contact Person for this event:
Dr Jack Ross
School of English and Media Studies
Pvt Bag 102 904
North Shore Mail Centre
Phone: 414-0800 x 9506
Write-ups & Responses:
- Jennifer Little, Massey University News (27 April, 2012):
Animal emotions expert to talk at Albany campus
Best-selling author on human and animal psychology Dr Jeffrey Masson will give a talk at Massey University’s Albany campus on May 2.
American-born Dr Masson, who lives in Auckland, will read from his forthcoming book Apex Predator, about human beings and orcas, as part of the University’s Writers Read Series.
His first book on animal emotions, When Elephants Weep, published in 1995, became an international bestseller and was translated into 20 languages. It was followed by the equally popular Dogs Never Lie About Love, and a further seven books about animal emotions and what humans can learn from them, including The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats. Writing about farm animals in The Pig Who Sang to the Moon (2003) prompted him to become a vegan.
Dr Masson has a PhD in Sanskrit and was a Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Toronto during the 1970s. While there, he trained as a Freudian psychologist, and in 1980 became the Project Director of the Sigmund Freud Archives.
He was given access to Freud’s papers, and his research led him to believe that Freud made a mistake when he abandoned his seduction theory and stopped believing that the source of much human misery resulted from sexual abuse. His views were so controversial that he was fired from the project and had his membership with the International Psycho-Analytical Association revoked. The saga is the topic of a book called In the Freud Archives by journalist Janet Malcolm – the subject of libel suit by Dr Masson.
Skeptical that humans could be understood (at least by psychologists), he turned to animals in his research and writing, and once explained the reason for his radical change in direction.
“I’d written a whole series of books about psychiatry, and nobody bought them. Nobody liked them. Nobody. Psychiatrists hated them, and they were much too abstruse for the general public. It was very hard to make a living, and I thought, ‘As long as I’m not making a living, I may as well write about something I really love: animals’”.
English lecturer Dr Jack Ross, who is coordinating the event, says Dr Masson has wide appeal because of his unique subject matter. “A lot of people read his books. He has a very interesting intellectual history spanning the disciplines of literature, psychology and the animal kingdom.”
Dr Masson’s reading is the first of three this year at the Albany campus, hosted by the School of English and Media Studies. Coming up are Family Court judge and poet John Adams (Thursday, August 9), and poet, critic and children’s fiction writer Paula Green (Thursday, September 13).
All talks are at the Study Centre Staff Lounge, 12-1pm.
- Jack Ross, The Imaginary Museum (3 May, 2012):
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
Next in this series:
Thursday, August 9, 2012
Study Centre Staff Lounge