Forum: A tribute to Mervin Glasser.
Following the news of his death we deliberated about how we could best remember him and his work in his country of origin--South Africa. Since he was a researcher as well as an academic who began his studies as an undergraduate at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) we explored the possibility of honouring him though an annual essay prize for South African postgraduate students in psychology. This possibility became a reality following a generous donation arranged by Valerie Sinason, making possible the PPSA Mervin Glasser Postgraduate Student Prize. This edition of Psycho-analytic Psychotherapy in South Africa features the article written by the first prizewinner, Clinton van der Walt. For those who do not know much about Mervin we offer the following biographical sketch that includes aspects of his professional and personal life journey.
In their early years growing up in Yeoville, Johannesburg, both Mervin (nicknamed 'Chips') and his older brother Stanley ('Spike') were profoundly influenced by their relationship with their remarkable father. Yeina (Joe) Glasser was a Lithuanian Jew, a self-educated businessman, who immigrated with his wife Asia to South Africa to establish a new life. While he was small and round in stature he had many big passions, especially for the arts--painting, literature and music. He played the violin and was one of the first to support struggling black artists in South Africa. He also kept and cultivated a large archive of Yiddish literature and European texts. This was where Mervin first encountered Freud, at the age of 16. Doubtlessly it was this early exposure to psychoanalysis that, two years later, influenced his choice of psychology when enrolling at Wits, where he completed his BA (Hons) in Psychology in 1952. His older brother Stanley, likewise, was influenced by his father's interests, becoming a composer and orchestrator and working on one of South Africa's greatest musicals King Kong. He went on to study music at Cambridge University and subsequently became Emeritus Professor and head of the music department at Goldsmiths, University of London. His interest in all areas of progressive music led him to introduce electronic music to his department--the first electronic studio being named in his honour. Following in the family tradition Stanley's son Adam Glasser became a jazz musician specializing in piano and the chromatic harmonica. With his album Free at First he won the Best Contemporary Jazz award at the 2010 South African Music Awards.
Mervin first studied medicine when he arrived in London, specializing in psychiatry. Following his graduation from Westminster Hospital Medical School in 1958 he at once entered psychoanalytic training. He could now channel all his energies into the subject that was dearest to his heart. He trained as a Freudian at the Institute of Psychoanalysis and his analysts were Barbara Lantos (analysed by Ferenczi) and then Lothair Rubinstein. When considering Mervin's clinical work, as reflected in his writings and lectures, it is fair to say that he unequivocably immersed himself in the less beguiling aspects of the human psyche--suicide, delinquency, violence, aggression, paedophilia, perversion, narcissism and transvestitism. These cutting edge areas of human suffering, however, all contained a research aspect for him: he constantly used workshops and seminars to get to the depth of the problem under discussion--an example, he said, of 'psychoanalytic' research.
Another branch of research for Mervin was adolescence. This led to an enterprising collaboration with Moses Laufer, an analyst who, at Anna Freud's behest, established a psychoanalytic service for young people in north London. The Brent Centre for Young People opened in 1971--a centre for research into adolescent breakdown. Mervin was the deputy director of the Centre before he joined the Portman Clinic.
Mervin was widely known for his concept of the 'core complex', which described a universal experience in early development during which certain psychic dynamics could be set up to generate a range of pathological solutions for the eventual personality structure. In essence, the 'core complex' described a mother/infant relationship in which the search for fusion by the infant meets a similar need for fusion by the mother; the mother's need cancels out the infant's through the mother's mood of indifference. This indifference produces annihilation anxiety in the infant who defends itself concurrently through withdrawal and self-preservative aggression leading to further fears of abandonment. To forestall such double abandonment the infant/child is compelled to turn aggression on the self. This 'complex' has been cited in many academic books and articles around the world as well as in non-psychoanalytic publications--I (Trevor Lubbe) recently came across it in a biographical account of Ernest Hemingway's psychosexuality.
Mervin and his wife Kathie had two children, Brian and Ann. He and Kathie often travelled to South Africa to visit his parents who were then separated. His mother died in 1963 and his father remarried but, when his father's second wife died in 1980, Joe accompanied his son back to London where he died at the age of ninety-two. Mervin also visited South Africa in 1998 with his wife where he participated in the conference 'Change: Psychoanalytic Perspectives' hosted by the International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA) and organized by the South Africa Psychoanalysis Trust, a charity set up in London to promote the development of psychoanalysis in South Africa. Mervin was the first chairman. To introduce the visiting analysts to our local readership this journal reprinted several articles published by the visiting analysts, including one by Mervin titled 'Problems in the psychoanalysis of certain narcissistic disorders'. Readers of this journal may like to consult this paper for Mervin's own very detailed exposition of his concept the 'core complex' (Glasser, 1997).
To conclude, Mervin, like his father, came to mentor and enthuse a great many people. Whether as educator, clinical advisor or administrator, his honesty and verve were infectious, and naturally his chosen profession gave him many opportunities to help people in a more profound way. Apart from psychoanalysis his other great loves were the arts and football--he was a regular season ticket holder at White Hart Lane, home of the Spurs. When he died peacefully on 9 November 2000 he had settled down to watch a match on television.
Glasser, M. (1997). Problems in the psychoanalysis of certain narcissistic disorders. Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy in South Africa, 5(2), 35-50. '
Trevor Lubbe trained as a child psychotherapist at the Tavistock Clinic and worked in the NHS before returning to South Africa where he now lives and works. He is a member of the Association of Child Psychotherapists and a member of the Institute for Child Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy in South Africa.
Valerie Sinason is a poet, writer, child and adult psychotherapist and adult psychoanalyst. She is Director of the Clinic for Dissociative Studies in London. She specialises in trauma and disability. She lectures internationally and is an Hon Consultant Psychotherapist at Cape Town Child Guidance Clinic and a Trustee of New Bethesda Arts Foundation. She has published many books and papers internationally and her latest book (due September 2011) is Trauma, Dissociation and Multiplicity: Working with Identity and Selves, Routledge.
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|Author:||Lubbe, Trevor; Sinason, Valerie|
|Publication:||Psycho-analytic Psychotherapy in South Africa|
|Article Type:||In memoriam|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2011|
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