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Radio review: Archive on 4: The hundred-year ego, and Political Currency

22 September 2023


In Archive on 4: The Hundred Year Ego (Radio 4, Saturday) David Baker described Sigmund Freud as “prophet of modern man”

In Archive on 4: The Hundred Year Ego (Radio 4, Saturday) David Baker described Sigmund Freud as “prophet of modern man”

IT IS safe to say that the 100th anniversary of Sigmund Freud’s The Ego and the Id will not be universally celebrated. According to the philosopher Frank Cioffi, Freud played “the greatest intellectual confidence trick of the 20th century”. And, even if you are inclined to leniency, it is hard to disagree with David Baker’s assessment — made in Archive on 4: The Hundred Year Ego (Radio 4, Saturday) — that Freud was the “prophet of modern man”, with all the ambivalence that that entails.

One of the consistent objections that emerged from this excellent survey is that, although Freud presented pscyhoanalysis as a science, it is based on experiments that cannot be replicated in accordance with the precepts of the scientific method. This assertion of scientific validity made him resistant to doubt.

It should be reassuring to those of faith that the intellectual tide appears to be running away from the primacy of the ego and towards the notion of the individual as a relational phenomenon. A surprising and illuminating segment of the programme referenced music as an analogy for the environmental understanding of the ego.

Yet the programme ended somewhat confusingly, with a segment dealing with the importance of memory in shaping the self, and the devastating effect of dementia on that sense of self. Reference was made to the classical musician Clive Wearing, for whom a seven-second memory does not impede his ability to make music.

This column has noted previously the rise of the odd-couple podcast: two personalities from supposedly different sides of the political spectrum engaging in gently antagonistic commentary on the current thing (Radio 27 January). It is a truth universally acknowledged that former occupants of high office must be in want of a podcast; and, last week, George Osborne and Ed Balls confirmed that truth by partnering up for Political Currency (Persephonica Productions; released every Thursday).

The two are pitched as “frenemies”; and, as if to reassure us that there was once authentic rancour in their relationship, we were played extracts from historical parliamentary ding-dongs. But they are not fooling anyone. This is the comfortable sparring of veterans, and the people whom they will infuriate are not one another, but those road-users who prefer their own lanes.

Yet, there is plenty to entertain here, not least the discussion of Chinese spying. It was a reminder that both politicians — but especially Mr Osborne — have known real power. This is witnessed by the moment when his security guard returned to a hotel room to find a Chinese counterpart going through his drawers. If genius is the infinite capacity for taking pains, then the Chinese intelligence agency is indeed a thing of genius.

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