A Writer’s Unconscious

D.M Thomas on Fiction and Psychoanalysis

ACCEPT Lecture, 12th May 1991.

The novelist, D.M.Thomas, was the guest speaker invited to Dublin by ACCEPT
 to mark 1991, our year as the European City of Culture, and he was indeed a most appro
priate choice. The Edmund Burke Theatre in Trinity College was packed with people 
eager to hear the distinguished authors thoughts on a subject which promised to link 
two such fascinating areas: fiction and psychoanalysis. As we waited, Thomas could 
clearly be seen at the side door of the hall, walking thoughtfully to and fro and waiting 
to make a suitably late entry and begin his talk.

Initially he spoke of the writer’s unconscious, pointing out that it is as important in
 the process of writing fiction and poetry as it is in Freudian psychoanalysis. In both cases,
 the unconscious is the source of vital narratives: “In the unconscious there is a natural
 story-telling instinct,” he told us. He went on to illustrate this by showing us how a 
dream he had about his father had contributed to a scene in his latest novel. At first there
 seemed to be no connection. The dream was full of specific references to Thomas’ childhood in Cornwall and to the admiration he felt for his father who was so graceful a singer 
and so gregarious a man, and whose early death had haunted his young son. After reading
 out this dream, Thomas went straight on to read us a generous extract from the new 
novel, an account of the assassination of President Kennedy. It was very close to the his
torical facts and at first had no apparent bearing on the dream. Little by little, however,
 Thomas showed us how Kennedy stood for his father and how the two deaths – in the
 dream and in the novel – were both creative reflections of his own real experience. He
 mentioned that the dream occurred on the night he finished the first draft of the novel.

“There is a creative poetic intelligence at the heart of the unconscious,” he declared,
 “which is both commonplace and astonishing.” He believed that Freud would have been
 horrified at the state of our world today. “I see no-one around who is exploring the mind 
in a deeply humane as well as a scientific way,” he told us.

It is strange the way the father-figure of Freud haunts talks on psychoanalysis. 
Thomas is of course a most accomplished and fluent public speaker, and yet at one
 stage he was blocked, he paused, he had to search very hard for a word. At last it came: 
the word he was resisting was “resistance”.

Mary Montaut