Remembering David Holt: “Pour on; I will endure” (King Lear) by Michael Whan

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David Holt’s death at dawn on Easter Sunday is still a shock and a lasting grief. David was a man of unique sensibility and expression of heart and mind. His character was deeply compassionate, marked with a fighting spirit; vulnerable yet tough. He spoke from an intelligence of feeling and intuitive thought, humane and philosophically refined; sharing what is most common, though through a highly personal, at times idiosyncratic, confessional voice—a singular example of that rare species—despite the many pretenders to that title—an authentic psychologist. Like many who knew and loved him, I miss him greatly.

I don’t feel we have yet comprehended David’s original writing and thought, and its seminal role in relation to Jung’s psychology. His apprehension of it was radical and extremely individual, such that his writing was not always easy of access, though he longed to be understood. He could feel hurt when he was not. David found his own path, embracing both commonality and division, alert to listen to the voice of the other and engage in dialogue, but caring for differences and controversy. Speaking of the help he attained from the reading of Jung, he wrote modestly, though no doubt with a sense of ironic self-appreciation, of building ‘the rather leaky boat to which I have come to trust myself’ (’45 Years In and Out of Jung’s Psychology’, Bulletin of the Oxford Psychotherapy Society, March 1993). It was a vessel many of us also learned to trust.

That ‘……In and Out …..’expresses the contradiction of David Holt’s place. He was, in the feel of what mattered, often ‘at the heart of things’: as well as his own successful private practice, there was his long involvement in the Analytical Psychology Club and Guild of Pastoral Psychology; he was a teacher and supervisor in the earlier days of the Westminster Pastoral Foundation, an active member of the Oxford Psychotherapy Society, an astute commentator on the ‘politics’ of the analytical psychology training organizations, as well as finding creative expression for his interest in theatre and what it had to offer in the understanding of human behaviour and analysis through the Hawkwood Weekends, with his lectures, seminars, and the shared enactments. His concerns drew him to the threshold between the private and the public, the ‘personal’ and the ‘social’ body, terms he creatively elaborated upon, drawn from the work of the anthropologist Mary Douglas.

Yet David was also a figure of the margin – or as I’d prefer to say, the psychological edge. His longstanding interest and curiosity about time and timing served him well when he came up against the rebuttal he suffered when he returned to the British Isles from his analytic training in Switzerland. He applied for membership to the SAP, who refused as usual to recognize the validity of the Zurich qualification. He wrote in a paper, which arose from his meditation on frequency, ‘How I Analyse Psyche’, that the ‘problem centred on the question of time. My training analysis … had been tuned to twice a week … [and] … to once a week’ (David Holt, The Psychology Of Carl Jung: Essays in Application and Deconstruction. Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1976/1992) Typically, David drew upon his adversity to reflect on the nature of time and timing. These matters, he felt, were ‘worth dividing on’, ‘substantial differences as to the value of psyche itself’. Such matters are still with us. Nevertheless, I know of no-one who has given such depth of thought to these questions with his many writings on time and history: for instance, ‘Sex and the Wound of Time’(1983), ‘The Timing of Analysis’ (1971), ‘The Cost of Health: Payment, Treatment, Time’(1974), ‘Alchemy and Psychosis: Curiosity and the Metaphysics of Time’(1988). It would help us much in our differences about ‘frequency’, I feel, if David’s writings were more widely studied, shared, and discussed. To the extent that they are not, or that they are ignored, I suspect it is because we are not up to facing the challenges and rigours of feeling and thought that they cast at us.

Jung wrote that ‘without history there can be no psychology’ (C. G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Recorded and Edited by Aniela Jaffe. New York: Random House, 1963. p.2O5). That sense of the historical was absolutely central to David’s thought and work. Jung made his remarks in the context of the alchemical roots of his psychology. This alchemical background figured a great deal in David’s work, but he went beyond the rhetorical embellishment – with alchemical metaphors and language. He could relate these two very different modes of practice and life, because he did not collapse historical time. Reviewing a number of articles in the journal Ambix (the Journal of the Society for the Study of Alchemy and Early Chemistry), he concluded: ‘One important strand linking alchemy with modern technology is woven out of the human ability to speed up the time of mineral change. What does this imply for our responsibility for history, and in particular for the history of the scientific revolution …. the “invention of the method of invention” (‘Alchemy: Jung and the Historians of Science’, in The Psychology Of Carl Jung. p. 4O8). He goes on to link this with ‘our responsibility for the opus contra naturam‘. David could move psychologically between the most disparate of domains, as in his ‘Jung and Marx: Alchemy, Christianity and the Work Against Nature’(1974), ‘Alchemy, Marx and the Christian Imagination’(1977), and ‘Riddley Walker and Greenham Common: Further Thoughts on Alchemy, Christianity and the Work Against Nature’(1983), in The Psychology Of Carl Jung). This is an astonishing list of titles. Who else could be so audacious, who else could go to the heart of the matter, so that we begin to read Jung and Marx off against each other in a way that transfigures both? It was David’s deeply informed sense of psychology, history, and metaphysics that enabled him to move between such seemingly different thinkers. In his last book, The Clermont Story: arguing christian responsability (Validthod Press, 2001), David devised an expression ‘Caught Between History And Nature’. Such a phrase encompassed the many critical issues that his work engaged with: sexuality, psychosis, time, economy, nature, theatre, body, science, and so on. Through such engagements, he could make relevant and timely the notion of ‘our responsibility for the opus contra naturam‘.

Likewise, I know of no-one in the psychotherapy field who could write with such power and ingenuity on the relationship between money, alienation, and Jung’s psychology; there is a unique richness and discovery in such writings still awaiting us. David has left us a legacy of thought and work which we cannot afford to ignore, if Jung’s psychology is to argue its relevance for us.

For his funeral, David had prepared a ‘personal reading’ for those gathered there in the church, and for a wider sharing. Read by Pat Watts, it began: ‘What have the living and the dead to celebrate together when we meet like this at a funeral?’ He answered: ‘We meet together to keep time.’ As with much he said, that reply is surprising in its wise simplicity, yet remaining complex and elusive. It touches us in the most intimate and most metaphysical way. David found a means to address us at his own funeral, to address us all, reminding us of the discourse that needs to continue between the living and the dead. Time matters to both, as does language and remembering. In Memories, ‘Dreams, Reflections, Jung speaks of the nature of his psychology in the same terms, characterizing his work as ‘attempts, ever renewed, to give an answer to the question of the interplay between the “here” and the “hereafter” (p.299). Psychology comprises a mediumistic reply, for, says Jung, the dead are ‘waiting to hear what answer we will give to them, and what answer to destiny’. David wrote in his final address that we must take ‘this and every funeral with us into the world.’ In these words, we can hear the trace of David’s life and death; the memory of a gifted and generous spirit of a man. He calls us to a responsibility for past, present, and future time.

I feel the best ending of this act of remembering David, is to quote fully from a letter sent to him by the great English poet, Ted Hughes. It fully appreciates the impact of David’s writings on an equally inspired and inspiring man. Finally, I’ll let the last four lines from his funeral address sound in our ears with the lasting echo of his words. David had sent Ted Hughes a collection of his Hawkwood papers, Theatre and Behaviour: Hawkward Papers 1979 to 1986, (privately published, 1987). Hughes replied:

Dear David Holt,

Somehow your note to me, and your ‘Theatre and Behaviour’, slipped through a crevasse in this mountain of paper on which I live. I found it only a couple of days ago. Thank you for your words and your lectures. They are so full of things-emerging from real work, insight grappling with Proteus, not riffling through the card index. Reading them is putting me through a surprising process. I am seeing all kinds of things afresh. Thank you again.

Ted Hughes.Quote close

And David’s last lines: ‘There is never enough time. There is all the time we need. Somehow (God only knows how) both are true, if only we can catch the beat. Which is why we are here. Now. Hereafter. Like it was and like it will be, it is still “once upon a time”. Still. A still beat. We are come together, you and I, to catch that beat.’