Masud Khan: The Myth and the Reality (Book Review)
Author: Willoughby, Roger
Publisher: Free Association Press
Reviewed By: Susan DeMattos, Vol. XXVII, No. 4, pp. 36-37
Reconstructing Masud Khan
Masud Khan knew the challenge that faces biographers. “Writing a biography is perhaps one of the most arduous, treacherous and thankless of undertakings,” Khan (1981, p.358) wrote in his review of Phyllis Grosskurth’s biography of Havelock Ellis. Khan noted that writing a biography of someone like Ellis, a man who self-narrated and fabricated himself, was particularly demanding because “all fictions are true for the person who fabricates them” (Khan, 1981, p. 358). How did Khan know this when he himself did not write biographies? Like Ellis, Khan too fabricated himself and had written thirty-nine volumes of a professional diary (Hopkins, 2006, p. 397). On December 15, 1981, he had written in that diary: “In a strange way, I am leaving behind materials which I hope someone will put together and that will constitute the VERITY of Masud Khan” (cited by Limentani, 1992, p. 155 and Cooper, p. 122). But what does the verity of Masud Khan mean if “all fictions are true for the person who fabricates them”? This is one of the questions that faces the biographer and reader of the biographies of Masud Khan.
There are currently three published biographies of Masud Khan. In 1993, Khan’s analysand, Judith Cooper, to whom he had given a copy of his professional diary and of whom he requested a biography, attempted to convey the verity of Masud Khan. For thirteen years (1993-2006) Linda Hopkins worked on her biography of Khan, publishing several thoughtful articles on Khan and his relationship with Winnicott in the interim. And for ten years (1995-2005) Roger Willoughby conducted research on Khan. Each biography presented a different Khan and stirred different feelings in this reader, illustrating how illusive the reality of Khan can be.
I originally came to Khan through fiction. In 1994 the novelist and short story writer Joanna Scott published a short story, “A Borderline Case,” about K and B, analyst and patient. K, the analyst, is a wealthy Punjabi Muslim, and B, a male homosexual with a foreskin fetish, who sounded very like the case Khan first published in 1965 in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis and reprinted in his 1979 book Alienation in perversions. My first reaction to the story was that it was not fiction but a true story about Khan. Later reading Hopkins’ articles and book on Khan I began to experience how easily fictions and true stories could trade places, how quickly the “verities” of Khan’s life could confuse me and keep me from being able to think about the realities of his life.
The agreed facts of Masud Khan’s life are these: born in British India in 1924, the youngest son and heir of a former Indian Army officer who was awarded both titles and land, Khan emigrated to London and began analytic training at the British Psychoanalytic Society. Khan had training analyses with Ella Freeman Sharpe and John Rickman, both of whom died while Khan was in analysis with them. He made his way quickly through analytic training and was asked to assist the Honorary Librarian while a candidate. He married twice, both ballerinas, and divorced twice. He was a friend to artists as well as analysts. He was sought for his editorial skills and thirty-one books were published under his editorship of the International Psychoanalytic Library. He was also elected to the publications committee in 1957 and would serve on it for twenty-one years. He became a training analyst and was active in the British Society and the International Psychoanalytic Association, teaching at the British Society and editing and reviewing books and papers of the International Journal. He published three highly regarded books, The Privacy of the Self in 1974, Alienations in Perversions in 1979, and Hidden Selves in 1983.
But in 1965 he was censured by the International Psychoanalytic Association for a letter he wrote claiming more of a relationship than he actually had with the recently deceased president of the IPA. Sometime after this censure, Khan began an affair with an analysand and in 1969 referred her to Marion Milner for analysis. In 1969 Khan was denied the editorship of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis. He was rumored to have had affairs with other analysands (and Hopkins and Willoughby carefully document these affairs). His drinking grew more and more out of control. On December 17, 1976, the British Psychoanalytic Society’s Education withdrew Khan’s status as a Training Analyst and teacher. Khan was also diagnosed with lung cancer at this time. Then in the spring of 1988 Khan published a book that was so outrageous in its anti-Semitic and anti-psychoanalytic sentiments that the British Psychoanalytic Society terminated his membership in the society. Khan died in 1989.
What had happened to this man? And could his destructive behavior have been prevented? These are the questions that face his biographers. Limentani (1992, p. 156) in his obituary of Khan suggested that three crises led to his personality difficulties becoming out of control: the breakdown of his second marriage; the 1965 censure by the IPA and resultant failure to secure editorship of the IJPA; and the death of his mother followed by his awareness that he had not been made Winnicott’s literary executor.
Hopkins, taking a relational point of view, argues in her 2006 book and article on Winnicott’s analysis of Khan (Hopkins, 1998b), notes that even though Winnicott wrote extensively about hate in the countertransference and of the importance of engaging in and surviving hate experiences, he did not practice this with Khan. Hopkins (1998b, p. 6 and Hopkins, 2006, p. 168) also accepts Khan’s statements about his analysis with Winnicott lasting fifteen years.
Dodi Goldman (2003) also assumes that Khan was in analysis with Winnicott for fifteen years and considers three conjectures: Winnicott helped Khan; Winnicott failed Khan; and Khan couldn’t be helped. Goldman also draws on Khan’s writing about outrageousness to help illuminate Khan’s behavior. For Goldman (p. 489), provocative outrageousness allows the individual the opportunity to observe the impression he has made and this allows “the vulnerable individual a fleeting sense of substance.”
Willoughby takes a slightly different perspective. His aim is to separate the myth from the reality. While Hopkins had done extensive interviews with Khan’s analysands and friends and had access to Khan’s workbooks, Willoughby sifts through the records of the Indian Army List, the Gazette of India, the British Psychoanalytic Society’s minutes, and the write-up Clifford Scott did of his interview with Khan’s brother.
Both Hopkins and Willoughby describe Khan’s mutism at age four but Willoughby (p. 5) hypothesizes that “the detachment from others and concomitant absorption in his own thoughts seems likely to be related to what would be a lifelong tendency towards confabulation and fantasizing.” It then makes sense that one of Khan’s earliest papers would be on clinical aspects of the schizoid personality.
Hopkins (2004) also accepts Khan’s claim that he fell into psychoanalysis, that he had written to John Bowlby about doing a personal analysis, not analytic training. Willoughby (p. 21) went to the British Psychoanalytic Society archives and found both the minutes of the Training Committee for May 6, 1946 reporting that they had received Khan’s initial application and found him suitably qualified; Khan’s index card; and the Training Committee minutes of October 21, 1946 that recorded that Khan had arrived, been interviewed and accepted as a candidate. Now it still may be that Bowlby had mistaken Khan’s initial request and Hopkins (2004, p. 5) does report in a footnote that forty years later, in 1989, Bowlby contradicted Khan; but Hopkins wrote that Bowlby’s hostility may have motivated his denials. Considering that Bowlby and Khan taught together in 1974 (Willoughby, p.182), I tend to trust Bowlby’s memory more than Khan’s.
Hopkins (1998b, p. 6 and Hopkins, 2006, p. 168) accepted Khan’s statement that he was in analysis with Winnicott for fifteen years, Willoughby (p. 51) notes that “the known facts are extremely meager, with no definitively identifiable case history available.” Willoughby (p. 74) supposes that the analysis was terminated in 1955. Willoughby (p. 73) notes when Khan’s first wife was accepted into five times a week analysis with Winnicott because Khan ended his own analysis. Willoughby goes on to quote an untitled, unpublished paper of Marion Milner’s in which she states
I heard that Jane, his first wife was in serious psychological trouble and that Masud had demanded that Winnicott take Jane for analysis, instead of him . . . I have always thought that this stopping of his analysis in this way was totally disastrous for Masud and I felt angry for him, since I can’t help seeing it as a catastrophe which played a big part in the troubles he got himself into later. (cited in Willoughby, p. 72).
Hopkins and Willoughby both point out that Khan had psychological disturbances when he arrived in London. Willoughby (p. 16) reported that criticism and the forced ending of his first controversial relationship with a Hindu girl left him depressed. Both Hopkins (2005, p. 186) and Willoughby (p.128) report that Khan’s first sexual relationship with an analysand happened in the mid-sixties, perhaps after the censure by the IPA. Hopkins is especially skilled at bringing the impact Khan had on others alive. I found that I could not put down her biography and the more I read it, the more sympathetically I felt for Khan. I felt quite mesmerized by Khan. When I realized that 711 out of 1294 footnotes were from Khan’s workbooks and letters, I felt even more that I had been in the presence of Khan.
But being in Khan’s presence made it hard for me to think. Willoughby’s biography provided an approach and a space that allowed me to think about Khan and bring Khan’s own writing to bear on his actions. While both Hopkins and Willoughby make rich use of Khan’s clinical writing, Willoughby holds to a more chronological approach that allows the reader to see how the facts of Khan’s life inform his writing. In reviewing Phyllis Grosskurth’s biography of Havelock Ellis, Khan (p. 358) noted, “to make human living fabric from such self-creations takes both generosity and a shrewd sense of the real, as against the true. Roger Willoughby has succeeded in doing just that.
Cooper, Judy (1993). Speak of me as I am: The life and work of Masud Khan. London: Karnac Books.
Goldman, D. (2003). The outrageous prince: Winnicott’s uncure of Masud Khan. British Journal of Psychotherapy, 19: 486-501.
Hopkins, L. (2006). False self: The life of Masud Khan. New York: Other Press.
Hopkins, L. B. (2004). How Masud Khan fell into psychoanalysis. American Imago, 61: 483. Retrieved September 19, 2007, from the ProQuest database.
Hopkins, L. B. (1998a). Masud Kahn’s application of Winnicott’s “play” techniques to consultation and treatment of adults. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 36:639-663.
Hopkins, L. B. (1998b). D.W. Winnicott’s analysis of Masud Khan: A preliminary study of failures of object usage. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 34: 5-47
Khan, M.M.R. (1981). Review of Havelock Ellis, a biography, by Phyllis Grosskurth. International Review of Psychoanalysis, 8: 358-360.
Khan, M.M.R. (1979). Alienation in perversion. Madison WI: International Universities Press.
Khan, M.M.R. (1965). Foreskin fetishism and its relation to ego-pathology in a male homosexual. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 46:64-80.
Limentani, A. (1992). M. Masud Khan (1924-1989). International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 73: 155-159.
Scott, J. (1994). Various antidotes. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
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