Kleptomania Talks: The Plant Cannot Be Kleptocratic

19 Jun 2019

Regular hours

12:00 – 17:00

Cost of entry

£12 - £15

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Freud Museum

England, United Kingdom


Travel Information

  • Finchley Road
  • Nearest tube: Finchley Road, 5 min walk from Museum
  • Finchley Road & Frognal , 5 min walk from Museum
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This event is hosted by our Writer-in-Residence, Alice Butler, who is researching and writing feminist approaches to kleptomania in collaboration with the Freud Museum.


In 1968, curious courtships between psychology, the women’s liberation movement, population control, and ecological concerns erupted. One key figure is the philosopher and psychologist Xenia Godunova (whose early work linked female anorexia with kleptomania). Godunova viewed both as related rituals––forbidden secret activities––which compensate for threatened or actual loss. Radically, in 1968, through Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb (which argues that without population control millions of people will starve to death), Godunova expanded her work on kleptomania and anorexia as a philosophy for the environment. As Godunova said in a lecture at UC Berkeley (1968): ‘Our irresistible tendency to steal things we do not need from the Mother (Earth), is klepto-parasitism, is kleptocratic.’

The choreographer and dancer Ann Halprin, and her architect husband Lawrence Halprin, were at that lecture. My lecture unearths the effect that Godunova’s radical philosophies had on their collaborative piece: Driftwood City––Community, performed as an environmental experiment at Sea Ranch, California, 1968. Of note is the fact that Halprin considers her dance practice as a feminist philo-sophia (love of wisdom) brought to life with phyto-philia (love of plants). In her words: ‘my concern is form in nature––like the structure of a plant––not in its outer appearance, but in its internal growth process. The plant cannot be kleptocratic.’

Carol Mavor is writer who takes creative risks in form (literary and experimental) and political risks in content (sexuality, race in America, child-loving and the maternal). Her Reading Boyishly: Roland Barthes, J. M. Barrie, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Marcel Proust, and D. W. Winnicott was named by Grayson Perry in The Guardian as his 2008 ‘Book of the Year.’ Currently Mavor is working on a new book, Serendipity: The Alphabetical Afterlife of the Object. She is also writing a trilogy of short novelesque texts on the art of the 1960s in Northern California: Like a Lake, Like the Sea and Like a Tree. For all of 2018, Mavor is the Novo Nordisk Foundation Professor Art History and Visual Culture at the University of Copenhagen.

Alice Butler is a writer and academic based in London. She has recently been awarded her PhD—titled “Close Writing: Touching Kathy Acker and Cookie Mueller”—from the University of Manchester. She is currently the Freud Museum Writer-in-Residence, where she is working on kleptomania and feminist art. Her art writing has been published in frieze, Cabinet and Art Monthly, amongst other publications.


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