Sep 9 2011: The Unconscious Revealed in Two Pages from a Physician’s Notebook (Date Unknown)

This random leaf from a commercially produced diary (the advertising of ‘Robinul’ on each page suggests an origin in a pharmaceutical company’s promotional free gift to a GP) seems more like a work of Outsider Art than the notes of a professional.

The page turned up as a long-forgotten marker inside a copy of Michael Roberts’ poetry collection Orion Marches, as published by Faber & Faber in 1939, but it’s unlikely that the notebook it came from pre-dates the NHS.

But then, I suppose it could have been put there at any time, so while the days are printed on the leaf, the year isn’t and must remain a mystery (though we can narrow it down, a little: August 5 fell on a Monday in 1957, 1981 and 1985, for example).

So, too, must the meaning of the image itself – a roughly drawn girl with a guitar. Perhaps someone used the diary to sketch a folk musician in concert (are those circles behind her the schematic faces of an audience?) or perhaps she emerged from the subconscious of the notebook’s owner during a distracted phone call or a long session with a patient.

It might not be the work of a GP, even, but of someone else entirely.

On the reverse side of the drawing are a series of enigmatic notes in red and blue ink that do seem (at least in part) related to medical concerns, though could equally be notes on crossword clues, so cryptic are they when considered together:

132: I gave the man the sale of the day

145: his rhomal organ – ?snoring ?nose

160: in the swale of the morn

160: after Sept – grass is good for little, lash & sour at best

177: has recommenced talking in jergo (Mr. Platitude)

Beaneath these is a column of inverted pencil numbers, presumably unrelated. They add up to 1030.

I suppose we can make of them what we like, since the actual purpose or intention behind every mark on this small page is beyond recovery.

2 Responses to “Sep 9 2011: The Unconscious Revealed in Two Pages from a Physician’s Notebook (Date Unknown)”
  1. anne says:

    How intriguing. It looks more like a mandolin than a guitar, but that spike is puzzling – or is it something behind her, the back of a bench, as it’s parallel to the shadow cast by whatever she’s sitting on? Perhaps it isn’t a musical instrument at all, as her left hand seems to be supporting her on the bench, and she’s holding a bundle of something, her eyes closed not in music-making but in exhaustion? And what is that shape at her feet? It looks like some pentimento of the same woman, head and shoulder (her head lost in the legs) – note the shape of the sleeve in both images.

    As for the cryptic notes, they seem like references to a book. Could that first one be “I gave the man the sele of the day”? – scroll down to the bottom for the quotes from George Borrow’s Wild Wales. “in the swale of the morn” appears in Borrow, too, as do jergo and rhomal organ…

    Sans serif looks a bit too trendy for 1957 but it would be interesting to know.

    • wayneburrows says:

      I’d guess it’s ’81 or ’85 rather than ’57, but there are no other clues beyond the page design, really. And, yes, the book notes seem to relate to Borrow’s ‘Romany Rye’ where at least half the quotes strike at least a partial match (and yes, could well be ‘sele’ not ‘sale’ – his ‘a’ and ‘e’ are quite hard to distinguish). I like to imagine the drawing was doodled semi-unconsciously and in some way reveals something about the person who did it – but I’m not sure what (if anything) it does reveal!

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