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Monday, 2 May 2011

Where to Hide? Osama bin Laden and The Purloined Letter

There is an Edgar Allen Poe story, The Purloined Letter, which has a quite simple plot (and moral): an important letter goes missing, people hunt everywhere for it - in the cupboards, under the mattresses - but all the time it is sitting, visibly, among the bric à brac on the mantelpiece.

The psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, gave a seminar ( sur La Lettre Volée) on Poe's story. It's many years since I read it, but I am probably not far off the mark if I say the general idea is that the truth is often staring us in the face. This is something Freud had realised when during a famous analysis he began to observe what the reclining female patient was doing with her hands.

So I am not surprised that Osama bin Laden was living well, rather than holed up, and doing so a mortar's throw from the top Pakistani military academy. I don't think it even points to Pakistani complicity in hiding him. It was just a shrewd choice of location.

Sir Anthony Blunt, one of the Cambridge Spies for the Soviet Union, rose to become Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures, but no one would suggest he was being harboured by Buckingham Palace.

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