Khan, Mohammed Masud Rasa (1924-1989)

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Masud Khan, an English psychoanalyst of Indian origin, was born in 1924 in Montgomery (Sahival) in the Indian Punjab, and died in 1989 in London. Khan's father was a wealthy landowner who raised horses. His mother, a dancer, was only nineteen when he was born. His childhood, spent "between a polygamous father and a mother who was dreamy and distant," was certainly psychologically complex. Khan wanted to be his father's favorite, although he was treated as just another of his many children. The world in which he lived, the world of colonial India, was deeply divided according to sex, a complex caste system, and the various peoples of that diverse country. When he was eight years old, Khan was entrusted to a tutor trained at Oxford, who provided him with an extremely British education. He was deeply affected by the death of a sister when he was eighteen. His love for her was perhaps greater than for any other woman in his life. Her death was almost immediately followed by that of his father, the more influential of his parents.

The grief that followed the death of his sister and father led him to seek psychotherapy. His therapist encouraged him to get involved in the British Psycho-Analytical Society. After studying literature at the University of the Punjab (in Faisalabad and Lahore), he wrote his thesis on James Joyce's Ulysses and left for Great Britain in 1946, ostensibly for minor surgery.

Khan was accepted as a student of psychoanalysis, analyzed successively by Ella Sharpe, John Rickman, and Donald Winnicott, and became a training analyst in 1959. His career within the International Psychoanalytical Association was brilliant, and his publishing activities intense. He was appointed editor of the International Psychoanalytical Library and the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, and coeditor of the Nouvelle revue de psychanalyse, for which he wrote twenty-seven articles between 1970 and 1987.

During his tenure with the Nouvelle revue de psychanalyse, he became close friends with Jean-Bertrand Pontalis, who referred to Khan as "our close foreigner." Upon Khan's death Pontalis wrote, "One day I may write about our friendship, a friendship that lasted for more than twenty yearsin spite of the temporary flare-ups, it remained solid and steadfastonly because the Channel and the use of 'vous [you]' helped us maintain a certain distance. . . . Thanks to Khan, the review was opened up to people like Winnicott, Marion Milner, and Harold Searles, without being unduly swayed by them" (Bollas, Pontalis, et al., 1989).

An excellent teacher, Khan trained a number of analysts in the Independents group of the British Psycho-Analytical Society. His narrative powers were excellent, and his writings are remarkable. Typical are The Privacy of the Self (1974) and Alienation in Perversions (1979). With respect to The Privacy of the Self, Christopher Bollas remarked that one of Khan's favorite Persian aphorisms was, "Where am I but in the place where no news comes to me, even about myself" (Bollas et al., 1989).

Khan had to address the problems of schizoid personalities and their thought processes early in his career. He saw that they were a major problem for clinical therapy and contemporary psychoanalytic theory, and he felt that new concepts were needed to describe them. These included the concept of "cumulative trauma" (1953), a trauma that went unnoticed until its effects appeared during adolescence. He also devised new methods of listening and interpreting and, more radically, experiencing analysis. With these methods, classic notions like trauma, transference, and regression, as well as more recent ones like dependence and "false self," can then be understood when they emerge fully embodied.

During the 1970s Khan's practice was challenged within the British Psycho-Analytical Society primarily because of personality conflicts and Khan's aristocratic tastes. Complaints were lodged against him, and in 1975, after considerable hesitation, his title as a training analyst was withdrawn. At the same time he began suffering from lung cancer, which he considered a form of "outrage" (the title of one of his last articles). In his final work, When Spring Comes (1988), Khan was so revealing in his discussions of technique and counter-transference that he was accused of madness, anti-Semitism, and bisexuality. The affair caused a scandal, and Khan was thrown out of the British Psycho-Analytical Society in 1988. Only in 1992 was he somewhat rehabilitated by Adam Limentani, then president of the International Psychoanalytical Association. Little light has been shed on the events that had led to his expulsion.

As Christopher Bollas wrote in "Portrait of an Extraordinary Psychoanalytic Personality" (1989), "Masud Khan was one of the most enigmatic and controversial of psychoanalysts." Aside from the controversy, Khan remains an influential figure in the psychoanalytic movement because of his sophistication, curiosity, approach to therapy, and flexibility in solving problems within the framework of psychotherapy. Didier Anzieu, who greatly admired Khan, wrote, "His writings remain but his death has been painful to me: psychoanalysis has lost its prince" (Bollas, Pontalis, Anzieu, et al., 1989).

Bernard Golse

See also: As if personality; Dependence; Great Britain; Self, the; Sleep/wakefulness; Voyeurism.


Bollas, Christopher. (1989, June 26). Obituary: Masud KhanPortrait of an extraordinary psychoanalytic personality. The Guardian, p.39.

Bollas, Christopher; Pontalis, Jean-Bertrand; Anzieu, Didier; et al. (1989). In Memoriam Masud Khan, 1924-1989. Nouvelle revue de psychanalyse, 40, 333-359.

Khan, Masud. (1974). The privacy of the self. London: Hogarth Press.

. (1979). Alienation in perversions. London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Pycho-Analysis.

. (1983). Hidden selves: between theory and practice in psychoanalysis. New York: International Universities Press.

. (1988). When spring comes. London: Chatto and Windus.