1160 Just Desserts

 

1160

That’s how many views I have. Or, that’s how many I had the last time I checked so I might have a few more by now. I have seven ‘likes’, I write mock-excitedly. And one thumbs down, I’ll report with a frown.

What does it mean? What does it say of my presentation, “Dr. Strangelove in the 21st century: or how I learned to stopped worrying and love my phone (Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the virus—it’s alternative title since mid-March, for obvious reasons), that no one has, uh…commented? What do I expect? That people will have an opinion, and express it? Firstly, I quibble, it’s not clear what the number represents. A ‘view’ could mean that someone clicked on the video, intrigued by the subject and heading, and watched the slideshow plus clips and commentary in its entirety. A view could also mean that someone clicked on the video, watched and listened for a few seconds, decided that it was dull and therefore clicked away, perhaps to watch a clip from the film with no commentary instead. What did the viewer expect? Just clips from the film, justifying justifiable tributes–“one of the greatest films ever”, is a typical response–with little interest in the commentary? The title (of my talk) portends a satire that—as the informed viewer might think—parallels the satire of the film. Perhaps that’s a pretentious aim, to suggest parallel, which is a kissing cousin to the notion that my presentation and Stanley Kubrick’s great film belong in the same breath. But again, if that thought represents a sample of reaction, why was it not expressed? The internet population is not exactly well known for holding back. Isn’t it the great bastion of uncensored thought, after all? But perhaps that supposition supposes something else: that viewers will care. To write a comment is to make an effort. And if a viewer is known to me, a comment exposes, risks my displeasure if the first displeasure was theirs.

I could drive myself bat-shit crazy with all of these flitting theories. I haven’t, for I am bat-shit crazy for other reasons, yet this thought segues to the early substance of my talk (or perhaps the lack of substance, as my analyst suggests), which focuses upon the silly names of Dr. Strangelove’s characters. I don’t start with the eponymous ex-Nazi scientist played by Peter Sellers, but instead a minor character named Bat Guano, played by veteran character actor Keenan Wyn. See, I thought it wryly amusing that I didn’t know the meaning of Bat Guano for many years, despite being enamored of the name from the film. I simply thought it a silly-sounding pair of words, which betrays that I will sometimes settle for aesthetics and forsake meaning in my patronage of the arts. Still, I was open enough to meaning to notice the term in a James Bond novel, Dr. No; to make the link with the character from Dr. Strangelove, find it funny that I’d been unknowingly amused by the term for at least two decades, and then say to myself something like, oh right…bat shit crazy!

Internal dialogue. That reminds me of a critique I once received of a novel I wrote ten years ago. It was a comment from someone who cared. Too much internal dialogue, they said, without explaining why this was a problem necessarily. Oh well. Anyway, here’s my critique of my bat-shit aside: perhaps too much time was spent in the early part of my talk musing anecdotally upon funny-sounding words. It’s not as if I am famous and can therefore indulge myself knowing that an audience or readership will “bear with me”. I should have gripped the listener with something more directly substantive about the film, about its relevance to 21st century concerns, as I had promised. Had I prepared this talk about two months later than I had, I might have included a bit about so-called Chinese “wet” markets being, uh, bat shit crazy. I’d like to write that concerns about bad taste intervened, but in truth it was hindsight, the arrival of a late-arriving consciousness that had me saying to myself something like, oh right…I could have said that thing about bat shit crazy. In my video’s box of description, I’d promised more than cute personal anecdotes. The listener would get psychoanalytic commentary, a comic impersonation of two (my deep-voiced impression of toxically masculine Jack Ripper, most notably), a few comic asides, plus a musical ending to—again—parallel the film, its sentimentalized climax.

By the time the dense section of my talk begins, which is about ten minutes into it, I might have already lost most of those 1160 viewers. Is dense the same as substantive, you may wonder? Now that you are a few minutes into this blog entry, and have sort of  demonstrated that you care, I will bother to recap a thought or two. Firstly (deep breath), I review the psychopathy and underlying neurosis of the film’s Ripper character. I offer that he plus a few others may remind us of some who roam the corridors of power today. Secondly, I suggest that we are as concerned with man-made threats to the planet as we were in 1964, though with more emphasis upon slowly-moving climate change than the quick flashes of nuclear annihilation. I remind that we seem as nervous about the Russians as ever (though again, for slightly different reasons), and lastly—and wearingly for some, maybe—that we are as enslaved to technocracy as ever. This is Kubrick’s most indelible message, I suggest: that we’ve left HAL in charge. However, the Ripper material is somewhat esoteric, focusing upon his defensive rants about fluoridation, which have justified his wanton launch of a nuclear attack, and which conceals an underlying sexual inadequacy, which he sort of confesses to his confidant, the amiable Lionel Mandrake. That he is unable to act upon his remorse and accept Mandrake’s path of redemption (“give me the recall code, Jack!) reveals what Kleinian theory describes as a “negative therapeutic reaction”: an important analytic idea denoting that person who has too much hate, too much persecutory anxiety, that they cannot accept the possibilities of redemption, or of reparative love. They can only seek destruction, firstly of persecutors, and then, finally, of themselves. Hence, Ripper commits suicide.

Is that relevant to our world today? Interesting? Worthy of comment? Who knows? It’s too early, maybe, to determine if my thoughts bridge time and place with popular art, adding anything of note. Perhaps scores of those 1160 viewers are taking in what I’ve said and not so much moved on but…see, I can’t finish the sentence. I just don’t know what they think, so I’m left in a field of my own projections, wondering, fantasizing. Indulging? For one thing, this is no more than what I get for privileging Facebook as my vehicle of promotion. Further, no more than scores of patients who sit with people like me, speaking of their neuroses, which often congeal around the mysteries of others’ thoughts: what do other people think? Do they care? Are they dangerous, and where does that leave me in the equation? And what does he think of me, because he won’t tell me. Not really. There are 1160 people who have clicked on to my Dr. Strangelove talk and slideshow. As far as I know, that’s far more than the number of people who have read any of my self-published books. A handful have indicated that they like my talk, but said nothing more. That’s how it is at the end of a talk that was scheduled for a live presentation in May. For that now cancelled event I’d anticipated applause, some of it enthusiastic, some of it merely polite. The technocratic medium robs me of that lovely ambiguity. Now silence and absence is the end of the talk, and of my story.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

What is always there

 

But seriously, the “project” that was once psychoanalysis, or now psychotherapy or whatever, has been disrupted by Covid-19. Telemedicine, Telehealth, Telepresence, is here to stay, according to some. This is a watershed moment, a bump or a shove into the next paradigm. No going back? Well, I won’t be the only one kicking and not quite screaming, but rather only moaning and possibly sulking. I’ve lost one or two from the caseload: people who perhaps think the virus scare is not what it’s negatively cracked up to be. Or—here’s a thought—maybe they think I’m not all I am positively cracked up to be, and therefore the crisis that’s upon us is a pretext for a separation. Neurosis aside, this situation is not what I trained for. Something’s missing, and something else has been mobilized in response. Temporally appropriate feedback. That’s a term I heard yesterday, used to explain why the phone, the latest video technology, the e-mail, and even the text message might be used for a psychotherapeutic exchange and why the fax machine never was. It wasn’t quick enough, basically. That’s what temporally appropriate feedback means, by the way. Yes, I know. Talk about unnecessary verbiage, someone’s dissertation nomenclature. Anyway, whatever’s happened overnight, it seems tailor-made for opportunists, entrepreneurs; futurist thinkers with a survivalist edge and a nose for the front of a line. I’ve thought about my peers, even some of my colleagues in all of this. Some of them belong in the jungle, I think, pulling at the bamboo, or squeezed into a tight gap beneath a fallen hut or an all-terrain jeep. They have grease on their hands, an ample toilet paper stash, and numbers dancing across their mirrored pupils, for they have versatile, fix-it aptitudes, which means they navigate well all the toys that mediate contact with the material world and which are derivatives of the childhood games they played better than anyone else.

What is always there is never noticed until it is missing, said Jose Bleger. That’s another of those psychoanalytic aphorisms that are meant to stir thought if not practical solutions. What is it that was always there? I have wondered aimlessly instead of, say, moving to use Venmo, or signing up for What’s App, or whatever, as if those were the clues. I don’t skip along a trail of newfangled ideas the way that others who…don’t use words like newfangled and therefore don’t have issues with planned obsolescence, come to think of it. I thought I had an idea, dull as it may seem, of what was and is always there: the analytic frame, manifest as the office space, with a door leading to a waiting area wherein a would-be patient sits and waits for me to open my door and beckon them towards me. It sounds more authoritarian than it is. And it seemed like it still had a few years left in it, too, as paradigmatic frameworks go. Now it isn’t there. Or, it is there but it seems like an abandoned warehouse with a faintly stale air about it. Recently, I’ve not been getting my money’s worth out of my office. It collects mail, a bit more dust than usual. I can go there once a week and make a phone call from it if I like, but it’s not the same. The nice view from the window’s not the same. There’s no collegial hum across the walls that connect to other suites. There’s nothing charming anymore about the rickety elevator that takes me to my floor, or pleasing about the sudden abundance of parking spaces in the adjoining lot. And after the first week of lockdown—not even the consolation of a few toilet rolls to steal from the bathrooms. What was always there? I haven’t figured that out yet, but like a good would-be analyst, I am thinking, still wondering.

Meanwhile, I am thinking of bigger things, philosophical, mindful ideas. Phenomenology, I think. I’m reminiscing, at least, if not deepening. Back in 2001, I thought 9-11 was a fine how-do-you-do to the 21st century. Now I think that episode less an introduction to doomsday than the residue of the last century, with all of its terrorizing, authoritarian ghosts. Not that we don’t have plenty of nutjobs these days, but you don’t beat the 20th century for tyrants and martial horror: two world wars, a couple of nuclear explosions (not counting the tests in the Pacific and the deserts of the American Southwest); Hitler, Stalin, a few other genocides, assassinations all over the place, at least one war that America lost. Seriously, a total s—tshow. But 9-ll, which made household names of Al Queda and a guy named Bin Laden, seems today like a distant memory of airport inconvenience and yesteryear jingoism: a tough deal for anyone sniffing at a military life, but for the rest of us, not the economic and civil collapse that stares at us now. Images of twin towers burning didn’t make the cut of my recent Dr. Strangelove video, with its “We’ll Meet Again” montage of zeitgeist existential threats, 2020-style. Not topical. Scenes of floods, wildfires, stranded polar bears and penguins on thinning ice were the visual accompaniment, not the cold war terror of mushroom clouds or the once Arab stereotype of airplane hijackings. Covid-19 snuck into the slide show with the odd picture of a solitary figure wearing a hospital mask amid empty landscapes, signifying for me, anyway, the ubiquity of the virus’ impact: the live presentation I was meant to give on Strangelove was canceled, after all.

The ‘live’ has always been there. Nature has always been there, and the notion that it won’t be has long felt like an abstraction, despite the slide show of evidence to the contrary. It’s trite to point out that nature is unforgiving, getting its revenge upon us now or else teaching us a lesson, perhaps in the nick of time, depending on what climate change scientists actually think and wonder. It’s further trite to distill the Bleger reverie and consider that what is always there is a warning to not ignore the signs of danger; to notice the impact of phenomena upon others, environments, even things. Indeed, it stirs shame to consider that Covid-19 has aroused more fear, more loss, or more determination than any other modern calamity simply because, unlike any other world event one might remember, this has truly impacted everyone to one degree or another. I conjure the grim-faced, somewhat unsympathetic gaze of those who have known and felt war, environmental catastrophe, unspeakable man-made atrocities or the constant slaps of racism and other oppressions. They may be quietly saying, Oh, so we’re all in this together now, are we? Maybe some of them got a head start. They’re like California, or North Korea or Singapore, or whomever else might have done this thing right. They were and are good with the things, and technology, that which mediates and distances us from nature, enables, intrudes, obstructs, complicates, and yet may save us. It helps…sort of.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

I’m thinking of something

 

The analytic situation may be studied from the point of view of the methodology it stands for: a framework comprised of technique, context, and the variables of temporal and material reality imposed upon a subject, and therefore the subjective experience. The current analytic situation, rendered “Telepresent” by the outbreak of Covid-19 and the resultant lockdown of motility, brings a range of affordances which disturb the project that is analysis, yielding a new situation, shorn of its familiar parameters of sight and sound, and creating others due to the illusions of both distance and proximity. Nearly forty years ago, during a meeting of the British psychoanalytic society congress, what some dismiss as an apocryphal instance occurred: Society member W.O. Wodcot emerged from his seat to alert his quarrelsome colleagues, “excuse me gentleman, we’ve just invaded the Falklands”. That few in the room had ever heard of the obscure archipelago southeast of Argentina was aptly reflective of a psychic and material reality, the not-happening-here phenomena, as Abstemios (1969) refers to it. Such experiences are echoed in our transitional analytic situation wherein features of telepresence enable a secondary, man-made wall of resistances, most of which privilege an absence that is circumambient to the present experience. “I could be swearing,” exclaims a consultant psychiatrist, referring to the possibility of muting herself within the telepresent framework. “I could be lip-reading” I counter from the viewpoint of resilient, human adaptability. Or, I imagine an aliveness-draining parallel to another famous exchange, this between two notable figures of political history. Lady Astor: “Winston, if I were your wife, I’d unfriend you on Facebook”. Churchill: “Madam, if you were my wife I’d unfriend myself”. This dystopic vision draws our attention to a fresh project: how to restore the “kicking and kissing” problem of psychoanalysis; that lurking danger that lies beneath the veneer of civilized meeting that spares our profession from an imputing of utter hypocrisy.

Building upon Freud (1912), the conditions of a framework that include an analyst’s “evenly hovering attention”, Ariel (1992) offers the permutation, “evenly hovering presence” to signal the totality of the analyst’s being in the analytic situation, both with material and dynamic implications. “What’s the ladder for?” asked a patient when encountering an early experiment in this manner of working. The querulous anxiety in this patient was partly assuaged, according to Ariel, by the observation that note-taking was obviated by the analyst position, due to the risk of falling. This finding highlights the dichotomy of absence and presence that seems intrinsic to theories of change, or as Abstemios (1971) observes in his follow-up work: “Yes, that happens, but then so does something else”. The vicissitudes of affect, and of subjective experience in its entirety, is thus impacted by the variables of an analytic situation which, despite the contrivances of technique, process, and setting, are subject to collective contingency. So convinced was Ariel by the impact of the analyst upon the patient within the analytic frame that her homonymic nom d’une analyse was itself subject to mutation at different stages of her career. It is understood that while she never entirely renounced the validity of her “ladder” technique during her middle period, subsequent incarnations of her treatment method have introduced Le Terre analyse to indicate the grounded position of the analyst in the presence of the subject. This quiet failing notwithstanding, the absence of an alternative frame of being, as Obstinach (1975) has described, has hitherto placed a stifling burden upon the evolution of modern psychoanalysis.

The way I have stated this problem suggests the institutionalization of our project, and yet that project continues with the paradoxes of equidistance and absence unabated. The possibilities of thought, untouched by orthodox opinion, and tangential to zeitgeist, or else subsumed within a cornucopia of literature, are obscured over temporal and subjective reality. The inchoate emergence of dissident voices upon the analytic situation signal new affordances in our extant frameworks while echoing the creative opinion of silenced innovators. “That silence is selective”, wrote Quixote (1984), with double-meaning, referring to a patient with selective mutism, but also to a generalized observation that experiences in the patient third, in which an othered space disallows the pressure of the concrete interpretation, is transformed into a collective happening, observable yet indeterminate, and thus subject to disappearance. Falsthink (1987), whose neuroscientific research into the continuity of genomes has been discredited, views this same transformation in the context of a happening now versus post-phenomenon experience wherein subjective experiences of crisis and grief intersect, and then split-off. The dividend of his observation is today present, telekinetically or not, for our close reading and inspection: that what continues is the function of the mind despite the impinging of the environmental third, the vicissitudes of engagement and dissociation. Indeed, this happening accentuates the connection that we and our patients seek. It is our answer, to be alone in the presence of the absence.

 

REFERENCES

 

Abstemios, J. (1969) The diary of Fogo Von Slack: a dissertation upon smells. Flack lit press, Fargo, ND.

Abstemios, J. (1971) The mother of Moby Dick and the death of whaling. Carnic books, Muncie, Indiana.

Ariel, F. (1992) “Assault upon the frame: the evenly hovered presence”. Eurasian regional journal of free associative discourse. Vol 12: pp.73-73(about two-thirds of a page)

Falsthink, J. (1987). Forget about the genome thing, how about this? Carnic books, Muncie, Indiana.

Freud, S. (1912) “Recommendations to Physicians Practicing Psychoanalysis”, The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, vol 12: 97-108.

Obstinach, O. (1975) “In response to the suppression of Ariel’s ladder technique: a step down” International Journal of Psychoanalytic Controversies not otherwise published. Vol 1, p. 3.

Quixote, Q. (1984) Selective Mutism: the patient who would not be heard…sometimes. Carnic books, Muncie, Indiana.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Dr. Strangelove talk

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

How I learned to stop worrying and love the virus

 

The Plague. The War. The Bomb. Different eras, different moments in history have their sententious monikers. The plain, definite references denote events that defined times, aimed at common experience and understanding. If one lived it there would be no mistaking the meaning.

I’m trying to find some meaning in our current, soon-to-be era defining crisis, as well as some comedy. Sheltered in place, locked down and distancing socially (what lovely vocab we’ve added to common lexicon), I’m snuggling up to my wife, at times whimpering with angst, but otherwise treading a tender path, taking in the warmth. We can resemble a pair of penguins when we’re quietly touching. Head-to-head, worried yet holding on, we contain each other’s trembling. I recall what I dub ‘The March’, a reference to a favorite nature yarn, March of the Penguins. Death march of the penguins, I once called it, or penguin gulag. That’s my black, if sympathetic humor taking over, making fun out of that which depresses. I quipped to my wife, “Do you think they ever ask, ‘are you bored? Wanna go somewhere?’ when they’re touching heads, just hangin’ out on the glacier flats?” My wife giggled, shook her head softly and then let her laugh slide into a sigh. A common, endearing habit. She had a supposition of her own, having seen some pictures online of deer wandering onto roads in (packs? Whatever the word for groups of deer is) the recent absence of cars. The point: the humans are in retreat, having been taken down by something that doesn’t even live in the ways we understand living. Nature is taking over. Taking revenge?

If you’ve followed this blog for a while you might think I’d turn to Hitchcock at this point and start pontificating about The Birds, with its nature’s mysterious revenge theme, coupled with an Oedipal crisis for its protagonist. But the film that’s most been on my mind in recent months, and even more so during the outbreak of what I’ll now call “The Virus”, is Dr. Strangelove, or How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb. See, I was due to talk about the 1964 comedy classic at a conference in Charleston, South Carolina in May; that is, until “The Virus” intervened, forcing a cancellation of the event. Naturally, I’m disappointed. For a hot-tempered minute, I was bitter, thinking that I’d been waiting for years for a chance to give a presentation like this, and had spent at least six months diligently preparing. Well, in case you wonder, I have managed to get over myself, and in case you further wonder, I’ll not give up on that goal, though it’s not clear if or when I’ll get to present my subject live. Meanwhile, my wife decided that I needn’t wait to see what will happen in the future, instead suggesting that I provide a version of my presentation as a voice-over to my power-point slide show, and then place the whole thing on You Tube.

And so I have. In between client sessions that now take place exclusively by either phone or video connection, and also between efforts to otherwise adjust to the upheaval that “The Virus” has brought everyone, I have found time to salvage my “Dr. Strangelove” project and adapt it in the manner that my wife has suggested. It wasn’t easy. Among other things, I’m not adept with things, including computers, so synchronizing the slides alongside my voice commentary, not to mention incorporating clips from the film that couldn’t simply be inserted via online media, proved to be a painstaking, patience-thwarting task. I became doubly aware of the ironies. Already, Dr. Strangelove exudes a critique of modern technology, man’s obsession with technical minutia, industrial progress; machinery and war. The previous and unchanged subtitle of my talk, “How I learned to stop worrying and love my phone” was of course a reference to yet another aspect of mine and others’ tethered existence.

Now I need them more than ever, those damned phones. I need computers more than ever. Whose idea was this? Of all the conspiracy theories that are being advanced currently, and which I am not listening to because I have better things to do, are there any being aimed at our precious technocracy? It’s not that I think our machinery intrinsically evil. I’m painfully aware that my Luddite predisposition is a result of fumbling inadequacy, and that my protest against that which has its own rules and idiosyncrasies, and which increasingly forces consumers to figure out processes via trial and error (seriously, where did all the manuals go?), is a persecutory fear projected at the inanimate substitutes of an invisible authority. As the applications that promised a transfer of my power-point plus commentary display into a You Tube-compatible video blocked or mocked me at one turn after another, my thoughts began to drift into the kind of psychotic state that would have fitted right in with the Mad Men assembly of Dr. Strangelove. I vaguely thought I should add something about H.G Wells at some point. Then, as the visage of Stanley Kubrick crossed my mind, I had a thought that I should be talking about HAL and 2001 instead.

That prompted more ideas: one was to include one or two lines from 2001, like “Open the pod bay doors, please”, which could be discussed in terms of Wilfred Bion’s ideas about beta elements and psychotic functioning, for example. More importantly, I thought to reference that line a second time, during a passage wherein I am talking about Major Kong’s (Slim Pickens) attempt to fix the short-circuited bomb bay doors moments before the film’s climactic bomb run. Open the pod bay doors, I imagined, would have fit perfectly as a linking piece of psychic function. Alas, topical or not, I chose to not entirely re-do my Strangelove presentation. The focus upon misguided technology, existential threats to the planet, our returning fear of the Russians, plus our observation of Mad Men in positions of power had already made Dr. Strangelove a still-relevant work of art for the 21st century—hence the first clause of my title: “Dr. Strangelove in the 21st century”. But as I watched the last clip of my presentation, feeling more or less satisfied that I have endured all of technology’s glitches so as to offer a worthy product, I noticed one more thing that I might have said but didn’t, and which I will include here instead.

In a clip that features the eponymous Strangelove character (Peter Sellers) wrestling with his wheelchair, the sense of farce and tension mounts with the knowledge that “The bomb” of the plot has been dropped, thus triggering the dreaded doomsday device that, according to Strangelove, will render the surface of the planet uninhabitable for ninety-three years. He then explains that human beings could live in mine shafts while being unemployed and having little to do except copulate and thus repopulate the earth. Now, on the one hand, this hilarious piece of satire furthers the film’s repertoire of themes: sex and death diffused; man and machine intertwined, etc. I could have added something about that, I thought. On the other hand, I was feeling weary. I didn’t want to do another recording. And maybe I’ll get to do a live presentation someday after all, I thought, feeling hopeful for a change. Then another chilly set of thoughts came to me: what about the future? Has life changed? Will I be unemployed in the near future, have little to do. That doesn’t sound very sexy, actually. I’m not one of the Mad Men. I loved Dr. Strangelove as a film with lasting relevance, but I didn’t and don’t love the bomb. And despite whatever silver lining or life lesson emerges from our present crisis, my thinking belies my play-upon-a-title: I don’t think I’ll learn to love the virus.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Ego & the Id

 

Not the original, but a variation on a theme

Jogging past an assembly of children one morning I overheard a lesson being directed at them. An energetic, fatherly man was giving a taut lesson in basic soccer skills to a host of playful novices, and prefacing their exercises with a more fundamental, context-traversing appeal: if you have any questions—any at all—don’t be afraid to ask. There are no dumb questions. Everyone got that? He asked, sounding a bit more forceful than necessary given the point of his statement. With numb expressions, the kids gazed up at him, nodding compliantly, with their parents (a few were flanking the group) looking down with prompting influence. Did they get it? I wondered. Did any of them dare ask?

Such encouragements or exhortations tend to presume the following of both adults and children: not so much the possibility of incomprehension, as this coach was implying, but rather the constancy of attention. Everyone got that? He asked, with seeming reference to comprehension. This after implying, despite a contrary intention, that anyone who did not understand was “dumb”. A reaction formation, this would be called. But what of the inattentive? What of those children whose minds will have wandered, onto whatever is more pleasurable, or less onerous. Less onerous than soccer? I ask incredulously, because I’m a fan. The ego says to listen; to listen intently, without interruption, distraction. Comply, and to pay attention is even more important than to understand, so to not listen is to commit the greater sin, and to be consigned to shameful silence, at best hoping the information is repeated, granting a second chance to hear. The ego adds that when the authority figure asks if you understand, you affirm him or her lest that also bring about a problem, despite what the authority promises. For what would it mean if just one of those children—each about four or five years old, I guessed—had raised a hand and with impish innocence said something like, “I don’t understand what we’re doing”.

My reverie. My memory, perhaps? My wish? Had I ever been so brave as to draw attention to my incomprehension, or my implied indifference to an endeavor everyone around me seemed so committed to? I scroll through the tapes: not much, I have to say. Oh, there are moments when I have, with confidence usually, asked something that challenged the premises of an exercise; made a statement or two that drove a fork in a process, compelling someone or everyone to halt momentum, deal with me, my opinions, plus the glitches that difference, indifference, or disagreement produces. Freud taught that the unconscious is ever pushing for expression. It wants what it wants, does what it does, and so it traverses repression barriers, leaking out our bungling, our dreams…our distractions, our pleasures. The symptom of distraction, at times aggregated into diagnoses like ADHD (typically aimed at children who don’t listen), constitute the return of the repressed, in disguise. “Sorry, I forgot” says the person who nodded compliantly when asked if he understood, but then behaved in a manner that betrayed a secret truth: his mind was elsewhere. The ego operates imperfectly. Like the Id, it operates unconsciously (not always), contrary to popular opinion, looking to postpone the seeking of pleasure (the sole purpose of the Id), collecting sense data through the body, but failing to plug all the gaps, blocking those ideas that stir in us. The Ego is responsible for the censorship of truth—that moment of compliance in which the secret of inattention is held close to the chest. But then, so, too, might the moment of disclosure by the “brave” person voicing incomprehension be an act of the ego. It speaks to reality. Repression, that signature defense which is meant to keep our pleasure-seeking drives at bay, exerts a pressure to keep the unconscious hidden. This results in a counter pressure towards the conscious, yielding anxiety. Repression proper, as it is called, manifests in the derivatives of neurosis: our displacing symptoms as well as our inhibitions. Our phobias and other compromises.

What is this compromise of play, and what is a game, anyway, if not one more human activity with rules?

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Keeper

 

Last week I saw a film that has won prizes at several film festivals, including the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. I took my father to see the drama The Keeper, about German soccer player Bert Trautmann, because I knew my dad was familiar with the film’s subject, a sportsmen hitherto obscure to most Americans, I think. By the time The Keeper’s end credits were rolling at my local theater, I was equally sure that audience members would be doing what my dad would have found unnecessary: googling Trautmann’s name.

Not that the film was short on bio. In a stirring first hour, the film casts Trautmann as a German soldier captured by British forces towards the end of World War II, and transferred to a POW camp in Lancashire, England, wherein he and his fellow prisoners are made to work menial jobs to repair local damage caused by Luftwaffe bombings. During a sandlot game of soccer (football in England) at the camp, a local tradesman who also manages the local team spots Trautmann playing goalkeeper and is impressed by the German’s skills. Soon this man is bargaining with camp officers, recruiting Trautmann as a ringer for his underperforming, relegation-threatened side. As a return favor, Trautmann works in the manager’s local shop, which spares the goalkeeper the indignity of the POW camp and also places him in the company of the manager’s pretty and spirited daughter, who later becomes Trautmann’s wife. After a series of strong performances, Trautmann is scouted by a major regional club, Manchester City, and a triumphant first act concludes with Trautmann signing a contract and winning the hand of his now former manager’s daughter.

Along the way, the story features residues of the German’s war experience. Among other things, he’s had to endure British soldiers who are vitriolic and bullying in their treatment of Trautmann and his comrades, and while showing newsreel of Nazi atrocities (the footage of liberated concentration camps like Belsen) seems fair and necessary, it stirs in Trautmann memories of events for which he feels guilty. One recurring flashback image or scene features a young Jewish boy whose football has been pilfered by a taunting German officer. In this memory, Trautmann comes to the rescue, man-handling the officer just as he is about to shoot the child. Later, imprisoned in England, his protestations of innocence are muted amid the hostility of the locals, but Trautmann’s patience and change of fortune changes the equation. After the war is ended, he refuses repatriation and a safe passage to his Bremen home, choosing instead to play football in England and wed his new sweetheart. But trouble explodes as he is introduced to the press as a new goalkeeper for Manchester City and local reporters grill him about his Nazi associations. Apparently, history records that his recruitment aroused a protest of nearly 20,000 people (according to—you guessed it—google), largely because it was discovered that Trautmann had previously been awarded the Nazi Iron Cross. In response, he haplessly repeats to reporters what had ultimately won the sympathy of his once distrusting wife: “I was a soldier. I had no choice”.

In time, Trautmann wins the sympathy, the acceptance, and the admiration of sports fans and the wider British public as he proves himself a star performer and a decent, ordinary citizen. A legendary highlight of his career is captured in a sequence about the 1956 FA Cup Final in which Trautmann breaks his neck—yes, breaks his neck—with a quarter hour left in the game, but continues to play until the competition’s end. City won the game and therefore the Cup, and after the crooked-necked Trautmann collects his winner’s medal, x-rays reveal the extent of his injury, which thereafter cements his place in British football folklore. Then something strange occurs, foreshadowing more tragedy. By this time, Trautmann and his wife have kids, one of which is an impish boy who is careless with a football when playing around his father’s hospital bed after that neck injury. This sparks more visions of the Jewish child whom Trautmann had supposedly saved according to the truncated memory shown earlier in the film. Then, as he continues recuperating in hospital, Trautmann’s son later takes his football into the street near their home and is run over and killed by an ice cream truck. Devastated by this loss, Trautmann and his wife sink into depression, with Trautmann now haunted by an intrusively shocking edit to his earlier memory. Later, he confesses the truth of his arresting trauma to his wife: the boy he once “saved” from that cruel Nazi officer was in fact not saved. Trautmann was actually stilled by inaction and simply watched as the officer executed the child. Previously, he had blocked the guilt of that inaction, re-writing the scene so as to maintain the image of an innocent, decent man who simply “had no choice”. Unburdening himself, he reveals the truth of that former moment, explaining to his wife that their son’s death was thus a karmic event. Bitterly, his wife rejects the theory as self-pity, and challenges Trautmann to take fuller responsibility for their shared loss.

Which he does. The epilogue to the drama features Trautmann resuming the career that stalled upon the family tragedy and playing on with dignity until 1964. He is awarded the Order of the British Empire (known by the shorthand, OBE) for services to the British public, is widely lauded for engaging leaders in the Jewish community, and via his example, improving post-war Anglo-Germanic relations. He indeed prevails as a decent man. But the reason I chose to write about this film has little to do with Trautmann’s celebrated life, and even less to do with his reputation as a decent man, though I don’t begrudge him that legacy. However, what fascinates this psychoanalytic observer is the running theme of traumatic flashbacks overlaid upon a primitive splitting defense. The traumatic memory is that of the Jewish boy victimized by the Nazi officer—the shock of witnessing that horrible incident—plus the experience of haplessly looking on without intervening, either during the incident or following it, by implication. The secondary defense lies in Trautmann’s censored memory of the event, which significantly alters its meaning, depicting Trautmann’s heroism versus his neglect, which in turn spares Trautmann lingering guilt. Ultimately, the fully revealed version of his memory disrupts a false self-image of amiability and innocence, which had been stirring tension amid happiness and fame until his son’s death intruded.

Initially, Trautmann’s gentle and winning personality is endearing. One cheers for him as his mischief frees him from the POW camp. Despite my own British heritage, I wanted him to defeat somehow the embittered officer who hazes him and his comrades. When he joins the local football team, it’s a pleasure to watch him make save after save, winning over his new teammates and a skeptical crowd. And when he casts a covetous glance at his manager’s daughter, and soon endures her cold shoulder because she, too, has feelings of anger and suspicion for anyone or thing German, the audience waits and hopes that soon enough he will win her heart also. When the flashback involving the Jewish boy first appears, it seems consistent with the spirit of the film to that point that Trautmann would be portrayed heroically, but when the scene ends abruptly with Trautmann pushing that Nazi officer’s arm away, I felt a twinge of…I don’t know…something. I didn’t know the history of this man beyond the broken neck in the Cup Final story. Watching the film, I didn’t know what was true and what may have been apocrypha, and had my nagging dislike of the first flashback led to critical scrutiny, I might have called out the faulty logic contained within it. After all, is it plausible that Trautmann would have survived, as in not been shot himself, had he actually intervened to save a Jewish child from execution?

In modern psychoanalysis, what happened to Trautmann that day might be termed the unconscious but not repressed. The retrospective judgment that history casts upon Germany is that its decent, ordinary citizens didn’t do enough to prevent the Holocaust. They didn’t care enough. They didn’t like Jews. As a result, Trautmann was unresponsive in a moment wherein an act of cruelty was first predictable and then imminent. Though it may seem harsh to write, he therefore merits no more or less of the judgment that history metes out to his generation’s countrymen. As for myself, I knew something was wrong with the sanguine portrayal within this film’s otherwise wonderful first half. Though I couldn’t pinpoint the matter, I somehow felt that I was being played. Let’s call that my unconscious but not repressed experience.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Bookshop

  • This week a guest blog from my wife Maria about a gem of a film entitled, The Bookshop

The film The Bookshop, upon a second and third viewing, has brought to light some details that I hadn’t noticed before, based on the 1978 novel by Penelope Fitzgerald. Our main character, a widow Mrs. Florence Green, arrives in a nondescript small seaside town in the late-fifties to open a bookshop. In a tug of war with the local banker and solicitor our heroine finds the courage to bunk all the hints to give up on her dream of opening a bookshop in an abandoned home in which she will live and work.

The film gives small clues throughout, like a murder mystery: You might say Hitchcockian, or a family favorite The Wicker Man, (the 1970’s version with Christopher Lee). The locals play a role in aiding the town matriarch (bully) Violet Gamart in order to steer Mrs. Green in a new direction and ultimate failure of the business.

Violet believes the village requires an arts center that will have lectures in the winter and concerts the rest of the year. Violet believes the ideal location should be in the home that will house the bookshop and she uses politics, law, and her wealth in order to control the village whose citizens don’t know any better. She effectively uses the illusory truth effect, a phenomenon in which a listener primarily comes to believe something because it has been repeated so often. Sound familiar? The best example occurs at an exclusive party hosted by Violet in which she and her husband are circulating amongst guests and repetitively suggesting the arts center cause.

Our heroine would like to sell Lolita in her book shop at the height of Lolita’s success and controversy. Mrs. Green seeks the advice of the town recluse and first customer, Edmund Brundish, on whether she should sell the book in her shop. Mrs. Green would like to order 250 copies which seems may either make or break her shop.

Mrs. Green hires a village girl, Christine, who works in her shop as an assistant, who emphasizes the fact that she is not interested in reading. Our heroine maneuvers Christine into reading a book, making a bargain with her that if Christine reads one book in her life, A High Wind in Jamaica, she will receive a black lacquered tray that she admires. Upon my research, the content in the novel A High Wind in Jamaica, which is replete with themes of piracy, murder, and sex, doesn’t seem to be appropriate for a ten year old. Nevertheless, High Wind is on a list of the top one hundred books to read; moreover, it heralds a theme of brave witnessing from unlikely sources.

There are clever references to novels that avid book readers may recognize. Milo North, a prowling ally of Violet Gamart, seems to represent a character from Lolita, and therefore hebephelia, when he encounters Christine while substituting for Mrs. Green as manager of the shop one day. There are hints that Christine has read A High Wind in Jamaica, so she confronts Milo by suggesting that she is aware of the actions the town is taking against Mrs. Green. Milo responds strangely and refers to Christine as a child then as a woman, reflecting the Lolita subtext. Milo even takes on a wolfish persona when he first meets Mrs. Green, in her ” Little Red Riding Hood” dress, in which she stands out at Violet’s party. The granny cottage Milo lives in on the Gamarts property takes on this brothers Grimm quality; Lolita echoing “Little Red Riding Hood”.

There is an overall theme of standing up to authority in response to censorship as well as subtler coercions that often escape notice: this includes repressing the education of a community by denying access to literature–this is also a reference and nod to Ray Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451.  It’s a message that should never be forgotten. Christine takes things into her own hand by setting the bookstore on fire as a protest against the usurping of the shop by the villainous Violet Gamart. Destitute, Mrs. Green is forced to leave the town. In the end, holding the copy of A High Wind in Jamaica, and out of breadth, Christine manages to get to the dock to say goodbye just as Mrs. Green’s boat is pulling away.

“You’re so kind Mrs. Green. You’re so bloody kind.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Where’s the meat?

 

A conversation:

“I don’t hear the meat of this. I mean, you’re talking about someone who won’t or can’t read your manuscript, or about a publisher who is unresponsive, but I don’t hear what this book is about, even”

Pause. I’m drawing breath…with a sigh.

“Well, it’s…(another pause) a book that presents a psychoanalytic or psychodynamic perspective on the treatment of sex addiction. Firstly, it takes a look at the definitions of that term, profiling the various attempts to…organize or codify the term as a diagnostic category. Then it casts the concept as useful but also limited, or that it’s been discussed in a limited fashion by hegemonic elements in the field”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that our book critiques the trend in which sex addiction is exclusively, or near exclusively, treated as a behavioral disorder, with interventions aimed at understanding the consequences of ‘out of control or problems behaviors’ rather than an understanding of what those behaviors are about, or if one prefers, the underlying reasons why the behaviors are happening, or even what’s happening within the dissociative spells which trigger the action that is called addictive behavior. Insight as a modality is rejected by most addiction specialists, as well as, it seems, those who speak on behalf of traumatized partners. People don’t want to think so much about what happened—they want to do something, as if the understanding is a known thing, circumscribed by the labels. You hear of treatment “plans”, or “protocols of intervention” as if these represent standards of intervention, predicated upon a known assessment. We offer the view that short-term interventions lead to short-term positive outcomes, but with narrow understandings such that regression is likely, leading to repeated if episodic entries into mental health care systems. We even illustrate cases, at least two examples, in which patients fled—and I mean fled—our style of treatment because they were afraid of their own minds, didn’t want to think in the manner that our approach called for. So, our book offers an outline of how to intervene initially, as in upon crisis, but also with an in-depth focus such that progress is sustained”

“An outline of what? It’s still not clear what this treatment would entail. Also, you use words like ‘traumatized’ alot without explaining what you mean, as if the meaning were a given”

Hmm, my listener now seems impatient, maybe annoyed. I am too, or am and she’s not, maybe. I entertain a brief reverie: one day I’ll be famous for my oblique way of putting things, not put on the spot and caviled at; reverent readers will strain to understand my prose instead of me straining to make myself understood. One day. One day I will write Bob Dylanesque crypt that credulous readers will make an effort with; work hard to understand.

“Working through transference, for example. The book’s aimed at professionals so not everyone will get what that means, but practitioners should—the idea is not so esoteric. Our book reiterates something that’s been said by many others but again, not in the context of sex addiction treatment: the only real way to learn about patterns of thought, behavior, or feeling is to create the conditions such that these patterns are evoked in the treatment, with the therapist or analyst—then the deep-rooted conflicts can be addressed honestly and be dealt with. That takes time for that to happen organically, which is why in-depth therapy isn’t like a class, or a six-week rehab”

Silence, which I take to mean something like agreement. I breathe normally again, but I don’t learn whether my supposition is wrong. That’s part of the deal. The response of the reader, the listener, the other, isn’t really a known thing. Something subsides. A softening in my chest suggests a retreat, or a relenting. I’m off the spot. Thoughts relax, drift now that my polemical moment is past. Associations take over, back to an earlier theme.

“Maybe I worry about the response to our book, or the lack of it. I feel dependent on the figures that are involved currently. I don’t think there are many who would platform my views, or Joe’s. It’s funny, that’s a word I haven’t used until recently—platform, I mean. Is that a millennial term? Who knows? I don’t care for it. It seems pejorative: intended to de-legitimize dissenting speech, and to indicate by implication the privileged positions of those who hold the microphone…or control the space on the shelves.”

I’m being oblique again, but my listener doesn’t respond. Is she following me? Bored? I change subjects, sort of.

“I don’t know, maybe I’m projecting all this stuff about unimportance—making judgements about the indifference of others when this project has slipped into the background of my own life. I have other priorities also, I guess. (Pause) It reminds me of something I took care of, or tried to anyway, on the weekend. I’d gone back to that train store where I bought the locomotive model that doesn’t work—ya know, that revitalization of my old toy that I’ve been speaking of. I spoke to the guy at the shop who had worked on it and phoned me, saying its motor was dead. He asked, “Tell us what you want to do”, implying the ball was in my court to request a repair. I’ve been reluctant because this model’s been repaired once before already, and I’ve only had it for a month and a half. The first instance was my fault—I’d admitted that—because I’d connected the wires to the wrong terminals on the transformer. But I fail to see how its burnt out motor was a result of anything I did. Anyway, I sort of said that, to which the guy made no response. He’s a pretty stolid guy, like the stereotype I’d previously assigned. He’s a tinkerer, not a thinker, I think (soft laugh). There’s an air between he and I, like he thinks I’m a dilettante: someone who’s into trains for the short-term, just in time for Christmas or something. I won’t stick around, he thinks. I’m not a serious customer; not a real hobbyist. Anyway, so I asked, “ Can I get an estimate on a repair?”, thinking he might agree to meet me halfway, cover the cost of the replacement motor while I pay for the labor—something like that. He didn’t bite on that, however. He just said, “Okay, we’ll get back to you with an estimate,” in a clipped voice”. I was more or less satisfied, I suppose. Not satisfied by the outcome, which hasn’t occurred yet. Don’t know when that will happen. I just mean that I like how this is going so far…how I’m dealing with it, stretching it out because it’s worth it to do so. See, I could make a fuss and a demand, but where would that leave me, with them? Or, I could just slink away, hiding my dissatisfaction, and take my business elsewhere.”

I sensed in my listener’s silence a patient consideration: what is the relevance of this aside? I sighed amidst a lengthy pause.

“To your point, it’s not enough that I want to be read. I want shelf-life. I want to stick around because of an idea: an idea that it’s not so important what sex addiction is or even what we do about it. It’s about how we think and then talk about it.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The post-flight key

 

The temporal structure is off, which means that it doesn’t matter which thought, which symbol, came first. Still, I shall start, arbitrarily it seems, somewhere in the middle of the act. The first scene was an apt replica of a Star Wars moment—apt because the SW series isn’t exactly known for conventional adherence to chronologies. However, what I’m alluding to is the flinty wall of grey that began my vision, and the like barrage of grim imagery that confronts Rey and company in the recent and supposedly last SW installment. In particular, my scene resembles that in which Rey hijacks some kind of windsurfing boat and heads out amid a raging storm into a sea that envelops a derelict Death Star, there to meet Emperor Palpatine and her transcendent fate. Well, what I’m aboard is not a windsurfing boat, but what I’m faced with may be my fate, transcendent or not. Before me is a surface of concrete, I think, like an abandoned or half-destroyed freeway section that’s being assailed by waves that are lapping at its barriers. I’m positioned feet away from a precipice, dithering as to what direction to take, but apparently inclined to attempt stillness. It’s not working. At some point, I notice the structure beneath my feet moving, as if I were atop a great beast that is awakening from hibernation. The waves, it seems to me, will imminently consumer the structure I’m on and therefore me with it. It’s time for a decision, so I make my move. Next, I’m climbing onto a horizontal stanchion that is the summit of the freeway’s height as it is falling away, and as I steady myself for a leap I feel an exultant rush. A death wish? Not sure. The fear of the previous moment seems gone or at least subdued, replaced by a prideful spike upon making up my mind. The only thing that’s surprising is the sudden recession of the waves. Momentarily at a low ebb, I am convinced they will surge upwards again and wash me aside if I don’t jump soon.

I don’t recall looking down. I barely remember the leap. But I did experience the fall—the continued thought that I was joining an adventure rather than dying—and then especially the scything dive into the water. It’s cold but not too cold; certainly not biting, cruel, freezing cold. It’s cold like the previous several days had been cold: it’s a clammy, hard but tolerable cold beneath a warming layer of clothing. It’s a piece from reality intruding upon my scene, hitching a ride on the trip and making things seem better than they really are. But how things are is scary, actually. The momentum of the dive is taking me too deep, I am next thinking. As my descent reaches a natural end, I turn upwards, instinctively looking to the surface, hoping suddenly that I’m not too far down. There is no light, shaft-like or otherwise, and this signifies not only a blanketing darkness, but the absence of a divine beckoning. An indeterminate passage of time follows, after which I am somehow back upon that previous concrete surface, or some semblance of it, and glancing about again at the stormy scene around me. It is a composite world, made up of images familiar and not; a geography that I’ve discovered, that I’ve longed to discover having barely known that it existed. Nonetheless, it is recognizable. Amongst the images that draw me is the shape of a three-to-four story hotel or apartment complex. It is slightly sunken, as if pulled into the ground by an earthquake, but its integrity has held, making it seem whole and surviving. It is a bit like psychoanalysis, I speculate: an aged edifice being slowly pulled underground but hanging on; an institution seated at the end of a mythical river, or at the far reaches of the globe, and I have arrived at its door. It’s a different kind of home. This structure is similarly blackened by the surroundings, rather like the violent waves that are causing all the damage, and contrary to what my listener will soon suggest, I think this dark greyness is not an indictment of absent color, but instead a sharp, almost film noir-like affirmation.

“I think this is your first analytic dream,” says my listener. My analyst. Welcome to my world. Really? I thought, both pleased and disconcerted simultaneously. I’m glad to have reached this apparent landmark, but I’d rather thought that I’d gotten past this bit already, having been in analysis for over a year. My first analytic dream, as in the first recounted dream that seemed to say something about the analysis itself? Was I slow learner? Am I on course in my learning? Anyway, I bit down on the plaintive observation and traded associations. I followed my analyst’s thought trail quickly enough and noted the crucial parallel. The dive was the thing: the deep dive into the unconscious. Of course, couldn’t miss that one. Then, due to the nature of the scene—the violent storm and so on—I mooted that the surface of the water might also represent death, which would make sense of my fear upon descending too far below the surface, plus the whole dream would link back to the recent reveries I’d been having with respect to that near fall from a ledge memory when I was two or three, and about which I journaled in the last entry. My analyst persisted, understandably enough, with the notion that I was poised upon another precipice, not one of imminent death but rather one of growth and understanding given the prospect of deepening work in psychoanalysis. We agreed upon one point only: it seemed important that my fears upon my watery descent were of being crushed or lost in darkness, not of drowning per se. We disagreed on the meaning of color versus black and white, as I’m not yet ready to cast my life so far as dull, or colorless. Or, we sort of agreed that the dark building that appears on the surface, plus the broken freeway that gets assaulted by the waves are…meaning, they seem to be recalling something like…

Nope. Lost it. That’s the nature of dreams, I’m afraid. My dreams, anyway. They exist in disorganized form and then die on the vine; a strangulated, inchoate death. Just as well, perhaps, because thoughts move on in daytime, on the couch, leaving some thoughts behind, abandoned, while traces of previously unfinished business are instead picked up. So I turned back the clock. I nearly died that day, I said, reiterating the link between the dream and death. I was about to revisit the scene or that script that I’d written about the aftermath of my rescue from the ledge: that imagined decompression of my mother’s terror juxtaposed against my cries of oblivious complaint. What did my toddler self imagine I was about to do, I wonder? What did I think she was stopping me from doing? Then something strange happened, in my process of recall, I mean. It was another temporal shift, this time one that picked up the story of my preverbal fall where I’d left off.

“Where were they that I was alone in the house like that?” I asked. As the question had trailed some version of the memory’s recap, my analyst followed along, mostly unconfused by my shift. Oh, I see, I heard the woman thinking: a prequel. I continued: “I mean, if she was outside in the back garden, and—as she insists to this day—my dad was nowhere to be seen…Karen, my sister, aged six at the time, doesn’t remember this…why was I left alone to wander about the house and be upstairs in a bedroom whose window is wide open?” I paused and listened to the blank space, as in the silence of a shared unknowing until that pre-thought also withered and died on the vine. I don’t know if I shrugged to punctuate the moment of deadening thought. It’s pointless to shrug when lying on the couch because the gesture is obscured. Mother blaming. My thoughts had stalled upon the point of mother blaming, I’m interested to note. Well, we don’t do that, do we? Yes, I know. I’ve been here before on a couple of recent entries. I went there in mine and Joe Farley’s forthcoming book, Getting Real About Sex Addiction. There I was following echoes, in a way. Not echoes of Esther Perel, as I’ve previously written, but rather psychoanalysts like Jean LaPlanche, or Robert Bly, the somewhat eclipsed men’s movement icon, whose book Iron John was a refuge for men like myself in the nineties.

Well, Bly had something to say about sympathetic mother blaming. His was more of a critical poke at the split-off self, like much my writing is, I believe. See, in his chapter, “The Pillow And The Key”, Bly revives a pre-Christian myth, later transformed into a Grimm fairy tale, about a boy who plays with a golden ball that unbeknownst to him represents his wholeness, but he loses it when the ball roles into a cage inhabited by the “Wild Man”, who has been imprisoned by the boy’s father, the King. This man says to the boy that he can have the ball back if the boy releases him from the cage. When the boy complains that he doesn’t have the key, the Wild Man replies, “the key is under your mother’s pillow”, and that pillow, with all of its Freudian sexual connotations, is where the mother stores all of her expectations for her son. From there, a tale unfolds in which the boy steals the key, frees the Wild Man but runs away from his family, to be mentored in the forest by the now indebted Wild Man. The remainder of the story entails the boy’s return from exile, which is less consequential as it pertains to Bly’s interest, which is to point out the mother’s implied role in civilizing the boy. What Bly and others of his ilk protest is the loss of healthy wildness in modern man, which is not to be confused with machismo, submission to corporate or industrialist slavery, or misogyny, but rather a mysterious realm wherein fathers are strong, decisive, and wise. It is he that is needed, for young men in particular, not a submission to a substitute and idealized feminine. But the taboo encoded in the “pillow” metaphor is in the way, suggested Bly, echoing Freud in his modern times. Women don’t want to hear this, Bly wrote in his preface to the last edition of Iron John: “We know that fathers have an erotic power over their daughters that they often don’t want to have named or exposed, and perhaps mothers are not eager to have their power named either.”

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized