DIVISION REVIEW DIVISION A QUARTERLY PSYCHOANALYTIC FORUM A QUARTERLY PSYCHOANALYTIC FORUM
ANNE SEXTON AND DR. MARTIN ORNE
AGE OF INSIGHT
HARRIS | Skorczewski
STAFFORD | Kandel
AXELROD | Tuckett
NO.4 SUMMER 2012 NO.9 WINTER 2014
PIZER | Havens
ON POETRY An Other Ethic
HAND IN CAP
TASSO | Berger & Newman
WEBSTER | Villa
ZELNICK | TAKEN BY SURPRISE
DANON | AN AERIAL VIEW OF THE PLAYGROUND: WRITING PRESENCE
R E M I N I S C E N C E
PRESENCE AND ABSENCE
STRENGER | Aron & Starr
FACING THE SURFACE MATHES
SEIDEN, KORAHAIS, ORFANOS | SIMPLE MEANINGS
David LICHTENSTEIN, Editor
The American Psychological Association recently conducted an election for the presidency of the association. Steven Reisner, a psychoanalyst and the president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, was a candidate in that election. Although he did not win, his second place finish receiving nearly 30% of the votes cast warrants our attention. Reisnerâ€™s platform and his commitment to fundamental ethical principles as the primary focus of organizational leadership have made this election something more than the usual administrative act. That Reisner is a psychoanalyst as well as a psychologist is not incidental to his significance. And not only for those of us who
share that profession, but also for the entire field of psychology. Paraphrasing Freud, psychoanalysis is both a method for helping people with their mental and emotional conflicts and for the study of the human spirit. However, in addition to these accepted functions, psychoanalysis also provides the basis for a new and distinct ethical framework. The fundamental psychoanalytic principle that human subjects are largely unconscious of their own desires, and that we can come to name them only through an engaged interaction with another human subject, means that we are linked to one another in ways that alter our sense of ethical responsibility
and of the distinctly social dimension of being human. Psychoanalysis has thereby added a significant dimension to the general principles of modern liberal ethics. This dimension has to do with how uncertain we are as individuals in our knowledge of ourselves, and that the way to live with this divided and inescapably uncertain subjectivity is through a commitment to a radical engagement with the other, another divided subject. The distinctly psychoanalytic view of the social character of our divided subjectivity requires a commitment to the other as the fundamental and inextricable root of being human. It also requires the recognition that such a commitment is
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BOOK REVIEWS 4
Anthony F. Tasso
Henry M. Seiden
Minding the Markets: An Emotional Finance View of Financial Instability by David Tuckett An Accident of Hope: The Therapy Tapes of Anne Sexton by Dawn M. Skorczewski The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present by Eric Kandel
Stuart A. Pizer
Loren Dent, Kerri Chladnicek PHOTOGRAPHY BY
Money Talks in Therapy, Society, and Life edited by Brenda Berger and Stephanie Newman Psychoanalysis and Severe Handicap: The Hand in the Cap by Angelo Villa
Leston Havens: Presence and Absence
An Aerial View of the Playground: Writing in the Presence of an Other Narrative Surprise: Relational Psychoanalytic Process and Biblical Text
Facing a Screen Screening a Face
Projection: On Chantal Akerman’s Screens
Always a Face to Remind You
Henry M. Seiden
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ON POETRY 42
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Ricardo Ainslie, Steven David Axelrod, Christina Biedermann, Chris Bonovitz, Steven Botticelli, Ghislaine Boulanger, Muriel Dimen, William Fried [REMINISCENCE], Patricia Gherovici, Peter Goldberg, Adrienne Harris, Elliott Jurist, Jane Kupersmidt, William MacGillivray, Paola Mieli, Donald Moss, Ronald Naso, Donna Orange, Robert Prince, Allan Schore, Henry M. Seiden [ON POETRY], Robert Stolorow, Nina Thomas, Usha Tummala, Jamieson Webster, Lynne Zeavin ASSOCIATE EDITORS
A Psychotherapy for the People: Toward a Progressive Psychoanalysis by Lewis Aron and Karen Starr
“The Meaning of Simplicity”: A Poem by Yannis Ritsos with commentary by Frank Korahais and Spyros Orfanos
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An Other Ethic
from page 1
always incomplete, in need of interrogation and ongoing discourse, and can never be taken for granted. A psychoanalytically informed ethics assumes a radical freedom of discourse linked to a regard for the other as a formative element in one’s being. Reisner brings this ethical view to his professional life and suggests that it should be maintained as paramount in the ethics of the organization that represents his profession. And while it may seem that no one could argue with an ethics of social responsibility and care for the other, in practice, that has not been the case. This is in part because the assumptions of social responsibility are taken too
lightly, as though we all know what they are, as though there is no need for an ongoing inquiry into the ethics of our choices. This is why psychoanalysis remains relevant to contemporary thought in the wider fields of psychology and social theory. A psychoanalytic ethic requires an ongoing inquiry into social relations and into any and all assumed certainties. Nothing in this realm should ever be taken for granted and treated as beyond inquiry. The APA thus gives lip service to ethical views, yet in its actions and its inactions, it has repeatedly served other principles in ways that have eclipsed this. This is rarely done with an ill intent. It is done instead with insufficient commitment to the problems and challenges of opening the necessary
questions, and listening closely to all views. It is fashionable to consider psychoanalysis an outdated discipline, to repeat that it no longer has the influence or following that it once had. I would argue instead that the influence of psychoanalysis has so thoroughly pervaded contemporary thought that we often fail to notice it and do not recognize the extent to which ideas are rooted in the discoveries and foundations of psychoanalysis. How the psychoanalytic idea of the subject as unconsciously rooted in social discourse contributes to a contemporary ethics of open speech and radical democracy is one of those invisible legacies of the field. Steven Reisner’s candidacy and the strong response it engendered is an expression of this legacy. z
On the Photography of Tiana Peterson The crossword puzzle endures. Once relegated along with the comics to a back page of the newspaper, this time-killing “brainteaser” lives online, awaiting letters in type rather than in pencil or the admirable, unerasable pen. Observed from a distance, the artist Tiana Peterson would appear to be another fan of this diversion, earnestly jotting away with a writing utensil, contemplating her progress, and furrowing her brow in mental search for the word that fits the allotted spaces and conforms to the obtuse clue(s) provided by the puzzle’s
creator. However, close inspection of her finished product reveals not a staggered grid of intersecting words but a modulated collection of marks filling in the spaces where letters should be. Over the past decade Peterson has engaged with two-dimensional representatives of value or play; removing the eagles from dollar bills to re-employ in collages or steaming the “pop-up” forms from children’s books, leaving 3
eerie groupings of floating rectangles on their otherwise cheery pages. Similarly, Peterson dispenses with any prescribed rules in “doing” her crosswords, transforming the given space and its poetic juxtapositions
to a physical place of action where empty squares are individually filled, earning a different kind of reward upon completion. The grid, usually in the form of graph paper, served as a template in postminimal art, a clinical ground for the charting of ideas and visual systems of notation. Carl Andre’s poems (no doubt influenced by the crossword) and Hanne Darboven’s symphonic numerical accumulations are two of many examples. Peterson’s series titled “Monday-Sunday, repeat” (2013) can suggest moody tiling or patterned fabric. Embedded in her busy work is the flicker of a secret behind a structure that’s been deliberately filled in or walled up. Some pieces, handled with a lighter touch, appear immolated, like ash that may crumble in your hand. For Tiana Peterson, the crossword is a site to be acted upon—playing the game but leaving the field in an entirely unexpected way. z Tim Maul Image Editor
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Mind, Organization, and Society David Tuckett, the former editor of the International Journal of Psychoanalysis and a training and supervising analyst in the British Psychoanalytic Society, has written Minding the Markets: An Emotional Finance View of Financial Instability By David Tuckett New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 232 pp., $42.00, 2011 a masterful book of applied psychoanalysis. At the interface of psychoanalysis, sociology, economics, and finance, this is a unique, scholarly, rather dense book, which will probably not get the broad readership its ideas deserve. However, Minding the Markets is a terrific example of how psychoanalytic thinking can be used rigorously and creatively to shed light on contemporary problems. Tuckett set out in the early 2000s to study decision making and judgment in the financial markets. In 2007, in the very early stages of the credit crunch that would lead to the financial crisis of 2008, he interviewed 52 asset managers in the UK. His timing was fortuitous! Tuckett collected a rich set of data bearing on the uncertainty, risk taking, and herd mentality that contributed to the asset price bubble that was then forming. He used psychoanalytic ideas to construct an in-depth understanding of the mental states that contributed to the most serious financial crisis in recent memory. Tuckett’s argument works on three levels, and I will elaborate on each. First, he applies a psychoanalytic framework based on Bion’s ideas to the interviews with asset managers in order to probe the deeper causes of the financial crisis. In doing so, he shows how a psychoanalytic consultant constructs an understanding of the unconscious relationship to a role and the defensive function of organizational structures and cultures. Second, Tuckett offers a powerful critique of standard economic theory and suggests it be replaced by the nascent discipline he calls “emotional finance.” And third, he analyzes the root causes of the financial crisis of 2008, and makes suggestions for how to prevent future calamities. Tuckett’s analysis starts with the very nature of the financial assets (usually stocks) that the managers deal with day to day. He asserts that by their very nature the assets are volatile, abstract, and hard to value. Financial assets are described as “phantastic objects” for the fund managers—“powerful psychological attractors acting beneath consciousness, which excite fantasies of gratification and frustration” (p.86). In Tuckett’s view, asset managers (and to some extent, all investors) develop
imagined mental relations with these financial assets, in which attachments are made and broken. Such object relationships can be characterized by emotional states such as falling in love, anxiety, loss, and hate. Conditions of uncertainty, information disadvantage, and risk contribute to a dependent, ambivalent object relationship with the financial assets. Tuckett demonstrates how managers develop narratives about their investment decisions and their outcomes in order to reduce the anxiety and conflict they experience. Increased industry-wide pressure for financial managers to demonstrate exceptional short-term performance while con-
vincing clients that their investments are safe has made it more likely that asset managers will operate within a, “divided state” in which “unrealistic manic excitement takes over thinking, caution is split off, and there is huge and even violent resistance to consciousness of many signs of reality” (p.xiii, emphasis in the original). Tuckett’s term “groupfeel” denotes that the community of financial managers (and by extension, all investors) comes to think the same way because they want to feel the same way. In a state of euphoria, doubt is banished and skeptics are maligned and dismissed. Thus, Tuckett elaborates a psychoanalytic understanding of how asset bubbles form based on shifting states of mind of the participants in financial markets. By careful analysis of the nature of the financial assets (phantastic objects), the institutional pressures on financial managers to hold untenable, mutually exclusive ideas, and the anxieties related to investment decisions, he shows how financial managers pursue excitement without really thinking about risk and loss. On a group basis, market participants distort reality, avoid emotional conflicts, and 4
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engage in risky behavior without anxiety. As we know, this does not end well! Eventually reality reasserts itself, the bubble bursts, huge sums of money are lost, careers are ruined, and people are displaced. Much of Tuckett’s book (chapters 2, 5, 6, and 7) is devoted to detailed description of how the financial managers do their jobs, and in the process manage emotional states and emotional challenges. While these chapters certainly provide texture and color, they are lengthy, dense, and somewhat off-putting. Tuckett seems to be trying too hard to use the interview data to prove his key points. And while the interviews are illustrative, he seems to gloss over the difference between the assets they discuss (stocks) and the complex derivatives that were at the center of the meltdown of 2008. In chapter 9, Tuckett critiques standard economic theory and outlines the core principles of his alternative model—“emotional finance.” Although some of the material may be too technical and not of great interest to the general psychoanalytic reader, the central points are very important. Tuckett argues that classical economic theory, with its emphasis on efficient markets and rational economic actors, presumes dispassionate analysis and conscious motivation that we as psychoanalysts know to be true only some of the time. Thus, Tuckett makes the critical point that standard economic thinking provided
the blinders that helped cause the 2008 economic crisis. It made it all the more likely that those running the banks and investing in them would fail to investigate the risks of what was going on despite the warnings that occurred. In Tuckett’s view, promoting and supporting “integrated state thinking” in the financial markets can prevent future financial crises. If divided state thinking means that ambivalent or conflicting thoughts are evacuated from awareness
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(though still exerting influence), then integrated state thinking means that difficult and conflicting thoughts are the subjects of curiosity, reflection, and understanding. If you think this sounds like a kind of therapy for financial markets, you’re not far off. Psychoanalytic consultation typically entails pursuing a goal of increased emotional integration through context-specific, systems-focused techniques. According to Tuckett, preventing future crises requires a theory that explains how asset price bubbles happen. He argues that his emotional finance approach applies not only to the financial crisis of 2008, but to a number of asset price bubbles that have occurred throughout history. He goes on to propose some more specific measures to promote integrated state thinking in financial markets. Tuckett recommends that all financial institutions do a complete forensic inquiry into the events leading up to the crisis of 2008,
something he likens to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He also proposes developing a full range of indicators to make risk more transparent to the financial community, and suggests that regulatory agencies work with asset management companies to create realistic anxiety about loss and alter the basis on which these organizations compete. Like others, Tuckett recommends removing disproportionate bonuses for asset managers’ short-term performance— incentives that promote risky gambling and divided state thinking. Fostering integrated state thinking in the financial markets depends on changing the mental states of the system’s regulators. He suggests that regulation has occurred in a divided state, which he likens to the relationship between parents and adolescents—“rules are put in place by stodgy parents which are there to break if you can get away with it” (p.192). It is particularly important that regulation
occur in an integrated state at times of financial innovation. It is at these times, when the new financial instruments are beginning to exert the pull of “phantastic objects,” that they need to be carefully scrutinized by regulators. Tuckett hints at, but does not fully elaborate on, the importance of training central bankers and regulators in the principles of emotional finance. His story leaves off without really discussing a critical challenge for psychoanalysts inclined toward the public sphere—how to maximize the impact and influence of innovative psychoanalytic ideas. Tuckett seems to have been influenced and at the same time had some influence on decision makers in the UK. After finishing the book, I wondered if he has had the opportunity to directly teach the principles of emotional finance to senior regulatory staff in the major political and financial centers. I think we’d all be in a better position if such work were done. z
Assessing the Efficacy of the Therapeutic Relationship between Anne Sexton and Dr. Martin Orne Judith HARRIS
In 1956, Anne Sexton (1928–1974), one of America’s best-known poets of the confessional school of poetry, was admitted to Westwood Psychiatric Hospital after beAn Accident of Hope: The Therapy Tapes of Anne Sexton By Dawn M. Skorczewski New York: Routledge, 233 pp., $34.20, 2012 ing diagnosed with postpartum depression. Among other causes, it seems that Sexton’s emotional and physiological vulnerabilities were made worse by the dynamics of being cast swiftly into motherhood. Sexton’s own childhood had been an unhappy one. Her father, an affluent businessman, was an alcoholic and highly critical of his daughters. Her mother, sociable and vivacious, apportioned love parsimoniously. Sexton always described her mother as taking “top billing” in the household. In contrast, Sexton’s live-in Aunt Nana was soothing and uncomplicated, lavishing infantilizing attention on her niece when the young Sexton might have pursued accomplishments more appropriate for her age. As a student, Sexton did not particularly excel. She eloped with Alfred Muller Sexton II (Kayo), from a prosperous local family, just after high school. The couple moved back and forth between their parents’ houses until Kayo went into the military service. Kayo then went to work for Anne’s father
in the garnetting business as a traveling salesman. During one of his absences, at her mother’s insistence, Sexton began seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Brunner-Orne (the mother of Dr. Martin T. Orne, who would later become Sexton’s analyst), who had treated Sexton’s father for his alcoholism. In 1952, Sexton became pregnant with her first child, Linda Gray. Sexton’s beloved Aunt Nana died in 1954. A second child, Joyce Ladd Sexton, was born a year later. Admitted to Westwood Psychiatric Hospital after her second child was born, Sexton was referred to Dr. Martin T. Orne, who took over Sexton’s case from his mother and treated her from 1956 to 1964.
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Sexton was seriously, even psychotically, disturbed and suffered from agitation, suicidal depression, and fits of feeling “unreal.” However, unlike most of the patients at Westwood, Sexton was not diagnosed as schizophrenic, and Orne sought her release from the hospital so that she could start seeing him as an outpatient from two to four times a week. The relationship between Anne Sexton and her therapist, Dr. Orne, is one of the most intriguing in psychiatric literature and is the topic of Dr. Dawn Skorczewski’s excellent book, An Accident of Hope: The Therapy Tapes of Anne Sexton. Skorczewski analyzes the efficacy of the Sexton-Orne treatment
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as it related to her poetry, and many of the cultural myths surrounding psychoanalysis. The significance of the audiotapes of Sexton’s private therapy sessions is the focus of Skorczewski’s study, including how they became public in the first place and Dr. Orne’s stunning role in bringing them forward. Sexton’s story as a psychiatric patient contradicts artistic fears about the anticreative power of psychotherapy. Sexton found her calling as a poet as a direct consequence of her treatment and—arguably—as a result of Orne’s “innovative” treatment to help Sexton compensate for memory fugues that afflicted her whenever there was talk about close relationships that elicited internal rage, aggression, or anger. Skorcewski brings into relief the cultural implications of women being treated for mental illness in America in the mid-1960s. In such a climate, women were expected to behave and speak modestly and deferentially, often subjugating their own desires for independence and power to the men they married or consulted as authorities. Women’s roles as sexual objects, magnified by film stars, went uncontested in most social circles. Although the diagnosis of “hysteria” was struck from diagnostic manuals, women were often met with the same stereotypes by male psychiatrists. Some never altered their view of female patients as unmanageable, views that were the focus of intense criticism by feminists in the decades that followed Sexton’s treatment with Orne. Skorczewski’s work with the transcripts of Sexton’s private therapy sessions refuses any prurient interest the reader may have in Sexton’s flamboyant character—or
the melodramatic features of her suicide. With her extensive knowledge of psychoanalytic theory, Skorczewski is able to make lucid comparisons between Orne’s clinical approach, which relied heavily on Freudian theory and its later expression as ego psychology, and contemporary theories of analysis that she argues provide superior modalities for treating mental illness and depression. Thus, she sums up the intended
argument of her book in her interview with Helen Epstein: I tried to show how the therapy influenced the poems, and how the poems, less obviously, pointed to new directions that psychotherapy and psychoanalysis would take in the decades to follow. (p.8) The current book is not the first to gain direct access to the transcripts of Sexton’s psychiatric sessions. Diane Middlebrook’s seminal biography in 1991 had already infringed on the confidentiality of Sexton’s therapy (with Orne’s apparent encouragement) to a lesser extent, which incited a heated debate over the ethics of making a psychiatric patient’s sessions public. That issue now exhausted, Skorczewski’s research goes beyond alluding to the tapes, instead offering the reader the actual transcripts as the basis of her commentary. Readers are thus invited to “listen in” on large segments of the final tapes, recorded in
the months from November 1963 to April 1964. Through these months, Sexton converses with Orne on politics, sex, violence, mental illness, motherhood, poetry, and even suicide. Unlike the earlier tapes, which depict a very sick woman trying to cope with psychotic breaks and self-loathing, yet arduously studying the craft of poetry, the later tapes show an already-accomplished poet who is struggling to maintain confidence and overcome the demonic forces that potentially could self-destruct. The later tapes also reveal the devastating consequences of having to terminate treatment with Orne, who Sexton considered irreplaceable as her interlocutor and protector. As Skorczewski notes, one can hear the long silences of Sexton’s trances due to dissociated states of mind. One can also hear Orne trying to coax her back to consciousness. And given the interest Orne and Sexton shared in the theoretical basis of clinical work, Skorczewski considers each of their therapy sessions in terms of a clinical concept that has been contested and redefined 6
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in the decades following Sexton’s treatment. Throughout, the subjects of poetry and therapy are intertwined both in Sexton’s mind and in the cultural climate in which she was writing “confessional” verse. The chapters analyze various recurrent themes that arise in the sessions, such as Sexton’s insistence that Orne cocreated her poetic identity, a claim that the Freudian-trained Orne sharply denied, inviting readers to consider the different perspectives of contemporary theories versus classical theory of the analyst’s personal involvement in the treatment. Sexton’s search for the painful roots of her unhappiness reveals traumatic childhood events and memories, which she would later transpose into poetry. Skorczewski’s interest in Sexton was spurred by the research she was doing in Victorian literature and father/daughter incest. She had noted a pattern of daughters running away from their paternal households, had read Sexton’s poetry, and wanted to explore more of Sexton’s confessional revelations about her childhood abuse. Skorczewski admitted she was “surprised and frustrated” when the authoritative biography of Sexton came out and the biographer concluded with certainty that Sexton had never been sexually abused. She wanted to hear Sexton discussing early events involving her father and aunt in order to make her own decision: that Sexton had been a victim of childhood sexual abuse. Skorczewski then examines trauma theory from 1960 to the present in order to hypothesize that Sexton’s marriage—haunted by domestic violence—had been a perpetuation of her earlier traumatic experiences. While Orne’s classicism led him to dilute the potency of childhood sexual abuse in a more general mix of current conflicts and regressive tendencies, Scorczewski makes the point that contemporary theorists now see such trauma as that which must be acknowledged and worked through in itself. In another chapter, the author explores a poem of Sexton’s that arose from a therapeutic impasse and demonstrates how Sexton used the poem to repair the disruption, and to work both sides of the coin: both as a patient and as her projection of Orne behaving as the therapist she wished he would be. As Skorczewski introduces the content of her chapters it is clear that she gains real insight into the analytic couple, especially in the final chapter where she reveals Orne’s projection (countertransference) onto Sexton in accusing her of needing to feel special, “as if this tendency were a disease” (p.xxv) or something she should feel ashamed about, an accusation that Sexton questioned in a poem and in a session. Skorczewski’s discussion illuminates the conflict by seeing Orne suppressing his own wish to be special and projecting it back onto Sexton in a more hostile manner:
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By his suppression of his own narcissism and his pejorative analysis of Sexton’s, Orne pathologized what might be identified as the creative drive for recognition shared by both patient and doctor. (p.xxv) In fact, as early as chapter 1, “You, I , We Created the Poet,” the transcript makes evident the impasse between Sexton and Orne when it came to Sexton’s desire to be seen as “special” by him and his clinical decision to withold that gratification. Self-approval seems impossible without his approbation, so significantly have they merged in Sexton’s own mind as a “we.” Here is a condensed example of that discussion, which Skorczewski cites during a conversation in which the idea of bringing in a consultant to assess the progress Orne and Sexton were making in helping her get well: Sexton: I feel like I want to continue treatment with you. Not just because I am transferred to you…I think that our relationship, even though it is stormy is really pretty good…You can use a lot of words. Orne: Mmhmmm. Sexton: I think the tapes are very…I listen to them and it’s a different thing. In the first place I really hear you. Much more than I hear you here. Then again I hear me too, as much as I can bear to. Oh, I keep looking for some magical thing. If there was just some… Orne: Some? What? Sexton: Well, I’d like to say to you do you think I will ever get well, and you’d say what do you mean by well. Orne: Mmhmmm. (There is more talk about which doctor might be consulted.) Sexton: I’d like to say, why, this one’s impressed with my writing, why aren’t you? You know? I did it all for you. Orne: I am impressed with your writing. Sexton: What does that mean? Orne: My interest is you, and I am impressed with your accomplishment. Sexton: Would you be just as impressed if I’d never been anthologized and never awarded? No, because you know you are not a judge. Orne: Probably not because I am not a judge. Sexton: And neither would probably someone else. Orne: No, that’s not true. I think in an area where I was competent to judge I would not need anyone else’s statement… Sexton: Of course you know my history so well and you know me so well that what I write in a poem you already knew. Orne: That’s not the issue. You don’t understand it. You see, if you say am I impressed with your work, yes, it’s very
impressive. But you keep wanting me to be more interested in your poems than in you. Sexton: Well, they are my accomplishment. Orne: No, you are your accomplishment. Sexton: Well, I haven’t done very well, let’s face it. (pp.6–7) Both Sexton and Orne’s competencies are in play here, each one simultaneously judging herself or himself and the other in terms of success. If Sexton has not accomplished much in the area of improving her life with her husband and children (which she goes on to address), then in her view of Orne’s criteria for accomplishment, she has failed, despite her extraordinary success as a nationally known poet. While Orne is responding with care, and interest, he continues to draw a division between Sexton’s poetry and Sexton herself, as if the poetry is something she does—like needlework—and she is much broader than that, and it is her “self,” the “you” separate from him, that interests him, not her accomplishments. What he fails to see is that Sexton herself cannot make that differentiation. Skorczewski will argue that such a differentiation is fictive in itself, Orne’s projection onto Sexton about what constitutes the bounded self in the therapeutic relationship. Skorczewski’s most salient theme is that contemporary relational theory has moved beyond the classical model of analysis. No longer the absent/silent analyst and the reclining patient, associating from infancy and childhood, psychoanalytic treatment is conceived of as a cocreated space in which analyst and patient work with parity, with both partners interweaving their subjectivities in order to achieve progress. Orne, however, a product of his time and education, utilized a conflict theory of analysis. The psychoanalytic dyad is divided between the doctor’s rational authority and the patient’s irrational subjugation to that authority. The therapist’s task is to help the patient correct false views of reality and to live more consistently in the reality that the therapist makes more understandable to the patient. However, Skorczewski argues that had Orne been more sensitized to Sexton’s efforts to reach him on her genuine level, as disclosed in the tapes, and focused less on her problems in dealing with “reality,” he might have focused on Sexton’s attempts to forge a new kind of relationship with him. New approaches to psychoanalytic treatment suggest that practice has evolved in the direction that Sexton had anticipated. In the years since Sexton’s treatment, new ideas such as relational theory and feminist psychodynamic theory, as well as the work of Winnicott, Balint, Klein, and Kohut, among others, allow for more vital connection between analyst and patient. 7
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Sexton’s almost fairy tale–like transformation from a psychiatric patient into a celebrated poet was due to Orne encouraging her to write poetry, early on, in order to find something of interest in her life outside of the consulting room. However, as successful as she was to become, winning literary awards and acceptance by the academic community, she could not survive her own obsession with death and suicide. As Orne observed, “Anne had a remarkable fascination with death, and it seemed likely that she used her trances or memory fugues to play the role of dying, which perhaps helped her not to commit suicide.” She told Orne, in 1961, as he recalled in an interview,“I’ve taken care of the ‘live’ part by writing my poems” (Middlebrook, 1992, p.149). Sexton made a career out of the kind of self-exposure that many patients fear. Her creativity overcame her inhibitions; she was writing to find out about herself and her relationship to the world. Poetry provided some order to the overwhelming chaos. But Sexton did not write such autobiographic verse in a vacuum. Robert Lowell’s autobiography in verse entitled Life Studies made a decisive break with the formal verse patterns and lavish rhetoric that marked the early period of high modernism. Lowell rejected Eliot’s modernist ideal of authorial impersonality in favor of what seemed at the time (1959) to be more private and self-revelatory, and both Plath and Sexton (students of Lowell’s) employed that “personal style” to explode cultural myths about women’s place in American society. Moreover, the term “confessional,” used by M. L. Rosenthal, somewhat ambivalently, as a description of the character of idiosyncratic, personal writing such as Sexton’s, implied an analogy between poetry “confession” and religious “confession,” an analogy that Sexton absorbed and explored throughout her career. Not unlike classical psychotherapy, confessional poetry drew from spontaneous associations, seeking to unleash the powers of the raw, repressed emotions (often recalled from childhood) associated with early trauma, a labor of unburying the buried. As I have elsewhere quoted Judith Herman in her book Trauma and Recovery, “Ghosts will come back to haunt. Murder will out. Remembering and telling the truth about painful events are prerequisites for the social order and the healing of individual victims” (Harris, 2006, p.1). Remarkably, Sexton described her own process of creating poetry: “The art, whether it be murder or suicide, chooses you… it is a no-matter-of-choice-project” (Furst, 2000, p.6). The same is true of associative talk, as the patient probes deep within for the truth, without conscious regard for how that truth will be judged by analyst or others to
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be moral or immoral. Truth, self-examination, self-knowledge—these were Sexton’s pursuits in poetry and therapy, the core of “confessional” writing that seeks resolve and redemption in the end. Throughout the years that Orne and Sexton worked together, Orne was set on the goal of achieving (if not rushing) a “cure” for Sexton’s mental disturbances. After eight
conviction that “Anne Sexton would be alive today” (p.xviii). It is true that Orne’s departure deeply distressed Sexton, although she seemed to be functioning, at least superficially. She was teaching in a college, writing prolifically, and had stabilized to the extent that she could maintain her professional façade. After her affair with Duhl, Sexton’s alcohol and drug addictions escalated, along with rages, depression, and suicidal urges. In December 1972, Sexton’s current psychiatrist informed her that she could no longer continue as her doctor. At that point, Sexton was stressed to the breaking point and confided: “This is no termination of any sort but an amputation, and I feel pretty damned desperate” (Middlebrook, 1992 p.381). Only her art kept her from taking her own life, as she typed out in this statement:
ever possible, joyous God.” Yet, when Sexton imagined the end, it was not a turning to God but a returning to the arms of a “consecrating mother” (Middlebrook, 1992 p.394).” In one of her last poems she imagines death as a walk into the sea: “I wish to enter her like a dream, and sink into the great mother arms, I never had” (Middlebrook, 1992 p.394).
I am afraid to die. Yet I think it might do a few favors. If I COULD just die inside, let the heart-soul shrink like a prune, and only to this typewriter let years of treating Sexton, Orne left Harvard in order to take a position at the Philadelphia Institute of Experimental Psychiatry, planning to return once a month to see her and his other patients. He felt ambivalent about Sexton’s readiness for termination and recalled that: “Although many therapeutic gains had been made from 1956 to 1964, [I] felt that Anne’s emotional health still depended on the support she received from her husband and other people who cared for her.” (p.xviii) When Orne left Boston, he made arrangements to see his former patient intermittently for follow-up, but felt that Sexton needed another therapist on an ongoing basis. At first she did extremely well with the new therapist, Dr. Fredrick Duhl, but as Orne recalled in his introduction to the Middlebrook biography, “the therapeutic contract became untenable due to a change in the relationship” (p.xxii). Sexton had entered into a sexual affair with her psychiatrist, prompting her husband to seek a divorce. She did then employ a new therapist, a woman, who would not allow Sexton to see Orne even intermittently, because in the therapist’s view Sexton’s “transference relationship with him would undermine the new therapist’s treatment,” (p.xvii) and so he was forbidden to see her. Thus, in Orne’s view, this was a period in which her relationships with significant others (particularly her husband) were severely diminished and she was more vulnerable to her trances, in which she “role-played” dying and gave fuel to suicidal impulses. Sadly, Orne wrote, if in therapy Sexton had been encouraged to hold on to the vital supports (including himself ) that had helped her build the innovative career that meant so much to her and others, it was his
out the truth…Can I save myself? I can try.…I keep right on trying. Granny, you electric Smith Corona heart, you buzz back at me, and I pray you do not break… (Middlebrook, 1992, p.381) Tragically, it was not her beloved Smith Corona that would break, but Sexton herself, resulting in both being forever silenced. Sexton’s last therapist, Barbara Schwartz, was not a psychiatrist but a social worker with a warm manner who ultimately became one of Sexton’s friends. She accepted Sexton as a patient temporarily while a “real” psychiatrist was to be found for her. Sexton was particularly in search of a psychoanalytically trained doctor (as Orne had been) who could also prescribe medication. During that period, she conducted many interviews, taught workshops at Boston University, and traveled to give readings. In the last six months of her life, she received religious instruction from a seminarian at the Episcopal Divinity School in search of a “doubtful, but 8
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Anne Sexton ended her life on Friday, October 4, 1974. She saw Barbara Schwartz in the morning, for whom she had just dedicated an unpublished poem, had lunch with her best friend, the poet Maxine Kumin, stripped her rings from her fingers, put on her mother’s old fur coat, and went into the garage with a glass of vodka, where she closed the doors behind her. She sat in the driver’s seat of her old red Cougar and turned on the ignition and the radio. One can only imagine how Sexton’s suicide impacted Orne, back in Philadelphia. Given his long-term relationship with Sexton, it is not surprising that he agreed to be interviewed by Diane Middlebrook for the biography that was to be published in 1992. In addition, and most remarkably, Orne offered Middlebrook 300 audiotapes of Sexton’s therapy sessions, as well as his personal files. He then wrote the forward to the Middlebrook biography, explaining why he breached the ethics of confidentiality between doctor and patient by releasing the tapes: When Professor Middlebrook requested an interview to discuss my work with Anne for the biography, I thought about how important it had been to Anne always to try and help others, especially in their writing…After much soul-searching, and after being assured that Anne’s family had given their approval, I allowed Professor Middlebrook to have access to the audiotapes and my therapy file. (p.xvii) After listening to the tapes, Middlebrook writes that she felt compelled to revise her entire manuscript, relying on the first-hand material of Sexton’s therapy sessions with Orne.
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By disclosing Orne’s assistance along with the existence of the tapes, Middlebrook set off a storm of controversy in the medical and literary communities. Alessandra Stanley wrote in the New York Times, in 1991:
he apparently preferred to put himself under scrutiny than to withhold the tapes that he felt certain Anne Sexton would have wanted released and accessible to the public, “in the spirit of helping others”:
[Orne’s] action has caused far more consternation in literary and more particularly psychiatric circles than any other revelation in the biography which chronicles in sometimes harrowing detail Sexton’s madness, alcoholism and sexual abuse of her daughter, along with her many extramarital affairs, including one with a woman and another with the second of her many therapists.
Although I had many misgivings about discussing any aspects of therapy, I also realized that Anne herself would have wanted to share this process—much as she did in her poetry—so that other patients and therapists might learn from it. (Middlebrook, 1992 p.xvii)
Recording and transcribing psychotherapy sessions was a radical idea in 1960 and makes some professionals uneasy today. Sexton, as was already mentioned, had trouble remembering what occurred in each session due to her memory fugues, or what she referred to as her “trances.” As noted above, Orne commented in his introduction to the Middlebrook biography, elaborating on Sexton’s aphasias, or memory lapses; “It seemed likely that she used the trance episodes to play the role of dying, which perhaps helped her not to commit suicide” (p.xvii). She became unresponsive in her trances, and these self-induced “absences” could last for minutes, hours, even days. The tapes were an important innovation in the therapy and changed the dynamics between Sexton and Orne. By listening to and being able to tolerate her own pain and anger on the audiotapes, Orne states that Sexton “began to recall emotional events that mattered to her and was gradually able to deal with her emotions in poetry” (p.xvii). By listening to herself on tape, and transcribing what she heard, Sexton was then able to recall why she was angry, and this helped her to make unprecedented progress in therapy, although Orne admits that the procedure itself led “to some embarrassing moments for [him] as the therapist” as he conceded in his introduction: Since Anne was able to point to errors in my memory of prior sessions—it was a unique experience for Anne to know more about what transpired in her treatment than her therapist did. In many regards, it made the relationship between us far more equal than in the past—a true collaboration, in which Anne could discover important insights and share them with me. (p.xviii) Orne’s release of the audiotapes also put himself unwittingly on display—inviting precisely the kind of critique Skorczewski undertakes in her book, exposing the impasses in the therapy, and what mistakes were made that impeded Sexton’s progress. Nevertheless,
Orne also added that when he offered Sexton the tapes (he had already moved to Philadelphia), she told him to keep them in the hope that he would find a way to use them to help others in similar circumstances. Skorczewski’s study is particularly effective in utilizing the material of the tapes to investigate not only the biographical details of Sexton’s life and therapy, but also to link them to her art. From the last six months of the treatment, the author skillfully teases out central recurring themes in the therapy and the art, such as Sexton’s fears of abandonment, her wish to stay secure in her relationship with Orne, and her susceptibility to sexual and domestic abuse. One of the motifs that runs throughout Sexton’s therapy tapes reveals the vulnerability she felt as a patient enmeshed in a therapeutic relationship that often, paradoxically, confused and alienated her—as she vacillated between loving and hating her analyst. In “You, Doctor Martin” she expresses that ambivalence: “Of course, I love you; / you lean above the plastic sky, / god of our block, prince of all the foxes” (quoted in Skorczewski, 2012, p.10). And, in a very early little sonnet to Orne, found among his files, Sexton appears torn between wanting to love and wanting to tear down this idealized figure of the analyst upon whom she has projected her own power as well as her defeat: Well doctor—all my loving poems write themselves to you. If I could channel love, by gum, it’s what I’d do. And never pen another foolish Freudian line that bleeds across the page in half-assed metered rhyme…if all this bother and devotion is not, in truth, for you—(Since you’re the expert in emotion) tell me Doctor—who? (Middlebrook, 1992, p.54) Sexton seems to be in the throes of early frustration with gaining the kind of affective responses she instinctually wishes to receive and has channeled her anger into a sardonic love poem, deferring to the doctor as the one who can interpret the meaning of the transference. Like many patients, Sexton seems mystified that an ordinary mortal has evoked in her such desperate emotions, this 9
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psychoanalyst who is an expert in interpreting emotions, and yet her visceral need for love’s gratification goes unanswered. As Skorczewski reflects: When I listened to the sessions in which Sexton sought connection with Orne, I was struck again and again by how Orne missed her efforts to reach him and instead focused on her problems with “reality.” (Epstein, 2012, p.4) The psychoanalyst is the “expert” on emotions, at least in Sexton’s reality. Orne had trained to be an objective observer who helped patients correct defensive or regressive distortions of reality. Mental health came from being able to, he once told Sexton, “keep reality straight” (Skorczewski, p.3). In such a context, Sexton, as a poet who is building on a “reality” of the imagination, must be separate from the reality of the real world. In order to get better, the “true” Anne Sexton, distinguishable (at least by Orne) from the poet-personae Anne Sexton, can only improve her condition by doing away with her defensive masks and emotional states that obscure. No doubt Sexton’s desire to talk about her poetry in therapy and evince a response from Orne was a way for her to balance both worlds—one that only she occupied in poetry, and the world seen through therapy. As in the poem, “You, Doctor Martin,” he walks from breakfast to madness, somnambulant, unfazed. The classical analyst is trained as the “voice of reality” to help his or her patient clarify truth and dispense with obscurant fantasies and distortions. Freud conceptualized the analytic situation in terms of an abstinence by the analyst in which he or she does not gratify the expressed wishes of the patient. For Freud, the psychoanalytic process demands of the patient a laborious process of renunciation, bringing to light infantile wishes, so that healthier and more mature forms of libidinal organization become possible through the transference. By 1957, Anne Sexton had read enough Freudian theory to be familiar with the idea of transference. Her early sonnet to Orne, staged in prose lines, reveals the irony of transference love projected onto the doctor who becomes a love object, and seems, at least in this poem, and at times in the poem “You, Doctor Martin,” unfazed by the incendiary intensity of Sexton’s emotions. The analyst is endowed with the insight to interpret the meaning of a patient’s emotional attachment. While Sexton may be sardonic in her depiction of the cyclical aspect of the transference that never yields a true identity beyond the doctor’s appeal to the patient, turning it into a kind of game of hide and seek, we can also read the early
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sonnet as an expression of Sexton’s attachment to the real Dr. Orne. She will declare throughout her treatment that she was not “in love” with Orne and did not feel that she had transferred her conflicted sexual feelings about her father onto him. Instead, she felt, as Skorczewski suggests, more of a relation to him that was bound up inextricably with her poetry and her life. For Freud, transference was a mésalliance, or a false connection, something that the analyst should consider as “unreal” that must be traced back to its unconscious origins. One can hear a tone of frustration as Sexton tries, both in the sonnet and in the session, to make sense of this “need” to be attached, even if she denies a transference that is rooted in her past and projected onto the analyst. This attachment is an unheard demand on the analyst, and Freud insisted that the analyst never regard it as personal, but as some mechanism that leads the patient to reassume her position as a child in pursuit of some love that went unanswered in her early life, which can be corrected now through the analyst’s interpretation, not the analyst’s reenactment of the experience. This paradoxical tension is even more heightened when the patient is a creative person like Sexton, who was introspective by nature. She understood how they overlapped and, like many patients, she understood the role of the psychoanalyst almost as well as her role as the patient, although she remained diffident when challenging Orne to reconsider his own principles. In her world, it was language that united both discourses, and how that language erupted from deep within the hidden silences of the unconscious. For Sexton, art, like therapy, was created from an inner necessity, and with no ulterior purpose and without prethought about communication and significance, which is later attributed to them. Every artistic activity on her part was an act that created meaning as a way of countering the existence-threatening erosion of meaning that is at the core of mental illness, as she writes: For praise or damnation, the poem must be itself. At best, one hopes to make the poem something new, a kind of original product. Otherwise why bother to hope, to make? And my newest poems . . . they come from a part of me I don’t know, haven’t met and won’t understand for a couple of years. They know things I don’t know myself. (Furst, 2000, p.6) This comprehensive statement made near the end of her life makes clear that Sexton understood the creative process to be as mysterious as the associative process of classical psychoanalysis. Yet before anything else, she was preoccupied with finding the truth,
exploring her early experiences and current conflicts and trying to remember despite the fugues what she had discovered in order to make “a clean breast of it,” something that both therapy and confessional poetry strive to do in the process. From the beginning, Freud believed artists were investigating the same psychic terrain psychoanalysts were and that they were in some ways more forward-reaching in their grasp of human behavior. For writers, particularly poets, Freud suggested that the excitements of fantasy, which can be actually distressing, might become a source of pleasure for the readers of a writer’s work. In Freud’s judgment, the artist is responsible for creating the art object, but lacks the rationality to properly understand it. In “Said the Poet to the Analyst” in Sexton’s first volume of poetry along with “To You, Doctor Martin” (like “You, Doctor Martin,” this poem is addressed to Orne and included in Sexton’s first volume of poetry, To Bedlam and Part Way Back), she points out the differences between the poet and therapist, modulating a bit on Freud’s presumptions as she writes: My business is words. Words are like labels, Or coins, or better, like swarming bees… business is watching my words. But I Admit nothing. I work with my best, When I can write my praise for a nickel machine, That one night in Nevada: telling how the magic jackpot Came clacking three bells out, over the lucky screen. But if you should say this is something it is not, Then I grow weak, remembering how my hands felt funny And ridiculous and crowded with all The believing money. (quoted in Skorczewski, 2012, p.17) In Skorczewski’s view, Orne’s reluctance to gratify Sexton’s wish that he claim his place as cocreator of her poetry was counterproductive. Although it was he who first encouraged Sexton to write poetry due to diagnostic tests that demonstrated her creativity, urging Sexton to write poems that he proclaimed “wonderful,” he tended to withdraw from protracted conversations about them and her publishing success in the outside world. Instead, he insisted on considering her writing as only one facet of her whole self, something she did, but not everything that she was as a human being. The poem reveals Sexton’s insecurity about believing her good fortune is credible, since it can’t be deserved—it is a matter of luck, rather than skill (with Orne repre10
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senting skill)—if Orne is not in congruence with her own self-appraisal. More important, these lines articulate a patient’s special vulnerability when it comes to the analyst’s interpretation of truth and reality—since he must correct the patient’s erroneous view of reality, through interpretation and resounding meaning. Whatever her presumption, the analyst can annul her “words” by saying they are not what they seem to be— or they are defensively guarding a deeper truth about the self, too painful for the conscious self to confront. The poem reveals how heavily the speaker relies on the presence of the analyst to witness her creative efforts…the speaker needing the doctor if she is to find meaning, even if the meaning she seeks goes beyond his understanding of what it could be. The psychoanalytic hour is not made of absolutes but of beliefs, not delegated by will but by accident, and hope—as well as a belief in the analyst’s ability to truly understand the patient better than the patient does herself. The patient must believe that whatever he delegates as real or true is always a correction of what she has disguised or misconstrued—even if she has proof of the “money” right there in her hands. In fact, Sexton viewed her relationship with Orne as a kind of merging of two people into one—articulating her attachment in phrases such as “can’t let you go” or “You, I, we created the poet.” Her attachment to him, especially at the time he was considering the move to Philadelphia, demonstrates the bond shared by the patient and analyst and how difficult termination is, both for the patient and the analyst. As Skorczewski quotes Sexton saying to Orne after six years of therapy: I’m only sorry how much of my life is tied up with yours—you are attached to me too—it’s an odd kind of transference. I’m not in love with you; you are not a father figure. What is this attachment that I can’t let you go? No one else will do with you what we did; we have seven years of past and it would not be normal. (p.13) Skorczewski shows that Orne had ample room to acknowledge what this “attachment” was—and to concede that his relationship to Sexton was more than a clinical relationship between patient and doctor. Sexton had blurred boundaries between herself and Orne and expressed both in transcripts and poetry a desire to merge with him, a desire that Skorczewski views as unavoidable in the analytic dyad, contrasting Freud’s view with later challenges by more contemporary analysts. Elisabeth Young Bruehl has argued in her book Cherishment: A Psychology of the Heart, (2000)
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perhaps more effectively than any other analyst/intellectual, that a merging state, undifferentiated and boundless, should be acknowledged and explored rather than discouraged in the analytic dyad in favor of autonomy (quoted in Furst, 2000 p.4). Whereas Freud and Orne viewed the patient’s wish to merge with the analyst as regressive, and believed that a division between her “socially emergent” role as a poet and her “real” self could be drawn, Sexton saw the two as continuous and insisted that Orne share with her the pleasure and gratification of creating within herself the “poet.” But Orne rebuffed Sexton’s overtures to consider her poetry, which was their metaphorical “offspring,” the progeny of their union as the analytic couple. When Sexton said, “[My poems] are my accomplishments,” Orne replied, “No, you are your accomplishments.” Thus, he does seem to thwart his own goal to help by rejecting her hope to be accepted for this one role: “poet.” In contemporary theory, Skorczewski argues, there would have been more room for Sexton to explore her wish to see Orne as the cocreator of the “poet.” Yet, I think there is real meaning in Sexton’s transferring onto Orne a fathering role, the making of this mutual progeny, the poet-personae, “Anne Sexton.” This is a direction that Skorczewski does not take in her discussion, though I think it would glean insights, even if it borrows directly from Freudian theories about infantile sexual desires—here, the desire to be Orne’s “wife” and having his baby (with the poetry as metaphor). Yet, Sexton’s desire for Orne’s participation in her success, her merging of the writing of her poems with his incentive for her to explore poetry, seems to me to be proof of a different dynamic occurring between them, one that reveals Sexton’s primal affection for Orne and her attraction to him as a protector and guardian not only of her, as a patient, but of the poems themselves, which she identified with her body, as she wrote elsewhere (“poetry is my love, my postmark, my hands, my kitchen, my face” (Furst, 2000 p.6). Indeed, strict Freudians might even interpret Sexton’s desire to have Orne “parent” the poetry as a part of an Electra complex in which the female patient compensates for her “lack” of a phallus by presenting the father-analyst with a baby in its stead. The “baby” is metonymical, made of words that are always partial, never “whole,” always in flux, and fragmented, the baby prior to self-consciousness. If such an interpretation seems antiquely Freudian, it shows at least how intense the transference to Orne was, making more onerous the task of Orne’s fostering autonomy in his famous patient.
It might be argued that this demand perpetuated a long-standing wish for a parental union that was never gratified, given Sexton’s own parents’ detachment from her, and her being a victim of sexual abuse. Without Orne’s direct acknowledgement of their mutual creation, the “poet,” Sexton would have to bear her achievement as her own and be a “spinster,” which would mean also accepting a boundary between Orne and herself, something that the transcripts show was difficult, if not impossible, for Sexton to do, perhaps also
seen in her early symbiosis with Aunt Nana and then as allegedly exhibited by Sexton’s predilection toward inappropriate sexual advances toward own daughters. 11
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However, this difficult thing that Orne was asking her to do may be what was really helping her. She asked for his acknowledgement of his contribution and their rapport. His training would have instructed him to turn it back to her so that she could reflect upon her need to depend upon him for the success that allowed her to travel far from the refuge of the consulting room. Skorczewski is nevertheless correct in stating that Orne’s refusal to see his own role in helping Sexton find her voice as a poet is simply inaccurate, since it was he who first encouraged her to write and he who remained the principle witness to her immediate success. His obviating the topic seemed to Sexton to be a denial of her deserving such public admiration. Skorczewski’s view is that regardless of Orne’s classical training, he should have been flexible enough to see that not assuring Sexton of her profound gift created an impasse in the therapy. She argues that if he had been sensitized to the feminist and relational theories that Skorczewski discusses in her book, Orne might have focused on Sexton’s attempts to develop a new kind of relationship with him. On the other hand, one can see Orne continuing to turn the issue back to the analysand to reflect upon and maintan the analyst’s presence to a minimum—a matter of technique. He might have understood the idea of intersubjectivity as the hypothesis that human consciousnesses are constitutionally interdependent, and that, as unique human personalities, we form and reform ourselves, not in isolation, but rather in relation to and under the influence of other human subjects. Thus, there would have been ample opportunity for Sexton to explore this new metamorphosis of self, which was not static but evolving as a consequence of the therapy and the poems. He might have focused also on her contributions to him, as she never faltered from the idea that she might have influenced his way of seeing the world. She said, “You know I’ve changed you, too” (quoted in Skorczewski, 2012 p.193), and he might have given Sexton credit for urging him to be more authentic, less theory-driven, and more spontaneous and honest with himself and his patients. z REFERENCES Epstein, Helen. (2012, April 19). “Fuse author interview: ‘An Accident of Hope’—Analyzing the psychotherapy of Anne Sexton.” The Arts Fuse, http://artsfuse.org/56938. Furst, Arthur. (2000). Anne Sexton: The last summer. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press. Harris, Judith. (2006). Signifying pain: Constructing and healing the self through writing. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Middlebrook, Diane. (1992). Anne Sexton: A biography. New York, NY: Vintage Books. Sexton, Anne. (1960). To bedlam and part way back. New York, NY: Houghton. Skorczewski, Dawn M. (2012). An accident of hope: The therapy tapes of Anne Sexton. New York, NY: Routledge. Young Bruehl, Elizabeth. (2000). Cherishment: A psychology of the heart. New York, NY: The Free Press.
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Blind Spots in the Age of Insight The title of Eric Kandel’s latest book offers a double reference to the intentions of the author: on one side is a brilliant attempt to capture the dynamic level of exThe Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present By Eric Kandel New York: Random House, 652 pp., $29.95, 2012 change between science and art that existed in Vienna from 1880 until the exodus of Austrian artists and scientists prior to the Anschluss with Germany, and on the other is a wish to introduce the lay reader to the new level of insight that contemporary neuroscientists have about the relation of the brain to psychic experience. With astonishing erudition, from the history of art through to medicine and psychoanalysis, Kandel traces the evolution of neurology from the late 19th-century research hospitals of Europe to our contemporary “age of insight” and the 21st-century prospect of a new level of appreciation of the relation between mind, brain, and body. The research of neuroscientists such as Oliver Sacks (2010), R. V. Ramachandran (2012), Michael Gazzaniga, J. LeDoux (2002), and Francis Crick (1994), among others, have culminated in an ever-increasing tide of books that aim to show the lay reader what the title of Steven Pinker’s (2001/2009) book boldly stated: How the Brain Works. While philosophers such as John Searle, Thomas Nagel, and Paul Churchland continue to debate the borderline between brain and consciousness, neuroscientists are predisposed to support the philosophical position of Daniel Dennett, whose book Consciousness Explained (1991) was one of the first comprehensive overviews of the field, that consciousness has indeed been explained.
Unlike many neuroscientists, however, Kandel has retained his deep and longheld belief that Freud’s work constitutes
an immensely important foundation for this new science. In Kandel’s view, Freud’s speculative theory of the relation between conscious and unconscious process, the use of a topology of psychic activity that distinguished between “I,” “it,” and “Over-I,” was scientifically justifiable because the scientific instruments that Freud might have used to develop his neurological insights into, for example, aphasia were neither available or even conceivable. This makes The Age of Insight an indispensible work for anyone who is interested in the relation of neuroscience to the practice of psychoanalysis. Kandel is a supremely ambitious thinker, and at times the range of phenomena that he wishes to account for can leave the reader sensing that his arguments and interpretations, particularly about forms of cultural production, might be more telling if they were elaborated with rather more consideration to the extensive scholarly literature that exists on, for example, the art of Gustav Klimt or the position of women in fin de siècle Vienna.
Nobel Prize winners (at least in the sciences) are very busy people. Kandel would rather the reader get the whole picture than worry too much about where the argument might require more careful attention to “semantic” issues. Scientists who write about art, Kandel included, often ignore what they consider to be “unnecessary” attention to questions of definition, preferring to believe instead that the cultural facts speak for themselves. Nevertheless, weaving together contemporary laboratory research that includes evolutionary, genetic, chemical, neurological, and psychological approaches, Kandel envisions a “new science” that will not only find ways to ameliorate illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and 12
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schizophrenia, but also answer the major questions of human subjectivity—including, as he claims to do this in this book, explaining why art is important to us. Due to both National Institute of Mental Health and corporate pharmacological funding, neuroscience is now probably larger than any other field in science. Kandel’s book is particularly timely with
regard to the claims that neuroscientists make to be able to understand not just the functioning of the brain, the neuronal-perceptual apparatus, and consciousness itself, but also the functioning of society, sexual relations, parenting, and even economic activity. Hopefully the book can become something of a clarion call for those who would like to see the “century of the mind” devote some of this vast treasury of government funds to phenomena that are certainly of the intellect, such as poetry or music, but are not empirically testable. In the eyes of many neuroscientists, all human activity can be studied within a neuroscientific frame, and our understanding of these phenomena will be the better for it. Vast and brilliant as Kandel’s work on fin de siècle Vienna and its formative influence on modernity may be, it reveals that there is an element of hubris in this claim. While there are many aspects of the neuroscientific conception of human subjectivity that need to be questioned, I have chosen in this review to merely highlight where some areas of Kandel’s analysis of Viennese culture indicate that the very concepts that neuroscience uses frequently reproduce a naïve conception of art as having a specific use value, and that this is a symptom of the limitation of even the most sophisticated neuroscientists, whose theoretical framework is overdetermined by the fundamental idea that any human action can eventually be determined to be rooted in an evolutionary or genetic determinant.
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While the field of genetics has a distinct material object to map, namely, DNA, neuroscience claims the brain as its object. However, “the brain” is also one of the tools that is actually being used in the research itself, and since the relation between brain and mind always provokes massive debate among neurologists, philosophers, and most other serious students of the human condition, the field of neuroscience is basically as wide as any researcher wants it to be. I know a very up-to-date classicist who is getting funding offers on the basis that his analysis of the role of masks in ancient Greek drama is confirming the kind of research that neuroscience is conducting on facial recognition. While a generalized fear of neuroscience would be absurd, neuroscience is based upon the interrelation between the chemical and electrical activity within the brain, the relation of this activity to our various forms of perception, and the interrelation between our own body and the external world, and thus it easily leads to the misperception that it is The Science of everything. This is especially true when it refuses to examine the legitimate claim that neuroscience is itself determined by cultural forces, ideologies, economic structures, and limitations that shape the way it identifies the objects of its study. Kandel’s approach is very important in that he confirms that neuroscience needs to acknowledge the importance in understanding the human of the work of the artist—just as Kandel’s first guide, Freud, always reminded us. While Kandel might join Howard Gardner in announcing The Mind’s New Science (1987), the interests of neuroscience are not actually new; rather, they have always been at the center of scientific psychology, and have contributed to some of the main philosophical and anthropological questions. The dramatic increase in research in this field is not that these questions have suddenly become more pertinent and fascinating. Seventeenth-century philosopher-scientists like Locke, Hobbes, and Descartes were just as interested in them as we are; however, the real change is that new technologies, particularly the fMRI, are providing us with ways to map the neuronal activities in the human brain, with previously unavailable precision. In addition to providing a brilliant overview of the promises offered by contemporary neuroscience, Kandel offers an appreciation of the ongoing importance of Austro-Hungarian culture that can stand alongside the notable work of Carl Schorske (1980), Jacques Le Rider (1993), and Allan Janik and Stephen Toumlin (1973), who, among a host of more specialist students,
have provided readings of Austrian art, music, literature, and culture. However, there is a major difference between Kandel’s book and the critical approach used in these studies. They make use of the long history of humanistic interpretation founded upon the act of dialectical reading. In such a reading, the use of an interpretative concept—such as modernism—is provisionally used as a way to elaborate the specificity of a painting or work of literature, whereas Kandel, despite his deep love of literature and art, is also drawn to a form of scientific positivism that claims that cultural productions illustrate scientific insights (or are derived from them). The claims of art historians can be equally self-confirming when they suggest, for example, that an artist is “essentially a postmodernist,” but both strategies are highly reductive as a consequence of the conviction that they have located the Holy Grail. Kandel’s analysis of his beloved painters, Kokoschka and Klimt, is a case in point. For Kandel the subject of a painting is secondary to the style of the painting, because he presumes that the artist is somehow painting the picture in order to represent something in the world as well as his perception of that something in the world. However, it doesn’t occur to Kandel, despite his own acknowledgement of the role of the unconscious, that it is often the case that the cultural value of a painting may emerge years after it has been painted, and that it might be perceived as important for reasons other than those that the artist might have had at the time. This is notably the case with Klimt, whose great friezes in the Vienna Medical Hospital, far from being expressions of Klimt’s indebtedness to medical imagery, as Kandel thinks, were widely rejected at the time by the medical community. Kandel takes note of this, but does not want to account for it in any detailed manner, because it would reveal the prejudice of the Austrian medical establishment, rather than the emancipatory role that Kandel wants to argue that the friezes had. So ambitious is Kandel’s attempt to synthesize Austrian scientific and artistic culture that I think it is beholden of the lay reviewer of the work to prepare the reader for the fact that each of the five major divisions that Kandel makes in his own magnum opus could have become (and in my opinion require) a separate book. Kandel is perhaps so involved with the host of very large-scale projects he oversees—including a major one in which he is “modeling” schizophrenia in mice—that he would prefer to deliver a doorstop of a book to which the lay reader must uncritically succumb. But no reader of Schorske (1980), Le Rider (1993), or Janik and Toumlin 13
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(1973) would ever feel that the points that they were making about the Viennese were not up for alternative interpretation and reading, and there is a sense that Kandel is holding his reader hostage to one overarching thesis. Kandel begins his book with a beautiful account of the salon culture of Bertha Bosch-Kanjel, whose home provided an important meeting place for artists such as Klimt and the members of her family, who were making important medical advances in Vienna’s hospitals. But this salon culture was not the driving force of AustroHungarian culture, but rather a symptom of its nervous vitality and the limited control that its social elite, especially those with ties to the court, had over a vast and potentially fractious empire. The origins of the “nervous splendor” (as Frederic Morton described it) of Austro-Hungary (not just Vienna) are far more complex than Kandel’s idea that it was created by brilliant salons suggests, and such an idea has been refuted by all the major studies of the period, such as those of Schorske (1980), Le Rider (1993), and Janik and Toumlin (1973). Suggesting as Kandel does that Austrian art is the product of Viennese cosmopolitanism is to ignore that this very cosmopolitanism was a tense accommodation of the conflicting forces of nationalism and imperialism that existed throughout the AustroHungarian empire. Kandel presents Vienna’s cultural elite as in control of their very fragile empire, but he ignores how conflicted this ruling elite was as to how to avoid the dangers of chaos deriving from nascent nationalism, and, most importantly, he ignores that their “sophistication” failed them and was in many ways a form of willed ignorance. This incredibly diverse culture thrived for a very short period of time, and while it is certainly legitimate to claim as Kandel does that it is the birth place of expressionism, it is also possible to argue that the angst, what Kandel calls the “irrational,” in the art of Kokoschka and Klimt speaks to the socioeconomic fragility and moral hypocrisy of a society that was increasingly aware that it had no future. Despite its “brilliance,” it collapsed rapidly, first due to the problems of succession caused after the suicide of Crown Prince Rudolf and then because of a massive economic crisis in the late 19th century that led both to an increased call for national autonomy from all of the 35 different ethnic groups within the empire, and most notoriously due to the instauration of anti-Semitism as the benchmark for the future of Austrian nationalism: the more the Jews were repressed, the greater the chances of Austria surviving; the more
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power they were given, the greater likelihood the state would collapse. However glittering Vienna may have been (and Kandel is very nostalgic about it), no study of Austrian culture can really begin without at least mentioning these phenomena—enlightened sophistication combined with great hypocrisy and the impending sense of an apocalypse—in order to explain what Klimt, Kokoschka, and Schiele in their painting, Schnitzler, Roth, and Zweig (1924) in their literature, and Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg in their music were responding to. It is simply not plausible to suggest that the value of their art derives from some kind of objective, progressive, or enlightened attempt that they were making in order to extend the expressiveness of their artistic fields; rather, they were responding to a remarkable sense of social angst and uncertainty about the future of civilization and reason itself—and they were right. The expression of emotion in the painting of Klimt, Kokoschka, and Schiele that Kandel claims is derived from a new scientific understanding of human sexuality and particularly female subjectivity is far from the opening up of a more optimistic view of the potential of men and women to appreciate their sexual desire, but rather the bitter fruit of the way in which the tensions within AustroHungary produced a culture that contained and thrived upon the tension and opposition between conservative Catholicism and enlightenment liberalism—and the figure of the femme fatale was the most striking embodiment of this tension: women as both sexually desirable and threatening. Rather oddly, Kandel makes no place for the discussion of religion in his discussion of the rejection of Klimt’s art by the Austro-Hungarian establishment, and yet it was precisely his contempt of the influence of Catholicism that animated his remarkable friezes and led him to leave behind those painterly references that were so tied to the church’s patronage of art. In fact, the influence of religious ideology on painting and image making, particularly on Western art, is one of the more obvious instances of the ways in which visual art interprets or frames human experience in a way that is not related to the cognitive processing of “purely” retinal information. If it is the case that visual art is about “ cognitive recognition” of “unconscious emotion,” as Kandel presupposes, then the abstract art that simultaneously emerged with expressionism (and was certainly more influential on the path of 20th-century art) would be illegible—since its departure point is the invisible, rather than the visible. As we can learn from his beautiful memoir In Search of Memory (2002),
Kandel was a brilliant student who studied his country’s history and collapse, not least because this had forced his parents to emigrate, like so many other Viennese, to New York in the 1930s. But perhaps because he has such (rightful) admiration for the culture of Vienna, and most particularly because he wants to persist with the thesis that the medical establishment exercised an enlightening influence on that society, he doesn’t take the time to delineate the antagonistic tensions within the society. Kandel’s fundamentally romantic view of expressionism contributes to a considerable misreading of Austrian art criticism, deriving from the groundbreaking work of Alois Riegl (1902) and culminating in the work of his student, E. H. Gombrich, which he feels produced a new appreciation of art based again on the new neurological insight into perception provided by Austrian science. I suspect that specialist art historians would largely reject this reading of both Riegl’s and Gombrich’s (1960/2000) work, and despite making references to scholarly sources, Kandel, despite the fact that he is presenting a thesis as mammoth as that of the relation between art and the unconscious, largely ignores the way in which contemporary art historians struggle with the contribution, certainly immense, of Riegl to the discipline. Unlike Kandel, Riegl was a historicist, and his main interest was to put art history on a secure foundation of historical criticism, following as this did from Hegel’s influence as well as the work of Dilthey. Riegl’s vast historical studies allowed for a loosening of the kind of periodization of style, classical, baroque, romantic, and so on, which had been used by Wolfflin to form the initial framework for the nascent discipline of art history. In a rather bowdlerized version of history, these periods were used by connoisseurs and museum collectors, but Riegl aimed to replace them with a historicizing of the art object that could place it within a much wider context of a cultural moment defined by religious, political, and ethical assumptions that all found their expression in the presentation of representations of style and value. It is unquestionably true that Riegl’s critical method led him to deconstruct the romantic notion of an ideal beauty and that as a consequence he defended Kokoschka and others against the charge that their work was not “beautiful,” but his criticism does not seem to have been derived in any way from advances in the biological sciences. There is a link between German art critics and Austrian psychology, but it does not occur until the 1930s, with the research of the Kohlers, what came to be known as 14
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Gestalt psychology, and its influence on critics such as Arnheim, who then argued that the visual arts had to be seen in visual terms rather than as the expression of a cultural “geist.” While Klimt’s art or Riegl’s criticism require a book unto themselves, it would also be helpful if Kandel presented in more detail to a lay reader how contemporary research into brain functions confirms Kandel’s view of the appeal of the “beautiful.” Kandel details what he thinks the synapses are doing with the images that are first created within the eye, but surely when I look at something the ultimate designation of it as “beautiful” must be the consequence of a number of nonlinear associations, including ones that have to do with the subject’s relation to speech and language. My reason for wishing for a standalone book on this subject is that Kandel’s research is very original in that he confirms that we see “unconsciously.” This would confirm why such a phenomena as hysterical blindness could occur, and shows the extent to which “seeing” is related to an “unconscious” drive activity—what psychoanalysis calls scopophilia—rather than being simply a cognitive function. This recognition of the role of the unconscious in seeing is a part of Kandel’s wider acceptance of the existence of the unconscious within terms that are very similar to Freud’s work in the “Project for a Scientific Psychology.” Incidentally, this research certainly indicates that it is the first Freudian topic—the fundamental division of the subject between unconscious and conscious—that contemporary research on the brain confirms. Finally, I don’t believe it diminishes Kandel’s obvious intelligence to suggest that he needs another book in which to further his speculative explorations of a new relation between science and art and, most importantly, why he thinks this would lead to a cultural renaissance. Such a book would require him to show a much greater awareness of the issues and achievements of contemporary art. There are a host of contemporary critics who have explored this domain, from Peter Gallison to Barbara Maria Stafford, even Bruno Latour, but Kandel seems to think that the first person to have considered an evaluation of the relation between the practices of the visual arts and neuroscience is himself. He rejects entirely a basic tenet that art criticism after Kant has managed to establish since its relatively recent emergence in the late 19th century, which is that the concept of beauty changes even while the functioning of the eye and the brain have remained constant. While certain ancient works continue to fascinate us, other works that were once highly admired
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are now considered redundant; therefore, the experience of art is not a constant due to evolutionary particularities. By presenting his cultural criticism in this way, Kandel has made it relatively immune to interrogation. Nobel Prize winners are allowed to publish pretty much what they want, but that doesn’t mean that we should not question whether they have not overstepped their area of expertise. Kandel was awarded his prize for the study of the molecular basis of memory in the sea snail Aplysia. Eric Kandel was born in Vienna in 1929, but was fortunate to have parents with the foresight and the means to send their two sons to New York, before the Anschluss with Germany began to wreak its dreadful effect upon the Austro-Jewish community. As a teenager in Brooklyn, as he writes in In Search of Memory, Kandel was immediately aware of having lost a world of artistic and scientific vitality the like of which Europe has never again witnessed. Although he was a child at the time, he was a member of an astonishingly talented diaspora of Austrian minds, including John Von Neuman, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Arnold Schoenburg, and, of course, Sigmund Freud. Kandel’s early life experience generated in his adolescence a deep appreciation of the intersection of science, painting, music, and literature that had existed in Vienna even after World War I. So deeply affected was he by the political cataclysm that he and his family had witnessed after 1930 that after an education
But while a young man he also found a field that brought together his interest in history, science, and the humanities— psychoanalysis. Harvard had at this time opened its doors to émigré psychoanalysts who did not conform to the American model of the medically trained, psychiatrically oriented analysts who dominated and dictated the doctrine of the American Psychoanalytic Association. The two most notable of these psychoanalysts were Erik Erikson and Ernst Kris, both of whom had a background in and particularly strong interest in the visual arts. This was particularly the case with Kris, who had initially trained with the great art historian Ernest Gombrich, colleague of Aby Warburg and disciple of Alois Riegl.
make the subjectivity intelligible and the way in which modern science approaches the study of the subject. In part because of the conservatism and rigidity of psychoanalysis in the United States in the 1950s and early 1960s, as well as the difficulty that American psychoanalysts had with the relation of analysis to science, Kandel turned to biological and neurological research. Thus, it is in his direct experience with both psychoanalysis and art history that The Age of Insight originates, but it is in my opinion deeply nostalgic for a Viennese liberalism that certainly didn’t exist without the repression of a great many contradictions and injustices. The nostalgic and adulatory image of the Vienna Medical Hospital and the medical establishment in general plays down the rife anti-Semitism that greatly restricted the possibility of Freud and his fellow Jewish students from acquiring teaching positions that would have enabled them to continue their research. The nostalgic and contestable claims of the book is that this medical establishment contributed to a change in the way in which women were viewed in society, but in fact Freud was marginalized by this community for suggesting that hysteria was not caused by lesions or inherited traits. While women’s illnesses are subjected to study, Kandel avoids discussing in any detail the remarkable story of Ignaz Semmelweiss, who at the Vienna Medical Hospital discovered the cause of puerperal
both in a yeshiva, where he became fluent in Hebrew, and in a Brooklyn public high school, he went on to study history and politics at Harvard with a particular interest in analyzing the economic and political crisis that had contributed to the decline of liberalism, the rise of anti-Semitism, and ultimately the political union and full collaboration with Nazism. A brilliant student from a young age, he was able to also continue to study biology, which he eventually made his field of professional research.
After undergoing analysis Kris began to practice and also to write extensively on the relation between psychoanalysis and the visual arts. Kandel fell in love with Alice Kris, daughter of the art historian, and briefly with psychoanalysis. In fact, the brilliance of Kandel’s work lies in the fact that unlike the majority of contemporary neuroscience, he not only appreciates Freud’s work, but is also aware of the difference between the way in which Freud was attempting to
fever but whose research pointed literally to the dirty fingers of the doctors who presided over the maternity ward; like Freud, he was ostracized and forced out of this much-lauded community. Instead, he mentions the Semmelweis story as one of the hospital’s achievements. The treatment of women in the hospital betrayed all the prejudices and hypocrisy of the Viennese bourgeoisie, who far from being emancipated and enlightened, as Kandel characterizes them, were accepting of the
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widespread sexual enslavement of working-class women, as well as the denial that “respectable” Viennese men regularly infected their wives and children with syphilis. This is why, for this reader, at least, Kandel’s conviction that fin de siècle Vienna was a place of female emancipation, and that the work of Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Oscar Kokoschka played an important role in promoting a new image of female sexuality, is to actually reduce the very great importance that this work had on provoking, for example, Freud’s reflection on the obscurity of feminine sexuality. No viewer of Schiele can really believe his paintings were emancipatory or even validating of sexual desire. The painter was confronting his hated countrymen with the violence of their hypocrisy regarding sexuality, and his genius is that he depicts a horror about the carnal that is rather more truthful than a naïve humanism that claims that the sexual is solely life affirming and “healthy.” With respect to the “life-affirming” effects of some artists, Kandel suggests at one point in a very reductive discussion of Klimt’s life that Klimt’s paintings reflect his many passionate and “life-affirming” relations with women, as well as his refusal to accept the hypocrisy of marriage. There is unlikely to be an art historian who can agree that it is women’s emancipation that Klimt’s paintings evoke, brilliant works of art as they doubtless are; rather, it is instead the unveiling of male desire, with its double wish of being able to both possess and control the feminine. What counts is the remarkable style that Klimt invented, one that was able to hold the tension of his ambivalence toward the feminine and the degree to which a new form of sexual rivalry and antagonism was framing the conditions of modernity. Kandel does not mention the sixteen women who appeared at Klimt’s funeral claiming to have borne his children and hoping that the family of this brilliant painter, but very cold man, would somehow grant their children their rightful paternity. As we know, the family did not, nor had Klimt made any provision in his will to do so—so much for the emancipatory benefits of medicine and science on the artistic community. Kandel uses the work of Alois Riegl as his benchmark for the highly debatable theory that the primary significance of painting is that it allows the viewer to better understand his or her own perceptual process, and in particular to distinguish visual illusion from visual fact. In my view, the importance of Riegl’s work is that he draws our attention to the cultural significance of the tensions within the style of an artist like Kokoschka, and that our aesthetic satisfaction and valuation of the painting derives from the artist’s creation of
a style or language that so forcibly concentrates and delineates subjective experience. This is what great criticism tries to do—to draw our attention to something that we not only have not noticed, but that also has had a considerable influence on our comprehension of the phenomena that we presuppose to have importance. The influences upon Riegl were not neuropsychological, and he was not directly influenced by Gestalt psychology; instead, he was influenced by the philosophy of art proposed by Hegel and Burckhardt, whose idealism he dispensed with and replaced with a historical materialism that was decidedly non-Marxist and has subsequently been remarkably fruitful in the debate among art critics of the relation between the work of art and historical memory. While I greatly admire Kandel’s respect for Freud’s identification of unconscious
processes, I think that his misreading of art history is influenced by his early exposure to the work of Ernst Kris (1952), who studied with Riegl and Gombrich but went on to be better known as a psychoanalyst, and in particular who fully supported the major revision to Freudian theory undertaken by Anna Freud and Hans Hartmann. Kandel spends the remaining 200 pages of his book providing the lay reader with a rapid update of all the brilliant research that irrefutably supports all of his earlier claims, which can be summarized simply. Painting (which he repeatedly makes synonymous with art) is essentially telling us that we find things beautiful because on the one hand, they are orderly (Gombrich’s thesis), and on the other hand, they evoke sexual gratification and desire. He gives us numerous examples of the kind of experiment that consists of showing viewers an image and then correlating the image to some neuronal activity in the brain—which then confirms that the image is having some effect on the activity of either a motor function or a higher processing function. For 16
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Kandel, one of the most important contemporary artists is Chuck Close, because his practice of painting portraits in squares that mimic the retinal structure confirms the interrelation of the physiological information with artistic practices. One wonders if he is aware of the work of Gerhard Richter? Remarkable as Kandel’s ability to master and retain all of these projects most certainly is, they do not add up to a coherent and hence aesthetically pleasing overview of the field—in fact, that has been done by Solms and Turnbull (2002) in a book that accepts that it is not the number of different research projects that helps the lay person understand what contemporary neuroscientists think they are up to, but rather an overview of the different kinds of questions they are trying to answer. Many of the projects that Kandel discusses rather ironically suggest that the scientists are posing questions in a rather naïve manner—such as, “Why do we find such and such horrifying or ugly to look at?”—and then answering it with some data drawn from brain imaging that clearly indicates that the imagery was being processed in an area of the brain that they had previously concluded was where responses to “fearful” situations was being processed. They already had the answer before they posed the question—it happens in the brain. Finally, it is worth restating that Kandel is a remarkable researcher and a profoundly educated scientist in an era where public statements by scientists are often indifferent to the singularity of subjective experience. In my view, the problem with his thesis
about art derives from a theoretical conviction that the function of memory is the processing of information and that its value derives from its ability to distinguish the actual from the illusory. If he were a little more Freudian, he might reconsider the framing of experiments that aim to explain memory functions that can generally be categorized as either shortterm or long-term, but instead consider that
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memory is an archeology of the traces of experience that have been repressed and that we can have an experience of an “involuntary” memory that enables us to reconstitute an experience that we had repressed from our conscious memory of who we are. Thus, what causes this retrieval to occur is not the need for information about the external world, but rather the possibility of a radical break with how we experience both our internal and external world. Remembering is always related to a certain form of forgetting, for which we have no neuronal signal, and unfortunately we will not invest much in searching for it.
For Kandel, the “illusory” aspect of art has to be given a cognitive function; otherwise, he cannot comprehend his own deep appreciation of it. The poignant beauty of this contradiction in his own subjective position is lovingly illustrated by his inclusion of a photograph of his wife in his discussion of the importance in the apprehension of beauty of the role of symmetry. Perhaps he simply wanted to send a love letter to his wife by including this photograph and didn’t mean it to be an illustration of his thesis at all, but actually it does illustrate the subjective truth of his own contradictions. His wife Denise is singularly beautiful to him (he dedicates the book to her), but to another man she might not be beautiful at all—regardless of how symmetrical her features are. Furthermore, what we see is not Denise, but a photograph of her, and the question for an art critic is—what value does this style of photography and representation have for us culturally and politically? Kandel continues to make important contributions to the revision of our current psychiatric education. In the textbooks that he worked on during the time he was involved in research on the location of “memory” in the cortical region, he rightly reproached American psychoanalysts for their intellectual resistance to insights from other fields of scientific research, particularly neurology. The problems with the narrow vision of psychoanalysis and psychiatry in the United States are social and political, but Kandel
does not want to acknowledge this, just as he does not want to see that among the beauties of Vienna there was also horror. What kept Adolf Hitler in Vienna was his love for its design and art, and while he was no fan of Klimt, he certainly devoted himself to painting charming street scenes and hoped that he might become a stage designer. Kandel has considerable enthusiasm for the role of market forces in supporting scientific research, despite the fact that these same market forces prevent thousands of schizophrenics from receiving even adequate care. Another poignant instance of this refusal to acknowledge any dialectical movement within knowledge is the way in which Kandel’s research into schizophrenia was recently hailed and praised because of his conviction that rapid progress might now be possible because the illness can be simulated in rats. The business of psychopharmacology, neurosurgery, and electrochemical treatments are founded on the search for “universal” solutions to subjective experience. This belief and search for a universal knowledge of subjective experience is most distinctly revealed in the final section of Kandel’s book. Convinced as he is that neuroscience can explain aesthetic feelings and that as a
consequence of being able to explain aesthetic responses we are therefore on the verge of a great breakthrough in our understanding of the emotional life of humans, he is completely oblivious to the obvious: that while we are certainly the subjects of modern science and its way of examining the macro and micro structures of our existence, modern art, even granting its diverse definitions, assumes its importance on the level of a pure difference from the universal of science. While it is completely tenable to hold the view that certain artistic endeavors converge with certain scientific conceptions of experience, the very value of art lies in the fact that the artist is not 17
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constrained by the attempt to universalize his or her own experience. Kandel seems to share an inability on the part of the neuroscientific community to engage sufficiently enough in the humanities to see that they have disciplinary practices that, even though they are not experimental or empirical, are nevertheless rigorous. Eric Kandel is far superior in his erudition than many of his fellow scientists, but he remains overconfident that he has found the Holy Grail when it comes to understanding the brain and the beholder’s experience of art. z
REFERENCES Brandstatter, E. (2006). Vienna 1900. New York, NY: Vendome Press. (Original work published 2005 as Wien 1900 Kunst und Kultur) Bois, Y., Bucloh, B., Foster, H., Joselit, D., & Krausss, R. (1998). Art Since 1900. New York, NY: Thames and Hudson. Crick, F. (1994). The astonishing hypothesis. New York, NY: Scribner’s. Dennett, D. (1991). Consciousness explained. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Co. Didier-Weill, A., Mieli, P., & Vives, J. (2012). Freud et Vienne. Paris: Eres Editions. Gardner, H. (1987). The mind’s new science: A history of the cognitive revolution. New York, NY: Basic Books. Gombrich, E. (2000). Art and illusion. Rev. ed. Princeton, NJ: Bollingen Press. (Original work published 1960) Janik, E., & Toumlin, S. (1973). Wittgenstein’s Vienna. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. Johnsons, W. (1983). The Austrian mind. Berkeley: University of California Press. Kandel, E. (2002). In search of memory. New York, NY: Norton. Kemp, M. (1998). The science of art: Optical themes in Western art. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Kris, E. (1952). Psychoanalytic explorations in art. New York, NY: International Universities Press. Lesky, E. (1976). The Vienna Medical School of the nineteenth century. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. LeDoux, J. (2002). Synaptic self. New York, NY: Viking. Le Rider, J. (1993). Modernity and crisis. New York, NY: Continuum. Nuland, S. (2004). The doctor’s plague. New York, NY: Norton. Pinker, S. (2009). How the brain works. Rev. ed. New York, NY: Norton. (Original work published 2001) Ramachandran, V. S. (2012). The tell tale brain. New York, NY: Norton. Riegel, A. (1902). Historical grammar of the visual arts. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Sacks, O. (2010). The mind’s eye. New York, NY: Knopf. Solms, M., & Turnbull, C. (2002). The brain and the inner world. New York, NY: Other Press. Schorske, C. (1980). “Fin-de-siecle” Vienna. New York, NY: Knopf. Word, C. (2000). Viennese school reader. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Zweig, S. (1924). The world of yesterday. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
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The Timeliness of Progressive Psychoanalysis Lewis Aron and Karen Starr’s A Psychotherapy for the People: Toward a Progressive Psychoanalysis is a big book in more than one sense. In 440 densely printA Psychotherapy for the People: Toward a Progressive Psychoanalysis By Lewis Aron and Karen Starr New York, NY: Routledge, 464 pp., $59.95, 2012 ed pages, Aron and Starr both present the position of relational psychoanalysis as it has emerged in the last decades and a program for its future. They have two explicit goals: one is to liberate psychoanalysis
from a number of binary oppositions, like psychoanalysis vs. psychotherapy, male vs. female, autonomy vs. dependence. The other is to plea for a psychoanalysis that is progressive in a number of ways: no longer confined to those who can afford doing analysis four times a week; no longer bound by rigid conceptions of normative femininity and masculinity; and no longer defined by rigidity of ritual, but by a much more fluid ethos. In many ways this has been the project of relational psychoanalysis since its inception almost three decades ago. Its major proponents, including Aron for more than two decades, from the outset were intent on dismantling dichotomies, rigidities, and certain elements of authoritarianism in psychoanalytic treatment and institution. A Psychotherapy for the People is squarely within this tradition, but goes a step further, as its title indicates. After a century in which more psychoanalysts were busy arguing why psychoanalysis is essentially different from psychotherapies, the title is a rallying cry for a psychoanalysis that is part of the family of therapies. The closest Aron and Starr come to a delineation of psychoanalysis—they don’t attempt a definition in the strict sense—is by quoting Shedler’s influential paper “The Effectiveness of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy” in American Psychologist, which argued that statistical meta-analysis of
psychotherapy studies show conclusively that psychodynamic treatment had a clear beneficial psychotherapeutic effect (pp.374–375). It is telling and important that to characterize psychoanalysis Aron and Starr choose a paper that did not differentiate between psychoanalytic and other psychodynamic approaches. Shedler’s criteria (expressing emotion, exploration of attempts to avoid distressing thoughts and feelings, discussion of past experience, focus on interpersonal relations and the therapeutic relationship, and exploration of fantasy life) indeed characterize a wide spectrum of psychodynamic approaches. A Psychotherapy for the People is therefore likely to step on the toes of those who want to preserve the dichotomy between the pure gold of psychoanalysis and all other approaches that are basically forms of suggestion. But the book’s tone is conciliatory rather than polemical. And one
of the book’s major qualities is its unity of form and content. A Psychotherapy for the People is an erudite book: its authors show command of the history of psychoanalysis in all its facets and schools, and yet the book is accessible and inviting rather than forbidding. It is not by chance that the last of the many, many authors quoted in this book is FrenchLithuanian-Jewish philosopher Emanuel Levinas, whose life work was centered on the immediacy of the human face’s ethical call to care and to help. Aron and Starr are strongly opposed to any conception of psychoanalysis that puts purity of psychoanalytic ritual over the patient’s well-being, and that is obsessed with the superiority and uniqueness of psychoanalysis rather than with its involvement in the world. If pressed to say what Aron and Starr’s book is really about, I would argue that it is an extended presentation of a psychoanalytic ethos for late modernity. This ethos is emancipatory in the sense of Jürgen Habermas’s classic Knowledge and Human Interest (1972) in that it wants to liberate humans, both analysts and their patients, 18
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from imprisonment by rigid categories that prevent them from living fully. Their tool is a voyage through the history of psychoanalysis that is inclusive rather than exclusive; they don’t try to kill any fathers, showing that there is a family resemblance between the various generations and schools of psychoanalysis. In particular, they argue that their progressive relational conception of psychoanalysis is not a substitution for Freud’s original project; rather, it is an extension in directions that Freud began, but could only take to the point that his historical position allowed for. Following historian Sander Gilman’s seminal work, Aron and Starr argue that one of Freud’s deepest motivations had been to counter the anti-Semitic conceptions of his day that saw Jews as overly emotional, “feminine,” weak, and perverse as opposed to Aryan masculinity, which was clear and directed by thought, willpower, and phallic uprightness. Freud could take this project only so far, because, in the end, he was a child of his times. Masculinity, intellect, and willpower remained superior for him to immaturity, femininity, and emotion, even though he argued that the human psyche was bisexual in essence. Aron and Starr can go further than Freud without discarding him. Their tool
of deconstructing binaries, derived from postmodern literary theory and philosophy, is applied softly and in ways that do not require the reader to follow hermetic language and argument only accessible to the initiated. Their goal is to connect rather than to divide; to allow for a fluid conception of psychoanalytic thought and practice that is committed neither to the stern ideal of therapeutic frustration, nor to the overindulgent idea of fully meeting the patient’s previously unmet developmental need. It is to allow men to be less afraid of the feminine and the self ’s penetrability without losing either potency or agency, and allow
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for similar, playful integration of penetrability, agency, and autonomy in women, while leaving space for the many sexualities that have become acceptable in the Western world during the last decades. A Psychotherapy for the People is firmly planted in the humanities rather than in the social sciences as they are mostly understood and practiced nowadays, particularly in academic psychology. This brings us to one of the book’s most intriguing and almost perplexing aspects. A Psychotherapy for the People can be read as a Midrashic voyage through the history of psychoanalysis. The Midrash, one of Judaism’s most central literary forms, works by building chains of textual associations into a narrative and a— mostly ethical—argument. Midrash strives to generate the joyful realization that seemingly unrelated texts are related not only to each other, but also across centuries and millennia to the present of the interpreter: his or her historical situational, ethical, and existential concerns. But not only the book’s methodology resonates with Judaism. Fully a quarter of A Psychotherapy for the People is devoted to the historical, thematic, and ethical connections between modern Jewish existence and psychoanalysis. The starting point of their argument is that one of Freud’s central goals was to undermine the anti-Semitic categories that infected late 19th-century psychiatry and that were to surface blatantly in some of C. G. Jung’s writings at the onset of the Nazi regime. From there they take issue with a number of anti-Semitic characterizations of psychoanalysis as subversively Jewish, and they show that there is a strong connection between psychoanalysis and modern Jewish identity to this day. In doing so they seem to confirm one of Freud’s deepest fears, that psychoanalysis would remain a purely Jewish affair— one of the reasons why he coveted Jung’s tall, Aryan presence in the psychoanalytic movement. If more than 100 years later two New York Jewish psychoanalysts, Lewis Aron and Karen Starr, write a quarter of a substantial book about progressive psychoanalysis on psychoanalysis’s Jewish roots, one might easily conclude that Freud’s concern was justified. While I greatly enjoyed these chapters, I wondered whether they primarily reflect the authors’ subjective predilections and concerns—both have written and edited extensively on psychoanalysis and Judaism— or whether the issue of psychoanalysis’s Jewish origins is intrinsically connected to the theme of progressive psychoanalysis. The primary justification for the large place Aron and Starr give to Jewishness in their book seems to me to be that in European culture—and psychoanalysis is of European
origin—the Jew was not only an ethnic and religious denomination, but a trope for the unacceptable other who is forever doomed to be seen as a foreign implant by the dominant culture. If psychoanalysis, certainly in Aron and Starr’s progressive version, is about the dissolution of binaries, the themes of self vs. other, us vs. them, dignified vs. abject that have played such a central role in Europe’s history with Jews, psychoanalysis’s Jewish origins are not a historical coincidence. And yet one cannot help wondering: Has psychoanalysis failed to transcend its origins? Has it remained tied to a particular time and culture? Is its state of mind essentially tied to the European fin de siècle and to post-WWII America, where it flourished? Paul Stepansky has recently written a book that argues that psychoanalysis has indeed lost its central status in the mental health field and is currently leading an existence at the margins of the power structures of medical science and practice, including psychiatry
(2009). It is neither part of the heavily funded research in the cognitive neurosciences nor as prestigious as psychopharmacology. Most programs in clinical psychology worldwide lean toward CBT or more generally evidence-based psychotherapies, and very few psychoanalysts occupy prestigious chairs in psychiatry and clinical psychology. Aron and Starr’s book in many ways exemplifies why psychoanalysis has become marginal. It has very little connection with the spirit of the times, obsessed as we are with numbers, cost-effectiveness, and biological theory and language. In saying this I do not wish to criticize Aron and Starr; I only aim to diagnose the current place of psychoanalysis in the world at large as reflected in A Psychotherapy for the People. This book is primarily an expression of a cultural ethos, and it describes psychoanalysis as a community centered on an ethics and aesthetics of existence at the margins of today’s academic and medical establishments. The very fact that Aron and Starr invest so much energy in tracing the themes, predilections, and preoccupations of psychoanalysis through its history of more than a 19
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century is far removed from the dominant language of clinical psychology today, which puts no premium on historical depth, but instead on novelty and cutting-edge research. This is in no way because Aron and Starr repute scientific research or think that psychoanalysis should be kept pure of external influence. Aron, in a number of recent publications, has strongly opted for the opposite: a psychoanalysis openly communicating and interacting with mainstream science. But Aron and Starr cherish historical depth, associative threads that connect disparate texts, and they value complexity over simplicity, richness and density of language and ideas over the possibility of communicating across scientific disciplines by means of academically entrenched research methodologies. I felt a pang of longing and loss reading Aron and Starr precisely because I enjoyed it. My own cultural and academic roots resonate deeply with their way of thinking. My inner landscape is shaped by European modernity from Spinoza, Voltaire, and Kant to Nietzsche, Freud, Hannah Arendt, and Michel Foucault. But I am strongly aware that for most of contemporary culture—including clinical psychology—this landscape is fading into irrelevance. I have had to learn in a long, difficult process that when I try to communicate with today’s educated lay audiences and
connect to currently influential media and presentation formats, I need to put much of my background aside, because most of these audiences and media no longer resonate with it. This is not just true for the United States: French and German cultures are gravitating away from psychoanalysis and the humanist state of mind as well. This leads me to a final question. Aron and Starr’s expressly stated goal is moving to a “psychotherapy for the people.” In doing so they put the onus of responsibility for psychoanalysis’s current marginalization on psychoanalytic organizations, institutions, and cultural norms that were inward looking and preoccupied with psychoanalysis’s purity and specialness rather than with the
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changing needs of patients and the dramatic transformation of the world we live in. I agree with their diagnosis, and have since my earliest psychoanalytic publications warned that psychoanalysis was about to lose its place in the mental health field and general culture if it wouldn’t open up. And yet I think that of the goals stated in Aron and Starr’s book, only that of the subtitle is workable. I am afraid that psychoanalysis is unlikely to turn into a “psychotherapy for the people,” not only because most people have neither the time nor the means for psychoanalytic therapy, whether classical or more open and flexible; but because in a culture that is ever less connected to values of complexity and cultural depth, most potential patients do not have the interest in their own psyche needed for self-exploration. This does not mean, though, that the progressive psychoanalysis alluded to in Aron and Starr’s subtitle and developed in the whole book is not possible and desirable. Even if psychoanalysis is marginal, there are still scores of thousands of practitioners who see millions of patients in psychodynamic therapy. And these patients will greatly profit if psychoanalytic education, whether
in institutes, universities, or private settings, leaves the rigidity and self-preoccupation of psychoanalysis behind. What role could a progressive psychoanalysis play in general culture, if it is disconnected from the mainstream and centers of power of organized mental health? Psychoanalytic tradition is deeply planted in the Western tradition of seeking self-knowledge, as it evolved from classical Greek philosophy through a variety of Jewish and Christian traditions through the Renaissance and into modernity. Since Montaigne, the founder of the modern genre of the essay, such self-exploration has been leisurely and contemplative rather than result oriented and obsessed with quick results. One of this tradition’s greatest achievements is the European novel of the last four centuries, and, like psychoanalysis, the novel is in no hurry: it develops its themes, characters, and plots with a gusto for layers, detail, surprise, and complexity. In a recent interview, Philip Roth has predicted the demise of the European novel, and that it would eventually be read by a small coterie of dedicated aficionados, as Latin poetry is today (Karel, 2013). Whether or not Roth’s
And What Does it Say? Money permeates humanity. It is involved in personal, social, domestic, and global affairs. Sociopolitical movements are born out of financial woes. Economic issues Money Talks in Therapy, Society, and Life Edited by Brenda Berger and Stephanie Newman London: Routledge, 218 pp., $40.95, 2012
REFERENCES Habermas, J. (1972). Knowledge and human interests. (J. Shapiro, Trans.). Boston: Beacon Press. Karel, W. (2013). Philip Roth: Unmasked (Film). New York: American Masters, PBS. Stepansky, P. (2009). Psychoanalysis at the margins. New York: Other Press.
Anthony F. TASSO
the social justice realm of which perceived economic grievances are a significant focus, experience-near therapeutic attention to finances remains relatively unexamined. The dearth of attention to money is nothing new to psychoanalysis, with a mere smattering of historical scholarship devoted to the subject. Freud (1913/1958)
trump educational, environmental, and even military concerns within the political landscape. Contradiction is the rule: alongside today’s dire economic conditions is the growing opulence seen in entertainment and pop culture, with pseudocelebrities gratuitously displaying their presumptive wealth. Society exhibits a stark conflict—overtly denouncing such sumptuousness though idolatrizing the same “reprehensive” exhibitionism. The conflict is mimicked by the relationship psychoanalysis has with money. Psychodynamic clinicians—as with our nonanalytic counterparts—engage in a paradoxical dance: keenly aware of yet apparently blind to money matters. Although psychoanalysis has commendably taken its talents outside the consulting room and into 20
prediction will turn out to be true, we can be certain that the European novel (including its development in all other continents and countless languages and cultures) is a towering cultural phenomenon, even if, like fresco painting, it may no longer be practiced at some point. Freud once pointed out that many psychoanalysts are frustrated novelists. Whether this is true or not, I do not know, but there are certainly affinities between the novel as an art form and the practice of psychoanalysis. Both create nuanced, multilayered, historically dense portrayals of how human beings evolve to love, hate, work, play, relate, and withdraw in their lives. Like the novel, psychoanalysis should be there, available to those who continue to cherish such fascination with the complexities of being human—and progressive psychoanalysis, liberated from the shackles of antiquated constraints and excessive ritualization, will do this all the better. z
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touched on the vicissitudes of money, while Fenichel (1938) is credited with providing the first comprehensive psychoanalytic examination of money. Krueger’s 1986 edited book The Last Taboo: Money as Symbol and Reality in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis is a “quiet classic”—brilliantly addressing the practical, interpersonal, and intrapsychic fiscal matters of both patients and analysts. However, Krueger’s text has often been on the periphery of clinical training and has clearly lacked sufficient follow-up, both of which are idiomatic of the field’s avoidance of money discussions. Money Talks in Therapy, Society, and Life (2012, Routledge) is a welcome and timely resource. Brenda Berger and Stephanie Newman provide an edited text covering the broad domain of money. Beyond a recrudescence, Money Talks successfully picks up and expands where The Last Taboo left off more than a quarter century ago. Impeccably timed given the domestic and world economic climate, this collection of essays powerfully parses the meaning of money to patients, therapists, and society.
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Theodore Jacobs opens Money Talks by examining money within analytic training. First addressing the meager attention devoted to financial matters within analytic institutes, Jacobs reports on the unfortunately common scenario of clinical case seminars failing to address the presence of money within the consulting room. The author hypothesizes a steadfast collusion—an intergenerational transmission of money avoidance passed down from training analyst to candidate. Jacobs further investigates today’s added economic stress and its subsequent impact on the field at large, with fewer analysts thriving as full-time practitioners due in part to fewer people seeking analysis proper. He describes the commonly reported reluctance of candidates to accept control cases at a reduced fee, which frequently stymies the completion of training and thus accentuating analytic trainees’ financial hardship. Jacobs, however, necessarily taps into intrapsychic factors contaminating candidates charging appropriate fees and completing analytic training in a timely fashion (namely, feelings of personal and/or professional inadequacy). In chapter 2, Irwin Hirsch draws from his excellent 2008 book Coasting in the Countertransference and investigates the ongoing complications of money within psychotherapy, specifically by homing in on the conflict between patients’ improvement and therapists’ subsequent loss of income via pending termination. Deeming financial concerns the greatest struggle for practitioners, Hirsch describes examples in which practitioners destructively “keep” patients in treatment longer than necessary for monetary gain. In addition to treatment duration, the author reports on the ways financial anxieties permeate treatment techniques. Specifically, he notes that clinicians frequently opt for supportive approaches over exploratory ones
to avoid inducing patient anxiety, ostensibly making these clinicians “better liked” by their patients and providing them with a beguiling sense of precluding premature termination. Hirsch offers sage advice to
clinicians to own explicitly their personal desires to obtain wealth rather than disparaging those individuals and/or professions who actively pursue financial ambitions. This sentiment is underscored throughout much of Money Talks. Next, Robert Alan Glick discusses in chapter 3 the intricacies of working with wealthy patients by first outlining some of the psychological commonalities of the very rich. Highlighting the unspoken uniqueness of the wealthy, Glick moves beyond the protectiveness and accoutrements of mon-
wealth in the room to make it analyzable. He also cautions possible countertransference reactions (e.g., envy, belittlement) when working with wealthy patients. Janice Lieberman (chapter 4) provides an interesting thesis examining money matters via her reformulation of the superego. Specifically, she argues that for many people the present-day aspirations of unbridled wealth and certain superficialities (e.g., excessive fitness, cosmetic procedures) are internalized parental and cultural ideals. In other words, this is the essence of today’s superego. Lieberman brings greed and envy into the discussion, incorporating the former through a vignette demonstrating its motive to possess what one desires, and the latter’s primitive wish to spoil that which is coveted. The author concludes by using consulting room data that firmly illuminate the contemporary relevance of these classic analytic concepts. Harold Blum (chapter 5) offers pithy commentary on Lieberman’s essay and explores the psychology of today’s greed. He soundly undergirds her championing of superego formulations, applying such explanatory power to both historical cases (e.g., Dora,
ey and probes the underbelly of wealth: guardedness, insecurities, and narcissistic vulnerabilities. Glick describes how the isolative nature of the very rich makes them a different type of minority group: marginalized, subjected to derision, and armed with an adaptive weariness of the intentions of others. The author also makes the necessary distinction between people with inherited wealth and those who recently earned riches, with the former at risk of feeling unmotivated, insulated, and wrought with sadomasochistic proclivities born out of perceived dependency on familial affluence. He contrasts this with self-made wealth and the likelihood of a voracious need to amass more (with its strong oral vicissitudes) and the possibility of underlying guilt if one’s money were obtained via nefarious methods. Glick emphasizes the need to “allow”
Wolf Man) as well as cogently identifying its present-day conceptual and applied utility. He also further cautions clinicians from hostility-derived countertransference reactions to greed and envy, often occurring under the defensive auspice of social conscientiousness. In “Tight Money, Tight Couples” (chapter 6), Brenda Berger describes two different patients, both of whom married exceedingly rich men, and both of whom had quite disparate intrapsychic and interpersonal experiences in their relationships. First describing her treatment of a 38-yearold twice-married former professional woman now partnered with a wealthy but emotionally unavailable man, Berger highlights how the patient’s riches obfuscated the depth of her marital difficulties, recreating her early familial dynamics of unavailable parents. This case is in stark contrast
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with her work with a woman who also married into immense wealth with ample relational difficulties and then had a precipitous loss of wealth. However, this person experienced significant relational improvement following her financial loss via her newfound ability to shape her life path and the subsequent proactive, mature dependence between her and her husband. Stephanie Newman next moves Money Talks to analytic training in chapter 7. Productively calling on consulting room data for pedagogical purposes, the author sets the stage by describing the oft-financially barren times of analytic training. She places specific emphasis on the experience of servility to one’s control cases for successful completion of training. Offering rich anecdotal data from her days as a candidate, Newman delves into her continued treatment of an analysand despite the patient’s refusal to pay for her
psychoanalytic linking of money to anality as well as the theorized anal-erotic Marxist underpinnings of capitalism, the author next reflects on Freud’s conflict with money: as-
only while externalizing financial ambition as the avarice of those outside the profession. The author examines money’s deceptive and alienating aspects, namely, blurring one’s own inabilities while forcing those with fewer abilities to inaccurately attribute their production to the power of money. Lastly, Dimen leans on Kleinian thought to argue that the intrinsically aggressive nature of money ultimately begets a loving, productive therapeutic relationship, specifically by how money’s creation of aggressivity and hatred allows for the survival and flourishing of the therapeutic relationship. In chapter 10, Pamela Meersand investigates the meaning of money developmentally by examining clinical work with children and young adults. Identifying the uniqueness of money issues with kids given their lack of involvement with the financial aspects of their treatment, Meersand discusses the
serting that money evokes the same depth of shame as sex; referring to money as the “devil’s gold” yet proudly calling his wealthy patients “goldfish”; munificently treating some of his penurious patients, though lowering their prognostic bar by deeming them as concrete and less psychologically enlightened. Moving beyond the narrow confines of classic theory’s inchoate study of money, Dimen buttresses our understanding of finances by turning toward anthropological, social, and feminist literatures, and highlights the trend of boom and bust of psychoanalysts’ income vis-à-vis dialogue about money, that is, how during the boom years of the 1960s money was scantly discussed among analysts analysis. She also describes her work with a man who exaggerated his financial exigency, claiming his near-nominal fee was unmanageable, only later determining he was not as destitute as stated. Via supervision, Newman identified the destructive interaction taking place, namely, her need to “keep” control cases for training purposes, which acted in concert with the patients’ latent aggressivity. In other words, as a candidate her practical and distorted sense of feeling beholden to control cases colluded with her control cases’ psychologies, all of which resulted in underpayment. In chapter 8, Shelly Orgel remarks compellingly on the two previous chapters, productively theorizing on the intersubjective dance between patient-specific, clinician-specific, and ecology-specific (e.g., economic climate, analytic training requirements) factors leading to the complex financial circumstances described by each author. Next, Muriel Dimen (chapter 9) reproduces her classic 1994 paper that explores the inherent contradictory and conflictual nature of money. First chronicling the early
while during the financially lean times of today fiscal matters are beginning to creep into the analytic literature. Dimen also reports on the conflictual, overdetermined relationship analysts and others in the helping professions have with money, defensively reporting that money is for sustainability purposes 22
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emergence of money awareness as corresponding to psychosexual development. She looks at Oedipal-age children, with their dim awareness of money, and how that allows them to playfully dip into the adult world; latency-age children, with their fairness ethos and their realization of the objective reality of money; and teenagers, with their full cognizance of money’s power and utility. The author also reports on the delicate balance of addressing money matters clinically when the payer is not your direct patient. Chapters 11 and 12 separately examine money and the interaction between gender and therapist dynamics. First, Kachina Myers (chapter 11) reports on empirical evidence indicating that directly addressing money during treatment is associated with increased therapist income. She then explores how the putative psychologies of many future clinicians, that is, being hypervigilent to meet parents’ emotional needs, may infuse the desire for remuneration with shame. She identifies this conflict over ambition as more characteristic of women, though she points out that male therapists are far from exempt.
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Next, Arielle Faber Shanok (chapter 12) also discusses difficulties with ambition as central to women’s relationships with money. She reports on literature suggesting that women’s developmental experiences of mother-child oneness (as opposed to fathers’ separateness) and their adult identities as selfless nurturers facilitate the belief that they require less money than men and thus are more apt to reduce patients’ fees. Meyers and Faber Shanok also move their discussions beyond gender, with the former examining cultural influences and hypothesizing that the individualistic aspect of money and ambition proves troublesome for many people of African American and Latino descent, who may be more focused on their affiliate groups than is typical in Anglo-American culture. She also links analysts’ likelihood of surpassing their parents’ income status as well as of becoming financially self-sufficient
as angst driven, with the associative experience of not having parental protection. Faber Shanok interestingly explores how finances can affect temporal parameters by reflecting on her clinical training days. She discusses a treatment case during her work at a counseling center in which the patient’s high base rate fee in conjunction with her inherent (possibly gender-based) selflessness interfered with ending weekly sessions in a timely fashion and how her desire to “assure” that the patient “got his money’s worth” colluded with the patient’s difficultly with weekly good-byes/terminations. Myers and Faber Shanok independently examine unique aspects of gender and money. With the former reflecting on her extensive clinical career and the latter on her days as a graduate student, both utilize rich clinical data peppered with relevant research findings to nicely address gender-based differences in therapists’ relationship with money and ambition. In a unique way to close any psychoanalytic text, Money Talks ends with journalist and radio news director Dan Grech (chapter 13) exploring an economic perspective. First describing the basic economic assump-
tion that people are motivated to maximize their profits and the notion that rationality oversees the market (called efficient market theory), Grech touches on the Nobel Prize–winning economic research by Daniel Kahneman (more recently of Thinking, Fast and Slow  fame) and Amos Tversky demonstrating that the fear of loss is a greater motivator than profit maximization, a chink in the armor of efficient market theory. Next reporting on the flourishing field of neuroeconomics (which firmly anchors financial decision making in psychological principles), Grech states that emotionally driven decisions and cognitive biases underscore many investment problems. Specifically, the author applies the concepts of money illusion (i.e., investors’ struggles with accounting for inflation), availability bias (i.e., primarily being exposed to success stories), and herding (i.e., following the crowd) to
the recent devastating housing bubble. This nonexplicitly psychological/psychoanalytic view on societal economic failures adds a unique approach to understanding patients’ financial circumstances. Money Talks effectively plumbs the multilayered meanings of money. Going beyond the consulting room, Berger and 23
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Newman bring a group of scholars together to unashamedly examine numerous facets of finances within the clinical setting—powerfully examining deep-seated transference/countertransference phenomena and thus illuminating the long-standing taboo status of money in therapy and society. Proactively challenging clinicians to examine their professional biases regarding money and wealth, this text substantially aids in analytic patient work. Analysts are experiencing a collective reduction of financial status. There are many factors responsible, including (though not limited to) the premium placed on short-term interventions, the proliferation of credentialed/licensed therapists, artful marketing by unlicensed (and often minimally trained) paraprofessionals (e.g., life coaches), and, of course, Big Pharma. However, it would be remiss to place the entire onus of psychologists’ declining income on external factors. Psychotherapists, irrespective of their theoretical denomination, are typically not trained to be financially erudite. Practical fiscal matters are sorely lacking in most clinical training programs. Money Talks is, at the very least, an excellent starting point. Although no panacea for psychotherapists’ financial woes, such an explicit study of social economics would surely help practitioners to become fully cognizant of money vis-à-vis personal and patient dynamics. By no means reserved for neophytes, Money Talks is clearly valuable for analysts at any point in their career. Berger and Newman’s text is the unparalleled follow-up to Krueger’s The Last Taboo. Compassionately nondemonizing of those with wealth, constructively challenging of analysts on their biases, and encouraging practitioners to own their financial ambitions, Money Talks is immensely useful for those in the trenches of clinical work. While many analysts quail over financial ambitions and direct discussions of money in treatment, this book directly tackles such anxieties head-on. By moving clinical fiscal matters from barely nuncupative to the written word, Money Talks takes powerful steps to counter the last remaining taboo within psychoanalysis. z REFERENCES Dimen, M. (1994). Money, love, and hate: Contradictions and paradox in psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 4, 69–100. Fenichel, O. (1938). The drive to amass wealth. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 7, 69–95. Freud, S. (1958). On beginning treatment. Standard edition (Vol. 12, pp.123–144). London: Hogarth Press. (Original work published 1913) Hirsch, I. (2008). Coasting in the countertransference: Conflicts of self interest between analyst and patient. New York, NY: Routledge. Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Krueger, D. (Ed.) (1986). The last taboo: Money as symbol and reality in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. New York, NY: Brunner Mazel.
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Come to Me with Your Cap in Your Hands A version of this piece appeared as the preface to the English-language translation of Angelo Villa’s The Hand in the Cap: Psychoanalysis and Severe Handicap (2013). It is published here with the permission of the publisher. Psychoanalysis and Severe Handicap: The Hand in the Cap by Angelo Villa London: Karnac, 196 pp., £20.49, 2013. There is an uncanny story of misunderstanding and misappropriation in the etymological history of the term “handicap.” Lore has it that “handicap” comes from the idea of having your cap in your hand, that is, being a beggar, which is one reason the term has been maligned in the contemporary world of cultural sensitivity and political correctness. However, the link between handicap and mendicancy is not in fact the origin of the word, which actually comes from a 17th-century (perhaps earlier) game called hand in the cap, or hand-i-cap for short, where two players play at agreeing or disagreeing to a barter set up by a third player. One’s willingness to assent to a particular deal when others may not (the spoils of both easily recognizable advantages or disadvantages go to the umpire) is in essence what is rewarded in this game of chance and interpersonal exchange. Because part of the game involved establishing the value of a particular barter in order to determine how to equalize the playing field, the word hand-i-cap became a word used more generally in sport for penalties applied in order to square the odds. This was true, for example, in horse races, where added weight to the superior horse was called a handicap. It is in this regard that handicap was transmuted into a name for those who suffered a range of human disabilities, though it seems important to note a change from an imposed disability on the dominant subject to an inborn or acquired one that defines the person who is deficient. Inherent in the etymology of the word is an ethics that necessitates a third-party judgment in the determination of odds, a tense and terse game of human interchange, which seems to me particularly apt with respect to the question of the handicapped. But what then do we make of the reversal of the words “hand” and “cap” that transforms the understanding of the history of the word, along with the recent moral outrage at defining disability in terms of a figure who is dependent and in need? Something is being covered over. Aren’t the handicapped dependent and in need precisely in the way defined by this little game, where someone must judge the stakes and the parties must consent to those terms? And finally, does not the other possible meaning of cap-in-hand unite with hand-in-cap
around a definitional suggestion of humility, of humbly asking someone more powerful for aid, of that more powerful person allowing themselves to be weighed down in accepting the other? Is this not ultimately what is elided in this historical unfolding of the word?
The history of the word seems to have bearing on the history of the treatment of the handicapped, immersed by the human phantasms that crowd in when situations of identity and difference, exchange, debt, and loss, or autonomy and dependency, are at play. The institutions that work with the handicapped are particularly vulnerable to these imaginings. The unique difficulties that we face in the face of human handicap, allegorized in this mytho-etymological parable, will become clear to you as you read this extraordinary work by Angelo Villa (whose name means “divine messenger of the house”). My Cap in My Hands No other author of late has so held me rooted in place, with my cap in my hands, 24
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asking them how? How were you able to do this work? And with what grace did you find the way not only to do it, but to write about it? This book left me questioning how far I have pushed what I have learned as a psychoanalyst, how much uncertainty could I tolerate? That I would have neither the will nor the courage to combine with force the two unlikeliest of categories—psychoanalysis and the handicapped—in a work that clearly spans a lifetime leaves me humbled. And yet this last adjective describing my experience reading this book belongs more to Villa than it does to me. The humility that he evokes when showing us what is entailed in working psychoanalytically with those with severe handicaps, the institutions that house them, and their families, is unparalleled. The impotence and helplessness when all known categories are put in jeopardy along with all human (alltoo-human) expectations for intersubjective relations is matched only in the long-term treatment of psychosis and severe trauma. I had not known the meaning of care before having read this book. In this, Villa seems to me to return to something immanent in the original use of the word “handicap,” namely, that the more advantaged player must assume an added weight, must assume a handicap, and that to do so is the only way to enter into the game. This is intrinsic to his work as a clinician, where psychical elaboration is absolutely necessary in order not to disavow the inevitable rage, lassitude, and horror in the confrontation with disability. Only in allowing oneself to get to know this range of debilitating feelings—it’ll never turn out better than OK; they’ll never be able to; I wish I could wash my hands of them; they are monstrous and inhuman—can one even find a foot to stand on in this work, no less its ethical edge. It has to do with finding a place to experience surprise and innovation despite the most insistent repetition. Political correctness demands one see that “the other is like me,” an inscription that is written at the entrance of one of the facilities where Villa works. This covers over an irreducible Otherness in all human relations, one all the more extreme in the case of handicaps. Villa calls this the encounter with the “sick Other.” We are all Other to ourselves, but a sick Other adds something to this. Villa refuses any act of erasing Otherness, while also asking what is necessary in order to mediate this gap and care for the handicapped. This ethical position is one the author takes up but does not force on his readers—and God knows
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he could, or even has a right to, given all he has been through. Miraculously, what Villa does in his tone and his style is invite you, even permit you, to assume the burden with the same ease that he has. Come to me with your cap in your hands… So the book is undoubtedly a good book. Good in all the ways implied in the use we make of the term: it tastes good, I feel good, he’s a good man, he’s good at what he does, it’s good for you, that was good of you. There are, funnily enough, opposite poles with respect to the idea of the good in psychoanalysis, the two contemporary thinkers who figure most prominently for Villa. If the good is a source of suspicion for Jacques Lacan, coming at a cost to desire, it is equally the source of moral reparation, the sense of gratitude, and feeling of inner possibility in Melanie Klein. I would say that the book contains both meanings. It is good, but it also goes beyond the good. It is unimpeachably ethical and in this has something to teach us not only about our most foundational concepts, but also what it means to be a psychoanalyst. Who Answers the Call? It is important to situate Villa’s work and training for the English-speaking audience. Lacanian psychoanalysis in its clinical practice is a mystery to much of the AngloAmerican world by virtue of some historical circumstances, most important being Lacan’s excommunication, as he liked to call it, from the International Psychoanalytic Association. I think even more mysterious still are those who have worked in a certain tradition following some of Lacan’s earliest disciples, who ultimately sought to work within institutions, especially those that dealt with children and families. Lacan did not work with children, though he was very interested in the research of his colleagues, which made its appearance in many of his seminars. Through applying the concepts Lacan was beginning to develop in their institutions, they invented psychoanalytic work anew along with defining the place that psychoanalysts might occupy within such settings in order to intervene. Much of this writing, sadly, remains untranslated into English. Francois Dolto, for example, who left the Sociètè Psychoanalytique de Paris with Lacan, is a figure with the same public presence in France as Winnicott in England: she worked at the Trousseau hospital, spoke on the radio to parents, opened nurseries, known as Maisons Verte, which now exist across Europe, wrote parenting handbooks and children’s storybooks that dealt with difficult topics, created a method for intervening with pre- and postpartum parents in order to prevent future problems,
and wrote countless books and articles for clinicians working with children in the neurotic and psychotic spectrum. In a personal reminiscence, she recalls that Lacan used to say to her often, “You don’t need to understand what I say because without theorizing about it you say the same thing” (quoted in Roudinesco, 1997, p.241). Only one of Dolto’s books, The Case of Dominique, is translated into English as of yet. Some of the other figures in French psychoanalysis that are important with respect to Angelo Villa’s work include
Jenny Aubry, who worked at The Necker Hospital for Sick Children and consulted with Bowlby, Spitz, Winnicott, Anna Freud, and the Tavistock Clinic more generally; Rosine Lefort, who worked with Aubry and wrote up the extended treatments of two psychotic children she treated in her book, The Birth of the Other; and Maud Mannoni, who worked at the Experimental Center of Bonneuil and wrote two very important books that were translated into English about working with children and families: The Child, His Illness, and the Others and The Backward Child and his Mother. The latter is a book that functions as something of a prelude to Villa’s The Hand in the Cap, as it is about working with the families of children with the handicap that was called mental retardation, or “backward” children. While Villa is critical of Mannoni collapsing too readily the categories of psychosis and intellectual disability, where he agrees with her concerns the risk that someone with a handicap can be pushed into psychosis when their environment fails to recognize their position as subjects with their own desires, however complicated understanding those desires or communicating with them may be. He calls this retrograde situation “becoming chronic,” where stereopathy and depression win in the struggle to create room for desire. Mannoni, like Villa, was taught to carefully listen to the place the child is granted 25
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in the parent’s discourse, as that will tell you something about the difficulty the child might have in situating themselves in relation to his or her parent’s desires. Is this space foreclosed? Does it coerce certain identifications? Is the child conceived as separate and with desires of his or her own, or is he or she treated as an inert object? Is the discourse melancholic and suffused with frustration and aggression? What history is having an impact on the parent’s imagination of their child? Who was their fantasy child before this one came into being to contradict or fulfill those wishes? This is work not only with patients and parents, but also with entire systems or groups. From Dolto to Aubrey, Mannoni, and certainly Villa, one finds the charting of a psychoanalytic stance within institutions. Villa’s vignettes that show his work with staff in care facilities, as well as so many of the families of the handicapped, are one of the most thrilling aspects of his book. For those who choose to answer the call of the severely disabled, Villa shows us that good will is simply not enough. And in this, there is something invaluable about psychoanalysis, psychoanalytic theory, and its clinical application. We in the AngloAmerican world—shorn as it is of the prom-
inence that psychoanalysis once had within institutions—can barely imagine being asked to take up a position like Villa’s. This book is a consolation to the extent that we can see the necessity of a psychoanalytic perspective in facilitating the care of others in such delicate and complex situations. If consolation is taking matters too far, then perhaps it is enough to think of what he does as giving us a place in what is now the most unlikely of places, one that he holds with a rigor we might follow if asked, if called upon. Snakes and Ladders This book’s many-layered clinical examples give us insight into some of the immemorial and immemorially contested categories of psychoanalysis: from drive and desire, to subjectivity and identity, and finally to language
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and symbolization. These categories, refracted though the lens of the handicapped, bring us a unique perspective on “normality,” or, perhaps better, the human condition. It is a subtle theoretical interchange, one that takes place between the problematic ideal of the normal and the challenge of the sick Other (interchanges that also form the literal basis
for so many of Villa’s clinical examples), each adding something to the idea of what a human consists of in its most heterogeneous aspects. I was surprised that such well-trod territory as Freud’s drive theory, Lacan’s concept of language, and Winnicott’s notion of transitional space, were freshly metaphorized by the introduction of the sick and disabled Other into their field. With every successive theoretical and clinical pass in this book, self-definition is challenged and perhaps changed. You might be something different through this confrontation with a seemingly monstrous Other, an invention that Villa posits as the very “cure” that is made possible through his particular view of institutional work. What Villa’s clinical acumen transmits is how a psychoanalytic frame allows something to happen in a moment through a complex interaction with the Other that gives birth to a sense of self or subjectivity that wasn’t there previously. While this might collapse shortly thereafter, and certainly it does in the case of work with the handicapped, its traces need not be extinguished entirely. By maintaining a possible repetition in a series of continued iterations, eventually, Villa promises, a structure will be built that makes subjectivity and desire more possible and less bound to rigid repetitions or melancholic submersion. Consider one of the most stunning vignettes that I came across, more extreme than most, since it involves work with a disabled psychotic woman, Renata. Poetically, the story begins with her playing a game of snakes and ladders. She plays “mechanically,” almost as if she only acts in order to stop the complaints of the other players. One of the other players moves her piece into the correct spot, and in that exact moment she shouts out
her own name triumphantly, only to recede into whatever abyss she tends to live in. Villa speculates that in that instant she recognized herself, as if the correspondence between an object and an image, one that slides into place suddenly through the mediation of another, gives her back to herself. It mimes a confrontation that is important to all of us—we need an Other to situate our identity, to take us as their object and give us an image of ourselves, to show us some sense of correspondence between who we feel ourselves to be and whatever image we might find of it. This process is contained in the very act of naming a child. You are called… The image is not one we assume easily, the turbulence of which is captured by Lacan’s elaborations on the mirror stage. “That’s you!” the mother says to her baby who sees itself in the mirror. This “you” is always a double-edged sword: bound by the Other’s desire, it is a forced submission that isn’t always taken to kindly, confirming and alienating at once. Lacan spoke of it as
transformations like that of feces into a symbolic gift. The body is condemned to an unmediated experience of absolute anguish—to lose a part is to lose everything. But the question Villa asks beyond this is a practical question that addresses the task of working with Renata—how can she confront this loss? We cannot assume she will succeed in the way a “normal” subject already would have by virtue of their ascending the ladder of development. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to find the way Renata can mediate this experience with the help of another who is present with her everyday at the center. Villa writes:
a kind of necessary evil, a treacherous game that is not without its pleasures, but certainly those pleasures threaten the stability it seems to promise. Only when we are granted this kind of access to an image can we then find a way to tolerate a process in which we lose that image daily through the machinations of a language that only approximates a sense of self, the gap that inevitably exists between self and others, and the erotic body that tends to fragment more than it does unify in a complex dance of pleasure and loss, fortda, here, gone. Imagine how this process is complicated for the handicapped! Renata’s being lost and found in a game of snakes and ladders is only the tip of the iceberg. When she first came to the center she spent hours in the bathroom, screaming every time she had to defecate. It made people very nervous, especially when she was found playing with her excrement. Psychoanalysis has something to say about the tragedy, the painful loss, associated 26
with the separation from one’s feces. “How can she confront this loss?” Villa asks. This question has two senses. It is a theoretical question to the extent that psychoanalysis posits that someone whose self-image is almost nonexistent cannot confront loss, that loss is the a priori ground of language or symbolic functions as such, and without language one cannot engage in certain
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The worker’s task is not the trivial one of scolding Renata, of teaching her not to do such things or that excrements disgust normal people, especially obsessional ones. To educate means to build. Saying “no” a few times can be useful, as much as saying “yes,” of course. In Renata’s case, her education—if we want to call it such—must take place on a different level. Its building implies working on a more primary sphere, i.e., the sphere of the relationship with a body which is very little felt or lived as one’s own. Building an education, then, means trying to give a shape to that Thing in the Freudian meaning of the word, i.e., Renata’s flesh as it is crossed by shocking sensations. Setting a limit, a protective barrier, a restraint on anguish. (p.121) The center works with Renata using the core idea that she has no unconscious image to regulate her drives. Psychoanalytic theory creates a frame that helps her educators
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understand her symptom and thereby find a way to put the understanding to work. What happens with Renata seems to me absolutely remarkable. Renata was helped to create rituals and minimal requests to others around the process of toileting—asking for toilet paper, being accompanied by another to the bathroom who would hold her hand or speak gently to her—trying to transfer representations of separation and loss to other objects. She spontaneously started to wrap the toilet with toilet paper and one of her educators got the idea to help her make a cardboard ring, a prosthetic seat she places between her body and the surface of the toilet. She can now get this seat from her locker before she uses the bathroom and then put it back again. The seat seems to replace the missing corporeal image. Not an artificial anus, sure, Renata does not need one. But a sort of equivalent of the psychic representation a “normal” subject would have … bodily orifices are frontiers and sites for erotization. They circumscribe an edge, a limit which Renata is missing. The educator works towards the goal of not having Renata’s sick Other absorb her. Her distressed screams are a call for help. (p.122) One of the activities Renata was able to take up as her own after some time at the center was painting and coloring, an anal sublimation we would easily recognize in any “normal” subject. It seems to me that what acted like a snake that sent Renata spiraling downward was given a ladder that she ascended in her own surprising way, aided by the educator’s interpretation of her struggle using the lens of psychoanalytic theory. Isn’t this absolutely beautiful? This singular inventive cure in relation to the absolute particularities of Renata’s case embodies the potential virtues of any psychoanalysis. From the Bottom of One’s Being The most “subtly malignant” experience the disabled can go through, according to Villa, is an interaction with “normals,” who consistently refuse to treat their utterances as having significance, dealing with their difficulty through the fetishization of habit, manageability, and an obsession with regularity. Desire dies of starvation and the sick Other takes over, left, like Spitz’s hospitalized babies, to the drift of an autistic enclosure. Villa counters this trend by bringing us back to the very origins of subjectivity, providing us with a frame for thinking through dilemmas, whatever the severity of diagnosis or deficiency. It takes patience and a commitment to a psychoanalytic way of thinking about the subject. Of what are we born? From where do we come and to where do we imagine we
go? What makes us alive? What brings us into being? What submerges us in an abyss? Those with severe psychic disabilities bring us to the threshold of these original questions about subjectivity with an intensity I hope I have begun to convey. Villa, in doing work in this way, kindles an interest that was no doubt at the root of most decisions to become a clinician, and in doing so this book gives us back our unique act as psychoanalysts. Villa writes in this vein: The image grounds a limit that … it presides over, while it regulates a shape marked by its seal. A shape, we should add, in which the subject sees himself and is seen, through which he loves himself, or is loved or hated; the original imprint of his I, the primary, radical embryo, of his identity; the foundations he will build his personality on, the alienating armor that will mark his whole mental development with its rigid structure. The image thus becomes operative when it is transformed into memory. Or, even more, when memory as such is established, starting from its more original, specific manifestation. A memory with no content, because it is, after all memory of itself …To sum up, the image is destined to become a trace; I insist, a peculiar trace, considering that it precedes other traces. It is “the” trace above all the others, because the subject holds on to it from the bottom of his being. (p.82-83) Without this originary trace the subject has very little to hold onto. In the most traumatic events in our lives we lose our grasp on this trace, who we thought we were, who we had in the past found ourselves to be. In one
With that, I’ll make the impossible promise that only the writer of a preface is allowed to make: I promise you’ll be grateful to him after reading this book and, when all is said and done, you’ll understand something powerful about the original meaning of the word handicap. Assuming a handicap at the outset is the only way to enter into this book, like the original game from which they take their name. Angelo Villa will teach you to play, and he’ll teach you to play well. z
sense, psychoanalytic work gives us access once again to this strange memory; certainly this is part of the work on dreams, fantasies, and the signifiers that shape us. In another sense, psychoanalysis allows us to pass more easily through the moments when we lose hold of it, certainly also a part of the work on nightmares, loss, and anxiety. 27
Villa’s book, The Hand in the Cap: Psychoanalysis and Severe Handicap, follows this twofold movement, returning to us a desire to passionately explore origins—that first sublimation of drive and sexuality in an episitemophilic love of impossibly searching for what has shaped us. However, at the same time—and isn’t this the negative underside of all searching—his book drops you down to the very bottom of your being, the abyss of the unconscious, a descent that isn’t always easy to bear. Perhaps it is only the identification with Villa as the figure of the psychoanalyst par excellence that allows you to bear the tension of having to live through both movements at once. Surrender to the Other: their caprice, the comings and goings of desire, loss, and the infinite slippage of displacement, a body barely with words, words searching for an anchor in one’s body, and that magnificent matrix of the unconscious. I would urge you to follow Angelo Villa there, but I’ll also warn you, hold on from the very bottom of your being.
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BIBLIOGRAPHY Lefort, R. (1994) Birth of the other. (Du Ry, Watson, & Rodriguez Trans.). Chicago. IL. University of Illinois Press. Roudinesco, E. (1997). Jacques Lacan. (Barbara Bray, Trans.). New York, NY: Columbia University Press. Dolto, F. (1973). Dominique: Analysis of an adolescent. (Ivan Kats Trans.). New York, NY: Outerbridge and Lazard. Manonni, M. (1972). The backward child and his mother: A psychoanalytic study. (A. M. Sheridan Smith, Trans.). New York, NY: Pantheon. Mannoni, M. (1970). The child, his illness, and the others. New York, NY: Tavistock Publications. Villa, A. (2013). Psychoanalysis and severe handicap: The hand in the cap. London: Karnac.
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Leston Havens: Presence and Absence Les Havens wrote about human freedom, about being a person in the face of invasion, domination, appropriation—developmental, relational, or societal. He wrote about “making contact” (one of his book titles, Harvard University Press, 1986) with persons who were barely present: those who experience no life inside, no purpose or desire; those who are hidden from us, from themselves; those who function through imitation; those who grasp whatever serves them as presence by their own invasiveness, manipulations, or projections. He refers to the patient who says, “I’m not here” or, “I have no life.” I can remember hearing his signature inquiry, leaning a little forward in his chair with a soft grunt, “What’s for you?” Independent and personally creative in his clinical thinking, he was ahead of the pack in the Boston area in recognizing the importance of the interpersonalists—Sullivan, and Edgar Levenson. He found an apt metaphor for the psychotherapist from the novelist in Henry James’s short story “The Middle Years”: “We work in the dark—we do what we can—we give what we have.
Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.” Les wrote several books over a span of more than two decades, between 1973 and 1996. These were decades in which psychoanalytic thinking absorbed significant transformations of perspective into its mainstream. But Les, living in Cambridge, MA, amidst the traditionalist Boston psychoanalytic community of the 1970s, had to be canny, cagey, and indirect in initially questioning the limitations of the prevailing ego psychology. I will illustrate the evolution of Les’s writing with quotations from his 1976 book, Participant Observation, particularly its final paragraphs, and then offer in contrast his consistent yet liberated voice in the postscript to his 1993 book, Coming to Life.
How daring of Les to publish Participant Observation, an entire book devoted to his careful and creative interpretation of Sullivan’s work at a time when Sullivan was hardly read at all in Boston (except for by George Goethals, who taught Sullivan to Harvard undergraduates as early as 1964), and interpersonal theory was generally dismissed as a social psychology. On one hand, Les begins his first chapter admiring (identifying with?) “what Mary White called his
‘fine disregard’ of the classical rules. He was scholar enough to know the rules but daredevil enough to break them” (Havens, 1976, p.14). On the other hand, nearly a decade before Greenberg and Mitchell’s (1983) watershed book, and more than a decade before Steve Mitchell’s first solo “relational” book, Les of necessity made good use of his gift for irony, incisive indirectness, and paradox in the concluding pages of Participant Observation. Yet, as you read his text, note how Les’s treatment of counterprojective method (interpersonal) tacitly anticipates the notion of interpretation in the service of adjusting the analytic relationship, as Mitchell (1993) and Aron (1996) would later articulate. And note how Les’s gathering of Kohutian and existential ways of “being with” the patient implicitly anticipates later emerging notions of a relational unconscious and an analytic Third. When all is said and done, however, the use of statements, whether existential or counterprojective, suggests a sharp break with analytic method. Surely the neutral presence of the analyst is compromised. Surely therapists are invited to intervene often prematurely, to render shallow an analytic process which is most remarkable for its patience and respect. … The development of psychoanalytic method from hypnosis and headpressing to analysis of the resistances and 29
Stuart A. PIZER
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transference neuroses was a movement toward a greater objectification of the process. The personal element could not be left out, but it could be dealt with, through analysis of both the transference and countertransference. This was the meaning of the famous phrase, the cure through love: the patient’s libido would attach itself to the analyst, thereby making a meaningful analysis possible, but in order for the analysis to be objective and scientific, the person of the analyst must be neutral, at least somewhat detached. Hence, as one aspect, the going out of sight of the patient. Curiously, something very similar was sought by both existential and interpersonal psychiatry. Many of the existentialists suggested that only by replacing the therapist’s personality with beingwith-the-other (the successful phenomenological reduction) could valid results be achieved. Here was another “going out of sight of the patient,” not literally, but figuratively. Of course everyone knows that the total replacement of the therapist’s personality is impossible. It nevertheless remains the ideal toward which the existential steps are directed. Similarly, by setting itself against the projections that appeared in the clinical situation, interpersonal method aimed to neutralize the therapist. Therapists could not stand still: they had to work actively to prevent the settling in of overwhelming projections. But again the goal was a true neutrality. It seems to me there is much to both these developments that needs to be taken into the technical apparatus of psychoanalysis. And I doubt that this can be done in the form of parameters or through any auxiliary status. The claims of both existential and interpersonal psychiatry reach too close to the heart of psychoanalysis itself to be dealt with so tangentially. (Havens, 1976, pp.367–370) Moving and moved in the currents of American psychoanalytic culture, Les writes his postscript to Coming to Life, in 1993, with his consistent message but in a different key—more personal, more lyrical, more direct in his wisdom, naked of irony, more relationally centered. He writes: Coming to life is a discovery, creation, development, a setting free and also a containing of that person. Behind this apparently simple structure lie many perspectives formed by theories and schools that shape and absorb one another over
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long periods, and through their struggles ensure a real continuity to the work. The diverse and meandering paths of life have elements in common: the creation of a psychological space in which people can be met as much in their strengths as in their disabilities, as much to discover the future as to examine the past. The goal is detecting health and oppositions to health and the movements we can make to give power to the one and support against the other. Such a psychological space furthers seeing the drift of a life amid innumerable events and cultivating the attitudes we need to gain possession of that life, in particular the power to bear the full range of feelings that relationships demand, either with others or for work. Too many retreat before the best they might have. Yet every account of what we do distorts the organic nature of all these interactions as well as the curious mixture of letting alone and occasional nudging which is the task. As time passes, that task seems to me more and more a matter of growing things, of movements and feelings, and less a matter of words and ideas—in which my own effort, too, may be imprisoned. (Havens, 1993, pp.205–206) Les Havens’s house was across the street from ours, and every spring Barbara and I enjoyed looking out on his garden, where he proudly grew tulips. He had a preference for combining yellow, orange, and red. We often encountered Les walking his dog, Harry, or, later, walking valiantly after hip surgery. He carried the dignity and manners of a gentleman, and if we were not stopping at the corner to chat a bit he would say, “Hello, friends” as he passed. From time to time he would leave a voicemail at my office: “Hello, old man! Do you or Barbara by any chance have the such and such issue of Contemporary Psychoanalysis? Could you drop it off or leave it on your porch so I can pick it up today?” Around 1981, Barbara and I, along with Ken Reich and George Goethals, asked Les for group supervision. The four of us met with him for a few years, rotating the presentation of “cases.” Then George dropped out, and the rest of us were seeing patients more frequently, some on the couch. Les readily agreed to supervise our analytic work, giving us his full support years before the founding of the Massachusetts Institute for Psychoanalysis (MIP). We each then saw him for individual supervision. Over these years, in group or individual supervision, Les was consistent in his clinical priorities and his message. Listening to the “material,” he responded to—or questioned—the “feeling” in the room during a session. His focus was on what feelings
were created, sustained, or stuck between patient and therapist. And his interventions were suggestions for potentially shifting a stagnant feeling in the room. As he developed his interest in language, applying the philosophy of J. L. Austin on the “performative” function of language, he spoke to us of simple empathic and, yes, “counterprojective” statements as tools for buttressing the patient’s deflated or disappearing self or containing the patient’s aggressively projective or paranoid self. In Les’s creative hands, these were not manipulative techniques, but his way of systematically addressing specifically apt ways of making contact with the patient’s state. As Les described his particular version of counterprojective technique, he sought to connect with a patient’s escalating angry expressions of a paranoid position by making more outrageously aggressive statements himself. Not at the patient but, rather, concordantly to the side of the patient’s message, amplifying it further. For example, in response to a patient’s aggrieved tirade of, “None of this will do me any good; you don’t really mean it and it won’t really help,” Les might say, with a snap, something like, “Why trust any of us after the crap everyone’s been handing you, and especially the worthless stuff I throw at you!” Les’s clinical experience with such counterprojective measures, at least as delivered in his inimitable way, was that most often a patient would back away from the angry hot spot, perhaps shift to a somewhat more depressive position, which Les could then empathically support. The principle guiding these “techniques” of Les’s was to connect with, to contain, and to aid in regulating an unbearable affect state. His counterprojective amplification communicated that he “got” the patient’s anger and that the patient was not alone in carrying aggression. The diminishing of the patient’s heated state, according to Les, seemed tantamount to the patient’s saying, “Oh, I wouldn’t go that far!” I recall from my supervision with Les several of his key supervisory messages to me. One was, “Work less” or, “Don’t work so hard; don’t follow the patient so closely.” Or, responding to a particular interpretation in my process presentation, he said, “That’s a wonderful idea. I think you should keep that to yourself and save it for your next paper.” As Barbara put it, you felt with Les that he was intimately with you while disclosing very little about himself. She has told me that Les recognized and supported her spontaneity and intuitive play. He seemed so relationally sensitive, so tactful, and so discretely private. I was touched when he said to me, “You have a way of being a step ahead of patients without being above them.” 30
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Les’s influence in the training of decades of psychiatry, psychology, and social work trainees at the Cambridge Hospital was profound. He touched the lives of so many people, who then touched the lives of so many more. Directly influenced as he was by Elvin Semrad, he became the Semrad of our generation. His unique manner of sitting with a seriously disturbed patient during a “demonstration interview,” positioning himself side by side and making simple statements about how hard life is, was a model of “being with”—as simply human as park bench conversation, true Havens as well as his legacy from Sullivan and the existentialists. Les was especially close to a few analysts over the years. Paul Russell was a favorite of his. He was particularly close to Alfred Margulies for decades. And, for years, he spoke by phone every month with Philip Bromberg. Philip has told me (personal communication, September 2011) that these conversation hours were intimate and precious, that they both looked forward to these times with each other. Philip said they never knew what they would be talking about, and that often they weren’t even sure of the content, but that they always felt better after these talks because they were play in the deepest sense, the experience of two people in a state of direct and undiluted Presence. Presence and absence. Being and ownership of being. So vital to Les’s way of living and working and teaching. What a nightmare it must have been for Les to find it becoming harder and harder to be present. I picture him, in his final years, losing the details but retaining the essence of existence. I return to his book Coming to Life (1993) to relocate, in his chapter on “Whose Am I?,” this passage: At a christening many years ago, a child dropped her rattle. Without breaking his ecclesiastical rhythms the minister reached down, picked up the rattle, and handed it back to the child: “This belongs to you, Emily, but you do not belong to them,” pointing at my wife and me. “You belong to God.” z REFERENCES Aron, L. (1996). A meeting of minds. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press. Greenberg, J., & Mitchell, S. A. (1983). Object relations in psychoanalytic theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Havens, L. (1976). Participant observation. New York, NY: Jason Aronson. Havens, L. (1986). Making contact. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Havens, L. (1993). Coming to life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Mitchell, S. A. (1993). Hope and dread in psychoanalysis. New York, NY: Basic Books.
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An Aerial View of the Playground: Writing in the Presence of an Other Ruth DANON
I want to describe the way I have been teaching writing for many years. A student or a group of students write in my presence. It is that simple. I give a stimulus of some kind—this can be an exercise provoked by a statement made by the student or by some idea that I have in my own head about what might be useful to the particular student or group. The exercises are carefully structured, but that is the subject matter of another essay. Right now, think only of this, the simple description: the student begins to write and writes for however long he or she wishes to, in my presence. It is not important that it is me; it is important that there is an observing figure, mostly silent, patient, uncommenting during this period except for the occasionally interjected, “Don’t think,” or the occasional response to the cessation of activity on the part of the student: “Are you stuck?” If the student claims to be stuck I say, “Stop.” And if the answer is, “No,” I say, “Keep going for as long as you want.” The crucial point is this: if a person writes determinedly and frequently in the presence of another, the writing will get better and stronger and the student will come more deeply into his/ her “own voice.” That “voice” is something that anyone who writes or reads or teaches writing can recognize but that is hard to describe, prescribe, or produce on demand. “Voice” is essential, yet ineffable. It is this mysterious quality of writing that causes some to say that writing cannot be taught. And in truth, writing cannot be taught. Craft can be taught; but craft does not make “writing.” Writing can be learned, but it cannot be taught.1 In the classroom, that largely silent, noninterfering, attentive other may be the teacher. In some other setting that other might be anyone who provides guidance and support, might even be an assumed or imagined reader that the writer has come to use as a functional other. That other is not reading the newspaper, not writing along with the students, not judging, rushing, timing, or any other such thing. A person writes regularly in the presence of another. Regularly, at an appointed time and place. This rather simple action will produce dra1. I do not wish to suggest in this essay that many teachers do not ask students to write in class. In fact, this “in-class” writing is an accepted practice within the dominant “process” paradigm that governs much composition teaching today. And it is also the case that creative writing classes make use of in-class writing. But generally the writing classroom is a standard “workshop,” in which students and teacher critique finished work. I am suggesting that writing in the presence of others is crucial for the education of the writer; beyond this I am concerned with why it is so crucial.
matic results. The question is no longer if it does so; rather, the question is why? “Writing in the presence of an other.” The cadence of this sentence may be familiar to someone familiar with psychoanalytic theory, in particular the work of the British child psychoanalyst W. D. Winnicott. My description of the writing session is not so 31
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different from a description of an analytic hour. In the analytic hour the analysand talks and is listened to, attentively, respectfully, in a noninterfering way, so that the analysand may, through the inevitability of talk, reveal to herself/himself that speaking and perceiving self that is so often lost, damaged, silenced, or dislocated by the various traumata of experience. If we think about what is necessary for a person to write (to be a writer, even), we might note the following prerequisites: first, the capacity to be alone; and second, the sense of audience that is not a literalized and generic external audience, but an internalized audience, a constant legitimizing presence helping to construct for the writer a sense that there is something important to say and that what is said will be heard. There are probably many other things a writer needs—a room of one’s own and fifty pounds a year, as Virginia Woolf says. Perhaps, but that is, in some sense, beyond the province of the teacher, and certainly neither the fifty pounds nor the blessed room will be of any use if the writer has not sufficient internal stamina to undertake the rigorous commitment the solitary work of writing demands. Consider now what Winnicott says: “[T]he basis of the capacity to be alone is a paradox; it is the experience of being alone while someone else is present” (Winnicott, 1965, p. 30). And later: “In this way I am trying to justify the paradox that the capacity to be alone is based on the experience of being alone in the presence of someone, and without a sufficiency of this experience, the capacity to be alone cannot develop” (Winnicott, 1965, p. 33). Winnicott is building on his own developmental theory. After a complex series of psychological events the child is able to see the mother as a separate object and then to “use” her in productive ways. The “capacity to be alone” is the product of this productive use. And so, just as Winnicott used his developmental theory to explain his view of the analytic process, I think of him when I consider the development of writers, writers who must spend a good part of life alone in order for the work to get done. The writer must have a clear, internally constructed audience for whom to write. Writers have made this move intuitively—Hemingway wrote in cafés and David Mamet titled a book Writing in Restaurants. These are ways of writing in the presence of noninterfering others.
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Today, with the explosion of writing programs, I think of the education of the writer as no less a case of strengthening and lengthening of muscle than the education of the dancer or of the painter. Consider the studio: the student tour jetés across the room; the ballet mistress watches. The student draws from the model or paints or sculpts and the teacher moves through the room, observing, only occasionally commenting. The education of most artists has involved the student working in the presence of an observing other. Only in the teaching of “creative” writing have we largely substituted editing for writing, moving the act of making art out of the room. The building of muscle produces stamina, endurance. For the writer, lengthening the period of time to write in the presence of an other contributes to the necessary stamina, the capacity to be alone for a long time, and the ability to sustain the idea of an audience, when in literal fact, none is yet there. And I think of quiet afternoons in the studio, nights in the classroom, of brave pens scratching on paper and of myself as silent presence, witness, audience (perhaps these are necessary evolving signifieds to the signifier of “teacher”). Winnicott again:
this: the writer must develop the capacity not merely to be alone, but to play alone. I want to digress for a moment and think about the meaning of “play” as distinct from the notion of “game.” Much has been written about the relationship between creativity and play. But what is it that distinguishes play from game? Winnicott distinguishes between play activities that are performed for their own sake and those that are performed with the idea of winning, as in a formal game. Winnicott’s distinction is useful in understanding the difference between the practice of the standard creative writing workshop and the practice I am describing. In a standard creative writing workshop, all eyes are focused on the completed work and whether that work will do what it’s supposed to do in the context—that is, earn the love of the teacher, the envy of the other students. Will there be a seduction? Will there be a prize? That is the “game” of the workshop, a game, I might add, that has
So. “Play.” Not “game.” Play is open-ended, leaving the player free to “flounder” to “rediscover the personal impulse” (Winnicott, 1965, p.34). As Winnicott says, “the experience can be fruitful” (Winnicott, 1965, 34).
I consider, however, that “I am alone” is a development from “I am,” dependent of the infant’s awareness of the continued existence of a reliable mother whose reliability makes it possible for the infant to be alone and to enjoy being alone for a limited period. (Winnicott, 1965, p.33)
The individual who has developed the capacity to be alone is constantly able to rediscover the personal impulse, and the personal impulse is not wasted because the state of being alone is something which (though paradoxical) implies that someone else is there. (Winnicott, 1965, p.34)
That “limited period” must, for the writer, increase. That is the meaning of stamina. So I understand this: that the capacity of
the writer to write alone is dependent on the capacity to write in the presence of an other. And that it is key: that the “other” the writer is in the presence of be not writing, be not involved directly. This is not self-evident. There are writing programs that urge exactly the opposite. So we must ask why? The answer is
silenced, even destroyed, many gifted writers. (It is simply not true that the truly gifted cannot be destroyed. Anybody can be destroyed.) But if you simply sit and write in the presence of an other you are forced to become, at least for a time, wholly involved with your own process, with “play,” and your capacity for invention and risk is increased as fear is decreased.2 One must not forget that the student-teacher relationship has in it many of the elements of transference. The teacher who handles students in the way I am suggesting can be internalized as a positive internal support. The student-teacher relationship is transferential. The question is whether the teacher is 2. There is, of course, a place for “judgment,” and every class I teach involves a period of critical assessment of what has been written. This pattern replicates the writer’s necessary oscillation between intuitive and ratiocinative activities and is a further modeling of the sequence of processes involved in the act of writing. In this essay, however, I am concerned only with the issue of writing in the presence of the not-writing teacher. 32
well enough trained, humble enough, responsible enough, and secure enough to handle the burden of this truth. This could/should engender a change in the nature of teacher training and supervision, but I suggest that will not come until writing pedagogy more fully incorporates psychoanalytic theory.
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So, the writer sits down to write in the studio, and writes, in the presence of another, until the reality of that “other,” what Winnicott calls “the ego-supportive environment” (Winnicott, 1965, p.36), is internalized as audience. The teacher can become this internalized person because there is a special relationship between student and teacher that is built over time and repeated contact. The teacher becomes not just a presence but a steady witness to the students’ development. There is steadiness and patience required on the part of the teacher. And then after a time, and by way of a process that has a kind of miraculous inevitability, the student is then ready to go it alone, to participate in a standard workshop with all the judgment and completion that setting implies, to become a professional, to be, at last, a writer. z REFERENCE Winnicott, W. D. (1965). “The capacity to be alone.” In Maturational processes and the facilitating environment: Studies on the theory of emotional development. New York, NY: International Universities Presses.
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Narrative Surprise: Relational Psychoanalytic Process and Biblical Text Lawrence ZELNICK
The thing is, sometimes you just can’t know what to expect, and to be taken by surprise can either be an exhilarating or a profoundly unnerving experience. More than any other kind of surprise, to discover an unexpected part of oneself can be personally transformative or painfully shaming—the sweet pleasure of peekaboo or the fright of public exposure. When it comes to listening analytically and relationally to our patients, we have been alerted by exquisitely attuned listeners like Bromberg (2006) and Stern (2004) to the crucial importance of noticing the unanticipated and even generating environments in which both patient and analyst can feel safe, but not too safe, and be ready, but not too ready, to experience the unexpected. From time to time, the analyst can even find himself in a “relational double take,” where there is a dramatic surprise at what is noticed in the other and in oneself. But is it possible to extend such alertness to other arenas of interpersonal experience? I would like to suggest that this same phenomenon of relational surprise, in both its exhilarating and unnerving forms, can also be found in reading texts, and that an examination of this perspective across both arenas can yield important reciprocal insights. In particular, I suggest that the experience of reading, and “listening,” to biblical texts is an interpersonal one, and that a reader
of written biblical texts reads and listens as if the text can “speak” and be responsive in different ways at different times. This is counterintuitive. After all, under what circumstances is biblical text typically presented? I, as so many other Jewish readers of biblical text, have sat in synagogue week after week, year after year, reading and rereading the same stories, at precisely the same time of year each time. Such repetition and predictability can discourage a relationship to the text that feels fresh and alive. But I am suggesting that listening
relationally to texts and patients involves openness to enactment and the capacity for surprise. Whether from within the synagogue pew, year after year, or in the consulting room session after session, the listener readies himself to look out for new meaning from what feels routine. “Have I ever told you about the time…” begins an oft-heard rhetorical question from a patient. The therapist replies (either out loud or to himself ), “Perhaps, but please tell me again,” because he knows that there is something important in the retelling and perhaps there will be a new detail this time or, perhaps more important, the question itself is meant as a prompt from the patient to the therapist to attune to a narrative “trope,”1 signaling a familiar connection or a novel twist. Similarly, in hearing the same biblical texts read in synagogue each year, one can anticipate and rely on those familiar stories to generate interest and excited anticipation. In this essay, I will be drawing your attention to experiences of listening to pa-
tients and reading texts with a relational appreciation of the importance of surprise. What is “relational” about these experiences is an attunement to enactment, the unanticipated interaction between the unconscious processes of both participants. I am asking that, for the purposes of this formulation, we grant that biblical text be seen as a “participant” in the process of reading, a dynamic, responsive, and organic participant in the process of being read and listened to. There is not sufficient time to elaborate on this here, but I am reminded of Bromberg’s consideration of the experience of reading literature (2006) and Fishbane’s treatment of wonder in his work on what he calls a sacred attunement (2008). 1. Pun intended. “Trope” is used here as theme or recognizable pattern, but also alludes to its use as the musical notations for chanting and reading Biblical text established by the Masoretes in the 1st millennium of the Common Era. 33
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The Double Take It is winter. In every synagogue on Saturday mornings, the book of Exodus is the source of a host of weeks of Torah readings, retelling the stories of Israelites’ experiences of slavery in Egypt. And on this particular Saturday morning, as every year at this season, the Torah portion retells the story of the parting of the Red Sea and the narrow escape of the Israelites from the chasing Egyptian soldiers and the drowning of those pursuing soldiers in the sea. As in every year, the companion text from the Prophets is another story of military victory by the Israelites over a long-standing enemy. One of the unique aspects of this particular story is the “heroic” singular act of a woman, Yael, who finds herself face to face with Sisera, the Israelite enemy’s leader. She seizes this unexpected opportunity, takes the initiative, and brutally assassinates him. 17 Sisera, meanwhile, had fled on foot to the tent of Yael, wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was friendship between King Jabin of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite. 18 Yael came out to greet Sisera and said to him, “Come in, my lord, come in here, do not be afraid.” So he entered the tent, and she covered him with a blanket. 19 And he said to her: “Please let me have some water; I am thirsty.” She opened a skin of milk and gave him some to drink; and she covered him again. 20 And he said to her: “Stand at the entrance of the tent. If anybody comes and asks you if there is anybody here, say ‘No.’” 21 Then Yael wife of Heber took a tent pin and grasped the mallet. When he was fast asleep from exhaustion, she approached him stealthily and drove the pin through his temple till it went down to the ground. Thus he died. 22 Now Barak appeared in pursuit of Sisera. Yael went out to greet him and said, “Come I will show you the man you are looking for.” He went inside with her, and there Sisera was lying dead, with the pin in his temple. (Judges 4:17–22) She accomplishes this by first sedating the general and then hammering a peg into his skull as he sleeps! Horror? Or a secret admiration for the bold assertiveness and unflinching aggression of Yael?
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As sometimes happens in the Bible, this story has a prose and a poetic version, included in the same chapters and virtually side-by-side, telling the same story. It is widely accepted by literary scholars that in such circumstances, the poetry version is historically and literarily older. I know this because before entering the field of psychology and psychoanalysis, I had studied and written about such “ancient” biblical poetry, fascinated by the structure of the poetry as compared to other contemporaneous Semitic languages. I share this piece of personal biography as a way to introduce you to the background of associations and memories that were triggered for me that morning. Indeed, I was aware of a smug familiarity as I turned to read and listen to these passages—“Oh, yes, I know a good deal about all of this,” I thought to myself, pleased with the certainty of familiarity and knowledge. This hubris only added, I think, to the surprise I was to encounter. I have read these stories numerous times; but I am drawn this time by a curiosity about Yael’s unflinching aggression, and I return to read the poem more carefully to see if there are any hints in the text to the nature of this. Maybe there’s something more. As I searched the verses, the poetry version took me by complete surprise and evoked what I’m calling a “relational double take.” After the seeming matter-of-fact description of Yael’s single-handed murder of Sisera, we read that Sisera’s mother is lingering at her home, anxious about her son’s delayed return from battle, and that she is longing and worrying about her son, reassured by her attendants. 24 Most blessed of women be Yael, Wife of Heber the Kenite, Most blessed of women in tents. 25 He asked for water, she offered milk. In a princely bowl she brought him curds. 26 Her [left] hand reached for the tent pin, Her right for the workmen’s hammer. She struck Sisera, crushed his head, Smashed and pierced his temple. 27 At her feet he sank, lay outstretched, At her feet he sank, lay still; Where he sank, there he lay—destroyed. 28 Through the window peered Sisera’s mother, Behind the lattice she whined: “Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why so late the clatter of his wheels?” 29 The wisest of her ladies give answer; She, too, replies to herself: 30 “They must be dividing the spoil they have found: A damsel or two for each man, Spoil of dyed cloths for Sisera, Spoil of embroidered cloths
Round every neck as spoil.” 31 So may all Your enemies perish, O Lord? But may His friends be as the sun rising in might! (Judges 5: 24–31) What? What are a mother’s worries about her son’s safety doing in this poem? And what is the poet up to in this momentary, very dramatic detour from the story of a previously unknown heroine’s role in Israel’s triumph over a dreaded enemy? And why hadn’t this struck me before? I quickly checked back to the previous chapter, the prose version of this same story, and confirmed that there is no mention at all, there, of Sisera’s mother, let alone her anxious and frightened feelings! There are no clear answers to these questions about either the authors’ or editors’ literary motivations, of course. For my part, I am aware that my interest in Yael’s aggression and the story’s artistry in managing a confluence of seduction and murderous rage was piqued. And the contrast between that anger and a mother’s tender worry, even for a violent warrior, helped to intensify my experience of feeling surprised. As in the psychoanalytic process, enactments can be born of moments when contrasts between distinctly different self states become evident. Thus, this sharp contrast between the bellicose bravado of the text’s prose narration, unambivalently celebrating the gory destruction of a long-time foe, and the tender awareness of the enemy’s mother waiting for her son heighten the reader’s likelihood of being caught in the contrast and hopefully aware of the tension. One might even see the text’s presentation of varying prose and poetic versions of Yael and Sisera’s encounter as evidence of “multiple text states.” It is now a commonly held belief that the biblical texts, as we have them in written form, were composed originally by different authors with different literary styles and religio-political points of view. The received written tradition of the Bible as we read it is seen as a careful stitching together of all of those different textual voices. I am suggesting here, however, that these seams in the text can be discovered by attention to enacted, emotional moments of surprise in experiencing the texts in the present. Returning to the double take at hand, my smugness as an “expert” reader of difficult poetic texts heightened the contrast between that part of myself and another more modest self; and there was even a pang of guilt for my own feelings of celebration of the victory, however bloody. The editors’ triumphal celebration of Yael’s act stirred up feelings of pride for the unusual heroism of a strong, powerful woman; but could there also be something in the text, I wondered, 34
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that might allow for a more nuanced depiction of this scene? There had been an initial feeling of horror at Yael’s brutality and the matter-of-factness of the narrative. Turning back to the text was an effort to thaw out that initial frozen, horrified response. I am drawing an analogy between one Bible reader’s experiences of surprise and psychoanalytic enactment, the awareness of the emergence of contrasting self states as they emerge between two participants in a process of reciprocal listening. I am suggesting that we pay attention, for the moment, to the phenomenon of the double take itself. I
am contending that within the experience of reading biblical narrative, from time to time we may encounter these moments of unexpected surprise and wonderment, “relational double takes” that stimulate curiosity about both the text and ourselves. The moment of surprise can be as stimulating as the process of following up on the surprise with exploration and inquiry. In this case, I am led to attend more to my own interest in Yael’s aggression and seductive powers; how exciting to focus on the ability to feel and act spontaneously. Yet, there is also another, potentially dissociated, horrified self waiting in the distance, embodied in this instance by Sisera’s mother and her attendants. The text, too, has to answer for itself. The exclusion of the mother-at-the-doorway aspect of the story in the prose version calls into question the motivations and needs of the editors of the narrative text. The double take similarly draws attention to the tension between familiarity and surprise. This textual contradiction has been present for more than a millennium; I personally notice it only now, as if the text has been waiting to be discovered in this way until I, with my own subjectivity and past experience with this story, was prepared to notice. I would like to share an experience of relational surprise with Terry, a young adolescent patient with whom I had been working for more than a year. It will become apparent, I hope, that Terry’s treatment comes to mind in the spirit of our discussion today of the discovery of a mother’s presence. You
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will notice, too, a link to the reaction of horror mentioned in the story of Yael and Sisera and to the experience of the relational double take in the therapist as a signal for the presence of unconscious enactment. Terry’s mother had just moved into her own apartment that week. Terry announced at his session that day that he was waiting for his father’s go-ahead for him to visit his mother in her new apartment; he was concerned about her and worried that she would have a hard time adjusting to being alone even though he agreed that the move was for the best. It was evident that he was extremely anxious about seeing her in her new apartment. I think he was looking for concrete reassurance that she was OK and could survive the separation. Moreover, he was seeking to relieve his guilt for having wished for the separation. That go-ahead from Dad never came. When Terry’s mother had not responded to repeated telephone calls that day, friends
had the police enter the apartment, where she was found dead. An autopsy showed that she had died from a heart attack. I received a telephone call the day after the session with Terry to inform me of the mother’s death and of Terry’s stoic upset. Terry and his mother had shared an avid interest in movies. They spoke with each other of the history of film, directors, actors, and screenwriters. They made a point of going together to films every Friday, often more than one. So it was no surprise that discussion of the latest films entered our therapy from the beginning. I couldn’t keep up with the breadth of his viewing experience, but I listened as intently as possible when he described many film plots in exquisite detail, week after week. I asked for explanation when I didn’t understand and shared my responses to his dramatizations of some of the films—laughter at the uproarious parts, puzzlement at some of the extremely violent action films, and amazement at his imperviousness to the scariness of horror films. At some point, I shared with him that I liked to view movie trailers on the Internet and welcomed him to watch some with me, particularly when a new film was about to come out; sitting side by side at my computer, we watched the preview before it became a film only he had seen. Not long after his mother’s death, about which he could speak for only short periods
in some sessions, Terry spoke about a movie he found really interesting—it involved a deadly virus that was allowed to spread throughout the population, killing all but a select few. He encouraged me to watch the trailer online, with him. I agreed, with a fair amount of hesitation—I told him, as I had in the past, that I found it difficult to watch scenes of explicit violence and suffering. The TV version of the trailer had looked scary enough. We watched the trailer together, sitting at my desk, and at the opening scene of attacks by infected, rabid-like animals on unsuspecting humans, I expressed my feelings of revulsion and physically pushed back from the screen. He reassured me that this was the worst it got: “It’s not that bad, really. It’s worth sticking with it—the story is really interesting.” So the first instance of surprise is a subtle, tender one—Terry is consoling me and kindly offering reassurances that what might be unbearably horrible to consider might not be so unbearable, really. Wasn’t that what I was supposed to be helping him to consider in relation to his mother’s death and what he might have found and seen had he gone over to his mother’s apartment that day some months ago? Some weeks later, he brought in for me his own purchased copy of the DVD of this movie. I said that I thought I could handle
it, having survived our watching the trailer together, and I said that I trusted him. It was as if he was consoling me from a more contained, less fearful place. The horror of his mother’s sudden demise, and whatever fantasies he still had of her death, were more than he could witness; he would have to dissociate those memories and images of her suffering and death. But he used film to both maintain his tie with his mother and cultivate his own tolerance for the unbearable. In this enactment, I was rendered the scared, horrified self who needed consoling and reassuring in order to stick with the bad parts until the “interesting” story could be accessed. It was in the moment at my computer, side-by-side, therapist putting himself into the hands of his young patient, that this relational surprise emerged. I had remained entrenched for a long time in 35
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my stance of, “I’ll watch this trailer and I’ll watch the whole movie itself, too, if it means demonstrating to Terry my willingness to extend myself to his feelings and needs.” But I hadn’t expected to surrender my attitude about frightening and violent movies. Terry helped me do this, and I did a double take of sorts as I watched this enactment unfold. I have come to think that Terry’s own horror at violence and death needed to be enacted and witnessed in a trusted other; most important, that trusted other had to genuinely experience his own dissociative reactions to the horror, and be willing to display reluctance, disbelief, and a dose of fear. Similarly, Terry’s capacity to soothe and comfort needed to emerge spontaneously and be genuinely effective in order for him to be consoled himself and risk abandoning dissociation as a response to the horror. Some time later, within a year after his mother’s passing, Terry was better able to bear discussions of her death, the events leading up to it, and his feelings about her loss. He states his reluctance to talk too much or too long about it—“Please don’t ask too much, I’ll only lose it.” But in his self-reflection about his longing and sadness, Terry had become less frightened and more curious. Terry and I found a way, in our relationship, to introduce feelings of horror, revulsion, fear, mourning, consolation, and increasing tolerance for thinking. Some of this increased capacity to entertain and integrate the different parts of him emerged in the steady, undramatic, and patient therapeutic work with which we are all accustomed. But I have suggested, too, that some of it was cultivated and nourished in a relational field where we let ourselves become surprised by unexpected shifts in our usual ways of feeling and relating. While reading the story of Yael’s murder of Sisera, noticing with surprise the presence of a worrying, grieving mother could shock a smug reader into a new relationship to the text and to some new feelings about himself; so, too, the horror of a mother’s death and the unbearable pain of considering those feelings without dissociating could become bearable and thinkable in surprising enacted shifts in relationship roles between therapist and patient. z REFERENCES Bromberg, P. (2006.) Awakening the dreamer: Clinical journeys. Mahwah, NJ: Analytic Press. Fishbane, M. (2008). Sacred attunement. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Stern, D. B. (2004). “The eye sees itself: Dissociation, enactment, and the achievement of conflict.” Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 40, 197–237.
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left: Robert Bresson, Journal d’un curé de champagne, 1951, Film still above: Chantal Akerman, Les Rendez-vous d’Anna, 1978. Film still
Facing a Screen Screening a Face The relation between the interior and the exterior is a primary pivot in the formation of the subject. In 1895 Freud wrote to Fliess, “Whenever an internal change occurs, we have the choice of assuming either an internal or an external cause. If something deters us from the internal derivation, we naturally seize upon the external one.” (Freud, 1985, p.109) This is the mechanism known as projection, and while it functions as a defense it also provides us, as defenses generally do, with the texts for reading our desire. Defense is the screen on which the shadow of our desires plays out. That is, if we are willing to read them as such. Freud suggests we have a choice. The projected truths are those no longer hidden inside, but in their projection hidden in plain sight, out there for us to see. It takes a certain opening of the eyes. The barrier of primary repression, a formative mechanism for psychic being, always deters us in some measure from assuming the pure internal derivation of an event, and thus no one’s desire is ever
wholly transparent to the self. Projection onto the exterior becomes another way to see within. The world is therefore the screen that shows us what takes place in the theater of our unconscious. The history of psychoanalytic schools and many of the debates between them can be written on the problematic of interior and exterior: from the first debates about the primacy of an observing ego to current concerns about the locus of the relational matrix. The dream of once and for all settling this dialectic by the privileged status of the interior or the exterior, or even of getting them each to stand still long enough so we know which side we’re on, has been repeatedly betrayed by the truth that it is the mechanism itself—the projection per se—that is in fact the primary point. There is no locatable interior that stands in some naïve and transparent state, not any lifeless exterior that stands outside of the screen. They are both formed in the human subject by the primal act of projection. Winnicott’s transitional space, Lacan’s Borromean chain, the full sense of a compromise formation, and the intersubjective 36
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field are all efforts at thinking this insoluble dialectic. Filmmakers like Robert Bresson and Chantal Akerman see an equivalent problem for the subject of cinema. And to their credit, they too recognize that it is a dialectic to be represented but not to be resolved. Bettina Mathes and Giuliana Bruno, in the two pieces that follow, write about the face and the screen, the planes of projection, and the threshold of the subject. The discourse of psychoanalysis provides a frame for their analysis. As Mathes puts it, “We need an other to form an image of who we are.” And not just an other’s presence. As both Mathes and Bruno remind us, “face” is present in the word “surface.” Bruno discusses how the face then becomes both landscape and screen. It is on the face of the Other that we see the expressions of our desire. z
REFERENCES Freud, S. (1985). The complete letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904. Cambridge, MA.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
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Projection: On Chantal Akerman’s Screens A landscape expresses a mood. Such “expression” says exactly what we intend by the term “empathy.” —Theodor Lipps, “Empathy and Aesthetic Pleasure” [The way] I would like to film…corresponds…to the idea that the land one possesses is always a sign of barbarism and blood, while the land one traverses without taking it reminds us of a book. —Chantal Akerman, Of the Middle East1 Chantal Akerman travels across a landscape of images as she moves freely between fiction and documentary film and also exhibits work in the art gallery. Since the early 1990s, the celebrated director and writer, who pioneered a new form of cinema in the 1970s, has engaged in expanded ways of screening, in advance of the cultural movement that propels today’s filmmakers and artists to exchange roles and work increasingly in between media. The hybrid screen space that Akerman constructs is a landscape that comprises images of places, perceptively and empathetically explored from the inside and the outside. Cities, lands, and homes are portrayed in long takes that enhance duration, capturing the unfolding of everyday life, especially the life of women, and the flow of temporality and memory. Forms of passage take place on her screens as, held by the steadiness of the long takes, we are led to explore sites of transit and separation and instances of cultural movement. In this durational way, we are given the opportunity to reflect in particular on the inner workings of displacement, migrancy, and diaspora (see Chantal Akerman, 2004; Sultan, 2008). This style of durational filming dotted with minimal or even casual action, which is Akerman’s long-standing signature practice, has transferred well from the film theater to the art gallery, where the work has found a new dwelling place. It is interesting to note that the way Akerman has always liked to film fits perfectly well into the meandering itineraries of our current forms of viewership. It accords closely with the digital era’s nonlinear streaming and is in tune with the performative, subjective, roaming fashion of imaging that has come to inhabit our screens. Her itinerant way of filming appears especially suited to the ambling mode of reception in the art gallery, where visitors wander in space, interacting with screens that enhance not only displacement but also forms of liminality. 1. This unpublished text comes from an unrealized work titled Of the Middle East, from 1998. I thank Akerman for offering me this text, and for the many conversations about her work over the years.
Whether in cinema or installation form, the fabric of the screen always functions for Akerman as a porous material that mediates an intense sense of projection: a relationship between inside and outside, physical and mental space. This fluid geography of wandering states of mind, with a fixed yet transitive topography, was first established experimentally on the screen of Hotel Monterey (1972), an architectural survey of the random presences that populate a hotel lobby and elevator. It took further shape in News from Home (1976), in which a primarily stationary camera records the movement of New York City while exploring the intimate etymology of metropolis, the “mother-city” across which we travel to the rhythm of the letters that Akerman’s mother sends her. Although the geography of Les Rendezvous d’Anna (1978) is rigorously composed of trains, train stations, cinemas, car interiors, and hotel rooms, this moving panorama, structured by a railway trip, tracks for us an intimate journey. The protagonist, a filmmaker on tour with her film, meets her mother in a hotel room and, away from the family house, tells her about her lesbian life. A family or personal history can only be displayed in a virtual place of transit—the railway or the hotel at that time, the smart phone or the laptop now—a site inhabited each “night and day” by different stories, as the title of a 1991 film by Akerman further suggests. This geographic porosity that interweaves internal and external space, endlessly reconfigured in Akerman’s work, has found new ground for expansion in the art gallery through the installation work that Akerman has taken to producing. The moving image installation Femmes d’Anvers en Novembre (2007), for example, gives further shape to the filmmaker’s recurring creative interest in the screen as a site of passage. The very space of this installation, which chronicles moments of life in the city, threads through the ground of her film Toute une nuit (1982), in which a series of disconnected stories intersect on the urban pavement. This film enters and exits the lives of several urban dwellers as they come together or split up, kiss or fight, in Brussels’s cabs and cafés, homes and hotels, forming a narrative mosaic of love in, and of, the city. Like the installation, Toute une nuit is a noctural work that resides in the passageway. The film insistently takes place on the sidewalk or the steps of stairways, and halts by windowsills. It is suspended on the balcony and lingers in the corridors. Doors open and close as we are left to ponder at the doorsteps. Throughout 37
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these edgy urban encounters—atonal fragments of a city symphony—we always remain at the threshold. Now, as Akerman’s video/installation work extends the potential of her cinema of thresholds, it reinvents it in even more spatial terms. The installation Femmes d’Anvers en Novembre, in particular, reframes her cinema of transition and suspension in the very space of the art gallery. Here the artist makes use of the actual site of the gallery to construct an architecture of displacement in twofold projection. In the installation, short narratives are presented in long, horizontal, split-screen format, in the form of a landscape. In this way we are offered an urban portrait as we encounter a woman, a flâneuse, captured in a moment of suspended time, smoking at night in various street settings. The installation renews Akerman’s filmic sense of inhabiting a city, dwelling especially on those instants of pause and transition, reflection and anxiety, when women are on their own, ambling, walking in the rain, lingering, caught in an intermediate zone. The work is supended between a before and an after, in the unsettling time of a transitory moment that we, the gallery visitors, can empathetically share, becoming flâneuses ourselves as we amble and ramble, stroll and stray, meandering in the gallery space. The sequence of images in the installation unfolds in space as an actual landscape. Using the wide format today to make a contemporary urban panorama, Akerman’s installation recreates a historical experience in the art gallery setting. It remakes the kind of architectonic panoramic image that made the city into a landscape and the cityscape into a moving screen. In such a way, the precise time in the history of visual culture in which the panorama emerged as the generative site of moving images becomes a renewed screen and projective space (see Bruno, 2002). Furthermore, painterly genres become connected in Femmes d’Anvers en Novembre as the face joins the landscape in the twofold urban portrait of female flânerie. In this work, the face itself becomes a landscape. We are reminded of the words of Gilles Deleuze, who spoke of the face as a surface, a landscape, a map: The face has a correlate of great importance: the landscape…Architecture positions its ensembles—houses, towns or cities, monuments or factories—to function like faces in the landscape they transform. Painting takes up the same movement but also reverses it, positioning a landscape as a face. (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p.170–172)
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In this installation, as the face becomes the landscape it turns into a screen. Akerman paints the surface, and in the process highlights the root of the term “surface,” as well as the layers of depth that it may contain. In exhibiting that hyphenated form which is a sur-face, the artist remakes it into her own screen surface. In Akerman’s world, we are held on the surface of things. The installation celebrates early cinema’s attraction to filming a woman’s face in close-up, veiled by the nuances of a cloud of smoke. The diffuse, nebulous ambiance of Akerman’s installation becomes an elegy to cinema’s own fascination for vapors and haze. This ode to the subtlety and haziness of the waxed world of celluloid leads us to reflect on the fabric of imaging itself, and its transient nature. As we are immersed in a smoky, misty world, and absorbed into a vaporous aesthetic, this misty, cloudy, rainy, and foggy atmosphere offers us a visual pleasure that is pneumatic in nature. And as pneuma becomes the core of the installation, the very breath of the filmic image is felt upon our skin. The pleasure of Akerman’s work is not simply visual but synesthetically tactile. Moving fluidly between moving image installation, fiction film, or documentary form, Akerman haptically takes us into a world of images that become labored, textured, and nuanced as they float in a specific and precise way. In her work, we travel through an architecture of atmosphere, a formally rigorous aesthetic of frontal long takes with stationary and moving camera, often made of symmetrical compositions. With these frames fixed as if to seize motion, Akerman constructs a geometry of passages and a relational form of screening that empathetically includes us. By virtue of the camera position, which often refuses to move with the characters and rolls independently, remaining steady in time, we cannot pry. We are simply there. Witnesses, we are made to exist in the space, and asked to stay overtime. This “being there” in time enables us to make a psychic leap, to go beyond mere attendance toward a more intimate involvement. Refusing voyeursim and reaching for a closer spectatorial position, the work allows us to become participants. As an affective atmosphere unfolds in slow time-space, we can let ourselves slide in. We can absorb what is in the air and partake in a mood. By articulating this atmosphere, Akerman can allow both character and spectator to experience the ambiguous architectonics of thresholds that characterizes the act of screening. Visitors to her world can be at the same time in their own physical and mental space and in the space of her voyage. The position of Akerman’s camera sometimes indicates where the
author stands in all senses, since it even includes the measure of her slight height. It is a position that marks her presence there, never so close as to interfere or so far that her presence as a fellow traveler is not felt. However far away Akerman journeys, her work always appears to house the memories of someone who is not quite a stranger to the places she visits. This is a function of the intrinsic empathy one feels for the cultural and social landscapes the artist puts us in touch with. It should also be noted that Akerman’s artistic journeys often end up revisiting places close to her own history: the various sites of a Jewish diasporic geography.2 Writing in an exemplary way for the installation that grew of out of her film D’Est (1993), Akerman speaks clearly of a journey that is a personal geography. For this installation, Bordering on Fiction: Chantal Akerman’s “D’Est,” she engages the closeness of the exploration as she speaks of the “moving” nature of moving images: I would like to make a grand journey …I’d like to shoot everything. Everything that moves me. Faces, streets, cars going by and buses, train stations and plains, rivers and oceans, streams and brooks, trees and forests. Fields and factories and yet more faces. Food, interiors, doors, windows, meals being prepared.3 In Akerman’s grand journey for the installation, motion becomes emotion as it touches the space of everyday life. She designs a world of faces and food, windows and streets, buses and rivers, trains and doors, oceans and rooms—a map that incorporates the nurturing architecture of the in-
Witnesses, we are made to exist in the space, and asked to stay overtime. This “being there” in time enables us to make a psychic leap, to go beyond mere attendance toward a more intimate involvement. terior. This inner world is composed of still lifes and pictures of side rooms, which are framed and reframed in the monitors of the installation as if they were landscape paintings. It is also made of endless tracking shots in which the emotion of motion itself is captured. In this movement of dwelling, we 2. For a reading of Akerman’s work in terms of its revisitation of Jewish sites and forms of wandering see, in particular, Janet Bergstrom (2003) and Ivone Margulies (2003). See also Margulies (1996) and Veronica Pravadelli (2000). 3. The text was displayed on the wall of the exhibition and is published in Bordering on Fiction (1995). This compelling exhibition originated at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and was on view at the Jewish Museum in New York, February 23 to May 27, 1997. 38
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abide. An atlas of life, it is quite a grand tour. As an atlas, this is a cumulative experience. As Akerman decomposes her film D’Est into the form of an installation piece, she gives particular attention to the interior architecture of the installation. We access a space in which the film “resides” in 24 video monitors, arranged in triptychs. Here, as it remains still, circles 360 degrees in a train station, or tracks streets independently of the objects that enter the frame, the camera collects images, which accumulate in the space of the installation. Their impact grows with both awareness of and obliviousness to the camera’s presence. The video monitors become a storage space of this mnemonic itinerary. In this place of collection that is recollection, in time, we are transported. With these motion pictures archivally housed on screens spread across the museum space, the gallery viewer is furthermore offered the spectatorial pleasure of physically and imaginatively entering into a film, and of retraversing the language of montage. The final effect is that cinema itself becomes dislocated in the art space. This kind of viewership ultimately signals a passage between art, architecture, and film, predicated on shifting notions of forms of screening. In Akerman’s viewing chambers, as the threshold is architecturally materialized, the screen itself takes center stage, becoming its own border space. Reframing the screen while fluctuating between experimental cinema, fiction, and documentary, and moving to work in installation, Akerman has especially cultivated the projective side of the act of screening. She has made the fabric of the screen into an object for fashioning the self in light of manifold times and traces of memory. Her recent use of scrims enhances the actual architecture of the screen, giving form to the fabric of the projective fabrication. In Marcher à côté de ses lacets dans un frigidaire vide (2004), Akerman dwells on a diary in which both her grandmother and her mother wrote, and that also bears marks from the time when her sister and she found it as children. In one part of the installation, a spiraling wall made of a white, diaphanous material evokes the properties of a screen or scrim, into which one can walk, and in which words from the artist as well as the multilayered diary are inscribed. In another room, a flat screen made of the same diaphanous material becomes the site of a three-part simultaneous projection and inscription of the writing of the women at different times. As the traces of the past are materialized in the present, the scrim holds a polyphony of projective experiences in sartorial fashion. Akerman’s use of projection reconnects us to an important layer of screen
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history and design. In the archaeology of the screen, the history of the word projection is itself entangled with the display of psychic processes. The concept of projection joins cinema to psychoanalysis, for at the time of film’s invention Sigmund Freud developed the notion of projection as an instrument that is essential to the formation of the subject and the understanding of boundaries (see Doane, 2009). Analytically speaking, projection is a mechanism that regulates the establishment of the boundaries between subject and object, and thus regulates the sense of what is internal and external. As Melanie Klein developed this notion further, insisting that forms of projection inward and outward are related to oral functions, she spoke of projective identification with the first object, the mother’s breast (Klein, 1946). In her view, projection is the motor of all object relations. From the beginning of the life of the subject, object relations are molded by an interaction between introjection and projection, a transfer between internal and external objects as well as situations. On her screens, Akerman activates a mode of projection precisely in this way, for the screen for her is both a boundary and a threshold. It is, indeed, a place of dialogue and exchange between the internal and the external. Such a screen is fundamentally an architecture of psychic transfer and tracing. It is also a space haunted by the maternal. On Akerman’s screen, projection becomes a notion that holds not only an attribute of subjectivity but also contains the mark of the memories and unconscious relations that inform the transitive environment of experience. In Akerman’s moving image installations, as in her cinema, the art of projection is thus practiced in the widest sense as a transfer that engages the material world and the transformations that occur within its space. Her particular use of the screens of projection as an architecture of becoming involves a fashioning of imaginary space— that is to say, the kind of projections that are forms of the imagination. As Akerman exposes those projections that are mental, psychic processes, exhibited in the material world as space, she also works with a particular form of projection: Einfühlung, or empathy. Her work, in fact, goes to the root of empathy, which is, literally, the act of “feeling into.” Let us recall that, as defined by German aesthetics in the late nineteenth century, Einfühlung is a dynamic conception that accounts for a material response to an object, an image, or a spatial environment (see Mallgrave & Ikonomou, 1994; for an overview of the history of Einfühlung, see Koss, 2006). This act of “feeling into” is a notion sensitive to the surface of the world.
It depends on the ability to sense an inner movement that takes place between the object-space and the subject. This means that one can empathize with the expressive, dynamic forms of art and architecture— even with colors and sounds, scenery and situations, surfaces and textures—and these “projections” include such transmissions of affects as atmospheres (see Bruno, 2014).
The concept of projection joins cinema to psychoanalysis, for at the time of film’s invention Sigmund Freud developed the notion of projection as an instrument that is essential to the formation of the subject and the understanding of boundaries. Chantal Akerman’s screens offer precisely this kind of “feeling into” that engages the landscape and the streetscape and various matters of spatial construction, including formal arrangements and even fabrics, shapes, and shades. Her work is, indeed, about this particular affect: a psychic atmosphere that transpires on the surface. Shot in what I would ultimately call a distant intimacy, her images are formally arranged to allow for the kind of reserve that is needed to engage us closely. They enable, that is, the kind of analytic detachment—the form of screening—that is necessary to create real empathy. This is particularly evident in the video installation Là-bas (2006), which makes compelling use of the screen as an architecture. Là-bas chronicles Akerman’s trip to Tel Aviv, during which the filmmaker, interestingly, mostly remains inside an apartment. Static long takes enable us to wander around the interior of the place and observe a scene of little action inside. We can see out the window, although not clearly. We are made to peek through blinds that are made of loosely woven reeds, which filter the light, and our vision. What is portrayed here is nothing but a screen, and it is deliberately positioned between the world outside and us. Such a screen partition forms a delicate physical boundary between inside and outside. It also serves to both reveal and obscure our view of the city, and particularly of the neighborhood. In such a filtered way, through the fabric of a screen, we get to know the neighbors. Observing the unfolding of their daily chores, we begin to imagine their conversations, which we cannot hear. Meanwhile, offscreen, we hear Akerman’s voice, speaking in diaristic fashion about matters of daily life, (family) history, and filming, and never failing to answer her mother’s calls. 39
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Dwelling on the architecture of the screen, Là-bas articulates an elaborate geography of thresholds. By focusing our attention on this window that is a screen, “dressed” to resemble a scrim, Akerman asks herself and us to engage with a subtle act of screening. We sense a resistance to filming a world that is inhabited by a difficult history, including the artist’s own family history and the travails of diaspora. It is by exhibiting such resistance, and materializing it in the physical form of the screen partition, that Akerman is able to make a film that is otherwise impossible to make. This screen is not a barrier but a threshold, for it not only marks passage but actually enables access. A complex material fabrication is felt here, inscribed in the very fabric of this imaginary screen. The diffuse “feeling into” of the screen empathetically involves us in a rich act of interpretation. As we come up against the reedy material of the screen, we too negotiate a textured boundary. The screen not only functions to filter the outside world and to experience layers of history, but also “curtains” the space inside. It offers Akerman the shelter she needs “down there” to look out and see inside herself. Such a screen makes a process of introjection possible within its boundary, which can be crossed. Over time, then, the straw-like screen becomes a textured space that holds complex forms of projection within its fabric. In the end, the material of the interwoven screen enhances the fabrication of intimacy, for it tangibly “suits” Akerman’s point of view. This screen is tailored to hold in its very fabric her particular version of empathy: a position of distant proximity. We go out with Akerman into the world only to look inward; we remain inside to look out. In this way, we plunge into the depth of the artists’s own psychic space and personal history. Regardless of the distance we have traveled, the journey of discovery inevitably turns out to be an inner journey, not too far removed from self-analysis. We recognize this particular chamber. We know this curtained world, filtered through the screen of the installation of Là-bas, for we have been asked with regularity to dwell in this room. Traveling the architecture of the interior in films such as Saute ma ville (1968), La chambre I (1972), Je tu il elle (1974), or even Demain on déménage (2004), we have visited a textured geography that is both familiar and familial. As Akerman herself has put it, “I want to film in order to understand. What are you going there for, someone asked?…I’ll find out when I get there…It’s always your mother and father you run into on a journey” (Akerman, 1998). Despite the different media employed, as we step into any of Akerman’s viewing
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chambers we access rooms of projection that consistently envelop us empathetically, for in these chambers we sense the depth of an intimate experience. Resting on the border of the screen of projection, this particular “feeling into” the space can become a mutual boundary to cross. And thus, safely positioned at a distance, we too can engage our own perilous history of projection: a voyage to—and a view from—home. z REFERENCES Akerman, C. (1998). Of the Middle East. (Unpublished text). Bergstrom, J. (2003). Invented memories. In G. A. Foster (Ed.), Identity and memory: The films of Chantal Akerman (pp. 94–116). Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
Bordering on Fiction: Chantal Akerman’s “D’Est.” (1995). [Exhibition catalog]. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center. Bruno, G. (2002). Atlas of emotion: Journeys in art, architecture, and film. New York, NY: Verso. Bruno, G. (2014). Surface: Matters of aesthetics, materiality, and media. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Chantal Akerman, autoportrait en cineaste. (2004). [Exhibition catalog]. Paris: Cahiers du cinéma and Centre Pompidou. Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. Doane, M. A. (2009). The location of the image: Cinematic projection and scale in modernity. In S. Douglas & C. Eamon (Eds.), Art of projection (pp. 151–166). Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz. Klein, M. (1946). Notes on some schizoid mechanisms. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 27, 99–110. Koss, J. (2006). On the limits of empathy. Art Bulletin, 88(1), 139–157.
Always a Face to Remind You
The idea that the surface is the level of the superficial is itself dangerous…for it is on the surface that depth is seen, as when one’s face breaks out in pimples on holidays. —Jacques Lacan, “The Direction of the Treatment” In thinking of the psychology of mysticism it is usual to concentrate on the understanding of the mystic’s withdrawal into a personal inner world of sophisticated introjects. Perhaps not enough attention has been paid to the mystic’s retreat into a position in which he can communicate secretly with subjective objects and phenomena, the loss of contact with the world of shared reality being counterbalanced by a gain in terms of feeling real. —D. W. Winnicott, “Communicating and Not Communicating” If I were a film, it would be Robert Bresson’s 1951 Journal d’un curé de campagne (The Diary of a Country Priest). Based on the novel by George Bernanos, this quiet and detached film about the loneliness and eventual passing away (dying would be the wrong word here) of a young priest speaks to me like no other. Why? Perhaps because Bresson knows how to protect his characters. Beneath the surface of this tenderly austere black-and-white feature there is an ongoing private conversation that never gets communicated but makes itself felt throughout the film. Bresson is a believer, not a psychologist. He doesn’t analyze his characters. He moves them. But we don’t get to know their motivation. Observing the priest—we never hear his name—I learn to love the surface. Not the superficial but the face. His face! For that’s where he comes to life on the screen, where he shines, and falters. This face. What a contrast to the black habit of a Catholic minister with which he covers his body. Hide + seek. And somewhere in between faith can be lost and found. The vocabulary of psychoanalysis doesn’t always appreciate the surface. Words like Tiefenpsychologie (depth psychology) and Unterbewusstsein (subconscious) suggest that psychoanalysts are people who penetrate our mind like a surgeon cuts through the skin: laying bare what ought to remain hidden. Scary. Neither Lacan nor Winnicott were fond of those words—for a reason. For, as Winnicott writes, when we relate to others, we engage in “a sophisticated game of hide-and-seek in which it is joy to be hidden but disaster not to be found.” What Winnicott is saying here is that the places where we hide are not (must not be) the places where we are found. Psychoanalysis has a word for this paradox: 40
Lipps, T, (1965). Empathy and aesthetic pleasure. In Karl Aschenbrenner and Arnold Isenberg (Eds.), Aesthetic theories: Studies in the philosophy of art. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Margulies, I. (1996). Nothing happens: Chantal Akerman’s hyperrealist everyday. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Margulies, I. (2003). Echo and voice in Meetings with Anna. In G. A. Foster (Ed.), Identity and memory: The films of Chantal Akerman (pp. 59–76). Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press. Mallgrave, H. F., & Ikonomou, E. (Eds.). (1994). Empathy, form, and space: Problems in German aesthetics, 1873–1893. Santa Monica, CA: Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities. Pravadelli, V. (2000). Performance, rewriting, identity: Chantal Akerman’s postmodern cinema. Turin: Otto. Sultan, T. (Ed.). (2008). Chantal Akerman: Moving through time and space [Exhibition catalog]. Houston, TX: Blaffer Gallery and the Art Museum of the University of Houston.
transference. The transference is a space where both patient and analyst can find each other as intimate strangers; where they are free to imagine one another. For some patients the transference is the first experience of being imagined without being invaded or used. A space where silence can be a retreat and an invitation (a call) to the analyst to tend to the surface, a space where we can be found without the danger of being found out, violated, raped. Lacan is right: “The idea that the surface is the level of the superficial is dangerous.” Depth reveals itself on the surface, no need to dig deep, no need to penetrate. Why not? Because. As every infant knows, in the beginning is the face—the mother’s face. We need a surface on which to appear. We need an other to form an image of who we are. We need to be imagined to feel real. Is that why we cry at the movies? This is what I know: although transference is more than projection, The Diary of a Country Priest tells me something important about this need to be imagined. *** If I were to write about this film, that face, that surface, it would have to be in the form of a diary—the perfect form to accommodate the wish to be found and to remain hidden at the same time. My heart is racing. Friday, June 14—00:02:05 /AMBRICOURT/ letters. a road sign, then a dissolve into a close-up of the young priest’s face—white as a sheet. the direction of the curé, and, perhaps, the direction of the cure? this is his first parish: mon paroisse, mon première paroisse! and i know he’s not well. though there are no pimples breaking out on this otherworldly, saintly face. so pale, so innocent, so tender. so sad. like a mirror that’s never seen a reflection. a wounded soul. unknown. incommunicado. an unwritten page. the whitest pain you’ve ever seen. feel the coolness of my gaze! i wish he could. will someone answer him, receive him, find him when he gives himself over? that morning as he arrives in his parish, i see him lose his faith, before my very eyes. so he clings to signs, letters, nameplates, words on a page. his diary! something calm and reassuring to hold on to, to hook him to the world. this is his project: “I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong in jotting down, day after day, with absolute frankness the very simple and most insignificant secrets of a life lacking any trace of mystery.”
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Saturday, June 15—00:33:17 ink like blood will have to keep him going. keeping track of a life without any trace of mystery, that’s a meager diet, and he knows it. he calls it faire face, face up to the world. he may not be aware of it but he lives for the close-up, that most wondrous of all cinematic framing techniques: when the face fills the screen—huge, larger than life, so close, we are newborns. and so is he. the blankness of his face, the searching eyes, hoping for a mirror. when Bresson gives me a close up of the priest’s face—and he gives me many!—the intimacy he conveys is one of withdrawal, detachment, disappearance. as the camera zooms in on the priest’s face, the image is drained of its sound. momentarily still, i lose him. i see him withdraw, watch him retreat into himself; i hear his voice, listen to his diary. he is speaking to himself, and i am his witness. the priest’s first-person narration— the sharing of his journal containing only insignificant secrets—is his way of shutting me out and keeping me interested. someone like me. Sunday, June 16—00:03:02 he knows a secret when he sees one. the count and the governess: furtive glances, stolen embraces in the park. they know that he knows…they don’t like it…and he can’t help it. he’s a troublemaker. taking everything to heart, too hard. when you walk away, you show me how. Tuesday, June 18—00:17:45 i know an unwelcome child when I see one. always slightly out of place, out of time, out of touch. why is he here, if no one receives him with love? what a strange question, his mentor the priest of Torcy scolds him, it’s a job. you are the priest, you shouldn’t expect love. so he tries. so he contacts the count, pays a visit to the mansion. but the count forgets the appointment. so he meets the countess, an inconsolable, depressed, and unforgiving woman, absorbed in the memory of her dead son, a sweet boy who passed away at the age of five. it is their first encounter. the shyness in his eyes. she questions him. he can’t answer her. dizzy, nauseous, unable to hold the conversation, fainting . . . and then something happens between them: he is that lost son, a foundling in need to be taken in. suddenly she is a mother all over again. what is with you? she asks, her cool hand on his feverish forehead. where does it hurt? i know it before he says it: here…in the pit of my stomach. the anguish on his face… is mine. someday out of the blue it will find you! Wednesday, June 19—00:25:28 when a face doesn’t inspire faith. nuit affreuse, awful night! no dreams, no prayer. does he cry out in his sleep? the words, they don’t come easily. always out of breath.—we can write and not breathe, but try to speak and hold your breath. breathe in, breathe out—the letter reaches us from the outside but the word, the voice, originates inside us. he just can’t take that risk. our hidden thoughts, he writes, poison the air others breathe. really? i wish you could hear my
music. it would hold you, resonate in you, with you. but no! you are a prisoner of the holy agony. in the morning, as he leans out of the window, he would do anything for a word of kindness and compassion. the characters in his diary, immutable, each one an isolate, pulling everything apart, no longer give the consolation he needs. he arrived at the written word long before he was ready for it. watch him unravel… Thursday, June 20—01:09:00 so much pain, and no one there to share it with. his hunger, his secret. it’s eating him up! /STOMACH CANCER/ the diagnosis feels like a verdict. the disease of the undernourished; the illness of the starved child. the idea of this thing inside you makes you feel ashamed. Friday, June 21—01:09:00 listen. the closing of a window. the roar of a motorcycle going by. the crisp rustling of dry leaves on a lawn. sounds that have no image. what we hear is rarely what we see. he is falling into that void. to disappear completely. Saturday, June 22—01:12:24 i could see it coming. he is running out of words to write…the shadow of a cross on a white wall…the last signifier…not all is grace. FIN. who wants to die on a saturday? Sunday, June 23—00:41:00 face faith cure curè parish perish heart hard heard word like a child.
Tuesday, June 25—00:01:05 i like to believe that the priest needs me as much as i need him. i like to pretend that Bresson made this movie so that the priest could be imagined—for the first time. sometimes going to the movies is an act of love. always a face to remind me. for Nicola, and the fox in the snow.
REFERENCES Bresson, Robert (Director). (1951). Journal d’un curé de champagne [motion picture]. France: Rialto Pictures. Lacan, Jacques. (2006). “The direction of the treatment and the principles of its power.” In Écrits: The first complete edition in English (pp. 489–542). New York, NY: W. W. Norton. Winnicott, D. W (1963). “Communicating and not communicating leading to a study of certain opposites.” In The maturational processes and the facilitating environment (pp.179–192). London: Hogarth Press.
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“The Meaning of Simplicity”: A Poem by Yannis Ritsos
Henry M. SEIDEN
With Commentary by Frank KORAHAIS and Spyros ORFANOS
We can thank Freud for the definitive modern demonstration that nothing in human experience is simple. The theory, make that theories, that contemporary psychoanalysts rely on in our clinical work can be thought of as honest efforts to extend Freud’s heroic
“The Meaning of Simplicity” is populated by simple things. An August moon, the kitchen of an empty house, the moon shining like a tin-plated pot, an absence, a presence, a meeting. Merging handprints: a lover’s kitchen, we think—but we’re not sure. And there’s the lovely last thought about the true word
The Meaning of Simplicity I hide behind simple things so you’ll find me; If you don’t find me, you’ll find the things, you’ll touch what my hand has touched, our hand-prints will merge. The August moon glitters in the kitchen like a tin-plated pot (it gets that way because of what I’m saying to you), it lights up the empty house and the house’s kneeling silence— always the silence remains kneeling. Every word is a doorway to a meeting, one often cancelled, and that’s when a word is true: when it insists on the meeting. Reprinted by permission of Princeton University Press from Repetitions, Testimonies, Parentheses (1991), translated from the Greek by Edmund Keeley.
and lifelong effort at making sense of the complexity underlying apparently simple things. But useful and reassuring as our efforts may be, we are always aware of their inadequacy. We know that in every human encounter (clinical or otherwise), the mystery remains. Poetry, it could be said, addresses the same mystery—without the need for explaining. It allows us to appreciate and take pleasure in our mystified situation; in the apprehension that things are both what they seem and more than what they seem; in our awareness of the quivering balance between what we know and what we’ll never know. Poetry aims, moreover, at celebrating this tension—economically and concisely. Surface simplicity, underlying complexity; surface clarity, deeper ambiguity. Here’s a lovely meditation on simplicity from the modern Greek poet Yannis Ritsos.
“insisting” on a meeting. (An elegant statement of the essence of both the poetry exchange and the psychoanalytic exchange.)
But all is not so simple. The “I” of the poem is “hiding” behind “simple” things. And hiding so that someone can find him! Why is he hiding—and how? And from whom? And why does he want to be found? The mysteries abound. Why is it that it’s the saying it (the “I” to his other) that makes the moon glitter like a tin-plated pot? And more: What about the “kneeling” silence of the empty house? Why kneeling? One would think this is mixed metaphor: silences don’t kneel. Yet Ritsos insists on repeating the phrase. Clearly the idea, confusing as it is, is of central importance. Is he evoking an attitude of prayer? Of supplication? Of humility? Of expectation? Of longing? “Kneeling silence” makes one think of the silence in a church. Is this an evocation of the presence of the divine? The more we examine it, the more ambiguous the situation of the poem becomes, the more ironic the claim of simplicity. Is this about lovers? About the poet and his reader (that is, his audience)? About God and prayer? Is it about mourning? Is the situation factual or a kind of dreaming? Is someone leaving? Missing? Gone? What kind of meeting is a true meeting? And there’s a further complication—a consequence of the translation. The “doorway” (see Frank Korahais’s comment below). Is this a way out or a way in? Where do we imagine that the meeting might take place?
The Meaning of Simplicity I hide behind simple things that you may find me; if you don't find me, you'll find the things, you'll touch what my hand touches, the imprints of our hands will merge. The August moon glitters in the kitchen like a pewter pot (it becomes like this because of what I tell you) it lights up the empty house and the kneeling silence of the house— always the silence remains kneeling. Every word is a way out for an encounter often canceled, and it's then a word is true, when it insists on the encounter. Reprinted by permission of The Permissions Company on behalf of BOA Editions from Selected Poems (1939-1988), translated from the Greek by Kimon Friar.
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We do know a little of Ritsos’s history. He was a political as well as a lyrical poet. He was a leftist who ran afoul of a succession of rightwing governments and spent much time both in prison and in forced exile. He spent periods of his life in tuberculosis sanitariums. He would know about longing, leaving, and missing— missing his empty house, his loved ones. So maybe this is a prison poem? (There is a long and distinguished history of such: the Russian revolutionaries, for example.) Or it’s the poem of a man who knows what isolation is like? Maybe this is a kind of prayer, a kind of yearning for simple happiness?
A Comment on the Translation Frank KORAHAIS “The Meaning of Simplicity” is written, in Greek, in simple, accessible words; it is in demotic Greek, which is, in itself, a political statement about being unpretentious and direct in speaking and writing the language. And yet, the poem is mysterious and not easily understood. As I reworked the translation, I found a few places where mine would differ from Edmund Keeley’s, and felt vindicated to find my choice of words in Kimon Friar’s
The Meaning of Simplicity I hide behind simple things so you’ll find me; If you don’t find me, you'll find the things, you'll touch what my hand has touched, our hand-prints will merge. The August moon glitters in the kitchen like a tin-plated pot (it gets that way because of what I’m saying to you), it lights up the empty house and the kneeling silence of the house — always the silence remains kneeling. Every word is a way out for a meeting, one often cancelled, and then a word is true, as it insists on the meeting. Translated by Frank Korahais.
Maybe this is an imaginative reaching out from exile, or from far away? Maybe this is a modern Odysseus longing for home? We’ll never know in any final way, of course. Yannis Ritsos died in 1990 and isn’t here to explain. And one suspects that even if he were, he probably wouldn’t—or couldn’t. The poem, it is said, is larger than the poet; its layers of meaning mystifying even to its maker. z
translation (which is also widely available on the Internet). But there were elements in the Friar translation I didn’t like, either. By selectively using certain words, each translator had influenced the sense of the poem’s meaning. I do not presume to include myself among these serious scholar-translators, but it seems inevitable that each of us should read himself and his own sensibilities into the poem.
that the words themselves might take one to another place. I liked the notion of an insisted-upon meeting that might be held in another place. Did Ritsos himself long to be somewhere else and at a different time? Another part of the Keeley translation troubled me. Both Friar and I translated “kneeling silence of the house” as opposed to “house’s kneeling silence,” offered by Keeley. Again, I felt this was closer to the literal Greek, as well as a way to give dominance to the kneeling silence that Ritsos emphasizes by repeating it. There is nothing in any translation that gets at the meaning of the “kneeling silence.” Everyone translates it literally. I wonder if it’s meant to suggest the hopeful receptivity of someone who is reaching out and feels very much alone. This would be consistent with the notion of a poem written by a prisoner or someone who is/feels isolated in some way. Friar’s translation veered from “simplicity” a bit with the words “pewter” pot. I found myself favoring Keeley’s less pretentious “tin-plated pot.” Similarly, I prefer Keeley’s “you’ll touch what my hand has touched.” It’s more accurate than Friar’s as to tense. My translation differs from both Keeley and Friar in the closing words of the last line, which both translate as “when it insists on the meeting.” The word Ritsos uses is sahn, which literally means “like” and, I think, more accurately can be translated as “as” instead of “when.” My choice here is for the translation that leaves no question that the true word insists on the meeting/encounter now, as opposed to some conditional future. In the end, probably all the variations are valid, and they don’t seem to greatly alter the yet-to-be-unraveled mystery of the poem. But we all seem to sense the poem a bit differently based on our choice of words and, perhaps more importantly, based on our perspective. Here’s my literal translation of the last few lines: z
it lights up the empty house and the kneeling silence of the house— always the silence remains kneeling. Every word is a way out for a meeting, one often cancelled, and then a word is true, as it insists on the meeting. Most notably, I felt the line in Keeley’s translation that reads, “Every word is a doorway” was not literal enough. Ritsos uses the word exodos, the word for “exit” or “way out.” That is quite different from porta, a two-way portal. But I can understand why Keeley was trying to convey the sense of a two-way connection. Kimon Friar instead used the words “way out,” suggesting 43
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A Comment on History and Politics: A Rhapsody on Ritsos Spyros ORFANOS In Greece, unlike in many countries, public esteem for poets is great. This has always been the case; poetry is not a private and esoteric art left to intellectuals. In fact, right now, in the middle of the unprecedented economic collapse and the resulting human damage, one thought by many Greeks— including this writer—to have been created by greedy power elites, it is the poets that Greeks turn to for inspiration and guidance. For most Greeks, there is nothing as practical and progressive as a good poem. Maybe the poet, at times, hides, but Greeks don’t hide their poets. In “The Meaning of Simplicity,” Ritsos has composed a personal statement about his poetic vision. He wrote this poem immediately after WWII and shortly prior to the Greek Civil War. At this point in his life, he was persecuted for his “leftist” poetry but not yet imprisoned. Still, he knew what despair and exile felt like; as a young child he suffered the loss of his mother and brother and was sent to stay with relatives. By young adulthood he had also been in and out of tuberculosis sanitariums. In interviews, Ritsos does tell us that his early poetry, music, and drawing talents helped him survive psychologically.
Ritsos’s vision, although often categorized as political, is fundamentally personal and subjective: “it gets that way because of what I’m saying to you.” He was a poet of Eros, who believed that we were born social and interactive. That is why he “insists” on the encounter with the Other. This is my favorite thing about Ritsos—he wears his relationality on his sleeve. Exiles, imprisonments, illness, and early childhood losses all combined to deepen his sense of isolation. Still he insists on relating; he insists on mutual recognition; he insists on “art that doesn’t divide, but unites.” Years ago I heard him say in a Greek TV documentary, “I don’t know if a kiss lingers, or a song remains, but I know that it is enough that we have met.” The critic and translator, Edmund Keeley (1983), once wrote that Ritsos’s artistic credo could be: Like Cavafy, I can be understood only from hidden things, but the things I hide behind are simple, and there is access to them through words when the words are true. Reader, try to find me through my words, because I want a meeting, and no matter how difficult it may be for us to reach each other—in fact, I insist on the meeting. (p.150) Keeley, E. (1983). Modern Greek poetry: Voice and myth. Princeton, NJ: University Press.
Ritsos has always been more interested in the total ambiance of a poem over isolated words. As he advised young poets, “Guard against the allure of the word, which always leads to verbosity—but don’t neglect that allure in the name of an emotion or of spontaneity.” He was a pianist and I can hear him saying, “Music is not about the notes.” He was a Marxist, and I can hear him saying, “Greetings, comrades. Together we will find the words for our tragic lives…we don’t need dramatic and symbolic expression. Mutuality, catharsis, and personal style are enough.” Ritsos may have been mysterious, but he was never obscure. z Other comments are welcome! Please go to the DIVISION/Review website at www.divisionreview.com.
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Freud and the Sexual
Essays 2000toto2006 2006 Essaysfrom from 2000 “Freud and the Sexual ” is the English translation of Laplanche’s most recent volume: Sexual: La sexualité élargie au sens freudien which represents the culmination of his work. Laplanche’s late style is clear, direct, accessible, and often witty. TRANSLATED BY
John Fletcher, Jonathan House and Nick Ray PUBLISHED BY
Unconscious in Translation, New York
Unconscious in Translation
is new collection which will publish English translations of literary and theoretical works connected with psychoanalysis and with the philosophy of mind. Under the direction of Jonathan House, the collection aims to publish important texts that otherwise have not been or would not be translated. Initially the focus will be on works originally written in French.
Forthcoming: Fall 2012: J.-B. Pontalis: “Brother of the Above” translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. Initially published as Frère du précédent, this short book, part memoir, part psychoanalytic theory, part literary criticism, was awarded the Prix Medici Essai in 2006. Already scheduled for 2013 and 2014: Jean Laplanche: • Entre séduction et inspiration: L’homme translated by Jeffrey Mehlman (2013) • Problématiques VI: Après-coup translated by Dorothée BonigalKatz (2014) • Problématiques VII: Le fourvoiement biologisant de la sexualité chez Freud translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith (2013) Christophe Dejours: • Le corps d’abord translated by Sophie Leighton (2013) Dominique Scarfone: • Laplanche translated by Dorothée Bonigal-Katz (2013)
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NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS Steven D. Axelrod, PhD, practices psychotherapy and psychoanalysis as well as organizational consultation in New York City. He is a contributing editor to DIVISION/ Review (On Research).
Stuart A. Pizer is a founding board member,
faculty, supervising and personal analyst, and former president Massachusetts Institute for Psychoanalysis; assistant clinical professor of psychology, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; faculty, supervising and personal analyst, Institute for Relational Psychoanalysis of Philadelphia. Author of Building Bridges: The Negotiation of Paradox in Psychoanalysis (Analytic Press, 1998), he is in private practice, Cambridge, MA.
Giuliana Bruno is professor of visual and
environmental Studies at Harvard University. She is the author of several books, including her forthcoming, Surface: Matters Of Aesthetics, Materiality, and Media (University of Chicago Press, 2014).
Henry M. Seiden is the chair of the Publications Committee of Division 39 and a contributing editor (On Poetry) of DIVISION/Review. He maintains a private practice in Queens, NY.
Ruth Danon is a poet and a psychoanalyst
and practices in New York. She is the author of Triangulation from a Known Point and Work in the English Novel, a clinical professor of creative and expository writing at NYU, and the founder and director of NYU’s Summer Intensive in Creative and Expository Writing.
Mark Stafford is a practicing analyst, a member of Apres-Coup Psychoanalytic Association, and faculty member of The New School University, The School of Visual Arts, and The Westchester Institute for Psychoanalysis. His publications include Being Human: The Technological Extensions of the Boundaries of the Body (Agincourt/Marsilio).
Judith Harris is a poet and writer, the author of several books of poetry as well as Signifying Pain: Constructing and Healing the Self through Writing (SUNY Press). Her poetry has recently appeared in The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Nation, Hudson Review, and American Life in Poetry.
Carlo Strenger is chair of the Clinical Graduate Program, Department of Psychology, Tel Aviv University. He has published numerous books and academic papers, most recently The Fear of Insignificance: Searching for Meaning in the Twenty-first Century Israel: and Israel: Introduction to a Difficult Country (in German). He is a political commentator for Israel’s leading liberal Newspaper Haaretz.
Frank Korahais, whose career has been in information technology and finance, did graduate work in psychology at the New School for Social Research. He is a Greek American who has long been immersed in the language and culture of his heritage. Bettina Mathes is a Manhattan-based writ-
er and culture critic. She is the author of numerous books and essays including, most recently, Psychoanalysis Interruptus (Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society, 2011); her book Verschleierte Wirklichkeit (Veiled Reality) won the Prize “Best Book in the Humanities” in 2008. She teaches at The School of Visual Arts.
Anthony F. Tasso is associate professor of
psychology & counseling, Fairleigh Dickinson University; New Jersey & New York licensed psychologist in private practice, Morristown, New Jersey. Jamieson Webster is a psychoanalyst in
practice in New York. She is the author of The Life and Death of Psychoanalysis: On Unconscious Desire and its Sublimation (Karnac) and Stay Illusion! The Hamlet Doctrine (Pantheon).
Spyros D. Orfanos is Clinic Director, New
York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. He is a former president of Division 39 and currently is chair of the Humanities and Psychoanalysis Committee. He is also a senior research fellow at the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, Queens College, CUNY.
Lawrence Zelnick is co-chair of the Rela-
tional Track at NYU Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. He practices psychotherapy and psychoanalysis in New York. 48
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