The psychoanalyst Norman Doidge has analyzed schizoid themes in the novel The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje.   The protagonist in the novel, Almásy, is a remote desert explorer whose triangular sadomasochistic affair with the married Katharine destroys them all. His damaged skin is understood as a symbolic representation of his psychological condition. For the schizoid, love consumes and leads to obliteration of the self, represented by the loss of identifying features, and to traumatic permeability (i.e., the loss of boundaries between self and other, and between the ego and repressed desires). Other schizoid themes are the animation of the inanimate, as in the depiction of the desert as a woman; hidden or buried identities; the digital and destructive experience of emotion represented by the conundrum of the bomb defuser; the sense that everything good is imaginary and might suddenly explode; and the moral unevenness of the characters. Almásy collaborates with the Nazis so he can retrieve Katharine’s three-year-old corpse, with which he has necrophilic contact in a cave. Fantasies of the lost object buried within the self, of being buried alive, and of being skinned alive are related to the schizoid condition. Hyperpermeability is proposed as a core schizoid state, underlying schizoid withdrawal.

Be that as it may.

It would appear that another theme in the novel is that of having two mothers.  Psychoanalytically, Katherine might be seen to represent the sexual, Oedipal mother while Hana is the nonsexual, caretaker. Both are in fact one person, psychoanalytically, the mother. The English Patient has been interpreted by Norman Doidge, MD (a psychoanalyst) as a creative transformation of schizoid disorder. How does the split image of the mother, as personified by Hana and Katherine, relate to schizoid disorder?

Incidentally, Freud was preoccupied with the theme of two mothers.  In view of the fact that as a child Sigmund Freud was looked after by two mothers--his actual mother and a nursemaid–it is hardly surprising that traces of this pre-oedipal situation, fraught as it was with traumatization and loss, should be discernible in the works of the creator of psychoanalysis. Freud’s continued preoccupation with the Oedipus myth, his interest in “great men” like da Vinci and Michelangelo, and finally his identification with the figure of Moses are pointers not only to the paternal dimension (as long suggested by Freud’s biographers) but also to the maternal dimension and its significance for Freud’s life and work. The author demonstrates that those mythical and historical figures which Freud identified with–Oedipus, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Moses–themselves all had two mothers and sublimated this traumatic experience into outstanding achievements, the same being true of Freud himself “who solved the famous riddle and was a most powerful man”.

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