In the year 1990 I was in psychotherapy with a psychoanalyst — one of the finer analysts in Washington, DC.
I told him about an injury in the mouth I suffered at age two and a half. I had placed a curtain rod in my mouth, injuring myself when I fell. The curtain rod caused a serious puncture wound in the soft palate that had to be cauterized.
The analyst saw no significance in this incident or in my preoccupation with this incident and my insistence that the incident had psychological significance.
Now, this is what is striking: On another occasion the analyst said I engaged in concrete thinking — suggesting that I mistook real events for issues of symbolic psychological importance.
Well, now, that is interesting, isn’t it? I am a concrete thinker, according to the analyst, and yet this same analyst failed to see the deep psychological importance — or symbolic meaning — of my concern for my childhood injury.
Isn’t my preoccupation with a traumatic, painful puncture wound symbolic of something? Might it not be seen to be symbolic of the importance of introjection in my personality? In psychoanalytic theory introjection is a primitive ego defense, oral in origin (yes! oral in origin, like a puncture wound in the mouth) in which the individual internalizes external objects into his psychic structure. Melanie Klein argued (consistent with Freud) for how a strict super-ego may well develop without a correlative severe parental figure; that is, the super-egoic violence that is brought to bear on the ego is given its force and its imprint from early infantile impulses, producing a biting, devouring and cutting policing of adherence to an ego-ideal. Think about the imagery: isn’t a “super-egoic violence that is brought to bear on the ego” an exquisite symbolic representation of the concrete image of a violent puncture wound to the soft palate?
(What is fascinating is that the injury occurred as a reaction to my envy or jealousy. I was in the kitchen with my mother. She was talking on the telephone and ignoring me. I experienced envious rage. I put the curtain rod in my mouth to get attention.)
What I suspect about myself is that I have very powerful oral impulses, present since infancy, involving powerful voracity, greed and envy. It is as if I could devour all the earth with all its mankind. Following from this is my tendency toward intense primitive idealization (as with Dr. P — aka, Mr. Eggs and Sausages) — and my unusual capacity for internalization. It is as if my mind were a sponge for external objects — both good and bad, which is consistent with my severe introjective pathology as described by Sidney Blatt. Patients with introjective disorders are plagued by feelings of guilt, self-criticism, inferiority, and worthlessness. They tend to be more perfectionistic, duty-bound, and competitive individuals, who often feel like they have to compensate for failing to live up to the perceived expectations of others. Are all of these traits bound up with my powerful instinctual orality?
I am also intellectually voracious.
What the analyst should have been looking for in me was a powerful orality — voracity, greed, intense primitive idealization and envy — in me. The analyst should have been looking for the myriad transformations or vicissitudes of this instinct in my personality as well as my possible defenses against a powerful orality.
Compare the following — the unusual way I deal with envy, possibly found in creative persons:
“I sense possible envy and unconscious feelings of triumph in your report that you destroyed your parents’ paradise. I suspect that at some level you relished the idea of destroying your parents’ ‘beautiful world’ because it was denied to you. You know there is a psychological theory that the infant both loves and envies the mother’s breast: that at some level the infant wants to destroy the mother’s breast – precisely because it is good – at those moments the infant feels that the mother has withheld the breast from him. Your family’s beautiful world, their Paradise as you call it, was denied to you and you envied it; you wanted to destroy it. I’d like to offer a reconstruction that ties together your creativity and your destructive impulses. It may be a regular feature of your mental life that when you envy something and cannot merge with it, you destroy it in fantasy, then recreate an image of that envied object in your mind. What I am saying is that you envied your parents’ paradise, you could not have it, you proceeded to destroy it in fantasy, and you resurrected an idealized image of it in your inner world. I suspect that we can find residues of former envied objects in your idealized world, your inner Garden of Eden, your own private paradise, that you retreat to.”
I saw all this in 1988 when I wrote the Caliban Complex. I am years ahead of my time!! Why is it that one of the top psychoanalysts didn’t see this? Is it because he was not a Kleinian? One wonders.
From Significant Moments: (Note both the voracity and the idealization)
I thought his memory was like the other memories of the dead that accumulate in every man’s life—a vague impress on the brain of shadows that had fallen on it in their swift and final passage; but before the high and ponderous door, between the tall houses of a street as still and decorous as a well-kept alley in a cemetery. I had a vision of him opening his mouth voraciously . . .
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness.
. . . the way Homer renders a heart-eating cyclops . . .
Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination.
. . . as if to devour all the earth with all its mankind. He lived then before me; he lived as much as he had ever lived – a shadow insatiable of splendid appearances, of frightful realities; a shadow darker than the shadow of night, and draped nobly in the fields of a gorgeous eloquence. The vision seemed to enter the house with me –
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness.