~ I am going to make my way in this blog on a metaphorical bridge of thoughts and perceptions from day to day to try to connect the known with the yet unknown. My bridge is like a single plank which will require the supplement of others.
I wrote you a few years back about a book I wrote. Well, I’ve written another book — this time about my experience with psychotherapy. It’s unusual. You can check it out in the attachment.
By the way, today is your brother, Jeffrey’s birthday. The years are passing.
From: Gary Freedman <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: m.orchinik <>
Sent: Sun, Nov 8, 2015 11:40 am
Subject: stress as modulator of creativity
I thought you might be interested in a book I have written. You can access it in the attachment to this email. The book, a novel, possibly provides insight into stress as a modulator of creativity. I am a profoundly socially isolated person with no friends or family. I live in a sealed-off world, deprived of social stimulation. Perhaps my novel reflects that stressor.
Incidentally, I used to work with your brother Jeffrey Orchinik at a law firm in Philadelphia many years ago.
From a very young age, it was clear that there was a mismatch between me and my family. When it came to child-rearing, my parents’ conviction in their rightfulness was evinced in a concerted effort to break my will, to teach me the docility and submissiveness that parental authority demanded.
I was an outsider in my family and I suffered the consequences of my defiance of my unforbearing father. Paternal beatings were my lot in childhood. Though I used to oppose such chastisement from the hands of my father with silent opposition, my little heart experienced them as unspeakably bitter, painful, and humiliating. My childhood was a tortured cycle of misbehavior, punishment, resentment, forgiveness, and renewed infractions.
Yet in me this moralistic force met an immovable object. I was the child of strict parents who made me aware from a very early age of the Fourth Commandment: Unfortunately, commandments have always had a catastrophic effect on me. Compelled to honor my father and mother, I instinctively refused. In jest, my father contemplated sending me away to an institution or to be raised by another family.
But in rebelling against my upbringing, I ended up recapitulating its central themes: I never lost the habit of rigorous self-examination or my feelings of unworthiness and my longing for an experience of a transcendent moment. I was a sensitive child, a gifted misfit who rejected my family, its rigorous demands, and its aspirations, and set out to discover the truth for myself. I have spent my adult life determined to not accept the dictates of any authority by behaving in opposition to it. I rebel against conventional ideas of success and have refused to pursue any kind of career, combining downward mobility with spiritual striving. What torments me is the difficulty of being authentic—of staying true to who I really am, despite the enormous pressures of alienation and conformity.
I’ve been reading your book The World at Night. I like your writing style very much — the directness and journalistic clarity. I graduated Penn State in 1975. I just completed an unusual book — a kind of novel in verse — about an immigrant Jewish-Iranian family living in Manhattan. I guess you could say that the city of New York is one of the characters.
If you care to check out the text it’s in the attachment.
Beginning in 1984, upon completion of my graduate law degree, and in the years that followed, the life in the law lost any meaning at all. It had become quite apparent to me that I could not be both a creative dreamer and a “solid citizen,” a Faustian seeker and a stalwart member of the middle class. I am but a gifted misfit. My life has long been restive and discontented. I am unable to bear a comfortable, established mode of existence for any period of time.
I am in essence a willful, moody person who refuses to fit into his society. Basically I am incurable, for I do not want to be cured; I care nothing for co-ordination and a place in the scheme of things. I love nothing but my freedom, my perpetual indeterminate status, and prefer spending my whole life as the unpredictable and obstinate loner, the gifted fool and nihilist, to following the path of subordination to social conventions and thus attaining peace. I care nothing for peace, have no regard for the prevailing moral order, hardly mind reproof and isolation. Certainly I am a most inconvenient and indigestible component in a conventional world. But because of this very troublesomeness and indigestibility I nurture a sense that I am, in the midst of such a shallow and prearranged world, a constant source of vital unrest, a reproach, an admonition and warning, a spur to new, bold, forbidden, intrepid ideas, an unruly, stubborn sheep in the herd. I am an obstinate individualist who takes a fierce delight in any situation which places me in a position to challenge the bigwigs and the hierarchy in general, and show them their shortcomings.
I would never be able to satisfy my individualistic strivings in the hierarchical structure of a law firm. The very nature of a law partnership requires that the young associate let his individuality be almost perfectly absorbed in its hierarchic function. And if conflicts arise between the associate and the Powers that Be, firm partners will always regard the associate’s ability to subordinate his autonomy as a touchstone for the stature of his personality. The partnership does not approve of the rebel who is driven by his desires and passions to infringements upon convention; indeed, the partnership finds all the more worthy of reverence those individuals who sacrificed themselves for the greater whole. That I could never do. I did not want to follow the path trodden by many, but to resolutely plow my own furrow. I am not made for the collective life.
What did my years working with lawyers teach me? I came to see that lawyers meet with clients and carry on conversations, sit out their hours at desks and on office chairs; and it is all compulsory, mechanical and against the grain, and it could all be done or left undone just as well by machines or robots; and indeed it is this never-ceasing machinery that prevents their being, like me, the critics of their own lives and recognizing the stupidity and shallowness, the hopeless tragedy and waste of the lives they lead.
Repression acts . . . Sigmund Freud, Repression.
. . . exactly like the censorship of newspapers . . . Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams.
—just as when . . . Thomas Hardy, Far From the Madding Crowd.
. . . a quantity of passages have been blacked out. Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams.
From the London Review of Books, 2010. The author, Jonathan Lear is a professor at the University of Chicago and a trained psychoanalyst. He is the nephew of Norman Lear, founder of Elliot Mincberg’s organization, People for the American Way. Small world! There’s actually a connection between Professor Lear’s work and his uncle Norman’s concern for First Amendment issues. In the following piece Professor Lear emphasizes a certain aspect of psychoanalysis; he writes that in analysis the patient “succumbs to freedom of speech.”
Freud called free association “this fundamental technical rule of analysis . . . We instruct the patient to put himself into a state of quiet, unreflecting self-observation, and to report to us whatever internal observations he is able to make” – taking care not to “exclude any of them, whether on the ground that it is too disagreeable or too indiscreet to say, or that it is too unimportant or irrelevant, or that it is nonsensical and need not be said”.
The Evocative ObjectWorld
by Christopher Bollas.
Routledge, 126 pp., £13.50, October 2008, 978 0 415 47394 1
The Infinite Question
by Christopher Bollas.
Routledge, 192 pp., £13.50, October 2008, 978 0 415 47392 7
Christopher Bollas is perhaps the most prolific and widely read psychoanalytic author at work today. It’s easy to see why this should be so. His books are written in a conversational style that quickly establishes a friendly, frank relation with his reader, and he exudes the confidence of a master practitioner: he is above all a man of (clinical) experience. He knows his way around – and is happy to introduce you to – the intricate workings of the psyche. He makes the ideas of Freud, Klein, Bion and Winnicott vivid by using examples from richly described clinical settings as well as daily life. He is also in dialogue with these writers, offering amendments and revised formulations. Over the years I have heard numerous mental health professionals and professors in the humanities say that it was Bollas’s work that enabled them finally to understand the concept of object-relations. The Shadow of the Object: Psychoanalysis of the Unthought Known is required reading for anyone interested in how object-relations make an impact on the internal object world; and Hysteria shows, better than any other book I know, why hysteria is still a clinically significant concept. Anyone whose heart sinks at the thought of turning to DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) should go to Bollas, who shows what dynamic psychological thinking cando.
In The Evocative Object World, he brings us back to the psychic significance of everyday reveries:
You are riding in a train, absorbed by the sights flying by. It passes an airport, crosses a canal, traverses a meadow, climbs a long, low hill graced by rows of vineyards, descends into a valley choked with industrial parks… Each location evokes sets of associations. The airport reminds you of the coming summer and your holiday abroad. It recalls the plane that brought you to this part of the world in the first place; the never-ending expansions of airports… Crossing the canal you think of a longed-for trip on a canal boat, yet to be accomplished, signifying the potential remainders of a life… You think of your mother and father-in-law’s former house which was alongside a small canal. You might also think of the dentist and a root canal. And so it goes.
For Bollas, following Freud, psychoanalysis is a peculiar extension of such ordinary meanderings of the mind. Indeed, Freud likened free association to sitting by a train window and describing the passing sights to a fellow passenger. He discovered that if one could allow one’s mind to wander but at the same time monitor its journey, one found all sorts of weird connections. In general, the thoughts would not display a rational structure, yet via temporal or spatial contiguities, similarity of sounds, memories of smells or tastes, metaphorical jumps, sharing a syntactic shape and so on, they would reveal strangely familiar lines of thought, moving out in many directions, of which one had been unaware. Freud’s achievement, in Bollas’s view, is not the discovery of the repressed unconscious, which he thinks has been fetishized, but ‘Freud’s insistence that the most valued material is to be found in the seemingly irrelevant’, his view of ‘the quotidian as a valued source of human truth’.
The ‘Freudian pair’, as Bollas calls it, of analyst and analysand is constituted so as to allow wandering thought to flower. The to-and-fro of the pair facilitates what he calls a new form of thinking. Bollas speaks of the maternal function of the analyst, but it seems more like midwifery to me: facilitating an environment in which the analysand can speak herself in the presence of another. It’s hard to describe to someone who hasn’t participated in this seemingly simple process how surprising it can be. Over time, the analysand will find herself sharing ‘secrets’ that, before speaking them, she did not know she had. There is more privacy in this pair than one can preserve on one’sown.
Bollas makes two crucial points. First, as the analysand ‘succumbs to freedom of speech’, what will emerge is utterly idiosyncratic. When people recount their dreams many of them will describe being inside (or outside) a house, with a strange person outside (or inside) trying to get in (or out); but as the analysand calls up the associations the dream has for her, and then her associations with those associations, unique lines of significance begin to appear – desires, hopes, fears, jealousies. To be sure, there are things in common: all humans share certain primordial problems, and we tend to draw on our cultural heritage for imaginative sustenance; but beyond that we are all idiosyncrasy. When interpreting dreams, Freud said, their images should not be decoded according to fixed symbolic meanings, but located in the peculiar context of the dreamer’s life. This distinguishes psychoanalysis from other forms of talking therapy, and lends remarkable vibrancy to the psychoanalytic process. (Freud did later insert an ill-thought-out addendum on typical symbols, having just read a book on the subject; the editors of an even later edition changed this to a free-standing section, and Hollywood took it over. Thus Freud is remembered for a idea inimical to his theory.)
Second, Bollas tells us that what tends to emerge from free association is an array of psychic structures. He speaks of the evocative object world: ‘One of the intriguing features of an analysis is the fact that patients have these organised inner compositions which, like magnets, attract further impressions and serve as the core of the self’s creative articulation.’ This seems exactly right, and very important. What comes out of a successful analysis is the discovery not of a hidden desire but of primordial structures of motivation that organize one’s experience of self and world.
If you want a textured sense of what this means, read The Infinite Question, in which Bollas presents the notes from three cases, along with his own supervisory comments. The pages are printed Talmud-style, with the text of the analysand’s associations along with the analyst’s interventions in one column, and in an adjacent column Bollas’s observations on the meaning of the process as a whole. This is excellent sport. If you want, you can second-guess the analysand, the analyst and the supervisor. But, to keep the Jewish association going, it is even more fun to read the book from back to front. It has an appendix which gives the complete case notes without the supervisor’s comments. One should, I think, start there; then turn to the middle of the book, where one can reread the material along with Bollas’s comments. The introduction can be read as though it were his-conclusion.
Bollas is a fan of walking in cities. ‘Living in a city,’ he tells us, ‘is to occupy a mentality.’ He speaks of an architectural unconscious: not only the countless mental forces that went into the creation of these buildings, then settled into the background of shared public awareness, but also the barely noticed idiosyncratic associations the buildings evoke as we move through a familiar city. I live in Chicago, a few blocks from Obama’s home (before he moved) and beside a lake almost as long as England. As I walk north along the water’s edge towards the city center, the overwhelming lake – how could it not be the sea? – is on my right, its colors and moods changing every day. Monet taught me how to see it. Straight ahead, on my left, is the Chicago skyline. A few miles along, two trees seem to grow up out of the water, in a large V-shape, like a giant catapult. Standing between the trees you can line up the entire cityscape. The conversation Socrates and Phaedrus had about beauty must have taken place here; somehow, the story has been transposed to the outskirts of Athens.
‘When we traverse a city,’ Bollas says, ‘we are engaged in a type of dreaming. Each gaze that falls upon an object of interest may yield a moment’s reverie.’ It is, he thinks, important that we don’t know the names of all the buildings, don’t know their history – just as it is important on a country walk that we don’t know the names of all the trees, flowers and geological formations. He suggests that we do better to ignore the naming of objects so as to remain within the realm of the visual imagination and dwell in the emotional resonances of form. Each of us, Bollas thinks, has a need for what he calls the evocative object: ‘To build the evocative on whatever scale is to open the psyche-soma, seemingly expanding the mind and the body in one singular act of reception which links the new object to the pleasantly surprised subject.’ He notes that when we take in a ‘breathtaking’ sight it is, on occasion, actually breathtaking. The mouth opens – almost like a startled infant – and out comes a very physical ‘Ahh’ or ‘Oooh’. The spectacle disrupts the normally involuntary and unconscious process of taking a breath.
Bollas pities those who dislike their surroundings. They are ‘in a sad state of disrepair, for they are denied the vital need for personal reverie.’ (I remember living in a town I didn’t like. Waiting at a red light, I would think: ‘How many more times before I die do I sit in front of this light?’) He uses the term ‘aesthetic dejection’ to describe not merely a person’s inability to make evocative use of surrounding objects, but a form of depression which they know can’t be resolved. About a bad marriage he writes:
Such couples can plough on in a state of aesthetic dejection until they die, with nothing in common but shared misery and hatred – something that can be remarkably binding. Although each will no doubt point to endless shortcomings in the other, if they are to escape from their predicament they will need to understand that their dejection does not derive from personal failures. They are simply not a match, and the despair they feel is due to an irresolvable dejection.
In a therapeutic situation, one tends to see such couples late in their lives. There is clinical truth in the well-known punchline, ‘We wanted to wait until the children died.’ As Bollas puts it: ‘Ageing has a strangely sobering effect on the omnipotence of any conviction.’
These books are themselves evocations: they evoke a sensibility, the feel of psychoanalysis. They are not meant to convince a skeptic. Rather, they are for those who are already interested in psychoanalytic ideas and would like to know how they are expressed in a clinical setting and in everyday life. Call it preaching to the choir if you will, but I’ve always thought the choir a good place to direct one’s efforts. Presumably they know something about music; and, whatever their doubts, they have at least made it to church. My problem with these books lies elsewhere. Because Bollas is so good at drawing us in and encouraging a sense of trust, I find it all the more irritating when he makes claims that simply aren’t true. He says, for example, that Freud was never able to decide whether every dream was a wish-fulfillment. But in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud came to recognize that a significant class of dreams – those ‘which occur in traumatic neuroses, or ‘which bring to memory the psychical traumas of childhood’ – should not be thought of as wish-fulfillment.
Bollas also says that ‘Freud’s error was to confuse mental content with mental form.’ But in an important footnote about the dream-work, added to The Interpretation of Dreams in 1925, Freud says:
I used at one time to find it extraordinarily difficult to accustom readers to the distinction between the manifest content of dreams and the latent dream thoughts… But now that analysts at least have become reconciled to replacing the manifest dream by the meaning revealed by its interpretation, many of them have become guilty of falling into another confusion which they cling to with equal obstinacy. They seek to find the essence of dreams in their latent content and in so doing they overlook the distinction between the latent dream-thoughts and the dream-work. At bottom, dreams are nothing other than a particular form of thinking, made possible by the conditions of the state of sleep. It is the dream-work which creates that form, and it alone is the essence of dreaming – the explanation of its peculiar nature.
To take another example, Bollas claims that Freud ‘failed to see . . . something quite simple: any dream fulfills the wish to dream – thus every dream is a wish-fulfillment.’ This is a non sequitur. Even if a dream is the sort of thing that would fulfill a wish to dream, it does not follow that every time there is a dream there is an antecedent wish to dream that it fulfills. And when it comes to traumatic dreams, the idea that they fulfill the wish to dream is like saying that my wish to stop sneezing is fulfilled when someone punches me in the nose.
Elsewhere, Bollas suggests that the first psychoanalytic interpretation in Western culture is given by Tiresias when he says to Oedipus: ‘Creon is no hurt to you, but you are to yourself.’ Obviously, Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus has been psychoanalytically suggestive. And there are occurrences in psychoanalysis – remembered dreams for instance – that are experienced as though they were oracles. But not just any oracular utterance is psychoanalytic. For Tiresias’ interpretation to be psychoanalytic there would have to be some reason for thinking it was based on his insight into Oedipus’ psychodynamics, rather than his own spiritual, supernatural powers or his better knowledge of the social context. On a more mundane plane, there have long been self-pitying drunks, people who get enraged at imagined slights, people who trip themselves up in romantic quests, and oafish tyrants who destroy their own kingdoms. And there have long been observers who tell them that they have nobody to blame but themselves. That communication alone does not make them psychoanalysts. Bollas gives no textual support for his claim that Tiresias’ challenge is a psychoanalytic interpretation, and I don’t believe there is any.
For all that, the large-scale themes of these books ring true, the clinical writing is beautiful and Bollas raises one issue in particular that deserves further thought. He says that dreaming is a form of thinking: the form of unconscious representation. This fits well with Freud’s claim that repressed unconscious mental activity proceeds in its own peculiar way, which he called the primary process. This is a restless activity in which associations between ideas appear – from the perspective of conscious thought – weird and uncanny. These unconscious processes respect neither the law of non-contradiction, nor the constraints of time. And they regularly express themselves in and through the body: Freud called it ‘organ-speech’. If we take seriously the idea that conscious and unconscious thinking really are different forms, then it would seem that psychoanalytic therapy ought to understand itself as facilitating communication between these forms. But then what is the formal unity of that process? The answer to that question would tell us what psychoanalysis is. It would also help us to understand what we are talking about when we speak of the psychic unity of a human being.
In December 1908 Freud was invited to the United States to give a series of lectures on psychoanalysis at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Freud accepted the invitation with great eagerness. Freud had idealized the United States since he was a teenager when he had read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. He had hung a copy of the speech in the bedroom of his childhood home. Unfortunately, Freud’s trip to America, which took place in the fall of 1909, did not please him. He disliked American food; years afterward he would refer to his “American colitis” which he claimed he contracted in the U.S. He disliked American culture and he found Americans rude. A particular incident that took place during a side-trip to Niagara Falls bitterly stung him. A tour guide had referred to Freud, aged 53, as “the old man” — it was the first time in his life that anyone had called him that.
E.L. Doctorow describes the incident in his novel, Ragime: “When the lectures were completed Freud was persuaded to make an expedition to the great natural wonder of Niagara Falls. They arrived at the falls on an overcast day. Thousands of newly married couples stood, in pairs, watching the great cascades. Mist like an inverted rain rose from the falls. There was a high wire strung from one shore to the other and some manic in ballet slippers and tights was walking the wire, keeping his balance with a parasol. Freud shook his head. Later the party went to the Cave of Winds. There, at an underground footbridge, a guide motioned the others back and took Freud’s elbow. Let the old man go first, the guide said. The great doctor, age fifty-three, decided at this moment that he had enough of America. With his disciples he sailed back to Germany on the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. He had really gotten used to the food or the scarcity of American public facilities. He believed the trip had ruined both his stomach and his bladder. The entire population seemed to him overpowered, brash and rude. The vulgar wholesale appropriation of European art and architecture regardless of period or country he found appalling. He had seen in our careless commingling of great wealth and great poverty the chaos of an entropic European civilization. He sat in his quiet cozy study in Vienna, glad to be back. He said to Ernest Jones, America is a mistake, a gigantic mistake.”
Was Freud especially sensitive about his age, about his growing old?
In the following year, 1910, Gustav Mahler took leave from his rehearsals of his Eighth Symphony in Munich to visit Freud in Leyden, Holland. Mahler consulted Freud about his troubled marriage to Alma; Mahler had recently discovered Alma’s infidelity with the architect Walter Gropius, whom she later married after Mahler’s death in 1911. We know very little of what Mahler and Freud talked about during their lengthy (four hour) meeting. There is one report that Freud rose to anger when Mahler told him that Alma was 19 years younger than he. Freud said words to the effect: “How dare you chain a young woman to someone such as yourself?” Mahler was 50 years old at the time; Alma was 31.
Again: Was Freud especially sensitive about his age, about his growing old?
As a gift to his new bride Mahler had written a song for Alma and dedicated it to her, “Liebst du um Schönheit.” (Mahler also dedicated his Eighth Symphony to Alma). The lyrics of the song are Mahler’s personal confession to Alma; they allude to the age difference between them:
If you love for beauty,
Oh, do not love me!
Love the sun,
She has golden hair!
If you love for youth, Oh, do not love me! Love the spring; It is young every year!
If you love for treasure, Oh, do not love me! Love the mermaid; She has many clear pearls!
If you love for love, Oh yes, do love me! Love me ever, I’ll love you evermore!
A racist/antisemitic supervisor works in a law firm with many powerful Jewish attorneys. How might her antisemitism be expressed? Will she harass the powerful attorneys or will she harass a vulnerable Jewish employee?