Wednesday, July 13, 1977. I was 23 years old. In later years I carried with me the memory that on this evening PBS-TV broadcast a performance of Franz Liszt’s A Faust Symphony (with Leonard Bernstein conducting the Boston Symphony), based on a well-known story about an alchemist, a medieval chemist who seeks to achieve the transmutation of base metals into gold: in Goethe’s version that inspired Liszt, really an allegory of the various transformational processes working in the human soul. I was enthralled by the hour-long piece, which I had never heard before. In Goethe’s reworking of the story, Faust becomes a dissatisfied intellectual who yearns for “more than earthly meat and drink” in his life. Days later I purchased a recording.
I remembered the date because it was the evening of the 1977 New York City blackout. All of New York City went dark that night and the rest of the next day.
I recently Googled a query and came up with a television listing in a San Antonio newspaper that confirmed my recollection.
Friday, March 16, 1990. I was 34 years old . . .
At the outset of my treatment with Dr. Palombo, in January 1990, I had given him a paper I had written about myself, a self-styled psychoanalytic study that I titled, The Caliban Complex: An Attempt at Self-Analysis in which I portrayed myself as a dissatisfied intellectual who yearns for “more than earthly meat and drink” in his life. In fact, the paper opens with quotes from Goethe’s Faust, a colloquy between God and the devil: “Do you know Faust?” — “Indeed! He serves you in peculiar ways. He eats and drinks no earthly nourishment, the fool. The ferment in him drives him on and on, and yet he half-knows that he’s mad.”
I was proud of the paper, which I wrote on Columbus Day, 1988. I thought I had made important discoveries in mapping out my psychic interior. I had a grandiose identification with the Italian navigator, Christopher Columbus. He was a boyhood hero; at age thirteen I had built a model of the explorer’s flag ship, the Santa Maria. Even today, my apartment is decorated with model ships and paintings of boats. In my neurotic estimation—with my psychoanalytic paper—I had delved into the uncharted channels of my mind just as Columbus had made an unprecedented voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to explore a new continent.
The original Caliban Complex refers to these issues in its preface. The Nietzsche quote refers to Verwandlungen, German for “transformations.” Like chemical transformations.
Then in the Joyce book I talk about chemistry class: the lab class on September 5, 1969 with Mrs. Fischer. Coincidentally, the premiere of Liszt’s Faust Symphony took place on September 5. “The symphony was premiered in Weimar on September 5, 1857, for the inauguration of the Goethe-Schiller Monument there.” (Not every coincidence has psychoanalytic meaning — or does it?)
It’s interesting that in my book Significant Moments I transform quotes into a new and subjective narrative.
In fact, in my copyright page I use the legal term “transformative use” to rationalize my plagiarizing quotes from other authors’ writings.