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ESSAY WINNER

Returning to The Heart of Darkness: The Global Politics of Starvation, Psychoanalysis, and the Starvation of Psychoanalysis

An Essay
Submitted for the 2012 Graduate Student Essay Contest 31st of the American Psychological Association, Division of Psychoanalysis (39), Section V


AUTHOR

Emily Johnson, M.A.

University of Indianapolis, School of Psychological Sciences

American Psychological Association

Member

Division 39 (Psychoanalysis)

Member & Student Representative, Education & Training Committee



University of Indianapolis, School of Psychological Sciences

14000 East Hanna Avenue

Indianapolis, Indiana 46227

johnsoneb@uindy.edu


Returning to The Heart of Darkness: The Global Politics of Starvation, Psychoanalysis, and the Starvation of Psychoanalysis

"I turned to the wilderness really, not to Mr. Kurtz, who, I was ready to admit, was as good as buried. And for a moment it seemed to me as if I also was buried in a vast grave full of unspeakable secrets. I felt an intolerable weight oppressing my breast, the smell of the damp earth, the unseen presence of victorious corruption, the darkness of an impenetrable night."
- Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, Part 3



I touched down in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo on July 18th, 2011, three months before the second-ever democratic election in the history of the Congo. I disembarked directly onto the smoldering tarmac, and was whisked into a windowless room. Grinning customs officers approached me with hands outstretched. Jet-lagged and disoriented, I presented my passport, my documentation of the vaccinations necessary to enter the country, and bribed them in broken French. I was free to go. Mr. Kurtz was long-since dead. So was Joseph Conrad. Beyond that, Congo was still Congo.

No place is further from the [sur]reality of Western Civilization than the Democratic Republic of Congo. Its United Nations "Human Development Index" of 0.286 ranks it 187 out of 187 countries (United Nations Development Programme, 2011). This is relevant only because I was there. I took to using statistics when I came home to the upper-class white suburbs of Indiana to explain my experience because Americans like statistics. We understand statistics. They give us an "empirically-based" layer of protection between us and the Real.

I visited Congo for six weeks during the summer between my second- and third-year of graduate school. I was primarily in Mulongo, a village nestled deep in the Congolese bush, two-days' drive from the nearest city via land-rover (the roads are not passable otherwise, and not passable at all during the rainy season). It took me two days of air travel and nineteen hours on the ground to get that "deep" into the DRC, and when I passed a UNICEF truck on the road at about hour fourteen, the thought that came unbidden into my head was, "What in the hell are they doing all the way out here?"

When not in Mulongo, I spent the rest of my time traveling up and down the Congo River. I was there ostensibly to "do-good" and "develop communities" while using my burgeoning therapy skills-- to counsel women who had been gang-raped and children who had been abandoned. Ostensibly. Really, I was there to see the hardness that was in the world, all that I had been shielded from growing up as a white girl in Middle America. I did not know it yet, but I was there to see the hardness that was in me, as well.

It became immediately obvious to me that "psychology", my lauded and laden field in the USA, did not exist in that great, green, Western-Europe-sized heart of Africa. When I tried to explain what I did, what my professional "interests" were, I got the same blank expression as when I tried to explain to the general surgeon in Mulongo that in the states, obstetricians occasionally scheduled Caesarian-sections in advance as to avoid the holidays. "Trauma" in the Congo referred not to the psychical affects of a gang-rape, but to the vaginal fistula that killed the woman afterwards, because the medical technology was just not available. I was dumbstruck and frozen by the realization: psychology does not exist.

In a country where there are no roads, there are also no consulting rooms, no 50-minute hours, no academic research journals, and no "empirically-based treatments". Psychology, as a field – as an academic field – is just a construct. It is an academic field, built on a construct, and built on a history of belief in that construct. We know this, and yet we persist. But facing it, in vivo, was to be entirely unbalanced, like standing on the deck of a ship pitching in a storm. It was to face the myth of our own superiority, invincibility and potency as therapists, academics, and healers, and come out on the other side unable to reclaim that great, empowering narcissism.

I felt this unbalancing, acutely, from the moment I set foot on Congolese ground, but it started as a personal unbalancing, a human unbalancing. The experience, I think, is best encapsulated by Michela Wrong, in her book In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo. "I was hit by the sensation that so unnerves first-time visitors to Africa. It is that revelatory moment when white, middle-class Westerners finally understand what the rest of humanity has always known—that there are places in this world where the safety net they have spent so much of their lives erecting is suddenly whipped away, where the right accent, education, health insurance and a foreign passport—all the trappings that spell 'It Can't Happen to Me'—no longer apply, and their well-being depends on the condescension of strangers" (p. 3).

The unbalancing began to ooze into my "professional" life when I realized that my "safety net", my system of beliefs, my education, were all crookedly wound up into my just-beginning career, ensconced in this field of "psychology". Why, I wondered, did they bring me here? I travelled "alone" in the sense that I was the only American with a team of Congolese people, a team of people who believed I had something to offer to them. I travelled with them, I lived with them, I ate with them, I listened to and with them. They showed me the heart of their country in hopes that I would have the soft touch and listening ear to "hear" what was really being said by the people, as opposed to other (well-intentioned) organizations that marched in with a plan to heal hundreds of years of suffering with a week's worth of Western ideals. This was what was needed. I was what was needed.

But initially, I did not understand this. I did not understand what clumsy attempts at "evenly suspended attentiveness" could bring to a culture aching with centuries of psychical pain and abuse. And I felt unbalanced in the unspoken pressure to "do" something. What good was my "listening" after playing soccer in sewage with the boys at the orphanage? What good was listening and being to the 60 children that died last year from preventable diseases in a town I visited with a population of only 200? Sometime during week five, I was woken at 7:00 a.m. from my un-enviable position of attempting to sleep in a pup-tent pitched on the bare floorboards of our 20 ft. x 6 ft boat. We'd been on the river for three days, all two dozen or so of us. We ate and slept and lived on the boat, which, to be honest, was probably smaller than an American jail cell. That morning, we were passing through Mainemia, a province that, until really recently, was not safe for travel, even for locals, due to widespread cannibalism.

We had always "docked" (i.e. pulled up to the edge of the river and put down an anchor) overnight, but we slept on the boat. That morning, we had pushed off around 5:00 a.m., and, as was my custom, I rolled over and went back to sleep after having a thermos of tea, trying to get what sleep I could before the searing African sun prevented any further rest or comfort. So when the team woke me at 7:00 a.m., I was bleary-eyed and disoriented. They told me only that they wanted me to "meet someone". I followed them off the boat and into the village where I met Vendi, one of the infamous warlords of the area, and his niece, Cecille. This District Superintendent and leader of our team told me that Vendi had killed people, but not eaten them, so he was known as one of the more humane leaders of the district. He looked, in many ways, like my grandfather. He wore and oversized baggy sweater, and sat stooped over on a rickety wooden chair. His eyes were kind. Cecille stood behind him, machete in one hand, live chicken in the other. She handed the bird over to me stiffly-- a welcome gift. Our eyes met. The world tilted.

I didn't understand the local dialect from that meeting, and I did not know much about why we were there beyond the fact that it was customary to stop and pay our respects. Vendi was, reportedly, no longer truly dangerous, now that the village was out of turmoil, but he was still lord of the land. Later, I heard and understood the back-story of this village. When the war came, the notoriously bloodthirsty and politically nebulous rebel group known as the mai mai (a name that is prohibited to be spoken aloud, roughly translates to "the killing people") descended on the village. Vendi set out to protect his village. He armed them, men, women, and children alike, including his niece Cecille. He taught them to be hardened, to kill if they had to. He intended to save them, to save himself. But then they began to starve, be killed, be driven out, and be forced to commit atrocities like many of the other villages around them. The details are blurry about what, exactly, Vendi did after this, but it is clear that he, too, became subject to what I have grown to consider the only inviolable truth of the Congo: "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely".

Cecille, as well, learned to kill and pillage and use her sexual body as a tactic to stay alive. That day I met her, she was the same age as I was. She was in graduate school (nursing school), just like I was. The first year of her education at the nursing school, she could not stay with the other girls. She could not communicate with or be around the girls, because she was, as we would say here in the states, "traumatized". She would turn on her peers with her knife drawn at any startling sound. What I remember most from that day of passing through Maniema was looking into Cecille's eyes, and my world becoming completely and totally unbalanced. My journal entry from that visit reads:

"…even not having to see anything horrific (it really resembled most of the other near-by villages that we visited, belying little of the violence that was committed there), it seemed to be that walking through this village in the seven a.m. Congolese mist had a certain surreal quality, I'm reminded of the title of a Chuck Klosterman essay entitled "Where crazy things seem normal, and normal things seem crazy"-- it felt very much like that. As I heard the somewhat-broken story about everyone in this village being conscribed to commit violent acts, and as I sat before the war-lord watching the growing crowd around him, seeing the hardness of the dozens of pairs of glittering stones watching me, the realization hit me: more than likely, everyone here standing before me who is older than about the age of 15, has killed someone. Because if they hadn't, they wouldn't be standing here looking at me. That realization is deeply humbling, surreal, and even, yes, a bit alarming.

What struck me most, though, was not the horror, but the fact that they were just like me. There is no discernable difference in our genetic code. Indeed, while there, I met the chief's daughter, Cecille, who is a woman about my age who attends the nursing school in Mulongo. District Superintendent Mulongo told me that they had huge difficulties in the beginning integrating her, because she was so used to violence, being the one yielding the gun, literally, that she was extremely reactive and abrasive to all classmates. And there's really no different between her and I, except that fate cast me forth on a different continent, and I received all the relevant benefits. As I thought about the killing, I thought, it's so strange that Westerners so often conceive of killing in this type of context as a choice… but if the choice is kill or be killed, what would you have done? What would I have done?

And then I realized that it's not really a choice at all. Because, resisting the need to kill another person for your own survival struck me as similar to trying to drown oneself—without using external force, you simply can't do it. At a certain point, your 'survival instincts' take over, and you no longer really have a choice in the matter. It's a Stanley-Milgram-esque revelation, but there's always something within us that wants to believe we're somehow "better" than others in situations like this, that we would have made a "different" choice by sheer will, and chosen not to take people's lives. But I guess I just don't believe anymore that that's really the case."
I still remember being struck with the realization that if I were in her place, I would have killed people as well. I would have done exactly the same thing.

My father, a modern-day philosopher (though he would loathe to admit it), has bestowed upon me lots of bits of wisdom in my life. There's one I kept coming back to, during my time in Africa and during my "re-entry shock" (which arguably is still on-going). He always said, "If you look at it objectively, statistically, human beings are both the most sexual and the most aggressive species on the planet." And we are. We know, for example, that many other species engage in sexual activity only for the purpose of reproduction, and do not indicate evidence of sexual pleasure the way humans do. Other species have not devoted thousands of years to creating novel and torturous ways of aggressing toward their peers. Other species are, in fact, incapable of committing many of the atrocities that I heard about when I was in the Congo. Owing to lack of intellect, lack of the so-called "self-conscious" emotions, lack of defensive reaction to the drives, and many other things, it is improbable that members of any other species on the planet are capable of forcing a father to rape his daughter at gunpoint while the entire community watches. It is equally improbable that a member of another species might experience shame, guilt humiliation, or "trauma" from participating in or being victimized by such an act.

But this is human nature. This is our legacy as human beings, owing to being the most aggressive and sexual species on the planet. This is who we are. Ugly, violent, primitive, driven creatures who have evolved the ability to use our intellect and our opposable thumbs to defend against that. And this fact takes us back to our very beginnings as psychoanalysts, right back to Freud himself. Because Freud, for all of his ostensible short-comings as a man, understood this. In fact, he created a system of thought, a theory, that, according to Zilboorg (1941), was as comprehensive and coherent as any that had been accomplished for humans in the previous two thousand years. He was, as many have argued, a philosopher as much as he was a doctor and an analyst. He sought to describe and explain the nature of human behavior, how it is that we are the most sexual and aggressive species on the planet, and how it is that we deal with that within our conscious and unconscious experience.

This remains, in my opinion, one of the most significant and bravest cultural contributions in human history. It was difficult for people to accept when Freud established it, and it is still difficult to accept now. I suppose you could say that my opinion is biased, given that I recently returned from a country that currently lacks much of a functional civilization or government. As such, sex and aggression are often the two obviously discernable driving forces that literally contribute to the survival of individuals and villages. But, on the other hand, I would argue that that is what we all are, when culture and civilization are stripped away. That is how we started, as human animals, and that is how we continue to exist in the lack of culture or order.

Culture, in and of itself, can (and in fact has been) conceptualized as a defense. Anthropologist Ernest Becker coined an idea in his 1973 work Denial of Death (based largely on the works of Freud, Keirkagard, and Rank) now known as Terror Management Theory, which states that culture and all of its trappings are merely self-created as a distraction from our own inevitable deaths. We, as human beings, create culture to defend against that which we cannot face—death, aggression, violence, sex. As a student of psychoanalysis and Freud, I cannot help but connect this to the original idea of the defenses—how every defense exists in a vacuum of human consciousness to put off the unbearable reality of our own survival drives and our own impending deaths. After being in the Congo, facing it, this seems obvious to me, inherent in our existence.

Interestingly, however, this isn't so "obvious" in the United States. Current psychoanalysis in this county faces a number of challenges, not least of which is the schisms within our own ranks and the multiplicity of theories or "churches" (Kernberg, 1993, Eizirik, 1997, Mills, 2005). Such sub-theories of psychoanalysis include self-psychology, object-relations, interpersonal theory, and so and so forth. While Kernberg (1993) noted the importance of further theoretical contributions to advance scientific inquiry, he also recognized the drawbacks of engaging in such theoretical splitting. It is now difficult, if not impossible, to conceive of a unitary theory in psychoanalysis, let alone a way that these multiple theories might be similar or complimentary to one another. Furthermore, some of the contemporary "relational" theories bear so little resemblance to Freud's original analytic formulations that I scarcely recognize them as "psychoanalytic". Indeed, As Meronen wrote in his paper about the historical contributions of Heinz Kohut, "Although the status of psychoanalysis as part of the Western civilisation has become indisputable, even psychoanalysts have not always been able to agree on how to interpret Freud's multi-layered theory. The question about the role of sexuality at the core of psychic conflicts seems to have been especially controversial" (p. 211).

As a result, modern incarnations of psychoanalytic theory have trended away from utilizing the drives to understand psychic conflict, even eschewing the unconscious for a more relational approach that privileges inter-subjectivity within the analytic frame. This is, potentially, as much due to discomfort about the contribution of sexual conflicts to the developing personality as to well-researched and carefully considered conscientious objections to Freud's original theories (which, ironically, the resistance to accepting a structural explanation based on sexuality is essentially supportive of what Freud initially posited).

As Mills notes in his 2005 paper on trends in relational models of psychoanalysis, relational models now very much dominate the American psychoanalytic scene. Somehow, the notion of the unconscious, the drives, the defenses, and in short, the majority of Freud's theories, have become privileged by an ever-shrinking minority within psychoanalysis. Even beyond that, we, as a field, generally fail to acknowledge or recognize other ways of knowing, including contributions of other theoretical models. Instead, it seems, we set-up a number of false dichotomies, using a "take no prisoners" approach to the "one theory versus another" debate. Regardless of the import or relevance of Freudian approaches, our own highly politicized factions leave us no room to concede this (Kernberg, 1996, Mills, 2005, Wallerstein, 2006). There is, sadly, often no place for the drives in relational models, or, increasingly, in the analytic space. Contemporary individuals who identify themselves as psychoanalysts have even confessed to discomfort and/or annoyance when the notion of sexuality comes up in treatment (Zamanian, 2011).

As a graduate student just entering the field, I can't help but think, how can this be? How has it come to this? To me, psychoanalysis is and has always been a theory that encompasses the drives and the human response to the drives, or at the very least, leaves room for the drives. And yet, in America, that version psychoanalysis is starving to death. I stepped off a plane and into a country where sex and violence are the only the only truths. They rule supreme. I now know things that can never again be unknown, including the "heart of darkness" within me—that I could and would kill another human being if it meant the difference between life and death. That is survival. That is being human. That is Congo.

I struggle to reconcile that experience with a country that privileges any theoretical model at the expense of all others, particularly ones that acknowledge the drives. I struggle to accept how inadequate "mirroring and acceptance" at an early age is to fully explain the need to sexually violate all women taken as prisoners of war. I cannot forget the looks of hunger I elicited from every man I passed as a 26-year-old white woman walking through Lubumbashi. Far beyond being ogled in a bar, it was complete, unchecked sexual and aggressive desire, the need to have me and to destroy me. It reminded me very much of an analyst/professor's example of transference within the analytic space when a patient remarked, "I feel like you're either going to fuck me or kill me." I cannot reconcile that feeling, my own experience with becoming very much an emblematic object of cultural transference, with the current, American incarnations of psychoanalysis.

This is not to say that I wish to "weigh in" or further contribute to the divisiveness within the field. I do not desire to be one more "vote" for a particular way of thinking. Nor do I believe that relational theory and classical theory are an exact, mutually exclusive dichotomy. As Mills(2005) puts in his critique of relational models, it wasn't that Freud chose to ignore or denigrate the role of inter-subjectivity or relational experience in theory. It was more that he considered it a pre-existing fact that did not necessarily need further explanation. It is no surprise to anyone that human beings are inherently relational. "The main issue here is that these propositions are nothing new: Relational theory is merely stating the obvious. These are simple reflections on the inherent needs, strivings, developmental trajectories, and behavioral tendencies propelling human motivation, a point that Freud made explicit throughout his theoretical corpus, which became further emphasized more significantly by early object relations theorists through to contemporary self psychologists. Every aspect of conscious life is predicated on human relatedness by the simple fact that we are thrown into a social ontology as evinced by our participation in family interaction, communal living, social custom, ethnic affiliation, local and state politics, national governance, and common linguistic practices that by definition cannot be refuted or annulled by virtue of our embodied and cultural facticity, a thesis thoroughly advanced by Heidegger (1927/1962) and originally dating back to antiquity. But what is unique to the relational turn is a philosophy based on antithesis and refutation: namely, the abnegation of the drives."

But, I do wish to offer a thoughtful observation of the fact that this political dichotomizing, this "abnegation of the drives" appears to be unique to more "advanced" cultures and societies with the freedom to dismiss the reality of the drives within our everyday lives. It cannot hurt to remember that it was psychoanalysis in the beginning that was the field unafraid to address sex and aggression. To speak the name of the mai mai. To speak that which is our spoken and unspoken lived experience. To try to make sense of a world in which humans commit acts of sex and aggression in war to an extreme in which it is no longer necessary for survival.

Having come face to face with it, literally, I can say that the sexual and the aggressive drives still exist. They are, in the end, what motivate and capture human existence. It is a terrifying reality to realize that this is so. Perhaps this, too, is part of why we distance ourselves from drive theory. To embrace and adhere to a drive theory is to face the existence of our own ugly drives and defenses. It is necessary to distance ourselves from this reality by using our defenses, including, I would argue, intellectualization in the form of academia. When I came home, I sat down across from a colleague, a fellow graduate student, and told her the story of Cecille. I told her how I looked into Cecille's eyes and understood for the first time in my life, the need for survival, the need to destroy, the need to aggress. I told her the story as bluntly as I have spoken it here, and yet her response was, "What kind of people did she kill?", as if it somehow made a difference in the great "tally" of good versus evil—as if we could place a quantitative value, a statistic, on the lives that Cecille took, the lives that I would have taken if I had been her. I understood what she was asking. She wanted to know if they were women, or children, or men trying to rape her—but all I could think was, "what does it matter?", because Cecille and I live the same human experience.

In the Congo, the drives are real and they are part of the Lacanian Real, and there is little difference between the two. They are the lived experience. The realities that we have "discovered" in the relational schools of psychoanalysis in the United States and in Europe do not exist there, are perhaps decades and centuries away from existence, much like the constructed field of "psychology". A bold statement, I know. This is not to say that the foundational tenants of the newer, "relational" schools of analysis are irrelevant. However, to suggest, as many relational schools do, that the drives, the structural Freudian hypotheses are no longer relevant in our culture is short-sighted, at best. A theory of human existence should encompass all humans, and not just those of us who are privileged enough to utilize culture as a defensive mechanism to bypass and suppress our own drives, our own humanness. I visited the heart of darkness. I came to know what I believe Joseph Conrad knew all along: in the heart of darkness, psychology does not exist. But psychoanalysis does.

References

Becker, E. (1974). The Denial of Death. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Conrad, J.(1999). Heart of Darkness. New York: Peguin.
Eizirik, C, L. (1997). "Psychoanalysis and Culture: Some Contemporary Challenges". International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 78, 789-801.
Heidegger , M. (1962). Being and time (J. Macquarrie & E. Robinson, Trans.). San Francisco: HarperCollins . (Original work published 1927).
Kernberg, O. (1993). "The Current Status of Psychoanalysis". Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 41.
Meronen, P. (1999). The return of narcissism: Heinz Kohut in the context of the history of ideas. International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 8(3-4), 211-221.
Mills, J. (2005). "A Critique of Relational Psychoanalysis". Psychoanalytic Psychology, 22(2), 155-189.
United Nations Development Programme (2011). Human Development Report 2011 : Sustainability and Equality: A Better Future for All. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
Wallerstein, R.S. (2006). "The Relevance of Freud's Psychoanalysis in the 21st Century: Its Science and Its Research". Psychoanalytic Psychology, 23(2), 302-327.
Wrong, M. (2000). In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo. New York: Harper Collins.
Zamanian, K. (2011). "Attachment theory as defense: What happened to infantile sexuality?" Psychoanalytic Psychology, 28(1), 33-47.
Zilboorg , G. (1941). A history of medical psychology. New York: Norton.


Brief Curriculum Vitae for Emily Johnson, M.A.

March 2012

· Psy.D. student in clinical psychology at the School of Psychological Science of University of Indianapolis; Indianapolis, IN
· M.A. in clinical psychology from the School of Psychological Sciences of the University of Indianapolis; Indianapolis, IN
· B.S. in clinical psychology from Ball State University; Muncie, IN
· Student affiliate of the American Psychological Association, Division 39 (Psychoanalysis)
· Student member of the Education and Training Committee, Division 39 (Psychoanalysis)
· Student affiliate of the Association for Play Therapy
· Published author of poetry and creative nonfiction in literary magazines Hippocampus Magazine (2012), Etchings (2009) and Edgz (2006)

ESSAY WINNER

The Birth of God in the Soul and the Coming-into-Being of the Subject in Psychoanalysis: A Dialogue between Meister Eckhart and Jacques Lacan on Subjectivity

An Essay
Submitted for the 2012 Graduate Student Essay Contest 31st of the American Psychological Association, Division of Psychoanalysis (39), Section V

AUTHOR
Mark Kroll-Fratoni, M.A.

Duquesne University, Department of Psychology
American Psychological Association
Member
Division 39 (Psychoanalysis)

Duquesne University, Department of Psychology
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Introduction
This paper represents a modified version of an invited talk I gave at the International Conference of the Cologne Academy of Lacanian Psychoanalysis in November 2011, and it will be translated into German and published in the 2013 issue of the newsletter of the Cologne Lacanian Academy ("Y" Revue für Psychoanalyse der Kölner Akademie für Psychoanalyse Jacques Lacan) under the German title "Meister Eckharts Gottesbegriff und das Lacanianische Subjekt" [Meister Eckhart's God and the Lacanian Subject]. This paper is meant as a taste of my dissertation project, titled "The Significance of Meister Eckhart's View of the Self for Psychoanalytic Theorizing on the Subject." I will not even attempt a comprehensive account of my arguments in such a brief paper; rather, I hope to simply put Eckhart and Lacan in dialogue in a way that suggests the promise of such a project. Furthermore, I hope that in allowing these two discourses to penetrate one another, I will demonstrate their proximity without lingering on facile similarities or reducing one thinker to the other (e.g., Eckhart as precursor to Lacan or Lacan as derivative of Eckhart).
In this paper, I will first provide a summary of Eckhart's understanding of the self, using his sermon on the soul as "virgin wife" as my point of departure. In this discussion, I will define some of Eckhart's key concepts, like detachment (MHG 1 : abegescheidenheit), the birth of the Son in the soul (MG: Gottesgeburt), and the significance of the double meaning of empfangen (MHG: enpfangen). My main goal in this section is to explicate Eckhart's writing on the constitution of the subject and the unity of God and the soul in the act of birthing or creation.
I then go on to outline the points of convergence between Eckhart and Lacan's accounts of subjectivity, including the paradoxical temporality/causality involved in the subject's constitution, whereby the subject is, in ˇi˛ek's (1996) words, "an effect that entirely posits its own cause" (p. 404). I then outline the significance of this discussion of the structure of subjectivity for the goals of psychoanalysis, offering a reading of the Freudian maxim Wo Es war, soll Ich werden. 2
Meister Eckhart's Life
Before beginning my theoretical discussion, I will begin by offering a brief summary of Meister Eckhart's biography, since knowledge of the life and work of a 14th Century Christian mystic cannot be presumed among psychologists. Although Meister Eckhart is not as widely known today as his immediate predecessor and fellow Dominican Thomas Aquinas, during his lifetime (which spanned from c. 1260 to c. 1328), he was one of the most highly regarded theologians and preachers in Europe. Indeed, he earned the title "Meister" by which we know him today by holding the prestigious chair of theology at the University of Paris after Aquinas. Although Eckhart was probably born in Thuringia near Erfurt, the city of Cologne played an especially important role in his life. He came to Cologne c. 1280 to study at the Dominican monastery once led by Albert the Great (the precursor to the University of Cologne), where Eckhart may have come into contact with Albert himself, or at the very least people who had known him personally and were inspired by his teaching. After serving in positions in Erfurt, Strasbourg, and again in Paris, he was sent back to Cologne c. 1323, which one commentator has described as "the scene of his downfall" (Colledge, 1981, p. 10). The Archbishop of Cologne, Henry of Virneburg, initiated an inquisitorial process against Eckhart, and in 1327 his writings were condemned. Eckhart's stature was such that he was able to appeal to the pope, and he was tried again in Avignon (at that time the seat of the papacy). By the time his teachings were condemned again in 1329, Eckhart had already died.
Cologne remains a hub for international research on Eckhart, and the university houses The Meister Eckhart Archive, from which my work has benefited. There is even a "Meister-Ekkehart-Strasse" at the university – really the least they can do, given what happened to him in Cologne! While Aquinas became St. Thomas, the rulings against Eckhart condemned his works to obscurity for centuries, and his reputation within the Catholic Church has only in recent decades begun to be rehabilitated. That said, he exerted a powerful influence on other Rhineland mystics, like Johannes Tauler and Heinrich Seuse, and his ideas served as an inspiration to later German philosophers, such as Hegel and Heidegger. Furthermore, his vernacular sermons, preached in Middle High German, were so linguistically innovative that they contributed to the development of the modern German language.
Meister Eckhart's Subject: The Soul as Virgin Wife
To ask, "What is the self?" is already to have framed the question in the wrong way from Eckhart's perspective. To inquire about the being of the self is already implicitly to expect an essence or nature, or at the very least, a determining structure. By interrogating the soul's essence, we would be seeking the self's constitution – in the sense of structure, as well as cause. However, as Reiner Schürmann (2003) asserts, Eckhart's point of departure is "the double bind of a determining principle and an indetermining origin" (p. 315). As we will see, the soul's origin – which Eckhart describes throughout his work in the language of birthing: the birth of God in the soul, the Gottesgeburt – is simultaneously a cause that gives rise to the subject qua entity and a pure event or origin that, in its radical indeterminacy, destabilizes any attempt to fix the structure or essence of the subject.
In order to understand this double bind, it will be necessary to describe and elucidate what are perhaps the two key concepts of Eckhart's thought: detachment (MHG: abegescheidenheit) and the birth of the Son in the ground (MHG: grunt) of the soul. Abegescheidenheit (rendered in English variously as "detachment," non-attachment," "stripping away," "cutting away," etc.) is the central theme of Eckhart's mystical ethics as well as the defining feature of his style of preaching and writing. Abegescheidenheit refers to the practice of "unsaying," identified by scholars like Michael Sells (1994), among others, as a discursive strategy common to mystical writing from a variety of traditions. This is perhaps best exemplified by one of Eckhart's (2009) most famous sayings: "[L]et us pray to God that we may be free of God" (p. 422). In other words, whatever ideas we may have about God could never successfully capture God, since God is beyond all representational and conceptual knowledge; thus, these ideas must be continually stripped away or unsaid. The significance of abegescheidenheit in Eckhart's work, however, extends beyond discourse about God to what can fairly be described as a way of life: All qualities or properties (MHG: eigen) which we assign not only to God but to ourselves, our own identities, must be stripped away. As Schürmann (2003) summarizes, "In the great work of non-attachment, I as singular lose all particular predicates, and this by the same process by which God loses all his divine names" (p. 283).
Schürmann continues, moreover, that the "concrete aim" of detachment is "singularization," which "comes to pass with the birth of the Word in the denatured soul" (p. 287). Thus, the goal of the practice of detachment is the removal of all images, representations, and predicates so that, having emptied itself completely, the soul becomes a "site" (or non-site) in which God can operate freely, giving birth to the Son (the Word) in the soul. The notion which perhaps most vividly conveys this interplay of stripping away and giving birth is the "virgin wife," which the philosopher of religion Amy Hollywood (2001) has explicitly taken up as a way of understanding the soul in Eckhart's work. In one of Eckhart's most famous sermons, he uses the following verse from the story of Martha and Mary (rather creatively translated from the Latin) as his point of departure: "Our Lord Jesus Christ went up into a little town, and was received by a virgin who was a wife" (Eckhart, 1981, p. 177). To show how Eckhart interprets this verse (and to convey the flavor of his preaching in general), I will quote the following passage from the sermon in full:
A virgin who is a wife is free and unpledged, without attachment . . . . She produces much fruit, and it is great, neither less nor more than is God himself. This virgin who is a wife brings this fruit and this birth about, and every day she produces fruit, a hundred or a thousand times, yes, more than can be counted, giving birth and becoming fruitful from the noblest ground of all – or, to put it better, from that same ground where the Father is bearing his eternal Word, from that ground is she fruitfully bearing with him. (pp. 178-179)
Thus, the soul becomes fertile (i.e. becomes a wife which gives birth to the Son, the Word) by emptying itself through detachment (i.e. becoming virgin).
Rather than representing two stages, however, self-emptying and giving birth occur in a single moment and, as we will see, are identical. One hint in this direction is the way that Eckhart plays with the double meaning of the MHG word enpfangen, which like its MG equivalent empfangen can mean either to receive or to conceive, suggesting that the Son is simultaneously received and conceived by the soul qua virgin wife. On the one hand, the soul receives its being, is brought into being, through the Gottesgeburt; on the other hand, the soul itself as the conceiver of the Word (the Son), is responsible for positing God. It is this latter point that leads Eckhart to make radical statements about the dependency of the deity on this subjective process, part of what got him in trouble with the ecclesiastical authorities – e.g., "In my birth all things were born and I was the cause of myself and of all things . . . . If I were not, God would not be either. I am the cause of God's being God: if I were not, then God would not be God" (Eckhart, 2009, p. 424).
The key to understanding the paradox captured in the double meaning of enpfangen is to grasp the unity of God and soul in the operation – the pure event – of creation, rather than thinking of them as already constituted entities in some kind of reciprocal or mediated relationship. We cannot think of God as a subjective actor or agency who, starting with a void or vacuum of some kind, calls something into being, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. For Eckhart, God is not a being or entity that creates; rather, God's being or nature is nothing other than this act of creation. God is the process or act of creation coming into being. The unity which the soul achieves with God is precisely a oneness with this process of creation. Along these lines, Schürmann (2001) asserts that "identity with God is bound to an operation (werk, ereignis) whose condition is detachment and whose consequence is the engendering of the Son" (p. 28)
However, the soul becomes one with God in the process of bearing fruit, bringing creation into being precisely by giving itself up in abegescheidenheit. For Eckhart, a "giving up" which remains a pure "giving" is already oneness with God, as God's "nature" or "being" is likewise nothing more than God's pure giving (i.e., God's creative act, fertility, giving birth). The resurrection, heaven, eternity, the kingdom of God: these are not to be awaited at some point in the future; rather, they are already present in and one with a certain kind of (properly understood) crucifixion (i.e., sacrifice).
At stake in this understanding of divine/human subjectivity as pure event of creation is the possibility of transcending the order of the law (and the teleological ordering of goods which attends it) which is constituted by an origin. As Schürmann (2003) notes, the two senses of the Greek word for "origin" are "to commence and to command" (p. 276). The suspension of the law that would be laid down by a determinate arche and the identification of the self, instead, with the divine event of creation ex nihilo 3 is what allows Eckhart to develop an ethics which similarly suspends telos, calling for life to be lived "without why."
The Causality of the Lacanian Subject
In many ways, Lacan's theorizing about the subject centers on the precise double bind identified by Schürmann in Eckhart's work: an origin which constitutes a subjective structure (which is to say, a determining principle, the law), which at the same time, by remaining always outside of (or in Lacan's terms, "extimate" 4 to) that structure, represents a moment of rupture and discontinuity which cannot be structurally assimilated. Thus, we are already beginning to approach that cause which for Lacan goes by the name of the trauma of the Real, which gives rise to the Symbolic.
Rather than representing a straightforward relationship between cause and effect, however, the paradox of the cause in Lacan is that it is constituted by its effect. According to ˇi˛ek (1996) in his essay "Hegel with Lacan, or the Subject and Its Cause":
[T]he trauma has no existence of its own prior to symbolization; it . . . gains consistency only in retrospect, viewed from within the symbolic horizon – it acquires its consistency from the structural necessity of the inconsistency of the symbolic field. As soon as we obliterate this retrospective character of the trauma and "substantialize" it into a positive entity, one that can be isolated as a cause preceding its symbolic effects, we regress to common linear determinism. (p. 397)
Thus, we are dealing with the same paradoxical temporality that we were in Eckhart's work: The cause of the soul's coming-into-being – namely, God – is dependent on the effect – namely, the soul giving birth to the Word.
Moreover, this is the reason why Eckhart's mysticism cannot be dismissed as quietism – a retreat into silence – or the attempt to posit some kind of primordial, pre-linguistic oceanic unity. Along these lines, the philosopher of religion John Caputo (1997) argues that mysticism:
. . . is an event within language, something happening to language, a certain trembling or fluctuation of language. That is why the effect . . . is always so verbal and verbose – so grammatological – and why these lovers of wordlessness are so excessively wordy, why Meister Eckhart, for example, was one of the greatest preachers of the day, and one of the founders of the German language, there at the creation, l'invention, of modern Deutsch. (pp. 11-12)
Thus, we cannot think of God prior to the birth of the Word in Eckhart's work, just as we cannot think of the Real qua traumatic cause as preceding the subject's symbolization in Lacan's work.
ˇi˛ek makes the crucial point, however, that this argument about the dependence of God, the Real, the cause, etc. on its symbolic articulation does not amount to a reversion to subjectivism; in other words, we are not arguing for reducing God, the cause, etc. to a mere product of consciousness. On the contrary, ˇi˛ek (1996) refers to "the paradox of an object which is posited precisely as existing in and for itself" and adds parenthetically that "the key to this paradox turns on how the gesture of subjectivization/positing, in its most fundamental dimension, consists of a purely formal gesture of conceiving as the result of our positing something which occurs inevitably, notwithstanding our activity" (p. 406). Although ˇi˛ek in this passage is referring to Hegel and, ultimately, Lacan, there could not be a better summary of the process of the Gottesgeburt in Eckhart, which is not actively posited or effected by the soul's activity, but is, as we have seen, conceived as what it actually is precisely by letting this activity that we and God are occur (this process of letting be – MHG gelāzenheit – is central to Eckhart's thought). This is why Eckhart (1981) so emphatically maintains that the Son which is born in the soul is the exact same Son that is born in the Godhead: The soul produces through the Gottesgeburt God in God's self, not simply some subjective representation.
Translating this into the language of Lacanian analysis: The goal of analysis is to enable the Symbolic to produce the Real as Real, which is accomplished by letting the unconscious speak through the Symbolic (more precisely through the traces of its interruption of the signifying chain) – the only way it can speak. Since the Real "appears" precisely in the gaps of the signifying chain, the biggest obstacle to allowing the Real (through some kind of Lacanian gelāzenheit) to appear is the clinging of the subject to its imaginary fantasy of wholeness (the specular image appropriated in the mirror stage).
Indeed, we can understand symptoms in the classical Freudian sense of "substitutive satisfaction" precisely as attempts to compensate for these gaps in the subject. Symptoms operate, then, on a strictly economic, sacrificial logic: In giving something up, the subject expects some kind of compensation in return. The key to overcoming symptoms in the analytic process is precisely to move beyond this sacrificial economy to a more pure, existential level of castration: pure loss, pure suffering, pure castration, letting go without expectation or demand. This is what the psychoanalyst Michael Eigen (1998) in his book The Psychoanalytic Mystic refers to as "genuine castration," which he argues is "like a hole in the omnipotent ego that lets jouissance shine through" (p. 148). Thus, the process of analysis moves the analysand from a suffering which he tries to master and control through the symptom to the pure undergoing of a loss without calculation which represents, simultaneously, the only hope for real jouissance.
As in the case of Eckhart, however, this process of pure abegescheidenheit involves – and, indeed, is identical to – a certain kind of production, bringing forth, fruitfulness. At stake in the analytic process is nothing less than the production of the subject: Wo Es war, soll Ich werden (Freud, 1933/1965, p. 100). Although much attention has been paid (including by Lacan) to the interpretation of this Freudian maxim, all such interpretations of which I am aware have focused their attention on the shift from "id" (Es) to "ego" (Ich). What of the shift from "was" (war) to "coming-into-being" (werden), however? The point is not for a subject qua substantialized entity to come into being; rather, the Ich must identify itself with the process of becoming – an operation or work which, as we have seen, involves precisely the self-emptying of abegescheidenheit. In analysis, the subject comes into being as its own cause, not through an act of positing or appropriation, but rather by identifying with a cause understood in the Eckhartian sense of pure event, and in order to identify with this pure event and to allow it to operate (gelāzenheit), the subject must empty itself of all fixed determinations
(abegescheidenheit). Thus, just as the soul and God are one in the operation of the Gottesgeburt in Eckhart, through the analytic process the subject becomes one with the unconscious in the productive process of the signifying chain, bringing forth speech which is already stripped away, i.e. always pointing back to – and constituting – its cause in the trauma of the Real.
Conclusion
I would like to conclude with a quote from Seminar XX, in which Lacan (1975/1998) locates his own writing in the mystical tradition, saying:
These mystical jaculations are neither idle chatter nor empty verbiage; they provide, all in all, some of the best reading one can find – at the bottom of the page, drop a footnote, "Add to that list Jacques Lacan's Écrits, because it's of the same order." (p. 76)
The context for this passage is a discussion of female mystics as representatives of what Lacan calls "the other jouissance" – in other words, that supplemental jouissance to which women have access beyond the circumscribed limits of castration. However, Lacan goes on to say that certain male mystics have an intimation of this other jouissance, as well:
There are men who are just as good as women. It happens. And who also feel just fine about it. Despite – I won't say their phallus – despite what encumbers them that goes by that name, they get the idea or sense that there must be a jouissance that is beyond. Those are the ones we call mystics. (p. 76)
Although Lacan does not mention Meister Eckhart by name in Seminar XX, I hope that this paper has demonstrated that Eckhart belongs to Lacan's definition of a mystic, in spite of his being a man. At stake in both Eckhart and Lacan's respective elaborations of subjectivity is this sense of an ethics – and a jouissance – that lies beyond the law instituted by castration. This is because the origin or cause of the self is itself a pure beginning, a moment of creation out of nothing, indeterminate and therefore unlimited, rather than a cause in a linear chain. By stripping away our determinate identities – which is to say, our symptoms, which we use to plug up this hole/openness which goes by the name of the Real – we come to identify through the analytic process with the radical openness or indeterminacy of our origin (and therefore being) and thereby open ourselves to this ongoing process of becoming without attempting to control, limit, or calculate its meaning.

References
Caputo, J. D. (1997). The prayers and tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion without religion. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Colledge, E. (1981). Historical data. In E. Colledge & B. McGinn (Eds.), Meister Eckhart: The essential sermons, commentaries, treatises, and defense (pp. 5-23). Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Eckhart, M. (1981) Meister Eckhart: The essential sermons, commentaries, treatises, and defense (E. Colledge & B. McGinn, Eds. And Trans.), Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
Eckhart, M. (2009). The complete mystical works of Meister Eckhart (M. O'C. Walshe, Ed. and Trans.). New York, NY: Crossroad.
Eigen, M. (1998). The psychoanalytic mystic. London, UK: Free Association Books.
Freud, S. (1965). New introductory lectures on psycho-analysis (J. Strachey, Trans.). New York, NY: W. W. Norton. (Original work published 1933)
Hollywood, A. (2001) The soul as virgin wife: Mechthild of Magdeburg, Marguerite Porete, and Meister Eckhart. South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
Lacan, J. (1998). Encore: On feminine sexuality, the limits of love and knowledge, 1972-1973 (B. Fink, Trans.). In J.-A. Miller (Ed.), The seminar of Jacques Lacan (Book XX). New York: W. W. Norton. (Original work published 1975).
Lacan, J. (2006). Écrits: The first complete edition in English (B. Fink, Trans.). New York: W. W. Norton.
Schürmann, R. (2001). Wandering joy: Meister Eckhart's mystical philosophy. Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Books.
Schürmann, R. (2003). Broken hegemonies (R. Lilly, Trans.). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Sells, M. (1994). Mystical languages of unsaying. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
ˇi˛ek, S. (1996). Hegel with Lacan, or the subject and its cause. In R. Feldstein, B. Fink, & M. Jaanus (Eds.), Reading seminars I and II: Lacan's return to Freud (pp. 397-416). Albany: State University of New York Press.

Graduate Student Essay

Entitled:
The Psychodynamic Experience:
Exploring the Psychodynamic Approach in Theory, Clinical Practice, or Empirical Research.

Sponsored by:

Section V of the American Psychological Association's Division of Psychoanalysis (Div. 39)

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Submit to: Section V; Student Essay Contest; 333 West 57th St., Ste 103; NY, NY 10019-3115
Submit your essay without your name on it and include in your submission, on a separate piece of paper, your name, phone number, address, e-mail, and the name of the school and program you attend.

Deadline: 15 February 2012. The winner will be announced in April 2012, and the prize awarded at the Spring 2012 Meeting of Division 39 at the Section V Reception. The prize-winning essay, as well as any essays eligible for honorable mention, will be posted on the Section V web-site.

Eligibility: To participate in the contest, you must be a Graduate Student in Psychology or Doctor in your Post-Doctoral Year. There are no other pre-conditions.

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he psychoanalytically-friendly academic programs web-site is: http://psafriendlyuniv.tripod.com



Winner of the 2010 Student Essay Contest: Amy Blume-Marcovici

Id of the garden: A case study

Amy C. Blume-Marcovici


This is a room you would expect to find at a psychiatric hospital. The lights are dim but sharp, the color of a worn-out highlighter. There are no windows. The floor is checkered linoleum: black and white, as if that is the way the world works. And for many of the people here, it is a black and white world, in and out of psychiatric hospitals like this. They operate inside a sort of Kleinian masterpiece: constantly vacillating between hope and despair, love and hate, libido and aggression with nothing in between but silence. At times, the silence here is frightening.

Today, however, it is not silent. As an intake coordinator, I have done four admissions already, and it's only noon. I've gotten my interviews down to thirty minutes, moving from a mini-mental status to trauma history with the grace of a fighter pilot.

I'm hungry. It's lunchtime. When I was young, we were not allowed to eat between meals. Kitchen's closed, my mom would say. And that was that. I can picture her face: soft and ironic as she speaks. I suddenly want to feel the sound of those words, and so I whisper them:
"Kitchen's closed."
"What?" my new intake asks and I snap back to the present. "Can't eat" she moans, rolling onto her side. The mattress sags. "I can't, can't." Her bare feet rest on cold metal that is the end of the bed frame. Her thin ankles, swollen with liver spots, are shackled. I flip through her paperwork. She's been in the mental health system since she was 22. Now she's 60. Psychosis NOS. She mumbles something inaudible and I glance up. It's my turn:
"What?"
She looks at me but doesn't answer my question. Suddenly she bursts into a boisterous laugh, lips curled back to reveal a cave of mushy, red decay. Her round face turns so purple I wonder if I should get the nurse, but she stops laughing as quickly as she began. She turns onto her back and stares at the ceiling, quiet and pensive. I wonder what she sees there, in the stain and flake of the plaster. I could ask her: Tell me what it looks like to you. What might this ceiling be? I imagine her answer: a morbid, an ALOG, animal content.
The security guard waiting outside peaks in. I'd forgotten he was there. The Guard. He is a tall man, even in the humbling blue uniform, with sunken eyes. He looks like he could say something wise and funny and sad all at once. Instead he is quiet. "Everything alright?" he asks with his forehead. I smile and nod. A young woman in a room with a cackling patient. He lifts his eyebrows and retreats to the hallway.
"Let's continue," I say. My intake doesn't answer. "Can you tell me where you are?" …Silence… "Do you know why you're here?" …Nothing… I think of Nancy McWilliams' suggestion that psychotically-organized clients require more supportive therapeutic techniques and alter the pitch of my voice to make it gentler, earnest. "Do you know what sort of place this is?" I coo. Still, I get no response.
I breathe in deeply, rustling the paperwork I will soon need her to sign. This could take a long time and my stomach growls. Impatiens are high maintenance, my mother used to say when I got antsy. Flower puns were her favorite. I muse at the way the pun has hybrid itself here: inpatients are high maintenance. Thyme takes time, another she would dole out to her irritated children. I sigh and relax into my chair. "Do you know what day it is?"
Suddenly my intake looks at me. "Day?" She asks as though she has just been woken, eyes caked with fatigue. Her voice cracks as she whispers, "May I tell you my dream?" I am struck by the directness of her question. Saved by a dream! An image of Melanie Klein as a young woman comes to mind: she is lying in a hospital bed in Vienna. The room, despite decades passed, is precisely like this. She is depressed: unresponsive for days until she unexpectedly comes upon Freud's Interpretation of Dreams. I imagine her sitting upright in her bed, arching her arms toward the sky. A miracle case thrust back into a life that would be real and coherent and meaningful. The woman who would bring psychoanalytic theory to psychosis, to clients like my intake. A woman saved by a dream.
"I'd be honored," I answer my intake. I am aware that her dream will desecrate my 30-minute average but dreams are a rare find in this place. I can hear my mother's voice: A dream shared is a secret bared. Sometimes my sister and I told each other dreams over bowls of Lucky Charms at breakfast. Mom would listen, strong hands folded beneath her narrow chin, forehead wrinkled in earnest. It is only now that I realize my mother, a mother and a gardener by trade and choice, would have loved psychoanalysis: her belief that dreams expressed something essential about the dreamer – something bold and raw; her perpetual use of metaphor as a means of hinting at a grander truth, as if to reveal the tip of a Freudian iceberg; her love of digging up the roots of plants to show her children the worms and the scent and the dark, active world that lay beneath. The id of a garden. I almost laugh as I picture her in a large armchair, my skinny, long-haired mother smoking a pipe and nodding as a client free-associates on the couch. My mother, the psychoanalyst!

I suddenly wonder why I am thinking so much of my mother today. I can hear her now: Sometimes we don't know why we do things, but that we did them deserves attention. That line, stern and crisp, was a harbinger of punishment for a deed gone wrong. What, today, have I done wrong? I look at the woman before me. My intake. I try to imagine her as a mother for just a moment, her emaciated arms wrapped around a baby. I almost practice whispering – mom – but she cuts me off. The tone of her voice has shifted: low pitch, staccato.
"What you must know is that I grew up in Oklahoma. The farm was. Oh yes," Staccato beat. She puts her hand up to her hollow eyes, as if trying to get a look at something spectacular. But she fails. "Sometimes in the dream I am inside me. Sometimes I'm not. Do you get that?" She doesn't look at me but I nod, one swift movement. "When I'm inside me, I'm a child again. When I'm not, I'm grown up and I watch myself with my little girl." Beat. She smiles at the ceiling. A sad smile. Perhaps human content this time, likely fictional. "In the dream, my daughter is an infant. She's grown now. All grown up. Yes. How old are you?" I don't answer – an attempt at neutrality – and she doesn't ask again. There is a pause and the silence leaves me guilty. I rustle paperwork and she goes on.
"The dream is in a house –always in this house. It is – yes – on our land – on the farm – but it is not our house. Not. Our. House!" She cringes here, shaking her head. Two beats go by. "Yes. I'm in the house. Inside myself. I'm a child again and I look out the window. I see meadows and the gold sky. Oh, so nice! Grandfather is plowing and all the sun is on him. I could look at this – yes!
"Then, outside of me, I have my daughter in my arms. I am watching myself. I'm rocking her to sleep in the small kitchen in that house. But it's not ours! There is something cooking on the stove. Bubbling. It's milk. Burning milk. Yes." Beat. "Then I'm back in myself. I'm a child again but my child is alive. We are both children! Do you get that? We're both children and she's crying and I cannot reach her. She's inside that little kitchen but I'm outside now and I'm too small to open the door. All I want is to get through that door! To get into that room. I cry, too. Our cries are the same. They are exactly the same." She pauses. A complete shift in her face and she smiles. "Sometimes I like knowing that we sound the same, my daughter and I. Get that?"
I think about it for a moment. Does her daughter speak like this, now? A staccato hum? Do I speak as my mom did? Would our cries be in sync? Silent moments pass. The Guard looks in, assessing our condition. He seems to understand that we are okay and he puts his hand up, gesturing to us across a black and white divide, letting us know he is near. A superego in waiting. My intake's face recoils. She turns on her side, away from me. Mattress sag and she continues.
"The kitchen door is so tall. It's covered in wallpaper. Blue and gold paper just like the one my mother put in her bedroom when I was little. I remember. The gold was so bright. So smooth against the fuzzy blue. I was not allowed to touch it. Forbidden." Staccato beat. "This is the paper covering the door to the little kitchen. I will have to ruin it to get inside. Destroy the paper to get my daughter! She is crying so loud now she is starting to melt. All I want is to get to her but I can hardly bear to rip the paper. I'm so scared. I'm scared to touch it!" Beat. "And then the crying stops. Just – yes – suddenly. Instead there is this awful noise. This terrible, terrible drilling. I don't know what it is. I am inside my little body and I am a small child, yet I know that my mind is not little anymore. I should know what is making that noise! I try to get to the window to look out but the window is crashing in on me. The house is caving in! Oh! It is my grandfather – yes – and he's plowing right into the house. He's plowing through the brick walkway and up the front step. He's plowing right through the floorboards. The blades are moving so quick and throwing dirt into my eyes. I can smell the dirt and it is rotten. Dirt is in my mouth and I cannot breathe!
"Then I realize he is plowing right to the kitchen. He is going to rip the wallpaper! He is going to tear it down! He is going to plow right through my baby!" Her voice has gotten loud and her eyes are shut tight. She turns onto her back again, lying like a corpse. The purple has left her face entirely and she is pale. She looks so small. "But then – the most awful part – awful! Awful part. I am outside myself and I realize." Beat. "I realize that it's me. I'm riding the tractor. I'm plowing through the door. I am going to kill the child I love." She moans, once, loudly. One sorrowful staccato. Then, her eyes open. She blinks and her face smoothes. She smiles red decay at the ceiling. INCOM: of this I feel sadly certain.

I feel the pen in my hand. I turn it over and over. I look down at my paperwork – nearly blank. Diagnosis? It daunts. Family history? It chides. I think: on the outside it's empty, but on the inside there's not room for another word. In her own way, through fantasy – through a dream – she completed my assessment. A dream shared…and yet impossible to translate. I close my eyes.

Diagnosis: Schizoid personality, I want to write. I think of long moments of silence and my intake staring at the ceiling like a tiny, frightened child. Diagnosis confirmed by use of primary process defense: withdrawal into fantasy. It dawns on me that my intake is stuck, both in her dream and in her reality, in infancy. I think of Klein's theory that early infancy is characterized by a paranoid-schizoid state and realize that my intake is stuck in that chasm, small and unarmed. Notable split between aspects of self: an inside-me and an outside-me, I imagine myself sketching in the air across the blank page.

Family history: A grandfather, a mother, a daughter. I think of Harry Guntrip's work on object relations. He wrote of the schizoid person's ambivalence toward attachment: her longing for closeness conflicted by a deep fear of obliteration by those who get close. For Guntrip, the schizoid is preoccupied with questions of her own boundaries. Does she exist? Will she be overtaken? My intake's Grandfather comes to mind: a man with all of the sun in the world, and yet able to turn my intake into a monster on a tractor, to take her over completely. A powerful man, safe at a distance – through a window – and yet deadly up close. Mother: a woman with boundaries as fragile and forbidden as wallpaper. Daughter: a child so loved that the boundaries between mother and daughter have become permeable and distorted, merging two humans into one sad and lonely cry. I imagine my pen moving across the page: Disorganized attachment, indicative of Ainsworth's confused and disoriented type.

Homicidal ideation: I think of a mother who loves her child and, yet, believes she may murder her. While not actively homicidal, patient is preoccupied with sources danger and, through introjection, afraid of her own aggressive tendencies.

Mood: Annihilation anxiety. Terror. The patient is paranoid about her own death. Terrified of melting, of being obliterated.

Thought Process: Internal preoccupation. Splitting defense in which patient vacillates between a world that is all-good (the outside-me world in the field beyond the window) and a world that is all-bad (the inside-me world in a suffocating house).

Appetite: I realize my own hunger has dissipated. I am on a roll and I smile at the thought of the psychiatrist reading my imaginary notes. Preoccupation with oral-level issues, I write, thinking of Fairbairn's "love made hungry" which characterized his schizoid position. In their inability to get what they need from their love object (mother, daughter), the schizoid person becomes increasingly hungry for love, increasingly needy. In turn, the strength of their hunger brings the growling fear that love itself will devour and obliterate that which is loved. And thus, a daughter is churned by a tractor. Noted also by continuous mention of a "kitchen".

Sleep: Characterized by nightmares. A time when the id brings forth a world of terror and fears of being taken over, engulfed by an evil house.

Appearance: Thin…I think, looking at the gaunt woman before me. McWilliams theorized that schizoid people tend to be physically thin in order to ward off fears of their own hunger, their own propensity toward engulfment, absorption. Thin by fear, I airbrush. Thin by defense.

Speech: Whispers and staccato beats. Splitting even in her speech. Paucity.

Substance Abuse: Burning milk.

Past trauma: A plow through floorboard. Ripping wallpaper. A murderous tractor.

I sigh. Would this do?

I want to say something. I want to thank her. I want to tell her a dream of my own – a dream I'd had about my mother soon after she died. In the dream, I was looking for my mom, digging frantically through the earth. My hands were raw, fingernails chipping. I could hear the sound of them breaking – snap, snap, snap – as I dug. But I needed to find her. I knew she had to be somewhere in this earth – somewhere in the depths of it. The soul has the deepest roots, she would have said. Mustn't she be somewhere? But then I woke and in my hands were nothing but sheets, sweaty and crinkled. In my heart, I was paralyzed with the dread: she's gone.

I thought about us: my intake deep in the trenches of annihilation fears, terrified of being wiped out, smothered by dirt, plowed over by a man with the power of the sun. Paranoid anxiety. And me, clenched by fears of utter abandonment; depressive anxiety surfacing with the force of a death-plow. Is this some sort of projective identification? An intense countertransference? Am I feeling her daughter's anxiety, what Heinrick Racker would have called complementary countertransference? Is her daughter rooting in the dirt, searching for her mother, my intake? Is she crying when her hands come to surface, bloody and failed?

Or am I feeling what my intake feels, Racker's concordant countertransference: this strange sense of being constantly lost in my own fantasy. Am I, like her, lost in primitive withdrawal? And if so, what am I defending against?

I hear The Guard come into the doorway. In his presence, I realize that I have a job to do and it must be done. Stuttering over my words, my voice meek, I ask my question again: "Do you know what day it is?" I expect nothing as I watch my intake scrutinize the plaster.

But I am surprised.
"Day?" she starts. "Yes. Today. Today is Mother's Day."

I drop my pen. On the upper right corner of my paperwork, in my own handwriting: Sunday, May 10, 2009. In haste, I had scribbled the date of my first Mother's Day without a mom a hundred times today. Yet I had no idea.

I feel tears in my eyes and I start to turn away, so my intake cannot see. But for some reason I change my mind. I let the tears come, facing her.

My intake looks at me. Then, a red smile.
"You're melting," she whispers and takes my hand.





References
Ainsworth, M.D., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological
study of the strange situation. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Fairbairn, W.R.D. (1954). An object-relations theory of the personality. New York: Basic
Books.
Guntrip, H. (1969). Schizoid phenomena, object relations and the self. New York:
International Universities Press.
Klein, M. (1946). Notes on some schizoid mechanisms. International Journal of Psycho-
Analysis, 27, 99-110.
McWilliams, N. (1994). Psychoanalytic diagnosis: Understanding personality structure
in the clinical process. New York: The Guilford Press.
Mitchell, S.A. & Black, M.J. (1995). Freud and beyond: A history of modern
psychoanalytic thought. New York: Basic Books.








Winning Essay in the Student Essay Contest "On encountering the unconscious"

Encountering the Unconscious: A More Than Twice Told Tale

by Dan Livney

Dan Livney is a 2nd year clinical psychology doctoral student at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia.

I'm a frustrated fiction writer, there I've said it. But I have a few stories which weave subtle and ambiguous threads of meaning through my life.

Take this one, for instance. I woke up in the morning, this was some years ago, and in my mind was the remainder of a dream. I tried to hold it in my mind and recall as much as I could about it. It had a rare quality. Though dreams having a literary quality may not be uncommon, my dreams, at least, don't usually translate so directly into the written word. This one felt like a short story that I could put down on paper, almost (but not entirely) without modification. Even as I first began to turn it over in my mind, I thought that it seemed to have coherence, structure, and even tone—all the things a good story needs.

I've written a number of things before and since, most of them started and then abandoned. But here was one piece that coalesced from beginning to end, almost effortlessly, onto paper. And I felt that it was, of all things, quite good. I've reread that story dozens of times and shared it with pride with friends. True to its source, it is very much a snapshot out of my subconscious. Over the years I've found that the better I've gotten to know myself the more of myself I've found in it, each time I come back to it.

The dream, and the short story which came out of it, date back about 10 years now. And in that time no new work emerged anywhere near as good as that one. But from time to time, as I continued to show this story to new people, I found that I began to tell another story about that first one. That second story is the topic of this essay. And so here then, recursively, is my "encounter with the unconscious."

The tale, or perhaps part fable, I found myself telling others about a brief moment when one particular desire, to write good fiction, came true.

"When I was a little boy of about 7 or 8, we had a plum tree in our garden
that never gave forth any plums. Then one year, out of nowhere, two appeared, side by side. It was an exciting moment. My father and I watched them grow and bulge, and I wondered how we would know when the right time to finally pick them would be. I came home one day to find that my father had made the decision without me; the plums were resting in the windowsill of our kitchen, which overlooked the garden. There the plums sat, ripening, until they had gotten to be brown and mushy on the inside. Looking for the perfect plums, in his greed and inexperience, he had ruined them. The short story, you see, is kind of like those plums. It showed up out of nowhere, and just sits there, unconnected to anything before or since.

This is a reconstruction of a metaphor I used several times, always to make a similar point. Although eventually I came to suspect that what that point was had never been really clear to me. In Freudian terms, jokes and parapraxes, and perhaps little curious metaphors like this one, suggest the presence of repressed motives. In order to help me try and uncover whatever possible hidden meanings may lie in my story of the plums, I'd like to try a little exercise. What I'd like to do is to make an in vivo examination of my "latent state of mental life" by using Freud's technique of free association. "If we make use of this procedure [psycho-analysis] upon ourselves, we can best assist the investigation by at once writing down what are at first unintelligible associations" (Freud, 1911/1989).

But before I do this, I'd like to ask: what brings my focus to this particular
example? It is, quite simply, its unexamined and maybe paradoxical state. Looked at rationally, my metaphorical tale adds little to my companion's understanding of the short story. In essence what it does do is repeat the idea that this story is unique to my experience. But it avoids other seemingly important questions, such as what meanings or explanations do I give it, or its solitary state. And also, it seems curious to me that I should have been so fond of this anecdote so as to repeat it more than once. To attempt and answer these kinds of questions I'm going to try and let my mind wander over the story of the plums. I will ask the reader to believe me that as I start this exploration I have no prepared answers which amount to any more than a rough outline of a hypothesis or two. Instead I ask the reader to come upon this psychoanalytic exercise along with me, so without prejudice we may both see where it leads.

As I now begin, I ask, what do I make of this narrative? If I were scoring it as a response on the Rorschach using the Exner system, I might note the presence of one "Cooperative" and one "Morbid" Special Scores; a "Botany,"Human" and "Food" content; and one Pair. Unfortunately, this seems like a rather intellectualized beginning, which speaks mostly to how difficult it is to be really honest with yourself and with others, in this case the reader. In finding myself starting out by immediately going to an interpretation which appears to speak more to mind than to emotion, I presume the presence of a resistance. This adds to my belief that the content of the narrative, as much as the content of the original short story-cum-dream, is laden with unconscious meaning. With awareness of my initial misstep, I'm going to try again. This time attempting to be more nearly true to Freud's recipe of saying whatever comes to mind:

Twin plums, testicles…old woman…fear…old shed to one side of the yard; broken down, door half open; gloom inside…fear…sex, adult sex, not childhood images…father…discontent…image: digging a hole in the back of the yard, with a little plastic sphere I was wearing on my head. I'm suddenly aware of someone behind me, I turn and its my father taking a photograph. He thinks it's cute (I suppose) that I'm wearing my little hat, but I feel humiliated. Plums, growth…unconnected. Pick, spic, ice pick, kick…soccer. Image: playing soccer with my father in a local park, falling over backwards after a kick, as if imitating professional players on TV.

I'm going to stop here. I think there should be enough material just in these
few lines to serve my purpose. What is the experience of free associating like for me? Anxiety-provoking. To dive into something with no preconception of where I might end up, it has always frightened me. It scares me most when I first start the process; fear attains a gilt-edge of exhilaration as I become more comfortable with it. Once I stop and come back to try again, perhaps after some days or weeks, the initial feeling is always one of anxiety. My stomach becomes tight, and my mouth dry. I become easily distracted, start thinking of things I'd rather be doing. I'm forced to bring myself back. Eventually I feel slightly flushed and I don't want to continue any longer.

Only now that I've finished with the free-association part of my task; and assuming I was honest, that is, by saying things as they came to mind without trying to edit or curb them, can I now go back and try to make sense of what appeared. I should first acknowledge that obviously this is not the same kind of free association that one might do on a therapist's couch. Whereas on the couch one says whatever comes to mind, here the situation is slightly altered. I'm free associating while contemplating a particular paragraph—it's a case of one episode of free association based upon another. A second difference, of course, is that I'm doing this with only a theoretical reader in mind, rather than with a real person present. Whether this is a "legitimate" methodology for looking at the contents of the unconscious, almost begs the question. I'm not conceptualizing the unconscious as a state or a place, or even as a subset of consciousness or ego, however one chooses to define those words. I believe that the "boundaries" of the unconscious are considerably harder to define. If one looks at the task I've chosen for myself, it would seem that the choice I've made is a conscious one. There are obviously other topics I could have chosen to focus on. I could have chosen to discuss the short story directly rather than the anecdote I've told about it. Or else I could have chosen some entirely other episode from my life to ponder. But I would argue that the choice itself has unconscious parameters—I chose it because with associations and feelings unknown it has been weighing on my mind.

I will put the argument regarding method aside for the moment, while I go back now and examine the contents of my free association sample. To start with, I've asked my father about his recollection of the story of the plums, and among other discrepancies to my own memories, to his recall there was only one plum. Perhaps, as an adult, he would be more likely to remember the situation accurately, or perhaps his unconscious is playing its own tricks, there's no way to know, and I don't think it really matters. Trying to decipher the unconscious residues from a memory is little different than trying to do so from a dream—you start with the recalled event as it is presented, rather than by trying to reconstruct an accurate picture of the event. Thus, the twin image of the plums, and the immediate connection to a sexual image, is noted.

The next image which came to mind was the old woman. During the period of time when we lived in a house with a plum tree in the back yard, an elderly woman who lived across the street was a significant nurturing figure in my life. The next feeling which comes up is fear, followed by a sinister image: the old, spooky shed. Next, fear again, then again a sexual image. The association proceeds to my father and an interaction with him from about the same period. In re-reading my words, I now see that an element of editorializing had crept in ("He thinks it's cute I suppose…"). So what I would note here is there might be a deflection of feelings. Because rather than simply describing the feeling this image evokes as it emerges, maybe sadness, I immediately add a concrete interpretation of the scene.

Moving along with the images, I now return to the plums, and I connect the words "growth" and "unconnected," perhaps related to the way I describe the appearance of the plums as unconnected "to anything before or since." Why this comes up here, I don't see for the moment. Next there is a rhyming association: "Pick, spic, ice pick, kick…soccer" I might interpret the presence of the word "spic" as representative of latent racist tendencies which I would assure the reader I don't have any particular inclination towards), but there could also be another meaning. The offensive quality of this word lies in its derogatory singling out of the (in this case, Hispanic) other as different, and therefore implicitly inferior. Coming as I do from an immigrant family, it seems quite plausible that, especially as a child, I would have felt the full weight of being "different." So, perhaps within this particular word are contained feelings not only of my own inferiority, but also of associated embarrassment of my parents, different as they were from other kids' parents. An "ice pick," which I've rarely encountered in my day to day life, except as murder weapon in spy novels, seems to be an aggressive association. The last image (playing soccer) is again one with my father, but this time it's a more positive one.

To further put the images into context, it should be noted that the free
associations were made a few hours before going with my girlfriend to spend the evening with some members of my family, including my father. It seems reasonable to assume that whatever unconscious representations of repressed mental states are assumed to exist, they can best be understood through the filter of current events.

In fact, as I now move on from a line-by-line reading to trying to organize what I see, it seems that there are two principal motifs appearing in the free associations: interactions with my father, and sexual themes. The question of whether the present draws out certain aspects of the past, or if the past casts a particular shade over the present immediately comes to mind, but I'm going to refrain from entertaining an idea I'm afraid could lead down a circuitous path. In either case the themes evidently coexist in some way. The one presumption I feel inclined to make is that they are not in fact separate, that is, their coexistence is not incidental or otherwise random. For instance, nurturance runs through both of them, and also contextualizes the appearance of the old woman.

I see, too, some ambiguity in the associations. There is fear, mentioned explicitly twice, and implied in the image of the creepy shed. There is humiliation, and aggression. But the sexual allusion is phrased "adult sex, not childhood images." Though not much elaborated on, it's a fairly sanguine phrasing, explicitly avoiding any juvenile connotations. So the juxtaposition of unpleasant images comes with at least two healthy ones: the sexual allusion, and the final image. That last image I read as a childhood expression of aspiration and idealization: "Teach me how to be a great soccer player, so I can grow up to be strong and successful like they are." Perhaps I associate the experience of becoming an adult, in part by having an adult to look up to, as connected to the successful formation of romantic relationships.

So far, I've tried to interpret what hidden meanings can be discerned in my associations to the "tale of the plums." But the other question that comes to mind is, what purpose does the story serve to the interaction? Why do I feel this need (perhaps shy of a compunction) to tell it, as a commentary of sorts on the short story? As I said earlier, I do see the tale as a sort of a distraction. It provides a metaphor for the idea that while I'm proud of this one short story, I'm saddened that I've found myself unable to write more like it. But it adds little beyond that, and thus seems a bit overly elaborate for its purpose. Prior to the metaphor, of course, the short story itself was a form of interaction. So then, when I say that I "I would like to be a writer," what I'm really saying is that this is a certain kind of communication that I would like to do more of.

According to Freud (at least as of the writing of The Interpretation of Dreams), the dream, and as I would claim by extension, any successful piece of fiction, is an attempt at "wish fulfillment." But strangely, with the plum metaphor what I find is perhaps the reverse. With the secondary interaction (the first being when I give another person the short story to read), I introduce a diversion. My stated goals, above, in giving another my short story are to share a personal piece of myself, and to share an accomplishment of which I'm proud. Those things should theoretically be at least some part of the focus of this secondary interaction. Instead my reader receives something else to consider, another tale, which besides its commentary on the short story, is also laden with its own multiple layers of meaning--they receive the dubious gift of plums.

I could postulate that this new gift is an attempt to undo, or at least divert from, the first gift. Perhaps there is some discomfort either with being proud of my accomplishments, or of disclosing so much of myself to another—after all, I am much more aware than a casual reader of how much the short story really tells about me. It could be that elements of my free associations point to either a source, or at one example, or at simply one expression of these discomforts. It could be that my current relationships, appearing here in the form of my girlfriend, are in some way affected by these patterns of hidden or adumbrated meanings. It is also possible that the short story, now perhaps become its own repressed symbol, plays the part in my unconscious of a"desire fulfilled." And perhaps there are other parts of my unconscious that battle away with it as "too good," and therefore unacceptable.

So if I were to summarize my predicament: I started with a dream, which is an unconscious process. While still groggily lying in bed I decide that this is not just any dream, but one that I can and should write down in the form of a short story. What combination of processes, conscious and unconscious, brought me to that decision is, like the source of the dream, far from clear. I surely do not, lying there in bed, think about form and structure and syntax. In writing the story I make an attempt to stay as true as I can to what I remember of my dream, but I believe that some level of conscious translation occurred nevertheless. Once the story is written, I share it with a number of others over a period of years, more than once telling those others a certain metaphor connected to this story. Only after a long time do I make note of the fact that it is a relatively static tale I've repeated—which makes it, like a recurring dream recounted in therapy, one worthy of particular note.

Several months ago when I first started thinking about this essay that I'm writing now, another apparently conscious "choice" started to form in my mind: that I should write about this metaphor of the plums. Then, when I started to write about it, I made yet another apparently conscious choice: that I was going to use the method of free association to examine this tale (that is based on a short story, which is based on a dream).

There are plausible conscious and rational explanations I could make for many of the links in this chain. For example, my desire to write fiction likely has a role to play in my decision to write my dream down as a short story, rather than, say, as a journal entry. And, taken at face value, the story of the plums does tell something about the appearance of the short story: it is certainly not a full-fledged attempt to hide all meanings. If I had wanted to do that I could have simply not shared the short story with anyone in the first place. But I think that, too, at every step there are aspects of my experiences, fears and behaviors, the impulse for which is not entirely apparent.

Of course, I could take an even further step back, and see the original dream itself as one that retains the content of both not fully apprehended experiences from my childhood, combined with, if one is to believe Freud in this, residual experiences from the day's events when the dream occurred. Given all this, and keeping in mind the title of this essay contest, Encountering the Unconscious; when, I would ask, along the thread which seems somehow to connect my childhood to this very moment, and which surely permeates the dream, the short story, the metaphor, the free association sample above, as well as this essay, is the unconscious not encountered? And so to get back now to my earlier question regarding the legitimacy or usefulness of this particular method—while what I have done here may differ from the classical way of apprehending the unconscious, if one accepts the idea that the unconscious is in fact in some way in play everywhere and all the time, (to the point that the differentiation between conscious and unconscious process is not entirely clear, although I grant that some such difference exists), then the discussion about what is the proper way to encounter it becomes little more than a semantic one. I would subscribe here to Freud's equally blurred delineation of the two states when he writes:

…We know for certain that they [latent states of mental life] have abundantpoints of contact with conscious mental processes, and all the categories whichwe employ to describe conscious mental acts, such as ideas, purposes, resolutionsand so on, can be applied to them. Indeed, we are obliged to say of some ofthese latent states that the only respect in which they differ from consciousones is precisely in the absence of consciousness. (Freud, 1915/1989.)

Lastly, I would underline the iterative nature of my encounter with the unconscious; each step involves a further exploration into the meanings found within previously delved layers of connections. To the extent that there is a conscious effort involved, its aim is to clarify and to attempt to make explicit the dynamics and emotions hidden behind the uncovered symbols.

References:

Freud, S. (1989). On Dreams. (J. Strachey, Trans.). In P. Gay (Ed.), The Freud Reader (p.144). London: W. W. Norton & Co. (Original work published in 1911)

Freud, S. (1989). The Unconscious. (J. Strachey, Trans.). In P. Gay (Ed.), The Freud Reader (p.575). London: W. W. Norton & Co. (Original work published in 1915)

***



Welcome

Welcome to the Student Page of Section V's website

This is a forum open to psychoanalytically-curious students in all phases of their training.

Updated: December13, 2010

Initiatives of the Student Advisory Committee include:



1. The Biennial Student Essay Contest

." The prize-winning essay receives $500!

Scroll down!--the winning essay and an honorable mention are posted below.

2. The Mentoring Program
Scroll down to seach practicing Section V members
across the country who are looking forward to fostering
the development of early-career psychoanalysts.

3. Psychoanalytic Internship Search
Scroll down for an ever-growing list of
psychoanalytically-oriented pre-doctoral internship
sites.


Our Goal

Our goal is to engage students in Section V by providing useful and relevant activities and support; to encourage students' interest and involvement in psychoanalysis; to recognize individual student's accomplishments in the psychoanalytic arena; and to integrate the ideas and perspectives of students into the deliberations of the Section V Board.

Announcements, resources, and activities will be posted and updated through links on this student page.
Such links include:

~The Biennial Graduate Student Essay Contest.

~The Mentoring Network: an opportunity for students to talk or meet with volunteer mentors who are members of Section V. Mentors provide information and support to students curious about psychoanalysis, psychoanalysis and its relationship to other disciplines, & psychodynamically-oriented training and work.

~Graduate School, Internship and Postdoctoral listings of programs that are psychodynamically oriented.

~An evolving list of Essential Readings in Psychoanalytic Literature.



2. The Mentoring Program



We are pleased to introduce practicing Section V members who are interested in fostering the interest of psychoanalysis in early-career students and clinicians. Attached to the PDF link below, interested Section V mentors have been classified by state, and their areas of interest, current affiliations, contact information, etc. have all been included. Feel free to contact these individuals regarding their areas of expertise! SectionVmentorapplic.pdf


3. Psychoanalytic Internship Search



Below are a list of psychoanalytically/psychodynamically-oriented pre-doctoral psychology internship sites. If you would like to add to this list, or find that a program's orientation has changed, please email this information to rprincephd@gmail.com

Albert Einstein College of Medicine sites in the Bronx, NYC NY
Albany Psychology Internship Consortium Albany NY
Allendale Association Chicago IL
American University Couseling Center Washington DC
Ann Martin Children's Ctr Piedmont CA
Astor Home for Children Rhinebeck NY
Baylor University/Menninger (select tracks at Menninger)Houston TX
Beth Israel Med Center NYC NY
Brooklyn VA Brooklyn NY
California College of Arts and Crafts. Oakland CA
California Pacific Medical Center San Fran. CA
Cambridge Health Alliance (Cambridge Hospital) Boston MA
Carnegie Mellon Counseling Center Pittsburgh PA
Child Guidance Center of Southern Connecticut Stamford CN
Children's Village WestchesterNY
Columbia Presbyterian Med Center NYC NY
Community Institute for Psychotherapy San Rafael CA
Cornerstone Behavioral Health Evanston WY
Denver VA Medical Center Denver CO
Duquesne University Counseling Center Pittsburgh PA
Emory Univ School of Medicine--Grady Health System Atlanta GA
Family Services and Guidance Center Topeka KS
Forest Institute for Professional Psychology SpringfieldMO
Georgia State University Counseling Service Atlanta GA
Gouverneur Hospital NYC NY
Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital Greystone Park NJ
Howard University Counseling Center Washington DC
Howard University Hospital Washington DC
Institute for Human Adjustment Ann Arbor MI
Institute of Living Hartford CT
Interfaith Medical Center Brooklyn NY
Jacobi Medical Center Bronx NY
James H. Quillen VA Medical Center Johnson City TN
Jewish Board of Family Child Services NYC NY
Jewish Child Care Association Westchester & Bronx NY
Jewish General Hospital (contact: Dr. Paule Delisle) Montreal CAN
Karen Horney Clinic NYC NY
Kings County Hospital Brooklyn NY
Kings County Hospital Center NYC NY
Lenox Hill NYC NY
Louisiana State University School of Medicine New OrleansLA
Maimonides Hospital Brooklyn NY
Maimonides Med Center NYC NY
Marin Family Service Agency Marin CA
Massachusetts General Hospital Boston MA
Massachusetts Mental Health Boston MA
Mills College Oakland CA
Montreal General Hospital (Richard Karmel) Montreal CAN
North Shore University Hospital NYC NY
NYU Bellevue NYC NY
Pace University NYC NY
Pennsylvania Hospital Philly PA
Psychiatric Institute of Washington (PIW) Washington DC
Queens Psychiatric Center Bellerose NY
Richmond Area Multi-Services (RAMS) San Fran. CA
St. Elizabeth's Hospital Washington DC
St. Lukes Roosevelt Hospital Center NYC NY
Stoney Brook Counseling Center NYC NY
Stonybrook University Counseling Center Long IslandNY
Sunset Park Mental Health Center Brooklyn NY
SUNY Upstate Medical University Syracuse NY
SUNY Buffalo counseling center Buffalo NY
Univ Mass Amherst Mental Health Service Amherst MA
Univ Illinois Chicago's Counseling Center Chicago IL
Univ Rochester's University Counseling Center Rochester NY
Univ. of Pittsburg Counseling Center Pittsburg PA
Univ. of Virginia, Department of Student Health Charlottesville VA
West Coast Children's Center El Cerrito CA
Woodburn Center for Community Mental Health Annandale VA
Yale University School of Medicine (select rotations) New Haven CT
Yale Child Study Center (testing focus) New Haven CT
Wardenburg/Univ. of Colorado-Psych. Health & Psychiatry Boulder CO

Winning Essay in the Student Essay Contest "On encountering the unconscious"

Encountering the Unconscious: A More Than Twice Told Tale

by Dan Livney

Dan Livney is a 2nd year clinical psychology doctoral student at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia.

I'm a frustrated fiction writer, there I've said it. But I have a few stories which weave subtle and ambiguous threads of meaning through my life.

Take this one, for instance. I woke up in the morning, this was some years ago, and in my mind was the remainder of a dream. I tried to hold it in my mind and recall as much as I could about it. It had a rare quality. Though dreams having a literary quality may not be uncommon, my dreams, at least, don't usually translate so directly into the written word. This one felt like a short story that I could put down on paper, almost (but not entirely) without modification. Even as I first began to turn it over in my mind, I thought that it seemed to have coherence, structure, and even tone—all the things a good story needs.

I've written a number of things before and since, most of them started and then abandoned. But here was one piece that coalesced from beginning to end, almost effortlessly, onto paper. And I felt that it was, of all things, quite good. I've reread that story dozens of times and shared it with pride with friends. True to its source, it is very much a snapshot out of my subconscious. Over the years I've found that the better I've gotten to know myself the more of myself I've found in it, each time I come back to it.

The dream, and the short story which came out of it, date back about 10 years now. And in that time no new work emerged anywhere near as good as that one. But from time to time, as I continued to show this story to new people, I found that I began to tell another story about that first one. That second story is the topic of this essay. And so here then, recursively, is my "encounter with the unconscious."

The tale, or perhaps part fable, I found myself telling others about a brief moment when one particular desire, to write good fiction, came true.

"When I was a little boy of about 7 or 8, we had a plum tree in our garden
that never gave forth any plums. Then one year, out of nowhere, two appeared, side by side. It was an exciting moment. My father and I watched them grow and bulge, and I wondered how we would know when the right time to finally pick them would be. I came home one day to find that my father had made the decision without me; the plums were resting in the windowsill of our kitchen, which overlooked the garden. There the plums sat, ripening, until they had gotten to be brown and mushy on the inside. Looking for the perfect plums, in his greed and inexperience, he had ruined them. The short story, you see, is kind of like those plums. It showed up out of nowhere, and just sits there, unconnected to anything before or since.

This is a reconstruction of a metaphor I used several times, always to make a similar point. Although eventually I came to suspect that what that point was had never been really clear to me. In Freudian terms, jokes and parapraxes, and perhaps little curious metaphors like this one, suggest the presence of repressed motives. In order to help me try and uncover whatever possible hidden meanings may lie in my story of the plums, I'd like to try a little exercise. What I'd like to do is to make an in vivo examination of my "latent state of mental life" by using Freud's technique of free association. "If we make use of this procedure [psycho-analysis] upon ourselves, we can best assist the investigation by at once writing down what are at first unintelligible associations" (Freud, 1911/1989).

But before I do this, I'd like to ask: what brings my focus to this particular
example? It is, quite simply, its unexamined and maybe paradoxical state. Looked at rationally, my metaphorical tale adds little to my companion's understanding of the short story. In essence what it does do is repeat the idea that this story is unique to my experience. But it avoids other seemingly important questions, such as what meanings or explanations do I give it, or its solitary state. And also, it seems curious to me that I should have been so fond of this anecdote so as to repeat it more than once. To attempt and answer these kinds of questions I'm going to try and let my mind wander over the story of the plums. I will ask the reader to believe me that as I start this exploration I have no prepared answers which amount to any more than a rough outline of a hypothesis or two. Instead I ask the reader to come upon this psychoanalytic exercise along with me, so without prejudice we may both see where it leads.

As I now begin, I ask, what do I make of this narrative? If I were scoring it as a response on the Rorschach using the Exner system, I might note the presence of one "Cooperative" and one "Morbid" Special Scores; a "Botany,"Human" and "Food" content; and one Pair. Unfortunately, this seems like a rather intellectualized beginning, which speaks mostly to how difficult it is to be really honest with yourself and with others, in this case the reader. In finding myself starting out by immediately going to an interpretation which appears to speak more to mind than to emotion, I presume the presence of a resistance. This adds to my belief that the content of the narrative, as much as the content of the original short story-cum-dream, is laden with unconscious meaning. With awareness of my initial misstep, I'm going to try again. This time attempting to be more nearly true to Freud's recipe of saying whatever comes to mind:

Twin plums, testicles…old woman…fear…old shed to one side of the yard; broken down, door half open; gloom inside…fear…sex, adult sex, not childhood images…father…discontent…image: digging a hole in the back of the yard, with a little plastic sphere I was wearing on my head. I'm suddenly aware of someone behind me, I turn and its my father taking a photograph. He thinks it's cute (I suppose) that I'm wearing my little hat, but I feel humiliated. Plums, growth…unconnected. Pick, spic, ice pick, kick…soccer. Image: playing soccer with my father in a local park, falling over backwards after a kick, as if imitating professional players on TV.

I'm going to stop here. I think there should be enough material just in these
few lines to serve my purpose. What is the experience of free associating like for me? Anxiety-provoking. To dive into something with no preconception of where I might end up, it has always frightened me. It scares me most when I first start the process; fear attains a gilt-edge of exhilaration as I become more comfortable with it. Once I stop and come back to try again, perhaps after some days or weeks, the initial feeling is always one of anxiety. My stomach becomes tight, and my mouth dry. I become easily distracted, start thinking of things I'd rather be doing. I'm forced to bring myself back. Eventually I feel slightly flushed and I don't want to continue any longer.

Only now that I've finished with the free-association part of my task; and assuming I was honest, that is, by saying things as they came to mind without trying to edit or curb them, can I now go back and try to make sense of what appeared. I should first acknowledge that obviously this is not the same kind of free association that one might do on a therapist's couch. Whereas on the couch one says whatever comes to mind, here the situation is slightly altered. I'm free associating while contemplating a particular paragraph—it's a case of one episode of free association based upon another. A second difference, of course, is that I'm doing this with only a theoretical reader in mind, rather than with a real person present. Whether this is a "legitimate" methodology for looking at the contents of the unconscious, almost begs the question. I'm not conceptualizing the unconscious as a state or a place, or even as a subset of consciousness or ego, however one chooses to define those words. I believe that the "boundaries" of the unconscious are considerably harder to define. If one looks at the task I've chosen for myself, it would seem that the choice I've made is a conscious one. There are obviously other topics I could have chosen to focus on. I could have chosen to discuss the short story directly rather than the anecdote I've told about it. Or else I could have chosen some entirely other episode from my life to ponder. But I would argue that the choice itself has unconscious parameters—I chose it because with associations and feelings unknown it has been weighing on my mind.

I will put the argument regarding method aside for the moment, while I go back now and examine the contents of my free association sample. To start with, I've asked my father about his recollection of the story of the plums, and among other discrepancies to my own memories, to his recall there was only one plum. Perhaps, as an adult, he would be more likely to remember the situation accurately, or perhaps his unconscious is playing its own tricks, there's no way to know, and I don't think it really matters. Trying to decipher the unconscious residues from a memory is little different than trying to do so from a dream—you start with the recalled event as it is presented, rather than by trying to reconstruct an accurate picture of the event. Thus, the twin image of the plums, and the immediate connection to a sexual image, is noted.

The next image which came to mind was the old woman. During the period of time when we lived in a house with a plum tree in the back yard, an elderly woman who lived across the street was a significant nurturing figure in my life. The next feeling which comes up is fear, followed by a sinister image: the old, spooky shed. Next, fear again, then again a sexual image. The association proceeds to my father and an interaction with him from about the same period. In re-reading my words, I now see that an element of editorializing had crept in ("He thinks it's cute I suppose…"). So what I would note here is there might be a deflection of feelings. Because rather than simply describing the feeling this image evokes as it emerges, maybe sadness, I immediately add a concrete interpretation of the scene.

Moving along with the images, I now return to the plums, and I connect the words "growth" and "unconnected," perhaps related to the way I describe the appearance of the plums as unconnected "to anything before or since." Why this comes up here, I don't see for the moment. Next there is a rhyming association: "Pick, spic, ice pick, kick…soccer" I might interpret the presence of the word "spic" as representative of latent racist tendencies which I would assure the reader I don't have any particular inclination towards), but there could also be another meaning. The offensive quality of this word lies in its derogatory singling out of the (in this case, Hispanic) other as different, and therefore implicitly inferior. Coming as I do from an immigrant family, it seems quite plausible that, especially as a child, I would have felt the full weight of being "different." So, perhaps within this particular word are contained feelings not only of my own inferiority, but also of associated embarrassment of my parents, different as they were from other kids' parents. An "ice pick," which I've rarely encountered in my day to day life, except as murder weapon in spy novels, seems to be an aggressive association. The last image (playing soccer) is again one with my father, but this time it's a more positive one.

To further put the images into context, it should be noted that the free
associations were made a few hours before going with my girlfriend to spend the evening with some members of my family, including my father. It seems reasonable to assume that whatever unconscious representations of repressed mental states are assumed to exist, they can best be understood through the filter of current events.

In fact, as I now move on from a line-by-line reading to trying to organize what I see, it seems that there are two principal motifs appearing in the free associations: interactions with my father, and sexual themes. The question of whether the present draws out certain aspects of the past, or if the past casts a particular shade over the present immediately comes to mind, but I'm going to refrain from entertaining an idea I'm afraid could lead down a circuitous path. In either case the themes evidently coexist in some way. The one presumption I feel inclined to make is that they are not in fact separate, that is, their coexistence is not incidental or otherwise random. For instance, nurturance runs through both of them, and also contextualizes the appearance of the old woman.

I see, too, some ambiguity in the associations. There is fear, mentioned explicitly twice, and implied in the image of the creepy shed. There is humiliation, and aggression. But the sexual allusion is phrased "adult sex, not childhood images." Though not much elaborated on, it's a fairly sanguine phrasing, explicitly avoiding any juvenile connotations. So the juxtaposition of unpleasant images comes with at least two healthy ones: the sexual allusion, and the final image. That last image I read as a childhood expression of aspiration and idealization: "Teach me how to be a great soccer player, so I can grow up to be strong and successful like they are." Perhaps I associate the experience of becoming an adult, in part by having an adult to look up to, as connected to the successful formation of romantic relationships.

So far, I've tried to interpret what hidden meanings can be discerned in my associations to the "tale of the plums." But the other question that comes to mind is, what purpose does the story serve to the interaction? Why do I feel this need (perhaps shy of a compunction) to tell it, as a commentary of sorts on the short story? As I said earlier, I do see the tale as a sort of a distraction. It provides a metaphor for the idea that while I'm proud of this one short story, I'm saddened that I've found myself unable to write more like it. But it adds little beyond that, and thus seems a bit overly elaborate for its purpose. Prior to the metaphor, of course, the short story itself was a form of interaction. So then, when I say that I "I would like to be a writer," what I'm really saying is that this is a certain kind of communication that I would like to do more of.

According to Freud (at least as of the writing of The Interpretation of Dreams), the dream, and as I would claim by extension, any successful piece of fiction, is an attempt at "wish fulfillment." But strangely, with the plum metaphor what I find is perhaps the reverse. With the secondary interaction (the first being when I give another person the short story to read), I introduce a diversion. My stated goals, above, in giving another my short story are to share a personal piece of myself, and to share an accomplishment of which I'm proud. Those things should theoretically be at least some part of the focus of this secondary interaction. Instead my reader receives something else to consider, another tale, which besides its commentary on the short story, is also laden with its own multiple layers of meaning--they receive the dubious gift of plums.

I could postulate that this new gift is an attempt to undo, or at least divert from, the first gift. Perhaps there is some discomfort either with being proud of my accomplishments, or of disclosing so much of myself to another—after all, I am much more aware than a casual reader of how much the short story really tells about me. It could be that elements of my free associations point to either a source, or at one example, or at simply one expression of these discomforts. It could be that my current relationships, appearing here in the form of my girlfriend, are in some way affected by these patterns of hidden or adumbrated meanings. It is also possible that the short story, now perhaps become its own repressed symbol, plays the part in my unconscious of a"desire fulfilled." And perhaps there are other parts of my unconscious that battle away with it as "too good," and therefore unacceptable.

So if I were to summarize my predicament: I started with a dream, which is an unconscious process. While still groggily lying in bed I decide that this is not just any dream, but one that I can and should write down in the form of a short story. What combination of processes, conscious and unconscious, brought me to that decision is, like the source of the dream, far from clear. I surely do not, lying there in bed, think about form and structure and syntax. In writing the story I make an attempt to stay as true as I can to what I remember of my dream, but I believe that some level of conscious translation occurred nevertheless. Once the story is written, I share it with a number of others over a period of years, more than once telling those others a certain metaphor connected to this story. Only after a long time do I make note of the fact that it is a relatively static tale I've repeated—which makes it, like a recurring dream recounted in therapy, one worthy of particular note.

Several months ago when I first started thinking about this essay that I'm writing now, another apparently conscious "choice" started to form in my mind: that I should write about this metaphor of the plums. Then, when I started to write about it, I made yet another apparently conscious choice: that I was going to use the method of free association to examine this tale (that is based on a short story, which is based on a dream).

There are plausible conscious and rational explanations I could make for many of the links in this chain. For example, my desire to write fiction likely has a role to play in my decision to write my dream down as a short story, rather than, say, as a journal entry. And, taken at face value, the story of the plums does tell something about the appearance of the short story: it is certainly not a full-fledged attempt to hide all meanings. If I had wanted to do that I could have simply not shared the short story with anyone in the first place. But I think that, too, at every step there are aspects of my experiences, fears and behaviors, the impulse for which is not entirely apparent.

Of course, I could take an even further step back, and see the original dream itself as one that retains the content of both not fully apprehended experiences from my childhood, combined with, if one is to believe Freud in this, residual experiences from the day's events when the dream occurred. Given all this, and keeping in mind the title of this essay contest, Encountering the Unconscious; when, I would ask, along the thread which seems somehow to connect my childhood to this very moment, and which surely permeates the dream, the short story, the metaphor, the free association sample above, as well as this essay, is the unconscious not encountered? And so to get back now to my earlier question regarding the legitimacy or usefulness of this particular method—while what I have done here may differ from the classical way of apprehending the unconscious, if one accepts the idea that the unconscious is in fact in some way in play everywhere and all the time, (to the point that the differentiation between conscious and unconscious process is not entirely clear, although I grant that some such difference exists), then the discussion about what is the proper way to encounter it becomes little more than a semantic one. I would subscribe here to Freud's equally blurred delineation of the two states when he writes:

…We know for certain that they [latent states of mental life] have abundantpoints of contact with conscious mental processes, and all the categories whichwe employ to describe conscious mental acts, such as ideas, purposes, resolutionsand so on, can be applied to them. Indeed, we are obliged to say of some ofthese latent states that the only respect in which they differ from consciousones is precisely in the absence of consciousness. (Freud, 1915/1989.)

Lastly, I would underline the iterative nature of my encounter with the unconscious; each step involves a further exploration into the meanings found within previously delved layers of connections. To the extent that there is a conscious effort involved, its aim is to clarify and to attempt to make explicit the dynamics and emotions hidden behind the uncovered symbols.

References:

Freud, S. (1989). On Dreams. (J. Strachey, Trans.). In P. Gay (Ed.), The Freud Reader (p.144). London: W. W. Norton & Co. (Original work published in 1911)

Freud, S. (1989). The Unconscious. (J. Strachey, Trans.). In P. Gay (Ed.), The Freud Reader (p.575). London: W. W. Norton & Co. (Original work published in 1915)

***

Honorable Mention in the Student Essay Contest

by Nina Katzander

Currently, Ms. Katzander is a 2nd year clinical psychology doctoral student at Adelphi University in Long Island, NY.


The Collected Unconscious: First-year encounters of a graduate student

"The oak tree crashed through Terry Milton's bedroom ceiling just before dawn on Monday. Then Mr. Milton opened the front door on his old brick house and a waist-high wall of water nearly knocked him down."
--The New York Times, 8/30/05

Most of us were awakened around the same time, though perhaps not in as dramatic a fashion, as Mr. Milton, and by the time we had collected in Room #237 a few hours later, Mr. Milton's life-or-death struggle was in full swing. I confess that we were only dimly aware of the Miltonian battle to our south for it was another Milton's, more symbolic, tree that had rocked our worlds that morning.
"But Knowledge is as food, and needs no less
Her Temperance over Appetite, to know
In measure what the mind may well contain,
Oppresses else with Surfet, and soon turns
Wisdom to Folly, as Nourishment to Wind"
--John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book V11, 126-130

We had blown into our own Garden City of Eden on that Monday morning, ready to consult the Oracle at Adelphi, prepared to eat hungrily from the tree of knowledge that we had awakened to that morning. Ready for anything. Or so we imagined.
It should be noted that we had been through a grueling application process on the road to this arrival, and one would have thought, given the nature of that process, that we all were well equipped to deal with whatever the Oracle threw our way. We had taken long tests for which we had to re-learn (or in some cases, learn) long forgotten items like Pythagorean's theorem. Then, we'd had to amass and fill out applications, including a "personal essay," crafted in just the right way to gain us an interview. Then the interview itself, about which stories abounded, and the interview to gain entrance to our own Oracle was legendary. About the only thing we knew about each other at 9:00 a.m. on the 29th of August 2005 was that we had all survived that process.
For my own part, I had thought that I was doing very well, managing the stress. I had gotten my applications in on time and was navigating the interview process in fine fettle. One morning, getting ready for an interview, I showered, dressed, put on make-up, all the things one does to arm oneself for one of these one-on-one battles (life struggles?) and breezily exited my apartment. I was standing awaiting the elevator's arrival, when my aforementioned breezy attitude took on new meaning. I looked down and realized that I was not quite so untouched by the stress of the times as I had believed myself to be. Quite simply, I had forgotten to put my pants on. At first (and second truthfully), I was mortified, but eventually I came to realize that here was a pretty good example of being completely unaware, without defenses, guileless and totally unconscious. During that interview I fantasized about what might have happened had I showed up pant-less.
First impressions: I am glad that I remembered my pants.
I fit in with this crowd.
Our crowd numbered eighteen to begin with, seventeen after the winter break had broken one off. Sixteen of us are women. Our one male member, I will call him John because that is his name, is a lifeline for most of our professors, most of whom are also male. None of us lives at the school, but many of us come from the same direction, so over the next nine months we become a "sisterhood of traveling pants," (Ann Brashares, 2001) arriving at one train station in the early a.m. a little bleary-eyed, and at the same one later in the day more than a little wide-eyed.
After all, if it is not so obviously life-changing as an oak tree crashing through one's roof, it is for most, if not all, of us an equally seismic inner experience to be studying to become psychologists. Our task, in this first year of our training, seems to be to learn something about where the concepts of clinical work have come from, something about Freud and a developmental model of how we become who we become. Unlike other professions (notably the medical profession), however, our task is not essentially about learning symptoms from a book, diagnosing an illness and applying a cure. (Even though the battle rages on about so-called evidence-based treatments.) Rather, the skills we are developing in our training are not only a facile and smart brain, but more important for our future work, an open and analytic mind.
The raw material seems to be there. As individuals, we have all had the lonely experience of feeling different from others, experiencing life in an essentially "other" way. We have been told in relationships that we are too sensitive, too analytical, too, too, too. So, it is with a sense of wonder that we come together in recognition as a group, able to be more ourselves than we have ever been, each of us in her own way letting her hair down in increasingly free-falling ways. I remember with awe the simplicity of the description of the two photographs taken by Azar Nafisi the teacher/author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran" (2003). The first depicted the group of young women, barely distinguishable from each other in their dark, uniform chadors; the second was taken once their burkhas had been thrown off in the safety of the teacher's home. In this photograph, the individuals were seen in their choices of clothing and color-the freedom to be themselves evident not only in the riotous array of clothing, but in the attitudes depicted, oozing from the young women's expressions, in the photograph. Nafisi's description is so vivid and compelling that I feel I have seen these photographs for myself. That I know I have not actually seen them does not mar the impression I have in the least. I am thinking it is a little different with my own cohort of women students. As we come to know each other, we find that although we look very different on the outside, like the second of Nafisi's pictures, there is something essentially similar inside, something a little dark, that we recognize in each other that is binding us together as a group as indistinguishable in important ways as the black coverings melded the Iranian students in that first photo etched in my mind.
The great texts in which we begin to indulge are rooted in ancient Greece. It is about Oedipus and Electra that I begin to think, especially as this particular group, my crowd, encounters the ideas put forward by Freud. Like many recent students of Freud, we find some of his ideas about women to be missing the mark. Our professors explain fully the ideas of the Oedipal stage, the conflicts and resolutions, but even they skirt over the notions of an Electra complex and penis envy.
It is easy to see how the story of Oedipus inspired Freud to adapt it to his thinking about human experience. The story is so rich in its detailing of a character's inability to overcome what the Greeks might have called fate or destiny, but which Freud might have seen as an aspect of drive or character. Oedipus is left to die as an infant by parents eager to avoid the fate they have learned about for their son. And Oedipus is later warned by the Delphic Oracle that he will murder his father and marry his mother. Despite his conscious awareness of his fate, Oedipus "unknowingly" fulfills the prediction, and in his horror of what he now knows, he blinds himself. Perhaps drama's greatest irony: blindness cannot prevent Oedipus from seeing himself fully as he really is for the first time.
The story of Electra, however, is not merely the same story from a feminine perspective. Electra's tale is really embedded in the story of Orestes, her brother. In the first part of the story, their mother Clytemnestra murders their father Agamemnon when he returns from the wars with his mistress. I know plenty of modern day women who could relate to her rage, but it is Orestes who avenges their father's death by killing their mother and her new husband, the late king's brother. Indeed, this story, were it not for Electra's presence could be a literary doppelganger for Shakespeare's "Hamlet." It does not, however, seem to shed much light on a girl's experiences of anxiety or her relationship to her parents or her budding feminine sexuality.
Could there be another ancient Greek character more suitable than Electra to explain the stage of female development that Freud was getting at? My head swims with a chorus of Greek women: Medea, Pandora, Helen and Antigone. Each, full of passion, is identifiable to me as a woman I can relate to, even in her tragedy. Medea's murdering of her children is equivalent in it's heinous quality to what Oedipus does, but her act is conscious, and although illuminating about the cost of deep envy and passion gone awry, it does not shed light on the unconscious and its power. Personally, I am most drawn to Pandora's curiosity and the myth that even when she had opened the forbidden box and unleashed evil into the world, that there still remained one item at the bottom of the box, and that was hope.
I realize that I am comfortable with Freud's theory of the Oedipal triangle without attributing it to some ancient female character (anyone who has ever seen or been a little girl and her daddy can see clearly Freud's idea), but I also am struck by how important it seems to be to read and know classic literature to understand our own lives and times. Freud had much to say about Shakespeare as well as the ancient Greeks, for example. When I sit in a theater watching a production of one of those classics, I often find myself surprised at how those writers from so many hundreds of years ago have captured something so "modern" about people. That I can still find their ideas relevant to my life today seems extraordinary. Yes, Freud was bound to his times even as his theory was revolutionary, but his attraction to those classical texts tells me something about the universality of the human experience that transcends the limits of time and space. What could Nafisi and her students, living under an extremely repressive government find to relate to in a Jane Austen novel? The fact that they risked their very lives to read Austen, Nabokov and Fitzgerald is nothing short of staggering. There must have been a very good reason for that sort of risk. It was not, I would argue, that they wanted to know about people in other places, at other times, but rather that they recognized in those characters that they were not alone. Different voices expressing the same kinds of feelings that they had, the same kind of inner experiences despite the outer trappings of 19th century England or 20th century America.
Aristotle wrote that there are only seven basic plots for tragedy (more for comedy which he opined was more complex), and I think this is why Freud looked to Oedipus to explain his theory. Like the rest of us, he was human and searching to give voice to his ideas through human connection. Despite the fact that his interpretation and expression of his ideas were limited by the times in which he lived, the basic plot he assigned to human experience can be traced back to ancient times. "Modern day thinking" is no more than the same human experience as it has ever been, run through the lens of the particular times in which we live-the times we see as "modern." It is well documented that the Greeks saw the times in which they lived as highly "modern" too.
The Pythia. Here is where I land in my search for an ancient Greek woman to be my inspiration. Is it any wonder that I land where I began? The Pythia were the priestesses who interpreted the messages from the Oracle at Delphi. It is said that sometimes she spoke gibberish; sometimes it was perceived as gibberish until understood later; and sometimes she spoke clearly and in her own strong voice. It is appealing to me to think of my group of women and one man becoming modern day interpreters of an Oracle that has its roots in ancient humanity. After all, we can only call it as we see it. Harder, I know, than it sounds, requiring a certain blindness to achieve that sight.
I wonder how Terry Milton is faring today. Is his life still topsy-turvy and uncertain? Did he get the oak tree out of his attic? Or has he had to move on to a different place altogether. Is his life tragic? Or did he find hope at the bottom of his box?
For my part, it is comforting to know that on most days I will remember my pants.
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