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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
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 email@example.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.
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.
root 8/27/06 10:32:22 pm
It'd be good to also have a list of psychodynamic postdocs. There is such a list on the outreach site, but it is not very comprehensive, as it appears to be developed only from actual postdoc supervisors or directors who take the time to submit their programs to the list. A student-based postdoc list would be much more complete I think.
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