psychoanalysis

From the annals of 1950s psychoanalysis

To be mentally healthy, don't worry about current events.

I own a battered paperback copy of an unusual book: The Story of my Psychoanalysis, published in 1950 and authored by "John Knight," a pseudonym. (Published in New York by McGraw-Hill, and was 225 pages in hardcover.)

The jacket is dramatic. There's John, arm crossed helplessly across forehead, lying down, apparently on his shrink's couch.

It's a tell-all book, and the mode of confession is the revelation of actual psychoanalysis. The work purports to reveal all the dark secrets of the sessions--and, thus, of course, this man's sins and desires. Here are a few choice excerpts:

I'm envious of my father...I also have a vivid image in my mind of my boss's beautiful estate...I visited it last fall...he even has an artificial lake for his private fishing parties...I dreamed last night about an invention...I invented the zipper but someone stole it from me...I sued for ten million dollars...

Doctor Maxwell discouraged too much concentration on current events. He would not discuss politics or world affairs, and encouraged me to disregard current issues unless they caused fairly intense emotional reactions. As he pointed out, it is very easy to try to escape the unpleasant, buried, ancient memories by discussing everyday matters....

There's something here I don't like...the color of your walls annoys me...I'm tense...I'd like to get out of here...Where was Moses when the lights went out?...I'm a Jew...

A longer excerpt from the book is part of my 1950s web site.

John's problems seem to have much to do with politics and culture--especially careerism in the context of social conformity and consensus--but it seems to be the job of the shrink, and of the book (John comes round to seeing that the shrink is right), to dissuade us from concluding that national issues, e.g. cold-war tensions, are helping to cause his ulcers (his original reason for seeking help) in any way.

Freud on communism

Years ago I made available to my students--and then through the web to the world (this page is one of the most frequently visited pages in any of my web sites)--Freud's comments on political theory and political life in Civilization and Its Discontents. Here is a link to the excerpt, and here is his paragraph on communism:

The Communists believe they have found a way of delivering us from this evil. Man is wholeheartedly good and friendly to his neighbour, they say, but the system of private property has corrupted his nature. The possession of private property gives power to the individual and thence the temptation arises to ill-treat his neighbour; the man who is excluded from the possession of property is obliged to rebel in hostility against the oppressor. If private property were abolished, all valuables held in common and all allowed to share in the enjoyment of them, ill-will and enmity would disappear from among men. Since all needs would be satisfied, none would have any reason to regard another as an enemy; all would willingly undertake the work which is necessary. I have no concern with any economic criticisms of the communistic system; I cannot enquire into whether the abolition of private property is advantageous and expedient. But I am able to recognize that psychologically it is rounded on an untenable illusion. By abolishing private property one deprives the human love of aggression of one of its instruments, a strong one undoubtedly, but assuredly not the strongest. It in no way alters the individual differences in power and influence which are turned by aggressiveness to its own use, nor does it change the nature of the instinct in any way. This instinct did not arise as the result of property; it reigned almost supreme in primitive times when possessions were still extremely scanty; it shows itself already in the nursery when possessions have hardly grown out of their original anal shape; it is at the bottom of all the relations of affection and love between human beings--possibly with the single exception of that of a mother to her male child. Suppose that personal rights to material goods are done away with, there still remain prerogatives in sexual relationships, which must arouse the strongest rancour and most violent enmity among men and women who are otherwise equal. Let us suppose this were also to be removed by instituting complete liberty in sexual life, so that the family, the germ-cell of culture, ceased to exist; one could not, it is true, foresee the new paths on which cultural development might then proceed, but one thing one would be bound to expect, and that is that the ineffaceable feature of human nature would follow wherever it led.

Mad cartographer (PoemTalk #28)

Jack Spicer, "Psychoanalysis: An Elegy"

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Julia Bloch, CA Conrad, and Rachel Blau DuPlessis joined Al Filreis to talk about Jack Spicer’s early poem of 1949, “Psychoanalysis: An Elegy.” Sections of the poem are framed by what is either meant to be an unironic prompt or a satirized annoyance: What are you thinking about? - What are you thinking?What are you thinking now? The speaker is the analysand and the poem is the means by which the analysand talks his way through to the poem. Is his major concern – the supposed problem for which the poem is a talking cure – that the poem “could go on forever”? The sexual longing, the pain and the dislocation of the California summer are all – together – topics “I would like to write a poem” about. Increasingly annoyed by the sameness of the analyst’s refrain (“Do you get me, Doctor?”), he pushes his sexual conceits to a hottest point, when summers are seen to “torture California,” when “the damned maps burn” and the “mad cartographer” (whom the PoemTalkers agree is the speaker himself)

Falls to the ground and possesses
The sweet thick earth from which he has been hiding.


What he has been hiding? The significance of his homosexuality? And why, by the way, might California in 1949 be just the spot, as it were, on the geohistorical map for the psychoanalytic mode of talking about what one is hiding about oneself? We explore a range of possible answers to that question, including biographical and ideological. Julia and Al note in particular that this was the time of anticommunist investigations into “disloyal” faculty teaching in the University of California system, especially at Berkeley – that jobs, but also identities (including secret identities) were at risk. (Spicer was among those who refused to sign the loyalty oath imposed on faculty by the state government.) Whereupon Conrad observes that the witch-hunts almost inexorably targeted gays both open and closeted. Rachel concludes with a cogent interpretation of the gendering in the poem and of the sexual hiding. What remains wide open is the question of whether, in the end, this poem says mockingly and happily goodbye to psychoanalysis as a mode of self-understanding, or affirms analysis as having done its job for the poet in particular. Does the realization that “a poem could go on forever” seem to affirm the talking-through process, the topical wandering, the going wherever thought goes? Or does that just add to the torture of this endless summer? Both, it would seem.

Mad cartographer (PoemTalk #28)

Jack Spicer, 'Psychoanalysis: An Elegy'

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Julia BlochCA Conrad, and Rachel Blau DuPlessis joined Al Filreis to talk about Jack Spicer’s early poem of 1949, “Psychoanalysis: An Elegy.” Sections of the poem are framed by what is either meant to be an unironic prompt or a satirized annoyance: What are you thinking about? - What are you thinking? – What are you thinking now? The speaker is the analysand and the poem is the means by which the analysand talks his way through to the poem. Is his major concern – the supposed problem for which the poem is a talking cure – that the poem “could go on forever”? The sexual longing, the pain and the dislocation of the California summer are all – together – topics “I would like to write a poem” about. Increasingly annoyed by the sameness of the analyst’s refrain (“Do you get me, Doctor?”), he pushes his sexual conceits to a hottest point, when summers are seen to “torture California,” when “the damned maps burn” and the “mad cartographer” (whom the PoemTalkers agree is the speaker himself) 

Falls to the ground and possesses
The sweet thick earth from which he has been hiding.


What he has been hiding? The significance of his homosexuality? And why, by the way, might California in 1949 be just the spot, as it were, on the geohistorical map for the psychoanalytic mode of talking about what one is hiding about oneself? We explore a range of possible answers to that question, including biographical and ideological. Julia and Al note in particular that this was the time of anticommunist investigations into “disloyal” faculty teaching in the University of California system, especially at Berkeley – that jobs, but also identities (including secret identities) were at risk. (Spicer was among those who refused to sign the loyalty oath imposed on faculty by the state government.) Whereupon Conrad observes that the witch-hunts almost inexorably targeted gays both open and closeted. Rachel concludes with a cogent interpretation of the gendering in the poem and of the sexual hiding. What remains wide open is the question of whether, in the end, this poem says mockingly and happily goodbye to psychoanalysis as a mode of self-understanding, or affirms analysis as having done its job for the poet in particular. Does the realization that “a poem could go on forever” seem to affirm the talking-through process, the topical wandering, the going wherever thought goes? Or does that just add to the torture of this endless summer? Both, it would seem.

Spicer: elegy for psychoanalysis

One of my favorite early poems of Jack Spicer is "Psychnoanalysis: An Elegy." Check it out in Peter Gizzi's and Kevin Killian's edition of the The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (subtitled "my vocabulary did this to me"), on pages 31-33. (Wesleyan published this fine book. Get thyself a copy soon.)

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