The Freedman Archives: Part II

The following is a collection of letters written by Gary Freedman to his imagined friend.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Thoughts in a Minor Key

Hey, buddy. What's up, my friend? Every day gets a little closer. Closer to what, you may ask? Closer to wherever it is you'll finally end up. Now that's something you can't deny to the Metro police!
To paraphrase Robert Schumann (again with the Schumann!): "During the last week, I kept sitting at the word processor; I composed, I wrote, I laughed and I cried." I feel a bond with Schumann. His mother wanted Robert to be a lawyer, and he did in fact attend law school. But early on, he felt the inexorable allure of a career in neurosis. He abandoned the law for music, literature -- and Clara.
For this man who had been living in permanent doubt about himself, who could never make up his mind, life was strewn with impossible challenges: always doubting of his vocation (lawyer, poet, pianist, composer), his impossible love for his future wife, Clara, famous pianist of the 19th century, his mental state and his torments. Such extreme sensitivity, his perfect knowledge of famous German writers (his father was a bookseller, a publisher and an author) and his evolution towards depression led Schumann to be considered an undeniable romanticist.
Sensitive, different and determined to forge his own path, Schumann succeeded on his own terms. "At school he was an average student," recalled a close friend of Schumann during his youth, "rather dreamy and inattentive. But what soon struck me about him was the absolute certainty in his own mind that one day he would become famous. In what he would be famous--that had yet to be determined--but famous whatever the circumstances."
This quote begins a newly-published biography of Schumann, which I recently came across. I turned to the conclusion of the book, which talks about Schumann's final weeks and months at the asylum where he was committed and where he died at age 46. (I usually read the beginning and then the end of a worthwhile book, but not the middle). I was moved by a passage at the end of the book, the passage that describes Schumann's despair at the point the asylum director confiscated all of Schumann's books, writings, and writing materials without his knowledge. Schumann had lost all control over his life, all autonomy. It wasn't a good thing, believe me.
About a month ago I purchased a CD of some of Schumann's early piano pieces. Some of his most famous and popular works for piano: Carnaval; Scenes from Childhood (including the famous Traumerei or Reverie); and Papillons. I listen, compulsively, to the CD every day. These pieces say in music what I try to express in my letters. Carnaval and Scenes from Childhood are both collections of short pieces, caprices really. Schumann loved small works and composed valuable ones. He was a master miniaturist.
On Friday I bought another Schumann CD containing the Humoreske, Opus 20, together with the Bunte Blaetter, Opus 99, performed by the young Israeli pianist Uriel Tsachor. Maybe he's a friend (or relative!) of The Mad Monk's. He's a nice Jewish boy--a Juilliard graduate, no less. But he's no Rubinstein. And quite frankly, I doubt if he'll ever be elected Prime Minister of Israel--or Kenya.
I had never heard these works before, that I can recall. They are dark, dense, and profound, unlike the earlier piano works. Anyway, it was one of those budget CD's: $3.99. Not a bad deal. But oh, what a poet Schumann was, regardless of the price of the recording!
My own mood is dark and pessimistic at this moment.
During the past week, I've been rummaging through some old letters. It always wrenches me to find old letters filled with the half forgotten names of people with whom I have had the most tender experiences. So many people, so many fine moments. What has happened to them? My many-tiered file cabinets, my mounds of envelopes often remind me of some vast cemetery: lives pressed into folders, voices trapped within the boundaries of quotation marks mutely and eternally playing out their dramas. Living with these monuments imbues me with a keen sense of transience. Even as I find myself immersed in the present I sense the specter of decay watching and waiting--a decay which will ultimately vanquish lived experience and yet, by its very inexorability, bestows a poignancy and beauty.
The desire to relate my experiences is a very compelling one. I am intrigued by the opportunity to stave off decay, to prolong the span of my experiences. How much better to know that I will exist in the mind of the reader--or the conjectural reader-- rather than in the abandoned warehouse of unread notes and letters.
Eloquent lines, aren't they? I didn't write them. The quote is a paraphrase from Irvin Yalom's book, "Every Day Gets a Little Closer." Yalom does pretty well with his writing, financially I mean. For him writing is a career in itself. Somewhat crass, though, don't you think? -- transforming other people's lives -- their specific identities, their joys and sorrows -- into the undifferentiated dollar? A few pennies for the penny jar.
Be that as it may.
My session with The Mad Monk, of Wednesday last? How did that go, you ask? Typical, oh, so typical.
She asked to see a few pages of my autobiography. She wants to offer me an opinion as to its publishability. Like I need her opinion! Like I value her opinion! I couldn't care less what her opinion is. She could say the book is a masterpiece. She could say it's worthless garbage. My opinion is that it's good. That's my meek and humble opinion. As God himself said upon appraising his own creation: "He saw that it was good." Do you think God cared about anybody else's opinion? For millennia now, people have been asking the Almighty: "Why, God, why did you create a world filled with so many imperfections?" To date, God has not responded (as far as I know). I draw certain inferences from God's silence. Or am I being paranoid? Am I making unwarranted assumptions?
What I find disturbing about Dr. Bash's action is the psychoanalytical implications. She's not concerned about reading the book to appraise, or analyze, it's psychological meaning -- that is, she doesn't seem interested in giving any thought as to how the work expresses my unconscious wishes, conflicts, and prohibitions: my inner world of fantasy. She's simply concerned with reviewing a few pages to determine, to her satisfaction, whether the book is marketable. Whether I can publish the book and make some money from it. Of course, what does "the poetry of the unconscious" mean to The Mad Monk?
The anti-Semites say that art for the Jew has no meaning other than a pecuniary one. "How much is it worth?" "How much can it be sold for?" Maybe my view of Dr. Bash is an anti-Semitic one. But I am offended by her action.
Analytically, I see her behavior (her request to review a few pages of the book to assess it's marketability) as an expression of anality.
In "Character and Anal Eroticism," Freud took off from his clinical experience to propose some general hypotheses about character formation. He had supposed as early as 1897 that excrement, money, and obsessional neurosis are somehow intimately linked; a decade later, he had suggested to Jung that patients who obtain pleasure from withholding their feces typically display the character traits of orderliness, stinginess, and obstinacy.
Building on these ideas Shengold argues that "anal defensiveness" involves a panoply of defenses evolved during the anal phase of psychic development that culminates with the individual's power to reduce anything meaningful to "shit"--to the nominal, the degraded, the undifferentiated.
What is my book worth to me? Everything. It reveals (or conceals) my inner wishes, my longings, my joys and my pain. For Dr. Bash the book has no value other than a royalty -- the undifferentiated dollar.
What are Dr. Bash's opinions worth to me? Nothing. She doesn't simply challenge my thinking, which is an appropriate procedure for a psychologist. She invalidates my thinking. She invalidates everything, in fact. But more than that. The things she says to rebut my assumptions are nonsensical.
An example. At our last session Dr. Bash challenged, or invalidated, my ideas (inferences, or assumptions) about my environment. She said: "You assume. You make assumptions. You shouldn't make assumptions. Do not assume (where did I hear that phrase before?). It's dangerous to assume." I had told Dr. Bash that I inferred that you, Brian, knew who I was early in our relationship and that you had been in communication with our mutual friend, Malcolm Lassman.
I proceeded to challenge Dr. Bash. I said: "You assume a lot yourself, doctor." The Mad Monk replied: "How? How do I assume?" "Well," I explained, "you assumed that the man who sleeps in my local library, the library patron who sleeps at the Cleveland Park library all day, is homeless. You have no evidence he's homeless. How can you possibly know that he's homeless?" "I know he's homeless," answered The Mad Monk. "But how do you know that?" I asked. The Mad Monk made an offer of proof: "At my local library, there are several people who sleep there all day. I asked the librarian who those people were--why they sleep in the library. The librarian explained that they're homeless people. The man you see sleeping in your local library (Cleveland Park) must be homeless." So much for Dr. Bash's evidence.
She then challenged me about my assertion that Malcolm has been spying on me. Her challenges were based on assumptions, unwarranted -- and somewhat improbable assumptions. "Malcolm is probably retired by now." I said: "He was born in 1938. He'd be about 65 years old now." "That's right, he must be retired," said The Mad Monk. Assumption. She added: "He probably has a son who took over his practice." Two assumptions: Malcolm has a son, who's a lawyer; and he took over Malcolm Lassman's law practice. I said: "Malcolm does in fact have a son who's a lawyer, but I don't think he practices at Malcolm's firm." The Mad Monk, emboldened with her newly-acquired facts, proclaimed without any doubt: "There, you see. His son must have taken over Malcolm's law practice." This is all a house of cards. It's all total confabulation. There's no evidence (hard evidence) that Malcolm is spying on me. Yes, I admit that. But I can say with equal assurance that there's no evidence that Malcolm is retired or that his son has taken over his law practice. Dr. Bash challenges my thinking, but her challenges are even more ridiculous than my paranoia.
By the way, buddy. I happened to run into Barbara Walters the other day. She stopped me on the street and asked: "Mr. Freedman, do you yourself believe you are paranoid?" I said: "Barbara, I can't comment on my paranoia. It's part of my appeal. My wit, my intelligence, my good looks--and my paranoia--are all part of my appeal. I can't comment on those things." In any event, there's an invariable style to Dr. Bash's assumptions. She applies her personal experience or a model of conventional reality to situations about which she has no personal knowledge. Conventional fact: "People tend to retire in their mid-sixties." So Malcolm (someone about whom Dr. Bash has no personal knowledge) must have retired since he's in his sixties. Conventional fact: "Lawyers sometimes have children who are lawyers." So Malcolm (someone about whom Dr. Bash has no personal knowledge) must have a child who's a lawyer -- and! -- who has taken over Malcolm Lassman's law practice. Is this the cognitive style of someone whose opinions I can respect? I don't think so.
I have a thought. It is helpful to view the operative issue in my conflict with The Mad Monk as relating to conventionality, not paranoia. Dr. Bash's thinking would be considered nonparanoid by most people despite her fanciful constructions and her confabulations because she assumes (without any firsthand knowledge) that a conventional reality prevails in all situations. My logical inferences about my firsthand experiences are considered paranoid not because they are inferential, but because I assume that a nonconventional reality can prevail in some situations. The appeal and therapeutic effectiveness of Dr. Bash for certain patients may be comparable to the effectiveness of the narcissistic leader vis-a-vis certain groups. Kernberg writes that "the large-group members' identification with the narcissistic leader reinforces some of the pathologically narcissistic characteristics of 'static' crowds. These groups are conventional, ideologically simplistic, conformist, [anally-regressed], and able to indulge themselves without guilt or gratitude; they lack a sense of personal responsibility or a deep investment in others." Striking fact. People say I'm paranoid because I draw inferences; I make assumptions. Significantly, just as there is a pattern or style to Dr. Bash's assumptions (she tends to make assumptions about unknown situations based on her understanding of the conventional), there is a style to my assumptions. I make assumptions or draw inferences based on what I see firsthand. I do not apply facts about known situations to unknown situations, at least not with haphazard abandon.
Back to Malcolm and you, Brian. You probably don't remember this incident. It happened years ago, very early in our "relationship." It was October 1991. I was still working at Akin Gump. It was just days or weeks before my job termination. Cleveland Park Metro station. The landing down in the station before you approach the final escalator to the surface. I'm going downtown to work. I happened to see you, buddy, as you were (I'm assuming) on your way to work at the Cleveland Park Library. We made eye contact (if you'll pardon the expression). You glared at General Bonaparte, then looked up at my face and smiled, then walked off. That experience, that personal experience, struck me as odd. I thought: "What a smart ass. And that gesture! He must know something about me." At least that was my assumption, that was my inference. Do you see the difference between my style of assumptions, or inferences, and The Mad Monk's style of assumptions? I make assumptions based on personal experience--peculiarities, patterns, gestures, implied communications. Maybe my assumptions are right, maybe they're wrong; but they are based on first-hand perception. Whereas Dr. Bash, as a general rule, makes unwarranted assumptions about people and things of which she has absolutely no personal knowledge, based on factually unrelated (though comparable) situations that define conventional reality for her.
And Malcolm? What personal experience did I have that suggested something a tad askew about Malcolm? September 1989. I was visiting my sister at her home in New Jersey. I confronted her with the accusation that she was in communication with persons at my place of employment, Akin Gump. I said: "Let me tell you how smart I am. I happen to know who you've been talking to. It's Malcolm Lassman." In an excited utterance, my sister said: "You ARE smart!" Those were her exact words. Then she clamed up and said nothing more. Every time I questioned her later on, she refused to acknowledge her "admission" about Malcolm Lassman and consistently called me "paranoid." But the incident--my sister's statement or admission--struck me as odd. But hey, that's me.
In any event, back to The Mad Monk. I told her that her interaction with me is not psychotherapy. It's really mind control or brainwashing. She thought my observation was humorous, and denied trying to brainwash or control me. But what else can I make of a therapeutic style that's based on invalidating every idea I offer? I asked her why she does what she does with me. She said: "I'm trying to break you of your ideas." And that's not brainwashing? What is it?
I suspect that Dr. Bash's effectiveness is definitely produced by brainwashing techniques, whether or not it is consciously done. I believe that with patients more vulnerable than I (patients, who, shall we say, are unable to retain their sense of autonomy by going through all four parts of the Beethoven string quartets in their heads) her pervasive style of "breaking patients" by denying all and withholding any confirmation or validation, has the effect of heightening the patients' suggestibility, their compliance, and their identification with Dr. Bash. Anthony Storr writes that prisoners of war can begin to identify with their interrogators, and that the warm and friendly feelings which develop between the two may have a powerful influence on the prisoner's behavior. I further believe that what Dr. Bash would like to depict as my implacable treatment resistance is, sadly, my desperate attempt to retain any sense of autonomy. With Dr. Bash there's a blurring of the distinction between illness and autonomy, between defiance and initiative; it's the same blurring you find in authoritarian regimes. According to Shengold, a patient's need "to borrow the convictions of others," whether those of his therapist or other third party is not a sign of healthy compliance; rather it shows an unhealthy lack of autonomy. Shengold at 102.
When I'm with Dr. Bash I have the feeling that my privileged autonomy is under attack. That areas of my functioning that should be under my discretionary control (my right to have opinions, draw logical inferences, read and talk about whatever I choose, for example) are under attack. ("You should read romance novels and detective stories. You should be watching more television.") The attacks on my legitimate areas of autonomy are so persistent and pervasive that I feel like a prisoner.
Something that's been in the news recently is what Martha Stewart will face in prison. Every person I've seen interviewed about Martha Stewart's imprisonment talks first and foremost about the loss of control that a prisoner faces in prison with respect to every aspect of life. I suspect that the reason for prison restrictions is not simply to facilitate physical management of the prisoners. I suspect also that such an overwhelming loss of physical control by prisoners over every aspect of autonomy fosters psychological control over prisoners by prison officials and guards. In effect, loss of autonomy by the victim (whether physical or psychological) promotes brainwashing and mind control.
Oddly enough, there are overdetermined issues of anality here. The prisoner faces a loss of identity. He is assigned a number; he is reduced to the nominal, the degraded, the undifferentiated.
Further, the group pressures of prison life promote an anally-regressed conventionality that is ideologically simplistic and conformist -- as Kernberg would say.
And significantly, the prisoner loses all control, all autonomy, which can be seen in anal terms. In the Nazi concentration camps, prisoners even lost control over their anal sphincters. Bettelheim writes (Am I permitted to read Bettelheim? Probably not.): "[The prisoners] were forced to soil themselves. In the camp defecation was strictly regulated; it was one of the most important daily events, discussed in great detail. During the day, prisoners who wanted to defecate had to obtain the permission of a guard. It seemed as if education to cleanliness [as first experienced in childhood] would be once more repeated."
Is this an exaggeration of The Mad Monk's behavior? I don't think so. It's a metaphor. It's as if Dr. Bash elicits verbal productions from me, which she construes as "s---," and which she then uses to soil me. I recall one instance of many. She asked: "Tell me, what do you think your positive characteristics are?" I said: "Well, I think I'm intelligent." She said: "You? Intelligent? Believe me, no intelligent person would live the way you do. You're not an intelligent person." Again and again, buddy, I fall silent during my consultations and Dr. Bash inquires: "What are you thinking about?" I say: "I'm thinking about Brian." You have become my Beethoven. I concentrate on you to stave off madness. (By the way, did you get a good price for my Beethoven CD at your book sale on Saturday?)
Here's my take on my relationship with Dr. Bash. I believe our relationship can be summed up in libidinal terms. It is a conflict between, on the one hand, a therapist who uses her anality to dominate and control the patient in an attempt to ELIMINATE the patient's negative qualities, and on the other, a patient who is struggling with the (oral) frustration associated with his inability to INCORPORATE a gratifying object.
I have a dissociated image of myself. It is the image of a terminally ill patient tormented with an unslakable, Faustian craving. It is an image of a death in the asylum. --
I awake with horror in the morning, and bitter tears well up in me when I must face each day that in its course cannot fulfill a single wish, not one!
On a hot July day, I lay in a small room in an asylum fighting for what remains of my life. A sheet covers the lower half of my naked body, with its swollen abdomen; above it, my chest and arms, thin by now, still suggest the athletic vitality that had always characterized my walk and gesticulations. A tube is inserted in my nose; a second tube leads from my side into a glass jar at the foot of my bed; both are removing the wastes my body can no longer eliminate. The gallons of iced apple juice I gulp down to moisten my cracked lips and dry throat reach only the stomach and flow out into the jar. Nothing moves past the stomach level, below which there are intestinal obstructions, and because my body absorbs little, whether I drink, suck lemons, or rub ice on my lips, my thirst is unslakable.
And when night begins to fall I timidly recline on my bed, and even then I seek in vain for rest; savage dreams come on to terrorize. The god that lives within my bosom can deeply stir my inmost core; enthroned above my human powers. He cannot move a single outward thing. -- Not a pretty picture. It's the way I feel. Thanks for listening to my tale of woe, buddy. Woe is Freedman, woe is Freedman! I don't think I could get through this thing without you. Talk to you next week.
P.S. Message to my neighbor. (You know who you are.) You had a drunken orgy on the roof on Saturday, and you didn't invite me? I know your type, joy boy -- flashy, makin' the scene. Your type just doesn't cut it with me. And, by the way, I thought Mormons didn't drink. I'm thinking of reporting you to the local LDS chapter.


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