Adventures in Psychotherapy

freud and wes 1.0

Getting Down

“Picture,”  I’d tell my British Lit classes,  “all that we’ve studied so far depicted on a cathedral-sized stained-glass window – the Pilgrimage to Canterbury, the pageantry of the Elizabethan stage, shepherds piping, Milton’s magnificent blank verse descriptions of Eden, the Augustans, the Romantics, the Victorians.”

calendar spenser

Then I’d project the images below and say, “The top photo was taken in 1910, the bottom in 1920.  Obviously, something profound has happened in the decade between 1910 and 1920 to have fashion alter so dramatically. Anyone have an idea?”

sisters-Clark-440x264

flapper-dancers

“World War I.”

“Yes. World War I shattered that stained-glass window, shattered civilization, and rather than trying to gather the shards and reconstruct the past, poets and artists and musicians picked up the shards and rearranged them in radical ways. For example, listen to this:

 

 

 I sat upon the shore

Fishing, with the arid plain behind me

Shall I at least set my lands in order?

London Bridge is falling down falling down falling down

Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina

Quando fiam uti chelidon—O swallow swallow

Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie

These fragments I have shored against my ruins

Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo’s mad againe.

Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.

Shantih     shantih     shantih[1]

 

Of course, that description is over simplified.  Picasso created “Girl with a Mandolin” in 1910.  Other factors were in play.  Otto Planck and Albert Einstein were shattering Newtonian physics in the decade before the War to End All Wars, and in 1900 Sigmund Freud published On the Interpretation of Dreams.

girl-with-mandolin-fanny-tellier-1910

“Girl with Mandolin”

I’d do my best to explain Planck’s and Einstein’s theories [e.g., here’s a cool clip on the relativity of time I used: https://newt.phys.unsw.edu.au/einsteinlight/index.html (click on #4 “Time Dilation”).] I’d offer a bare bones summary of Freud’s divisions of the psyche, reminding them of Locke’s tabula rasa, then offer them the following “personal anecdote” of Freud’s theory in action.

rorshach

I’d pause, feigning emotion, placing my fist to my mouth, breathing deeply, and say, “To help you understand how this theory works, I’m going to share with you something very personal, my own experience with psychoanalysis.”

Once again, feigning emotion, I paused, took a deep breath. “When I was a baby, whenever my mother changed my diaper, she stabbed my fanny with uncooked spaghetti. Not only that, while she was stabbing me, she’d screech the music from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho’s shower scene.[2]

The expressions on the faces looking up at me were a mixture of bemusement, shock, or horror.

“But Mr. Moore,” sometimes someone would ask, “why would she do something like that?”

Me, sighing: “That I do not know, but according to Freud, what would my mind do with such a horrible memory like that?”

“Repress it,”  hopefully someone would say.

“Yes, like Poe’s Madeline Usher, bury it deep underground, entomb it in the subconscious.[3]

the-fall-of-the-house-of-usher

“And I was successful in repressing the memory,” I’d say, “led a fairly normal life, the horror not consciously recurring like a bad memory of your youth, like the PTSD-inducing sight of accidentally seeing your Great Aunt Polly stepping out of the shower, which you can never un-see no matter how hard you try.

“No, looking back on it, the only really abnormal consequence is that in college, rather than socializing, joining fraternities, going on panty raids, or protesting the war, I “entombed” myself in the stacks of McKissick Library amassing the prodigious learning you’re witnessing this morning.”

“Mr. Moore, what’s a panty raid?”

“Google it.”

“Anyway,” I’d continue, “I graduated, married Judy Birdsong, and lived on Limehouse Street in the bottom floor apartment, taught at Trident Technical College.  Everything was going well till one day I went grocery shopping.  In those days there was a Piggly Wiggly on Broad Street, a funky store with wooden floors, but a Piggly Wiggly nonetheless.  It was just around the corner from where I lived, so I walked there to pick up some lasagna, but when I arrived at the pasta aisle, I suffered a severe panic attack. My heart raced, I couldn’t breathe, paramedics arrived, but after a battery of tests, my physicians couldn’t find anything wrong with me.

17 Limehouse Street 1978

17 Limehouse 1978

“So I continued teaching and living the life of a newlywed, but then one night during a Chef Boyardee commercial, I had another attack.  To make a long story short, these attacks became more frequent and more severe until finally we decided that I needed to travel to Vienna to receive care from a genuine Freudian psychoanalyst.

“Thanks to the Birdsong family fortune,[4] I received the finest psychoanalytical care possible. First, I had to keep a dream journal (‘Last night I dreamed I was trapped in a bowl of slithering snakes’), then we’d do word association (Dr. Müller, ‘ropes’, Me: ‘linguine.’), and, of course, Rorschach tests (Vat does ziss look like, Herr Moore? Me: ‘O my God, vomited bruschetta’).

Eventually, after months of therapy and tens of thousands of dollars, one morning a memory burst forth from the fortress of my repression.  I’m lying on my back, my mother in her nurse’s uniform, white cap and all, comes to me shaking a box of spaghetti like a maraca, and POP!, just like that, I was cured.

The end.

“Mr. Moore, that didn’t really happen, did it?”

“Who could make something like that up?”  I would say. Then add: “You don’t get that at the Magnet.”[5]


[1] I’d memorized these last lines of “The Waste Land” confident that no one in the class would know I was butchering the Italian.

[2] Obviously, an anachronism, I born on 14 December 1952, the movie premiering 8 September 1960, but then again, time is relative.

[3] Although none of them had read “Fall of the House of Usher,”  I’d drop the allusion as if they did, trying to convey it’s fun and advantageous knowing a lot of literature.

[4] I told my students that my late wife Judy Birdsong’s family had a monopoly on paper products.  “No you must skip lines, no you can’t write on the back, dammit!”

[5] I.e., the Academic Magnet School, our biggest academic rival.