Thursday, December 25, 2014


I just finished reading The Impossible Profession by Janet Malcolm. It concerns the profession of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is not a subject I am well-studied in, but I have enjoyed reading Jung and Freud, and have read somewhat of others in the field.

I know Malcolm as a New Yorker writer (is/was she the dance reviewer?), so I knew the book would be that sort of book. I used to subscribe to The New Yorker, tho I never read it cover to cover. New Yorker non-fiction follows a clear formula in which the quizzical author gives overview of the subject and interviews salient subject matter experts. The formula is a little superficial (or in the case of another Malcolm (Gladwell), with his proto-seeming “philosophy”, moreso), but it can lead the curious on.

The book’s title aint fooling, psychoanalysis as a profession barely seems possible. Guarantees of success are zilch, the length of an analysis, counted in years, is forbidding, the stern limits that the analyst must maintain seem unbearable, cost is prohibitive, and the whole strain on both analyst and analysand makes for a grueling marathon. And apparently it doesn’t even work for narcissists and psychotics. I should mench that the book was writ in the 80s, its views may be anachronistic.

Psychoanalysis hardly seems freed from the stock characterization of some Viennese sex-obsessed loony studiously trying to unwrap the human mind. And what the psychoanalyst does is, basically, nothing. An analyst does not lead the patient (or client, is that the accepted term now?), the analyst listens impassively (as much as possible) until the patient learns to hear what they themselves say. Imagine the rigour needed by the analyst, as well as the patient.

I avoided the subject of psychology and psychiatry—I’m not sure how to separate the two terms—when I was of an age when I might’ve developed interest. I had burgeoned enough as an artist to worry that reading in this vale of concern might cause me to overthink. I don’t think I was wrong, I needed a firmer foundation at the time, but neither do I believe that the same would be true for everyone.

I know I read at least one pop psychology book in the day, I’m Okay, You’re Okay, but only because it came to hand. It made sense, but it was simplistic. It offered the sort of sensible advice that feels comfortable and goes nowhere.

It surprised me to discover when I finally maundered my way to reading Freud that he was pretty easy to read. His writing, at least what I read, was not loaded with jargon or scientific shoptalk. And depth was evident in his work.

Later still, I read Jung. Jung invites me more than Freud. I appreciate the weird, lively a;;-embracing extent that he goes. He reminds me of Charles Olson. One doesn’t understand them so much as take the ride.

Freud acted like a scientist (which status I, for one, am willing to grant him). Jung acted like an artist. I make these assertions descriptively, and accept that Freud had artistry and Jung had science.

Jung had his Red Book (a version of which you can now (Xmas 2014) get from Target for $27.16 !!!), and at one point, made it a practice to spend an hour a day after lunch playing with toys. Plus he built a castle. Furthermore, he wrote a snidely exacting and hilarious critique of the Book of Job featuring God as a whiny-ass problem child, which a fair reading of that book can hardly gainsay.

I have read other writers in the realm, with pleasure and embrace, but Freud and Jung are the central figures for me. The thing they do, in their yin/yang way, is descry a Buddhist position of still acceptance. We are, finally, what we are. I am not wise enough, still enough, to believe those words, but I can feel the tingle of their truth. We are all positrons seeking electrons. We want a completion that is nothing but everything, and everything but nothing.

Today is Christmas, a day that for some is an assertion of promise and for others an inveiglement. Today more fully is one day that may be the only day, if only we didn’t grasp at wisps.