Tuesday, September 07, 2004

None But The Lonely Heart


September 7, 2004

Hey, buddy. How goes it?

Labor Day: for me, a day of comparatively unproductive labor. A solemn day for the lonely heart. August has passed away "and another September" is upon us. This month will mark the sixty-fifth anniversary of the death of Sigmund Freud. Do you care, Brian? Does anyone even care? With the passing of his daughter, Anna, who in the Freud family is left to mourn him as she did? For the remainder of her life after her father's death Anna Freud, to quote Joseph Conrad, "carried her sorrowful head as though she were proud of that sorrow, as though she would say, I -- I alone know how to mourn for him as he deserves."

I still mourn the loss of my days at the Cleveland Park library, buddy. For me the loss of my library privileges at CPK was an overwhelming trauma. I don't think I ever worked through the loss. Each of these letters to you is a working through. It is my way of confronting my loss. I'll tell you what I feel, what I have always felt since that cruel day in April when I was escorted from the library: I struggle each day with feelings of betrayal and abandonment and concomitant rage toward you, Brian. I just don't understand what happened. It was all so sudden. So incomprehensible.

My obsession with you has not waned. Every week The Mad Monk asks: "Are you still obsessed with Brian?" "Yes," I say, "I'm still obsessed with Brian." And invariably, in one way or another, she adds: "Well, there are things you can do about that. You can develop other interests, make real friends. You know, if you make a friend, a real friend, you will give up your fantasy friendship with Brian. That's the way it works."

But I see my obsession with you in a different way. My emotional investment in you is my way of dealing with a lifelong struggle with an existential sense of loss; my obsession embodies a fantasy that someday magically some lost primal object will be regained. I see you in my fantasy as a real friend, an ideal friend -- not out of my present loneliness, but rather because my primal loss occurred at a time when my real, lived relations were with idealized objects. You, my friend, are what we call an atavism. My relations, real or imaginary, will always be an atavism: that is, unless I can get myself some "50-minute" Martinizing.

My tendency to loss and obsessive idealization--and my need to experience exile and the associated affect of misery (did you know, Brian, that in the German language the word "elend" means both "exile" and "misery?")--represent ends in themselves. I need to experience and re-experience these states and affects in order to, or in an attempt to, master them. My affects of obsessive idealization and misery are not simply artifacts of my present social isolation, as The Mad Monk would have it. These states and affects are part of my repetition compulsion. I need to re-experience abandonment, loss, and exile no less than Richard Nixon needed to re-experience crisis.

I am attracted to people who will reject me; I befriend people who will abandon me. Or else I will abandon them, but it's the same thing, really.

It's not easy for me to make friends. You know that. Someone like me can count on, at most, one close friend. But then, someone like me only needs one close friend, I guess: a "shadow," a complementary twin. But make no mistake. My social isolation is not simply the product of my introversion. My social difficulties are also attributable to the sheer perversity of my nature.

It's all so clear to me. I don't know why I never saw it before. There is no question about it: I am a willful, moody person who refuses to fit into society. Every so often I display the liveliness of my intellect. When highly stimulated I can be entrancing; my mordant wit sparkles and I overwhelm everyone with the audacity and richness of my sometimes somber inspirations. But basically I am incurable, for I do not want to be cured; I care nothing for coordination and a place in the scheme of things. I love nothing but my freedom, my perpetual disabled status, and prefer spending my whole life as the unpredictable and obstinate loner, the gifted fool and nihilist, to following the path of subordination to the hierarchy and thus attaining peace. I care nothing for peace, have no regard for the hierarchy, hardly mind reproof and isolation. Certainly I am a most inconvenient and indigestible component in a community whose idea is harmony and orderliness. But because of this very troublesomeness and indigestibility I am, in the midst of such a limpid and prearranged little world, a constant source of vital unrest, a reproach, an admonition and warning, a spur to new, bold, forbidden, intrepid ideas, an unruly, stubborn sheep in the herd and to my mind, this is the very reason you cherish me, isn't it, buddy?

Certainly there has always been a measure of pity in your relationship with me. My imperiled and usually unhappy state appeals to all your chivalric feelings. But this alone would not have sufficed to sustain our friendship; after all you have your official life overburdened as it is with work, duties, and responsibilities. I take the view that I am no less necessary and important in your life than William and Barbara have been. Moreover, unlike the other two, I am a dynamic element, a small open window that looks out upon new prospects.

So much for Hermann Hesse's description of Fritz Tegularius (and Friedrich Nietzsche) from the novel "Magister Ludi." You didn't think I wrote that, did you, Brian? The two preceding paragraphs are, in fact, a paraphrase of Hesse.

Be that as it may.

I propose that for the moment we should leave all these questions on one side and pursue our way further along one particular path.

Last Wednesday, September 1, 2004, I met with Israella Bash and Dr. Henry Barbot, my psychiatrist and Dr. Bash's colleague, at the D.C. Mental Health Center on Spring Road, and Dr. Bash, quite predictably, offered the same well-worn (or worn out) advice.

"You should go to the synagogue, Adat Israel," she said. "You'll meet people there. You'll make a friend. (You need some new blood in your life, as it were.)" As if my problems were simply social; as if my problems were simply a lack of social relations. As if my problems were simply "a lack of 'new blood'!"

When I lived in Philadelphia, during my law school days and after, I used to attend services sponsored by Hillel at the University of Pennsylvania. I attended Rosh Hashanah and/or Yom Kippur services there in 1980-1982 and later, after I moved to Washington in 1983, I traveled to Philadelphia to attend services at Penn in 1986-1992. Odd, don't you think? My traveling all the way to Philadelphia to attend services at Penn?

There's a large Jewish student population at Penn. Hillel holds High Holiday services at three venues: Reform services at the University Museum auditorium, Conservative services at Irvine Auditorium, and Orthodox at "God knows where."

I used to attend the Reform services at the auditorium of the University Museum. The University Museum is an archeological museum. The museum's collections include artifacts from the Near East, South America, and such. Maybe it's no mere coincidence that I was motivated to attend religious services (including Yizkor--Malcolm can translate, buddy) at an archaeological museum. Though to paraphrase Freud, sometimes an archeological museum is just an archeological museum. I certainly wouldn't want to attribute a negative meaning to a trivial fact. It's actually unlawful in some jurisdictions to attribute a negative meaning to trivial facts, did you know that, Brian? Ask Ellen.

Loneliness and loss. Loneliness and the structural consequences of loss at a vulnerable age. These are the issues that The Mad Monk confuses. There is a difference between a lonely child who creates an imaginary friend - a lonely child who may become obsessed with his imaginary friend -- and a child who is struggling with the structural consequences of severe emotional loss and who creates in fantasy an idealized substitute for the lost object.

The transient state of loneliness of the socially isolated child -- and the child's compensatory fantasies that may take the form of an imaginary friend -- can be cured by the child's establishment of real social relations. But for the child who suffers severe emotional loss, the consequences take the form of permanent structural changes of the ego; the child who suffers severe emotional loss will experience enduring patterns (or structures) of thought and feeling that have their origin in the trauma of loss. Regardless of the child's social adjustment, a fantasy system based on those structural changes will present a life-long challenge. The lonely heart is a transient state that can be cured by social relations; the structural changes resulting from emotional loss are a permanent state whose reverberations will be experienced and re-experienced throughout the individual's life.

A partial analogy can be found in general medicine, specifically cardiology. Restricted blood flow to the heart caused by blockage of the coronary arteries results in a transient state termed "ischemia." An ischemic state can be cured by restoration of normal blood flow to the affected tissue. There is no lasting damage. On the other hand, severe blockage of the coronary arteries, or near total blockage of blood flow, will result in myocardial infarction -- that is, death of tissue resulting in permanent damage to the heart muscle. The results are lasting structural changes to the heart muscle that take the form of scar tissue, the production of specific enzymes, and a disturbance in the electrical activity of the heart that can be measured in an EKG. It's as if The Mad Monk confuses a transient ischemic state with the consequences of a myocardial infarct. "Restore the blood flow," she says week after week, "and you'll be like everyone else." WRONG!

The lonely child struggles with the transient affects associated with the absence of social relations. The child who suffers severe emotional loss, on the other hand, struggles with the consequences of loss -- namely (and perhaps ironically), the psychological introjection of the lost object.

The lasting structural changes resulting from severe emotional loss in childhood have been studied in the case of the writer Joseph Conrad.

"The deaths of both parents before he was twelve was an overwhelming trauma for the young Conrad. As Wolfenstein (1966) has demonstrated clinically, a child is unable to mourn and to work through important losses if they occur before the central issues of adolescence--such as the reworking of the Oedipal struggle, 'the painful and gradual decathexis of the beloved parents,' and the establishment of an identity matrix--have been confronted. Feelings of betrayal and abandonment and concomitant rage towards the dead parent are crucial considerations in the child's failure to mourn. The introjected object (loved parent) may actually become hypercathected, contributing towards a marked denial of the loss and the formation of a fantasy that someday magically the lost parent will be regained (Jacobson 1965). Nagera (1970) feels that 'the latency child strongly cathects a fantasy life where the lost object may be seen as alive and at times as ideal,' (p. 381) and that this fantasy is often kept secret. James W. Hamilton, "Joseph Conrad: His Development as an Artist, 1889-1910." In: The Psychoanalytic Study of Society. Volume 8: 277-329 at 278-9 (New Haven: Yale University press, 1979) (At the time of publication the author was an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry, Medical College of Wisconsin).

Hamilton observes, incidentally, that "Heinrich Schliemann, the discoverer of Troy, became interested in archeology as an attempt to master the loss of his mother, which occurred when he was nine. At thirty-eight, the age at which his mother had died, he gave up his career as a successful businessman to begin the archeological exploration that culminated in the uncovering of Troy." Hamilton at 286 n. 3 (citing Niederland, W. "An Analytic Inquiry into the Life and Work of Heinrich Schliemann. In: Drives, Affects, Behavior, vol. 2, pp. 369-96. Edited by Max Schur. (New York: International Universities Press, 1965).

Whenever I speak of object loss, The Mad Monk counters: "Object loss? When did you suffer object loss? Who did you lose in childhood? You didn't lose anybody." Perhaps my object loss was like a "silent heart attack"--an asymptomatic event that left lasting effects that can be assessed.

Think of my autobiography as a kind of EKG, a test that measures the electrical activity of the heart. Perhaps my autobiography can be interpreted as evidence of seemingly asymptomatic events that occurred in my life history: events that left their mark in my psychological preoccupations and associations.

Perhaps there is a deep structural relationship between two unrelated quoted texts contained in a specific section of my autobiography: the section of the writing dealing with the death of Sigmund Freud, his daughter Anna's reaction, and Jeffrey Masson's preoccupation with uncovering "secrets" in the Freud archival collection.

The pertinent quotations comprise one paragraph from Conrad's novel "Heart of Darkness" (which I use to allude to Anna's reaction to her father's death) and, additionally, one paragraph from archeologist Howard Carter's description of his discovery of the tomb of King Tut.

1. Joseph Conrad, "Heart of Darkness:"

For her he had died only yesterday. And, by Jove! the impression was so powerful that for me, too, he seemed to have died only yesterday -- nay, this very minute. I saw her and him in the same instant of time -- his death and her sorrow -- I saw her sorrow in the very moment of his death. Do you understand? I saw them together -- I heard them together.

2. Howard Carter and A.C. Mace, "The Tomb Of Tut-Ankh-Amen."

I found myself, after years of comparatively unproductive labor, on the threshold of what might prove to be a magnificent discovery. It is hard for me to convey the excitement, the fever of suspense, the almost overmastering impulse, born of curiosity, to break down seals and lift the lids of boxes, the thought -- pure joy to the investigator--that you ate about to add a page to history, the strained expectancy -- why not confess it? -- of the treasure seeker.

Well, that's it, Brian, for this week. Who could I turn to? Who could I talk to? Only you, buddy. Brother-Animal, You!

SPECIAL MESSAGE FOR HEART PATIENTS: I myself am concerned about my heart health. "I decided that the best step would be for me to get an outside opinion." Famed heart surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz recommends a low-fat diet and exercise -- and a regular routine of sex four times a week at a half-hour a pop. I'm not making this up. That's Dr. Oz's prescription for a healthy heart.

By the way, Mehmet Oz is married to the daughter of another outstanding heart surgeon, Dr. Gerald Lemole. Dr. Lemole headed up the surgical team at Temple University Hospital that performed heart bypass surgery on my father "one June" day in 1976. The surgery was successful but the patient died; my father passed away the day after surgery. Actually, that's a lot like my career at Akin Gump. One day I was a perfect employee, but the next day I got fired. Ellen can explain.

Do you think Malcolm and Earl talked to Dr. Lemole? I think they did -- in March 1996, after I mentioned Dr. Lemole to my then treating psychiatrist at GW, Dimitrios Georgopoulos, M.D. Or am I being paranoid as usual?

Check you out next week, buddy.

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