Monday, April 30, 2007

Reverse Flips

If my father started reading a book, he finished it, whether he liked it or not. He read all sorts of books. He read good books and he read trash. He finished them all. I tried to persuade him that giving up on a book is not a reflection of weak character but simply a decision to spend your reading time elsewhere; as my father would have said, it was like talking to the wall. He was strongly in favor of plot. He liked short stories with those little reverse flips at the end.

When I was a child, we didn't have a lot of books around. We lived in the same house from the time I was six months old till I was twelve. Going over the rooms in my mind now, I can't picture any bookcases, except for a couple of shelves in a secretary that my parents kept in their bedroom. Those books had originally belonged to my aunt, my father's older sister. So did the secretary, in fact. The books came with the secretary. My father sometimes said that he didn't understand why a person would have many books in the house, when you could borrow them from the library at no cost. What was the point of buying a lot of books and keeping them even after you'd read them? He used the phrase he'd use if I remarked, say, that going to Europe for a while after college might be the sort of thing I'd like to do: "What's the advantage?" He didn't mean the word "advantage" in the sense of taking advantage or gaining some advantage; he used it to question whether something that seemed frivolous or luxurious was truly necessary and sensible. My father had a strong sense of enoughness.

When I started college -- I was working at the time -- I joined the Book-Of-The-Month-Club. The initial offer of four books for a dollar was something I couldn't turn down. I started to buy books fairly regularly from the book club. Our house started to fill up with books: books from the book club, my sister's college books and my college books. I built a bookcase in the recreation room in the house we were living in at the time to accommodate the growing collection. My father used to say: "When I retire, I plan to read all those books." In fact, my father did begin to read the books, cover to cover, when he retired. That was when I was in my third year of college. I began to ponder why my father read certain books and not others. He turned down a biography about Einstein by Ronald Clark, something I thought might interest him. Yet he read a critique of modern European culture written by George Steiner: a terse, abstract text. It finally dawned on me what motivated his choices. He read books by Jewish authors. It didn't matter what the topic was. It could be a cookbook. If the book was written by a Jew, my father would read it. If the book were about a Jew, but written by a gentile, my father wouldn't read it. It was as if my father simply wasn't interested in what a non-Jew had to say. While no matter what a Jew had to say, on any topic, would interest my father.

My father died one year after I finished college, July 1, 1976. Odd that he should have chosen the bicentennial weekend to leave this earth. I still remember the book my father was reading when he died. It was The Lives of the Great Composers, by Harold C. Schonberg, music critic of the New York Times. My father had used a lottery ticket as a book mark. I was recently looking at the book and I noticed the lottery ticket, dated July 30, 1975, inserted in the chapter on the eighteenth-century German composer Christoph Willibald von Gluck. Gluck! Gluck, my father was interested in! Why? Because the book was written by a Jew.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Inner Turbulence

My isolation from everything remained the same during the past year. I had surrendered myself to melancholy and it had taken me prisoner.

I experienced the whole of this past winter as one unending inner turbulence, which I find difficult to describe. I had long since become used to my loneliness--that did not oppress me: I live with my fantasies, my imagination, and my dreams that are both my fate and my ideal. This was enough to sustain me, for everything pointed toward vastness and space--it all pointed toward a vastness. And that vastness was not an oppressive void, but a space filled with imagined delights. But none of these dreams, none of these thoughts obeyed me, none were at my beck and call, I could not write about them as I pleased. They came and took me, I was ruled by them, was their vessel.

I was always preoccupied with myself. And I longed desperately to really live for once, to give something of myself to the world, to enter into a relationship and battle with it. Sometimes when I walked through the streets in the evening, unable to return before midnight because I was so restless, I felt that now at this very moment I would meet someone -- as he or she walked past me at the next street corner, or called to me (I'm imagining this) from the nearest window. At other times all of this seemed unbearably painful and I longed for oblivion.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Gotterdammerung. In Memoriam: Paulina Kernberg, 1935-2006

A common daydream which in spite of its frequency has received very little attention to-date is the fantasy of possessing a twin. It is a conscious fantasy, built up in the latency period as the result of disappointment by the parents in the oedipus situation, in the child's search for a partner who will give him all the attention, love and companionship he desires and who will provide an escape from loneliness and solitude. The same emotional conditions are the basis of the family romance. In that well-known daydream the child in the latency period develops fantasies of having a better, kinder and worthier family than his own, which has so bitterly disappointed and disillusioned him. The parents have been unable to gratify the child's instinctual wishes; in disappointment his love turns to hate; he now despises his family and, in revenge, turns against it. He has death-wishes against the former love-objects, and as a result feels alone and forsaken in the world. Burlingham, D.T. "The Fantasy of Having a Twin." In: The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child. Vol. 1 at 205 (1945). A further element in many daydreams of having a twin is that of the imaginary twin being a complement to the daydreamer. The latter endows his twin with all the qualities and talents that he misses in himself and desires for himself. The twin thus represents his superego. Id. at 209.

The fantasy of having a twin sibling is inextricably bound up with a fantasy concerning the destruction of the parents, which is projected onto humanity at large. The world is depopulated, empty of human beings.  The following is a creative transformation of such a fantasy; it is an excerpt from the novel Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence.  In the novel the male characters Rupert Birkin and Gerald Critch, who are best friends, contemplate swearing an oath of blood-brotherhood, "like the knights of old."  In this passage Rupert Birkin talks about his fantasy of the destruction of the world.

The whole idea of human society, of mankind, is dead. Humanity itself is dry-rotten, really. There are myriads of human beings hanging on the bush -- and they look very nice and rosy, your healthy young men and women. But they are apples of Sodom, as a matter of fact, Dead Sea Fruit, gall-apples. It isn't true that they have any significance -- their insides are full of bitter, corrupt ash.

There are good people, but good enough only for the life of today. But mankind is a dead tree, covered with fine brilliant galls of people.

At least my only rightness lies in the fact that I know it. I detest what I am, outwardly. I loathe myself as a human being. Humanity is a huge aggregate lie, and a huge lie is less than a small truth. Humanity is less, far less than the individual, because the individual may sometimes be capable of truth, and humanity is a tree of lies. And they say that love is the greatest thing; they persist in saying this, the foul liars, and just look at what they do! Look at all the millions of people who repeat every minute that love is the greatest, and charity is the greatest -- and see what they are doing all the time. By their works ye shall know them, for dirty liars and cowards, who dare not stand by their own actions, much less by their own words.

Human beings maintain a lie, and so they run amok at last. It's a lie to say that love is the greatest. You might as well say that hate is the greatest, since the opposite of everything balances. What people want is hate -- hate and nothing but hate. And in the name of righteousness and love, they get it. They kill one another, all the lot of them, out of very love. It's the lie that kills. If we want hate, let us have it -- death, murder, torture, violent destruction -- let us have it: but not in the name of love. But I abhor humanity, I wish it was swept away. It could go, and there would be no absolute loss, if every human being perished tomorrow. The reality would be untouched. Nay, it would be better. The real tree of life would then be rid of the most ghastly, heavy crop of Dead Sea Fruit, the intolerable burden of myriad simulacra of people, an infinite weight of mortal lies.

I should like everybody in the world destroyed and the world empty of people.

You yourself, don't you find it a beautiful clean thought, a world empty of people, just uninterrupted grass, and a rabbit sitting up?

And really it is attractive: a clean, lovely, humanless world. It is really desirable. Of course, I'd be dead, myself. I would die like a shot, to know that the earth would really be cleaned of all the people. It is the most beautiful and freeing thought. Then there would never be another foul humanity created, for a universal defilement.

Creation doesn't depend on man! It merely doesn't. There are the trees and the grass and birds. I much prefer to think of the lark rising up in the morning upon a human-less world. Man is a mistake, he must go. There is the grass, and rabbits and adders, and the unseen hosts, actual angels that go about freely when a dirty humanity doesn't interrupt them -- and good pure-tissued demons: very nice.

If only man was swept off the face of the earth, creation would go on so marvelously, with a new start, non-human. Man is one of the mistakes of creation -- like the ichthyosauri. If only he were gone again, think what lovely things would come out of the liberated days; -- things straight out of the fire.

Paulina Kernberg, who died Wednesday April 12, 2006 at 71, was a child psychologist and one of the leading experts on the effects of divorce on children. Dr. Kernberg was a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College and founder of the Children of Divorce program at the college's White Plains clinic.  Dr. Kernberg is survived by her husband, Otto Kernberg, M.D., and children.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Coffee Fiend

The management of my apartment building offers coffee every morning to residents. A coffee pot is set out on a table in the lobby from 5:00 AM until 10:00 AM on weekdays. I am addicted to coffee. Dark, black coffee. I can't start my day without a cup or two. On weekends I boil my own coffee in a small saucepan on my stove, like a rough-hewn pioneer on the frontier.

Every morning I watch the dissociated image of myself pour the coffee. As if in slow motion, I see every drop. When the cup is full, I turn and I set it in front of me on the coffee table in the apartment building lobby.

Some days I walk back to my apartment to my newspaper. I stare at the cup. The Fury rises from its silent state it screams bloody fucking murder it is stronger than it has ever been before. It screams you are mine Motherfucker. You are mine and you will always be mine. I own you, I control you and you will do what I tell you to do. You are mine and you will always be mine. You are mine, Motherfucker. I stare at the cup.

I put my hands on the rim of the cup. I put them on either side of the cup. They are not touching it, but they are close. Close enough so that when I decide, the cup will be within easy reach. I lean down. As my nose moves toward the strong, black brew, I can smell the aroma drifting from its shimmering surface. They enrage me. They make the Fury scream louder. They taunt me. They draw me closer.

I close my eyes. I stop moving when the tip of my nose hits the liquid. I close my mouth and I take a deep breath and it comes comes comes.

With all of its strength. The beautiful aroma of oblivion. The foul stench of Hell. It makes me shudder, shakes me. Inside and out it destroys me and fortifies me. Though it has not met my lips or entered my body, I can taste it. Like sweet strong charcoal mixed with bitter coffee grinds. I can fucking taste it.

Time stops. I do not move. I sit with the tip of my nose in the cup filled with coffee. I breathe. Deep thorough breaths. All the way in, all the way out. It ebbs when I inhale, ripples when I exhale. I can smell it and I can taste it and I can feel it. Inside and out.

The Fury screams pick it up pick it up pick it up. The Fury screams drink it drink it drink it. The Fury screams more more more more more. The Fury screams want need have to have can't live without I own you, Motherfucker, pick it up drink it give it to me or I will make you pay. More more more more more.

I open my eyes. I see the clear dark brown, the tip of my nose submerged, the rim of the cup. I start to slowly lift my head. I keep my eyes straight ahead, fixed and focused, they will not blink. The liquid appears in view, the rim of the cup appears.

The Fury screams bloody fucking murder. The dark brown liquid speaks. It says you are mine, Motherfucker. You are mine and you will always be mine. From this day forward I own you, I control you and you will do what I tell you to do. From this day forward, I make the fucking decisions. You are mine and you will always be mine. You are mine, Motherfucker.

I put the rim of the cup to my lips. I drink the coffee. The ritual is complete as I finish off my first cup of coffee for the morning.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

To Grandmother's House We Go

When I was a boy my mother and I would walk about a half-mile to my grandmother's house. Entering the house, I was plunged into an atmosphere of bafflement. The words, the manners, all the things, were foreign to me. The foreignness almost seemed literal; often I didn't understand what the people in my grandmother's house were saying, and often what I said was not understood. Though she had lived in this country for decades, my grandmother never acquired fluency in English.

What do I mean by understand? There were names for things that I found unfamiliar: words for toilet, for the floor, for the kitchen. My mother used these words easily, but she didn't use them to describe anything in our house. In her mother's house, my mother knew that everything had been named long ago, once and for all.

I had trouble placing my grandmother's house. I knew it had nothing to do with America or postwar life in the late nineteen-fifties. And yet it stood at the center of the lives of her two children and my sister and I, my grandmother's only grandchildren. We knew that it had ended long before we were born; it seemed to have touched upon my mother's life before her marriage, but we weren't sure. My grandmother had lived in the same house since 1940, when the area was solidly lower-middle-class.

Each object in her house belonged to the Old World. Nothing was easy; everything required maintenance of a complicated and specialized sort. Nothing was disposable, replaceable. There were no errors of taste because there were no imaginable other choices. I was not unhappy there; each object's rightness of placement made me feel honored to be among them. Yet I was always guilty among those things, as if they knew I preferred what was in my glamorous aunt's house. She lived in the suburbs, about a forty minute drive from my grandmother's house; her husband was a commercial artist and made more money than anyone we knew. My aunt and uncle bought things easily, unlike the rest of the family, and so the house was full of new or newish objects: the stereo, the color television housed in its own room, the horizontal deep freeze, the juice-making machine, the barbecue, the waterfall in the backyard, which looked like a park. And the house was stocked with pleasurable things to eat, drink, sit on, listen to, lean against, watch, sleep in, ride, or wear. I knew these pleasures to be inferior, but I sank into them each time, stealing their luxury and fearing for my soul, as I half feared for my aunt's which I couldn't imagine to be the same, interested as she was in having a good time.

My grandmother had no interest in having a good time--that is, in doing anything that would result only in pleasure--and her house proclaimed this, as it proclaimed everything about her. Her house was her body, and like her body, was honorable, daunting, reassuring, defended, castigating, harsh, embellished, dark. I can't imagine how she lived, that is to say, how she didn't die of the endless boredom and loneliness her life entailed. It's easy to romanticize her or utterly to push her aside.

Although I wasn't happy there I did, somehow, like her house. Her garden had old-fashioned flowers, bright colored, a little wild: iris, pansy, rose, marigold. Older varieties of roses, whose petals seemed thinner than those of more recent types, more susceptible, as my soft flesh was more susceptible than those of the adults around me, to insect bites that made it horrible to the eye. I liked her garden even better than my aunt's, where the greens were deeper than the greens of any leaves or grass I'd seen anywhere else. I linked dark greenness to prosperity, as if my uncle had invested in that greenness so that we would all be more secure. My grandmother's house had no connection to prosperity; it had righteousness instead.

Monday, April 23, 2007

My Apartment Building

What can I tell you of my life,
my past twenty-three years,
I who barely can remember?

What was lived has passed,
a remnant converted into memories not recalled,
like old rent receipts or books abandoned
in the trash room
when their owners have grown sick of them.

Like empty beer bottles tossed into the recycling bin.

Of course, everyone I met was strange,
and maybe they thought the same of me:
how I reached and recoiled like a shy dream image,
how the sounds of the automatic garage door and of the
air conditioning unit surrounded me. The ceiling of my apartment shimmered
with the reflection of an imaginary, much younger man.

Someone, acquainted with me, said my eyes were glassy,
like the coffee table top in the lobby, but what was there,
what I had and lost, I never fathomed.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Friday, April 20, 2007

Arrested Development -- The Clinical Perspective

My parents' marriage tended to be troubled and volatile and inhibited the exercise of effective parental leadership by both my mother and father. My sister and I frequently became targets for parental projections and externalizations, which defended against the acknowledgment of deeper disappointments in the relationship between my parents. I believe that from birth, my sister had been designated the "good" child and I had been designated the "bad" child.

Why did my sister attain a higher level of functioning than I? The literature is instructive. One important aspect of the unitary organization of the family system is the flow of emotional influences that forms a sort of emotional contagion. There are countless examples of the ways in which one family member will manage to be preserved from the pathogenic effects of emotional involvements, but at the expense of one or other members of the family. The outbreak of symptoms in one or other member may serve to protect other members in the family and allow them to maintain an adequate level of functioning.

My parents often had considerable difficulty agreeing over parental discipline and often engaged in competitive struggles for control of the family. An interactional pattern of hyperadequacy/inadequacy was adopted between my parents, and any deviation of this pattern was resisted by family mechanisms calculated to reinstate the former balance.

Both my mother and my father were deeply enmeshed emotionally with their families of origin. My father did not marry until he was forty years old. Until he married at age forty he lived with his older sister. My mother also married relatively late, at age 31. Until she married my mother lived with her mother and older sister, who did not marry until she was 34. My mother's only relatives were her older sister and her mother. There was no one else: no grandparents, no aunts and uncles, and no cousins. They never grew out of the intense emotional support system that they had created for themselves. My mother once said to me in anger, "My sister means more to me than you do." It's interesting that my own sister was named for my mother's older sister, as if my mother had initiated my sister from birth into a kind of private club which I was never allowed to join. My mother's older sister never had children and she treated my sister and I as her own children and was forever giving parental advice to my mother, who was compliant in her elder sister's wishes. It was my aunt who decided that my sister should take piano lessons. My aunt went so far as to order a piano, without consulting my parents, and have it delivered to our house. My aunt made the first payment and expected my father to make the remaining payments, which he could ill afford. My mother never developed any autonomy in regard to her sister. Emotional entanglements were maintained, despite the apparent separation of geographic distance.

My mother and her elder sister experienced an infantile trauma in their past. Their own father had died when they were children; my mother was three-and-a-half and my aunt was five years old when their father died. The literature indicates that children experience early death of a parent as an abandonment that is reacted to by rage, which is repressed and projected into other family members. Primitive expressions of aggression are handled by splitting of good from bad objects; this constitutes a major defense against intolerable anxiety and guilt.

The boundaries between my parents in their functions as husband and wife, and as parents, were easily blurred and easily trespassed. Mutual accusations and recriminations were frequent.

Boundaries between my parents and my sister and I tended to be blurred. Parental invasion of my privacy, and incursion of my sister and I on parental functions, was common, resulting in confusions regarding sexual identity and authority. My sister, who was six years older than I, often acted as though she were my parent. The literature indicates that this dynamic feature results in increasing ineffectiveness in parenting functions, particularly in the accomplishment of crucial developmental tasks.

Both my parents' respective families were characterized by a history of several generations of family emotional systems in which serious difficulties in interpersonal relationships, failures to achieve separation and autonomy, high levels of marital conflict and tension, and unresolved issues concerning separation and individuation were observed. One of my father's older brothers never married and lived his entire adult life with his older sister. Another older brother divorced. An older sister married relatively late in life, was widowed shortly thereafter, and never remarried. Another widowed older sister married a man with whom she had had an adulterous affair.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Little Known Lincoln Humor

You know what? AIDS is not funny. Believe me, I've tried to write a joke or two about AIDS. But jokes about AIDS are in bad taste.

There are certain topics that are off limits to comedians: JFK, AIDS, the Holocaust. The Lincoln assassination just recently became funny. "I need to see this play like I need a hole in the head."

And I hope to someday live in a world where a person could tell a hilarious AIDS joke. It's one of my dreams.

Lincoln himself probably would have found my joke humorous. Odd that mankind's benefactors should be amusing people. In America at least this is often the case. Anyone who wants to govern the country has to entertain it. During the Civil War people complained about Lincoln's funny stories. Perhaps he sensed that strict seriousness was far more dangerous than any joke. But critics said that he was frivolous and his own Secretary of War referred to him as an ape.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Double Bind: The Intimate Tie Between Behaviour and Communication

by Patrice Guillaume


Our behaviors -- effective or not -- are learned. We do not develop in a vacuum. Rather, we learn to act and respond within a given context, and within that context our behaviors make sense. If we continue to use those same behaviors in new contexts the behaviors may seem frivolous or ineffectual; they may even be labeled as abnormal. Yet the behaviors did make sense within the context in which they were developed. In this paper I intend to explore schizophrenia and the borderline personality from the perspective of learned behaviors. I wish to explore the kinds of early interactions and influences that shape the individual who earns either of these diagnoses.


The classical approach is to view the schizophrenic in isolation from his environment. It is assumed that the schizophrenic is out of touch with "reality." Those who adhere to this perspective suggest that:

... regression to more primitive levels of thinking is a primary feature of schizophrenia. In essence, more highly differentiated and reality-oriented "secondary" thought processes, which follow the rules of logic and take external reality into consideration, are replaced by "primary" thought processes which involve illogical ideas, fantasy, and magical thinking. (Carson, 330)
In contrast, the interpersonal approach views the schizophrenic in relation to his environment, specifically his family of origin. In Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Gregory Bateson discusses a theory of schizophrenia which was the result of a research project undertaken by Bateson, Don D. Jackson, Jay Haley, and John H. Weakland. The theory looks at the behavior of the schizophrenic within the context of his or her family. They suggest that schizophrenic behaviors "make sense" when viewed from this perspective. In other words, behaviors do not develop in isolation but as a result of our interactions.

Bateson suggests that the schizophrenic has "...trouble in identifying and interpreting those signals which should tell the individual what sort of message a message is, i.e., trouble with the signals of the same logical type as the signal `This is play.'" (1, 194)

For example, I ask my four-year-old stepson to hold his glass of milk with two hands; he does not follow my instructions, and he spills the milk. I call his attention to the fact that he did not follow my instructions. When he responds with, "I didn't follow the rules!" I know he and I are not communicating at the same logical level. My experience was that I wanted to discuss a specific incident in which he didn't follow my instructions and he spilled his milk as a result. His experience was that he seemed to be struggling with an abstract concept of "rules." Ideally, children's experience helps them learn to make those distinctions. During the development of the schizophrenic, however, something happens that interferes with his ability to do the same. What is it?

Bateson et al. suggest that a person caught in a "double bind" -- a situation in which no matter what a person does, he "can't win" -- may develop schizophrenic symptoms. In the double bind there are two conflicting levels of communication and an injunction against commenting on the conflict. The following is an often-quoted example from their paper, Toward a Theory of Schizophrenia, which demonstrates this bind:

A young man who had fairly well recovered from an acute schizophrenic episode was visited in the hospital by his mother. He was glad to see her and impulsively put his arm around her shoulders, whereupon she stiffened. He withdrew his arm and she asked, "Don't you love me any more?" He then blushed, and she said, "Dear, you must not be so easily embarrassed and afraid of your feelings." The patient was able to stay with her only a few minutes more, and following her departure he assaulted an aide and was put in the tubs. (Watzlawick 12, 36)

In this scenario, the mother is giving her son conflicting verbal and nonverbal messages and he seems unable to respond to the discrepancy. According to Bateson's theory of logical types, the schizophrenic cannot comment about the meaning of his mother's communication.

According to Bateson, "The ability to communicate about communication, to comment upon the meaningful actions of oneself and others, is essential for successful social intercourse." In normal relationships we continually comment about the actions and communications of others, saying such things as, "I feel uncomfortable when you look at me that way," "Are you kidding me?" or "What do you mean by that?" In order for us to accurately discriminate the meaning of our own or another's communication we must be able to comment on the expression -- but the schizophrenic is effectively enjoined from such commentary.

According to Carlos Sluzki the double bind has the following characteristics:

(1) two or more persons; (2) repeated experience; (3) a primary negative injunction; (4) a secondary injunction conflicting with the first at a more abstract level, and like the first enforced by punishments or signals which threaten survival; (5) a tertiary negative injunction prohibiting the victim from escaping from the field; (6) finally, the complete set of ingredients is no longer necessary when the victim has learned to perceive his universe in double bind patterns. (9, 209)
Looking more closely at the double bind, Paul Watzlawick has described four variations on the theme. The first and probably the most frequently used is what he calls the "Be spontaneous" paradox. The wife who wants her husband to surprise her with flowers is experiencing this sort of dilemma. She is asking him to do something which by its nature must be spontaneous. "It is one of the shortcomings of human communication that there is no way in which the spontaneous fulfillment of a need can be elicited from another person without creating this kind of self-defeating paradox," says Watzlawick. (12, 15-26)

A second variation of the double bind involves a situation in which a person is chastised for a correct perception of the outside world. In this situation the child will learn to distrust his own sensory awareness in favor of the parent's assessment of the situation. One example would be the child who is raised in a violent household but is expected to see his parents as loving and peaceful. In later life this person will have a difficult time determining how to behave appropriately in a variety of situations. Indeed, this person will spend an inordinate amount of energy trying to decipher exactly how he "should" interpret the situation.

The third variation on the theme is one in which a person is expected to have feelings other than those he actually experiences. The mother who wants her child to "want" to do his or her homework falls into this category. The child will often end up feeling guilty when he or she cannot achieve the "proper" feelings.

The fourth variation, according to Watzlawick, occurs when we demand and prohibit at the same time. The parent who demands honesty while encouraging winning at any cost is placing the child in this kind of bind. The child is placed in a position of having to disobey in order to obey.

How will a person be affected by growing up in an environment where he or she cannot comment on these perceived discrepancies? Does that person eventually learn to trust only one part of their experience and to deny or distrust the rest?

In 1967 a team of researchers published the results of their further investigation of the double bind. They proposed that the operational component of the double bind is its pattern of disqualification -- the means by which one person's experience is invalidated as a result of the imposed bind. They cited five methods for disqualifying the previous communication. Evasion or a change of subject is the first method of disqualification. If the previous statement (a) does not clearly end a topic of discussion, and the next statement (b) does not acknowledge the switch in topic, then the second statement disqualifies the first statement:

a. Son: Can we go to the park and play soccer?
b. Father: What a beautiful day for working in the garden.

The second method of disqualification is sleight-of-hand. Sleight-of-hand occurs when the second response (b) answers the first (a) but changes the content of the previous statement:

a. Daughter: We have always gotten along well.
b. Mother: Yes, I've always loved you. . .

In the above example, the mother has responded to her daughter but has switched the issue from getting along well to love.

Literalization, the third type of disqualification, occurs when the content of the previous statement (a) is switched to a literal level in the second statement (b) with no acknowledgment of the change of frame:

a. Son: You treat me like a child.
b. Father: But you are my child.

The fourth method, status disqualification, happens when a person uses either personal status or superior knowledge to imply that the previous message is not valid:

a. Mother: I have observed that he doesn't play very well with the other children.
b. Son: But I do, Mama!

a. Mother: He doesn't realize because he is so little . . .

Redundant questions are used to imply doubt or disagreement without openly stating it:

a. Daughter: I get along well with everybody.
b. Mother: With everybody, Cathy?

The authors conclude their paper with the following observation:

We are consistently finding, in families with a schizophrenic member, disqualifications followed by special types of sequences, such as the ones described, which tend to consolidate the bind and hence reinforce idiosyncratic modes of interaction. In this process, which implies a whole style of relation with the world and in which certain stimuli are systematically denied, certain meanings are systematically repressed, lack of recognition is reinforced and rewarded, and clarification is punished -- in this, we concur in believing, might rest the pathogenesis of schizophrenia. (Sluzki 9, 228)

The Zen master holds a stick over his pupil's head and says, "If you tell me this stick is real, I will strike you with it. If you say to me this stick is not real, I will strike you with it. If you don't say anything, I will strike you with it." Bateson suggests this is exactly the sort of situation a schizophrenic continually experiences. The Zen pupil may achieve enlightenment by taking the stick from his master's hands. The schizophrenic, by contrast, experiences disorientation and confusion, once again finding his way inexplicably blocked. Taking the stick away is not an option for the schizophrenic -- he is helplessly caught in another "can't win" situation. Through repeated experience with the double bind the schizophrenic finds himself limited in the options he has available to him.

Jay Haley takes a further look at schizophrenia from an interpersonal perspective. There is a basic rule of communications theory which maintains that it is virtually impossible for a person to "avoid defining, or taking control of the definition of, his relationship with another." In any relationship, one of the first things that needs to be adressed is what kind of relationship it will be. Relationships are defined as complementary or symmetrical. A symmetrical relationship is one in which the two parties match behaviors. If one person tells about a vacation he has had the second person responds by telling of a vacation he or she has just taken. What is emphasized here is the symmetry, how they are alike. These relationships tend to be competitive.

A complementary relationship is one in which the behaviors complement each other. One person teaches and the other learns; there is a give and take between behaviors. After listening to the first person tell about his vacation the second person would press for further information.

Over time the nature of relationships will shift. As a child matures he evolves from a complementary relationship with his parents to a more symmetrical relationship.

A complementary relationship usually exists between a teacher and the student. But, when the student asks a question which implies that he knows more than the teacher he is maneuvering to shift that relationship. The teacher can choose to re-establish the old relationship or allow the interaction to shift. "Such maneuvers are constantly being interchanged in any relationship and tend to be characteristic of unstable relationships where the two people are groping towards a common definition of their relationship." (4, 11)

It has been suggested that schizophrenics, as children, experienced a great deal of confusion in regards to defining their relationships as complementary or symmetrical. In other words, there was a great deal of mismatch between child and caretaker regarding the definition of their relationship. An example is the child who perceives the relationship as complementary and responds accordingly -- only to have the caretaker switch to a symmetrical relationship.

Is it any wonder then, that schizophrenic interactions, as described by Haley, are an attempt to avoid defining the nature of those relationships:

A person can avoid defining his relationship by negating any or all of these four elements. He can (a) deny that he communicated something, (b) deny that something was communicated, (c) deny that it was communicated to the other person, or (d) deny the context in which it was communicated. (4, 89)
People communicate at a multitude of levels. We can communicate with much more than just words. For example, our physical posture and gestures provide another level of communication as well as the pitch, tone and tempo of our speech. There are myriad possibilities for simultaneously relating to and denying relationship with another person. Schizophrenics are decidedly the masters at this craft, but examples abound in everyday life to demonstrate how this is done.

We are all familiar with mixed messages. The dog who simultaneously wags his tail and growls is one example. The man who responds to his wife's request that he help her in the kitchen by saying "Sure, I'll be happy to help you," as he settles deeper into his easy chair, is at once accepting her request for assistance and simultaneously communicating that he will not help her. The woman who says "I would love to help you but I have a headache," is defining her relationship as cooperative, while using her headache to negate the relationship.

Contrast these behaviors with that of the man who congruently says, "No, I won't help you," as he sits down in the chair. He has clearly defined his relationship as one in which he will not be told what to do. Similarly, how is a person to make sense of my communication if I say "I love you" in a flat voice while gazing in the other direction? The man says, "This subject is fascinating," while checking his watch. The woman asks her child if he wants to give her a hug as she pulls him toward her for a hug. These sorts of interactions are common in every day life. Much of our ability to make sense out of the world depends on our being able to recognize and comment upon the conflicting messages we receive.

The schizophrenic, on the other hand, is faced with the dilemma of deciphering to which part of the message he can safely respond, since commenting upon the discrepancy is not in the repertoire of behaviors available to him. I would imagine it is much like living in a battle zone where every communication is a threat to my personal safety. Faced with the task of discovering the meaning of another's communication while being prohibited from commenting on or acknowledging my own confusion seems like a terrifying proposition. Is it any wonder that schizophrenic communications are structured to avoid defining that a relationship exists?

It appears that, because of the early influence of repeatedly being caught in double binds, schizophrenics develop a defensive approach to communication which is tenacious in its ability to say something and say nothing at the same time. Their goal in life is not to be pinned down on any front. Unfortunately, they are as hopelessly trapped in their web of confusion as the people who come in contact with them.

Borderline Personality

According to James Masterson (The Search for the Real Self: Unmasking the Personality Disorders of Our Age), the borderline personality is also a learned response to the childhood environment. Masterson contends that as a result of childhood influences a person can develop what he has termed a "false self" in order to protect the "real self" from further trauma. He suggests that the real self is oriented toward mastering reality; but once those efforts have been thwarted the false self shifts the orientation from that of mastering the environment to one of avoiding bad feelings.

In their book, I Hate You -- Don't Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality, Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D., and Hal Straus identify five dilemmas which plague the borderline personality. They call the first "Damned if you do and damned if you don't." This refers to the kinds of communications borderlines give other people. The title of this book is a good example of this predicament. Another example is a woman I know who asked her boyfriend about his impressions of her amateur public performance about which she had misgivings. He replied "do you really want my honest opinion?" She insisted that she did. But when he told her his assessment of the performance -- which was not particularly encouraging -- she responded by telling him how wrong his perceptions actually were. Her communication was typical of the kind of confusing message that plagues the borderline's relationships.

A second tendency which they cite as typical of the borderline is "feeling bad about feeling bad." Rather than attempt to understand or cope with feelings, the borderline tries to get rid of unwanted feelings. The person who "should" be happy adds additional layers of guilt and other difficult emotions to an already depressed or angry persona -- contributing to a seemingly endless spiral of feeling bad about feeling bad.

The perennial victim is the third pattern they have observed. The borderline perceives herself at the mercy of the events and people around her. The woman whose happiness depends on her husband's financial success is one example of victim. The person who organizes his life such that the solutions to his problems lie in other people's hands is exhibiting a borderline tendency. "If only she understood me better ..." is one way that the victim puts the responsibility for his or her happiness on another person.

Fourth is the quest for meaning in life. Borderlines continually search for that which will fill the emptiness they experience. Relationships and drugs are two common solutions for filling this void.

The borderline's perennial search for constancy is the fifth behavior observed. The borderline exists in a world that is untrustworthy and inconsistent. Friendships, jobs, and skills are always in question. The borderline lacks the ability to experience consistency and predictability. It is as if all their experience is for naught. A woman I know has taken dance lessons for almost fifteen years and still she cannot see herself as a dancer; she seems to lack an ability to trust and rely on her skills.

The sixth and last element of the borderline personality is what the authors characterize as the "rage of innocence." Borderline rage is unpredictable and intense when it surfaces. Sparked by seemingly insignificant events, it can appear without warning and often carries the threat of real violence.

In considering the roots of the borderline personality, Masterson suggests that John Bowlby's research into the infant-caretaker attachment is significant. Bowlby studied the mourning process that children aged 13-32 months experienced when they were separated from their mothers as a result of hospitalization for physical illness.

Bowlby noted three stages of mourning that these children went through as a result of the separation from their caretaker. The first stage is protest and can last a few hours up to several weeks. In the second stage, hopelessness, the child:

sinks into despair and may even stop moving. He tends to cry monotonously or intermittently, and becomes withdrawn and more inactive, making no demands on the environment as the mourning state deepens. (6, 58)
In the third stage, detachment, the child no longer rejects nurses, but when the mother returns to visit, the strong attachment to the mother typical of children this age is strikingly absent. Instead of greeting her, he may act as if he hardly knows her; instead of clinging to her he may remain remote and apathetic; instead of dissolving in tears when she leaves, he will most likely turn listlessly away. He seems to have lost all interest in her.

Masterson realized that these same three stages of mourning and the defenses they produced were evident in his own adolescent and adult borderline patients:

I came to recognize that when my patients go through a separation experience that they have been defending themselves against all their lives, they seem to react just like Bowlby's infants in the second stage of despair. The separation brings on a catastrophic set of feelings, which I have called an abandonment depression. To defend against this mental state, they retreat into the defensive patterns encouraged by the false self, which they have learned over the years will ward off this abandonment depression.
In adults without a sense of their real self, the abandonment depression symbolizes a replaying of an infantile drama: The child returned for support and encouragement, but the mother was unavailable or unable to provide it. The acknowledgment and approval, so crucial to developing the capacities of expression, assertiveness, and commitment, were simply not there. (6, 59)

Masterson suggests that what characterizes the borderline personality is an over-reliance on primitive defense mechanisms learned in early childhood: denial and clinging, avoidance and distancing, projection and acting out.

"In order to establish a coherent sense of self, the child in the first three years of life must learn that she is not a fused, symbiotic unit with the mother" says Masterson (6, 51). How is this to be accomplished? In his book, A Secure Base, Bowlby discusses the elements he considers most necessary to allow this process to take place in children:

. . . the ordinary sensitive mother is quickly attuned to her infant's natural rhythms and, by attending to the details of his behaviour, discovers what suits him and behaves accordingly. By so doing she not only makes him contented but also enlists his cooperation.
. . .

This brings me to a central feature of my concept of parenting -- the provision by both parents of a secure base from which a child or an adolescent can make sorties into the outside world and to which he can return knowing for sure that he will be welcomed when he gets there, nourished physically and emotionally, comforted if distressed, reassured if frightened. In essence this role is one of being available, ready to respond when called upon to encourage and perhaps assist, but to intervene actively only when clearly necessary. (2, 9-11)

What happens in early development to interfere with the child's efforts to develop a sense of self -- an identity which is separate and distinct from that of the caretaker? Kreisman and Straus contend that a large amount of anecdotal and statistical evidence exists to demonstrate that children who have been abused or neglected can be linked to borderline tendencies as adults.

Masterson suggests that many of his borderline clients had mothers who themselves had an impaired sense of self. Consequently the mothers are not able to provide the secure base from which the child can venture out and explore the world. He cited one example of a mother with low self esteem and a fear of separation who tended to foster this fear of separation in her child. She encouraged him to remain dependent on her in order to maintain her own emotional equilibrium:

She seemed to be overwhelmingly threatened by her child's emerging individuality, which sounded as a warning that he was destined to leave her eventually forever. Not being able to handle what she perceived as abandonment, she was unable to support the child's efforts to separate from her and express his own self through play and exploration of the world. Her defensive maneuvers to avoid her own separation anxieties entailed clinging to the child to prevent separation and discouraging his moves toward individuation by withdrawing her support. (6, 54-55)
Consider what Masterson has suggested about the possible roots of the borderline personality: it looks like the ultimate double bind -- a world that expects one to grow up and become self sufficient while the caretaker is rewarding that same person for remaining dependent and helpless.

Twenty years after the double bind theory of schizophrenia was published, one of the authors, John Weakland, published a paper in which he suggested that perhaps they had focused too closely on schizophrenia. He suggests that the real significance of the theory was its viewpoint that behavior and communication are closely tied. This theory was diametrically opposed to the established paradigm that emotional problems are a response to intrapsychic conflicts. Perhaps, he suggested, the double bind has far reaching effects in many kinds of emotional disturbance, and its explorations should not be limited to cases with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Carlos Sluzki seems to have come to the same conclusion in his paper with the provocative title The Double Bind as a Universal Pathogenic Situation.

Sluzki notes that a child passes through three evolutionary stages:

(1) infantile dependence, marked by a relative lack of differentiation between the self and the non-self and a preponderance of the incorporation or the "taking" of objects; (2) transition; and (3) mature dependency, characterized by "relations between two independent beings who are completely differentiated; and by a predominance of giving" in object relations. (10, 231)
The transitional stage ushers in the core dilemma of all mental development: Dependence versus independence.

The child's developmental task is to balance the need for security and dependence with his or her need to move toward independence. If the parents are to facilitate the child's emergence from dependence to independence they will need "to stimulate the impulse towards independence and to neutralize the needs for dependency." (10, 231) Without the parents' encouragement, it is difficult for the child to face the uncertainty and risks along the road to independence.

Sluzki describes three modes of relationship between parent and child; this includes those areas of a child's life where he is dependent, independent or moving from dependence to independence with parents' help and supervision. For example, dependence is when a child cannot get to school without his parents' assistance. Independence is when the child can get himself to school without assistance. The third area entails that point in time where perhaps the child, with parents' assistance and encouragement, is learning the route to and from school but is not ready to do it for himself.

As a child proceeds through life he and his parents must constantly redefine where those boundaries are. At best this is a very complex task; if parents are unclear themselves about these boundaries, then their children will have to contend with a great deal of confusion about what they can and cannot do.

One example of a double bind that inhibits the child's growth toward independence is a parent who is in conflict about the desire for the child to be independent and the desire for the child to "be perfect." A child's ability to think and behave creatively will become increasingly limited if, for example, he is told to think for himself and then second-guessed as to his choice of actions. I know an otherwise responsible young man who spilled paint thinner and just walked away from it because he didn't know what he should use to clean it up. He seemed to be caught in a "damned if I do, damned if I don't" kind of experience. He seemed to think it would be better to walk away from the mess then to be criticized for using the wrong implement to clean it up. He has found it safer to retreat into helplessness and dependence rather than risk making a mistake on his road to independence.

Exploring these kinds of common binds may give us useful insights into the behavior of the borderline personalities and schizophrenics. Could it be that the behavior which we see exhibited by each diagnosis is a different manifestation of the same communications knot -- the double bind? If so, then it may be that a major role of therapy is to unravel the conscious and unconscious double binds so that the individual can reorient himself toward more useful goals and motivations.


1. Bateson, Gregory. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Ballantine, 1972.

2. Bowlby, John. Secure Base: Parent-Child Attachment and Healthy Human Development. New York: Basic, 1988.

3. Carson, Robert C. and James N. Butcher and James C. Coleman. Abnormal Psychology and Modern Life. Eighth ed. Glenview: Scott, 1988

4. Haley, Jay. Strategies of Psychotherapy. 2nd ed. Rockville: Triangle, 1990.

5. Kreisman, Jerold J., and Hal Straus. I Hate You - Don't Leave Me: Understanding the Borderline Personality. New York: Avon, 1989.

6. Masterson, James F. The Search for the Real Self: Unmasking the Personality Disorders of Our Age. New York: Free, 1988.

7. McKellar, Peter. Abnormal Psychology: Its Experience and Behaviour. London: Routledge, 1989.

8. Sluzki, Carlos E., and Janet Beavin, "Symmetry and Complementarity: An Operational Definition and a Typology of Dyads." The Interactional View, Ed. Paul Watzlawick and John H. Weakland. New York: Norton, 1977. 71-87.

9. Sluzki, Carlos E., Janet Beavin, Alejandro Tarnopolsky, and Eliseo Veron, "Transactional Disqualification: Research on the Double Bind." The Interactional View: Studies at the Mental Research Institute, Palo Alto, 1965-1974. Ed. Paul Watzlawick and John H. Weakland. New York: Norton, 1977. 208-227.

10. Sluzki, Carlos E., and Eliseo Veron. "The Double Bind as a Universal Pathogenic Situation." The Interactional View: Studies at the Mental Research Institute, Palo Alto, 1965-1974. Ed. Paul Watzlawick and John H. Weakland. New York: Norton, 1977. 228-240.

11. Watzlawick, Paul., Janet Beavin Bavelas., and Don D. Jackson. Pragmatics of Human Communication: A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies, and Paradoxes. New York: Norton, 1967.

12. Watzlawick, Paul. How Real Is Real: Confusion, Disinformation, Communication. New York: Vintage-Random, 1977.

13. Watzlawick, Paul and John H. Weakland., eds. The Interactional View: Studies at the Mental Research Institute, Palo Alto, 1965-1974. New York: Norton, 1977.

14. Watzlawick, Paul. The Language of Change: Elements of Therapeutic Communication. New York: Basic Books, 1978.

15. Weakland, John H. "`The Double-Bind Theory' By Self-Reflexive Hindsight." The Interactional View Studies at the Mental Research Institute, Palo Alto, 1965-1974. Ed. Paul Watzlawick and John H. Weakland. New York: Norton, 1977. 241-248

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Homage to Franz Liszt

The Diabelli Variations

The 33 Variations on a waltz by Anton Diabelli Op. 120, commonly known as the Diabelli Variations, is a set of variations for the piano written between 1819 and 1823 by Ludwig van Beethoven on a waltz composed by Anton Diabelli. One of the supreme compositions for the piano, described as simply "the greatest of all piano works" by pianist Alfred Brendel, it often shares the highest honours with Bach's Goldberg Variations. It also comprises, in the words of Hans von Bülow, "a microcosm of Beethoven's art." Or, as Martin Cooper writes in Beethoven: The Last Decade 1817 - 1827, "The variety of treatment is almost without parallel, so that the work represents a book of advanced studies in Beethoven's manner of expression and his use of the keyboard, as well as a monumental work in its own right."

The work was composed after Diabelli, a well known music publisher and composer, sent a simple waltz in or near 1819 to all the important composers of Austria, including Franz Schubert, Carl Czerny, the eight- year-old Franz Liszt and the Archduke Rudolph, asking each of them to write a variation on it. His plan was to publish all the variations in a patriotic volume and to use the profits to benefit orphans and widows of the Napoleonic Wars. Beethoven had had a connection with Diabelli for a number of years. About a slightly earlier period, 1815, Beethoven's authoritative biographer, Alexander Thayer, writes, "Diabelli, born near Salzburg in 1781, had now been for some years one of the more prolific composers of light and pleasing music, and one of the best and most popular teachers in Vienna. He was much employed by Steiner and Co., as copyist and corrector, and in this capacity enjoyed much of Beethoven's confidence, who also heartily liked him as a man." At the time of his project for variations on a theme of his own by various composers, Diabelli had advanced to become a partner in the publishing firm of Cappi and Diabelli.

The oft-told but now questionable story of the origins of this work is that Beethoven at first refused categorically to participate in Diabelli's project, dismissing the theme as banal, a Schusterfleck or 'cobbler's patch,' unworthy of his time. Not long afterwards, according to the story, upon learning that Diabelli would pay a handsome price for a full set of variations from him, Beethoven changed his mind and decided to show how much could be done with such slim materials. (In another version of the legend, Beethoven was so insulted at being asked to work with material he considered beneath him that he wrote 33 variations in order to demonstrate his prowess.) Today, however, this story is taken as more legend than fact. Its origins are with Anton Schindler, Beethoven's unreliable biographer, whose account conflicts in a number of ways with several established facts, indicating that he did not have first-hand knowledge of events.

At some point or other Beethoven certainly did accept Diabelli's proposal, but rather than contributing a single variation on the theme he conceived a large set of variations. In order to begin work he laid aside his sketching of the Missa Solemnis, completing sketches for four variations by early 1819. By the middle of 1819 he had completed almost two-thirds of the set of thirty-three. In February of 1820, in a letter to the publisher Simrock, he mentioned "grand variations," as yet incomplete. The work was left incomplete for several years - something Beethoven rarely did - while he returned to the Missa Solemnis and worked on his late piano sonatas. In June of 1822 Beethoven offered to Peters "Variations on a waltz for pianoforte alone (there are many)." In the autumn of the same year he was in negotiations with Diabelli, writing to him, "The fee for the Variat. should be 40 ducats at the most if they are worked out on as large a scale as planned, but if this should not take place, it would be set for less." By March or April of 1823 the full set of thirty-three variations was finished. Diabelli published it quickly in June of the same year as Opus 120, adding the following introductory note: "We present here to the world variations of no ordinary type, but a great and important masterpiece worthy to be ranked with the imperishable creations of the old classics . . . . All these variations, through the novelty of their ideas, care in working out, and beauty in the most artful of their transitions, will entitle the work to a place beside Johann Sebastian Bach's famous masterpiece in the same form." In the following year, 1824, it was republished as Volume 1 of a two-volume set entitled Vaterländische Künstlerverein (Patriotic/National/Native Artists' Association), the second volume comprising the fifty variations by fifty composers. Subsequent editions no longer mentioned "Vaterländische Künstlerverein."

The title Beethoven gave to the work has received some comment. His first reference was in his correspondence, where he called it Große Veränderungen über einen bekannten 'Deutschen ("Grand Variations on a well-known German dance"). When it was first published, the title was 33 Veränderungen über einen Walzer von Diabelli. Rather than using the usual word Variationen, which has its origins in Italian, Beethoven chose Veränderungen, this being the period when he had a preference for the German language, using it for expression marks and titles, such as Hammerklavier. But the word Veränderungen can also mean "transformations" rather than merely "variations," and some writers suggest Beethoven was indicating that his aim was to do something more profound in this work than had hitherto been done in the variation form.

Although some commentators find significance in the fact that the work was dedicated to Mme. Antonia von Brentano, she was not Beethoven's first choice. His original plan was to have the work sent to England where by his old friend, Ferdinand Ries, would find a publisher; the dedication would be to the wife of Ries ("You will also receive in a few weeks 33 variations on a theme dedicated to your wife." Letter, April 25, 1823). A delay in the shipment to England resulted in confusion. As Beethoven explained to Ries in a letter, "The variations were not to appear here until after they had been published in London, but everything went askew. The dedication to Brentano was intended only for Germany, as I was under obligation to her and could publish nothing else at the time. Besides, only Diabelli, the publisher here, got them from me. Everything was done by Schindler, a bigger wretch I never knew on God's earth--an arch-scoundrel whom I have sent about his business--I can dedicated another work to your wife in place of it ..."

Whether Schindler's story is true or not that Beethoven at first contemptuously dismissed Diabelli's waltz as a Schusterfleck (rosalia / "cobbler's patch"), there is no doubt the definition fits the work perfectly - "musical sequences repeated one after another, each time modulated at like intervals" - as can be seen clearly in variations 1 through 3.

Considering the rosalias and the simple, unchanging chords repeated so many times in the treble, what can be said about the artistic worth of the waltz? How are we to view it, to balance its simplicity with the vast, complex musical structure Beethoven built upon it? From the earliest days this enigma has drawn comment, and the widest possible range of opinions have been taken on Diabelli's theme. At one end of the spectrum is the admiration of Donald Francis Tovey ("rich in solid musical facts," cast in "reinforced concrete") and Maynard Solomon ("pellucid, brave, utterly lacking in sentimentality or affectation") and the kindly tolerance of Hans von Bülow ("quite a pretty and tasteful little piece, protected from the dangers of obsolescence by what one might call its melodic neutrality"). At the other end is William Kinderman's contempt ("banal," "trite"). Much depends on how one views the overall purpose and structure of the work.

Since the work was first published, commentators have tried to find patterns, even an overall plan or structure for this huge, diverse work, but little consensus has been reached. Several early writers sought to discover clear parallels with the Goldberg Variations of Johann Sebastian Bach, without great success. Others claimed to have found symmetries, three groups of nine, for example, although the penultimate Fugue had to be counted as five. The work has been analyzed in terms of sonata form, complete with separate 'movements.' What is not disputed, however, is that the work begins with a simple, rather commonplace musical idea, transforms it in many radical ways, and ends with a series of variations on a high spiritual level. Maynard Solomon in The Late Beethoven: Music, Thought, Imagination expresses this idea symbolically, as a journey from the everyday world to a transcendent reality, structure being seen as merely "clusters of variations representing forward and upward motion of every conceivable kind, character and speed." He sees the work divided into four sections, 1-7, 9-13, 15-18 and 21-33, the divisions being made by Variations 8, 14 and 20 which he characterizes as three "strategically placed plateaus [which] provide spacious havens for spiritual and physical renewal in the wake of the exertions which have preceded them."

The most influential writing on the work today is William Kinderman's Beethoven's Diabelli Variations. By tracing the work through its development in Beethoven's sketchbooks, Kinderman discovers which variations were added in the final stage of composition, 1822-23. These variations, according to Kinderman, were inserted at crucial points in the series, and he maintains that they are distinguished from the variations composed earlier by having in common a return to, and special emphasis on, the melodic outline of Diabelli's waltz, as if in parody. For Kinderman, parody is the key to the work. He points out that the simple features of Diabelli's waltz are not featured in most of the variations - "Most of Beethoven's other variations thoroughly transform the surface of Diabelli's theme, and though motivic materials from the waltz are exploited exhaustively, its affective model is left far behind."[15] The purpose of the new variations, according to Kinderman, is to recall Diabelli's waltz, in the mode of parody, in order to keep the cycle from spiraling too far away from its original theme. Without such a device, considering the great variety and complexity of the set, Diabelli's waltz would become superfluous, "a mere prologue to the whole."

Kinderman distinguishes several forms of "parody," pointing out several examples which have no special structural significance and which were composed in the earlier period, such as the humorous parody of the aria from Mozart's Don Giovanni (Var. 22) and the parody of a Cramer finger exercise (Var. 23). He also mentions allusions to Bach (Vars. 24 and 32) and Mozart (Var. 33). But the added, structural variations recall Diabelli's waltz, not Bach or Mozart or Cramer, and clearly highlight its most unimaginative aspects, especially its repetition of the C major tonic chord with G emphasized as the high note and the static harmony thus created. The first of the three added variations is No. 2, a "mock-heroic" march which immediately follows Diabelli to open the set dramatically. Echoing in the right hand the tonic triad of the theme while the left hand simply walks down in octaves Diabelli's descending fourth, it acts as a bridge to Variation 3, which is very remote from Diabelli. Afterwards Diabelli is barely recognizable until Variation 15, the second structural variation, a brief, lightweight piece conspicuously inserted between several of the most powerful variations (Nos. 14, 16 and 17). It recalls and caricatures the original waltz by means of its prosaic harmony. The third and final structural variation, in Kinderman's anlaysis, is No. 25, which shifts Diabelli's monotonous rhythm from the bass to the treble and fills the bass with a simple figure endlessly repeated in a "lumbering caricature." It opens the concluding section of the series which moves from the ridiculous to the sublime, from Diabelli's waltz to Beethoven's minuet, along the way incorporating the history of music from Bach, through Mozart, to the world of Beethoven's own last piano sonatas.

Kinderman summarizes, "Diabelli's waltz is treated first ironically as a march that is half-stilted, half-impressive, and then, at crucial points in the form, twice recapitulated in amusing caricature variations. At the conclusion of the work, in the Fugue and last variation, reference to the melodic head of Diabelli's theme once again becomes explicit - indeed, it is hammered into the ground. But any further sense of the original contect of the waltz is lacking. By means of three parody variations, 1, 15, and 25, Beethoven established a series of periodic references to the waltz that draw it more closely into the inner workings of the set, and the last of these gives rise to a progression that transcends the theme once and for all. That is the central idea of the Diabelli Variations."

The reputation of the Diabelli Variations ranks alongside Bach's Goldberg Variations. However, while in the Goldberg Variations Bach deprived himself of the resources available from taking the melody of the theme as a guiding principle, thereby gaining an independence in melodic matters that enabled him to attain far more variety and expanse, Beethoven made no such sacrifice. He exploited the melody, in addition to the harmonic and rhythmic elements, and by doing so succeeded in fusing them all into a set of variations of incredible analytical profundity. In addition to the analytical aspects, Beethoven enlarged upon the dimensions of this musical material so that the Diabelli Variations are properly called 'amplifying variations'.

Numbers 24 and 32 are more or less textbook fugues that show Beethoven's debt to Bach, a debt further highlighted in variation 31, the last of the slow minor variations, with its direct reference to the Goldberg Variations.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Mahler's Influence and Legacy

Critics are no longer to be found who will insist that Gustav Mahler's popularity is a fad or a craze that will shortly pass; but while his place in musical history and in the repertoire seems secure, sober assessment of his specific legacy is inhibited by several factors. For example, little common ground can be found between those who revere Mahler for his 'emotional frankness' and 'spiritual honesty', and his equally vociferous detractors for whom the same music displays 'mawkishness', 'tastelessness' and 'sentimentality' (Franz Schmidt clearly spoke for the latter camp when he described Mahler's symphonies as "cheap novels"). A similar divide separates those who appreciate and analyze the symphonies as conscientiously orchestrated and rigorously organised large-scale forms, and those who see merely the lavish, sprawling outpourings of a 'self-indulgent egotist'.

Passionate admirers of Mahler, too, have sometimes muddied the waters by seeing the composer through the prism of their own preoccupations; thus the critical literature boasts manic-depressives who have insisted that Mahler's contrast-rich work betrays a manic-depressive psychology, and Jews who have claimed that his music exposes the cultural and social tensions that led to the Holocaust. Composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein, who felt a strong affinity with Mahler, expressed the view that Mahler's music "foretold" the many cataclysms of the twentieth century—from world wars to Black Power. Vehement resistance to Mahler's expressive message sometimes has additional racial and nationalistic overtones; devoted Mahlerian Hans Keller used to quote an influential British critic as declaring: "The truth is, we just don't want Mahler over here."

With Mahler thus to some extent still critically embattled, a situation has developed in which his detractors attempt to minimise his legacy, and his admirers tend to respond by exaggerating it. A cautious middle ground might be pursued by noting that a combination of factors (World War I, economic depression, relentless Austrian anti-Semitism [so fierce that it had caused Mahler himself to convert to Roman Catholicism in 1897 to improve his prospects] and World War II) worked greatly to inhibit performance and understanding of Mahler's music after 1911, and undoubtedly made his posthumous influence less than it could have been. As a result, it was principally among composers who had known Mahler or been part of his circle that his influence was first felt –- even if such personal relationships often brought extra-musical factors into play.

During a concert tour to Finland in November 1907 Mahler told fellow composer Jean Sibelius that "the symphony should be like the world: it must embrace everything" ("die Symphonie muss sein wie die Welt. Sie muss alles umfassen"); putting this philosophy into practice, he brought the genre to a new level of artistic development. Increasing the range of contrasts within and between movements necessitated an expansion of scale and scope (at around 95 minutes, his six-movement Symphony No. 3 is the longest in the general symphonic repertoire; his Symphony No. 8 premiered with some one thousand performers) –- while the admission of vocal and choral elements (with texts drawn from folk-poetry, Nietzsche, Goethe, Chinese literature, and Medieval Roman Catholic mysticism) made manifest a philosophical as well as autobiographical content. Neglected for several decades after his death, Mahler's symphonies and orchestral songs are now part of the core repertoire of major symphony orchestras worldwide.


Schoenberg, for example, almost a full generation younger than Mahler, came to venerate the older man as a "saint": an exemplary figure, selflessly devoted to art, generous to younger composers, and badly treated in the same way he himself was badly treated; Schoenberg could still, however, display a complicated attitude to the music and even speak of having had an "aversion" to it. This ambivalence did not, however, prevent him from becoming a penetrating analyst of Mahler's irregular melodic structures, or defending the Seventh Symphony against an American critic, nor did it inhibit his adoption and even refinement of massive Mahlerian effects in his Gurrelieder or Pelleas und Melisande, or, in those same works and elsewhere, the pursuit of Mahlerian clarity through soloistic or chamber-style orchestral scoring.

For Alban Berg, younger still, Mahler was a musical influence rather than a personal one (the tragic Symphony No. 6 was "the only Sixth, despite the Pastoral)", and Mahlerian elements can be heard in many of his works. For example, the two hammer blows (three in the original edition) in the finale of the Mahler Sixth find their echo in Berg's Three Orchestral Pieces, which features seven hammer blows in its final movement as well as thematic material of a decisively Mahlerian cut. In the case of Webern, who, in his early professional life, had conducted performances of Mahler symphonies, one may detect a Mahlerian concern with total textural clarity, although the small scale and rhetorical sparseness of Webern's mature pieces means that overt 'Mahlerisms' are hard to find outside his juvenilia.

The earliest significant non-contemporaries to register the impact of Mahler were perhaps Benjamin Britten and Dmitri Shostakovich, both of whom identified with elements of Mahler's personal and creative character as well as with aspects of his musical style. Britten, who had first come to know Mahler's Symphony No. 4 while still a student, produced a 'reduced orchestra' version of the second movement of Symphony No. 3 and during his life performed Mahler's music as both a piano-accompanist and conductor. Both Britten and Shostakovich came to hold Das Lied von der Erde in special regard, and undeniable references to it are found in such works as the former's Phaedra and the latter's Fourth and Tenth symphonies. In the United States, Aaron Copland's development of an authentically 'American' sound was influenced by Mahler, most notably in his Clarinet Concerto, written for Benny Goodman.

Among other leading composers, an aversion to Mahler can often be attributed to radically incompatible creative goals rather than to any failure to recognise his technical skill: to Stravinsky, Mahler was "malheur" (French for "misfortune"), while Vaughan Williams described him as a "tolerable imitation of a composer". By the late 20th century, however, Mahler's kaleidoscopic scoring and motivically independent lines in intense contrapuntal combination had become staples of modernism, and formerly shocking features of his music such as his radical discontinuities, his penchant for parody and quotation (including self-quotation) and his blunt juxtaposition of 'high' and 'low' styles were prominent features of postmodernism.

As well as Shostakovich, Britten and Copland, Mahler's music also influenced Richard Strauss, the early symphonies of Havergal Brian, and the music of Kurt Weill, Leonard Bernstein and Alfred Schnittke. Alexander von Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony seems to have been inspired by Das Lied von der Erde.

Mid and late 20th century

Mahler's difficulties in getting his works accepted led him to say, "My time will come". That time came in the mid 20th century, at a point when the development of the LP was allowing repeated hearings of the long and complex symphonies in competent and well-recorded performances. By 1956, every one of Mahler's symphonies (including Das Lied von der Erde and the opening Adagio movement of the unfinished Tenth Symphony) had been issued on LP –- as had Des Knaben Wunderhorn, Das Klagende Lied, the song cycles, and many individual songs.

Advocated by both those who had known him (prominently among them the composers Alexander von Zemlinsky and Arnold Schoenberg), and by a generation of conductors including the American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, his works won over an audience hungry for the next wave of musical exploration. In the late twentieth century, new musicological methods led to the extensive editing of his scores, leading to various attempts to complete the tenth symphony, such as by Deryck Cooke, and improved versions of the others.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Wagner's Influence and Legacy

Richard Wagner made highly significant, if controversial, contributions to art and culture. In his lifetime, and for some years after, Wagner inspired fanatical devotion amongst his followers, and was occasionally considered by them to have a near god-like status. His compositions, in particular Tristan und Isolde, broke important new musical ground. For years afterward, many composers felt compelled to align themselves with or against Wagner. Anton Bruckner and Hugo Wolf are indebted to him especially, as are César Franck, Henri Duparc, Ernest Chausson, Jules Massenet, Alexander von Zemlinsky, Hans Pfitzner and dozens of others. Gustav Mahler said, "There was only Beethoven and Wagner". The twentieth century harmonic revolutions of Claude Debussy and Arnold Schoenberg (tonal and atonal modernism, respectively) have often been traced back to Tristan. The Italian form of operatic realism known as verismo owes much to Wagnerian reconstruction of musical form.

Wagner made a major contribution to the principles and practise of conducting. His essay On conducting (1869) advanced the earlier work of Hector Berlioz and proposed that conducting was a means by which a musical work could be re-interpreted, rather than simply a mechanism for achieving orchestral unison. The central European conducting tradition which followed Wagner's ideas includes artists such as Hans von Bulow, Arthur Nikisch, Wilhelm Furtwängler and Herbert von Karajan.

Wagner also made significant changes to the conditions under which operas were performed. It was Wagner who first demanded that the lights be dimmed during dramatic performances, and it was his theatre at Bayreuth which first made use of the sunken orchestra pit, which at Bayreuth entirely conceals the orchestra from the audience.

Wagner's concept of leitmotif and integrated musical expression has been a strong influence on many 20th century film scores, including such examples as Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and John Williams' music for Star Wars. American producer Phil Spector with his "wall of sound" was strongly influenced by Wagner's music. Wagner also heavily influenced rock composer Jim Steinman and led him to create what he called Wagnerian Rock. The rock subgenre of heavy metal music also shows a Wagnerian influence with its strong paganistic stamp. In Germany Rammstein and Joachim Witt (his most famous albums are called Bayreuth for that reason) are both strongly influenced by Wagner's music. The movie "The Ring of the Nibelungs" drew both from historical sources as well as Wagner's work, and set a ratings record when aired as a two-part mini-series on German television. It was subsequently released in other countries under a variety of names, including "Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King" in the USA.

Wagner's influence on literature and philosophy is also significant. Friedrich Nietzsche was part of Wagner's inner circle during the early 1870s, and his first published work The Birth of Tragedy proposed Wagner's music as the Dionysian rebirth of European culture in opposition to Apollonian rationalist decadence. Nietzsche broke with Wagner following the first Bayreuth Festival, believing that Wagner's final phase represented a pandering to Christian pieties and a surrender to the new demagogic German Reich. In the twentieth century, W. H. Auden once called Wagner "perhaps the greatest genius that ever lived", while Thomas Mann and Marcel Proust were heavily influenced by him and discussed Wagner in their novels. He is discussed in some of the works of James Joyce although Joyce was known to detest him. Wagner is one of the main subjects of T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, which contains lines from Tristan und Isolde and refers to The Ring and Parsifal. Charles Baudelaire, Stéphane Mallarmé and Paul Verlaine worshipped Wagner. Many of the ideas his music brought up, such as the association between love and death (or Eros and Thanatos) in Tristan, predated their investigation by Sigmund Freud.

Not all reaction to Wagner was positive. For a time, German musical life divided into two factions, Wagner's supporters and those of Johannes Brahms; the latter, with the support of the powerful critic Eduard Hanslick, championed traditional forms and led the conservative front against Wagnerian innovations. Even those who, like Debussy, opposed him ("that old poisoner"), could not deny Wagner's influence. Indeed, Debussy was one of many composers, including Tchaikovsky, who felt the need to break with Wagner precisely because his influence was so unmistakable and overwhelming. Others who resisted Wagner's influence included Gioachino Rossini ("Wagner has wonderful moments, and dreadful quarters of an hour"), though his own "Guillaume Tell," at over four hours, is comparable in length to Wagner's operas.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Lost Opportunities

Dear Sir:

I have been requested to reduce to writing my perception of Gary Freedman in his capacity as an employee of this law firm and as a potential member of the legal profession.

Having spent my first year as a member of the legal profession as an Assistant Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I have devoted the following nine years to the private practice of law exclusively in the area of labor relations and jointly-administered employee benefit plans. Additionally, I have authored numerous articles dealing with my areas of specialty that have appeared in national legal publications and taught labor law at Pennsylvania State University, the University of Pennsylvania, Villanova University and Temple University School of Law. Thus, I believe my experience as both a member of the profession and in academe places me in a unique position from which to accurately and fairly appraise Mr. Freedman's abilities.

Mr. Freedman has been employed since June, 1981 in the capacity of a law clerk in the firm of Sagot and Jennings of which I am a partner. During this time, he has been assigned research and drafting tasks by myself as well as several other attorneys in the firm. Without exception, he has completed all assigned projects in a thoroughly professional and conscientious manner.

From my own observations as well as those of the other attorneys for whom he has worked, it is clear that Gary possesses a highly-refined ability to analyze and research complex factual and legal issues and to thereafter reduce his findings to a clear and concise legal memoranda. On several occasions Gary has completed complex research projects in a timely and competent fashion that were assigned on reasonably short notice and that dealt with a multitude of complicated legal principles.

Not only does Gary possess the innate intelligence and training to perform exceedingly well in all assigned tasks, but also -- and perhaps of equal importance -- his work attitude and diligence complement his ability. He has consistently demonstrated the spirit of cooperation in an easy manner under stress that endear him to all within this firm.

In view of the above, I readily and without qualification state that Gary would unquestionably be an asset in any area of the law. Additionally I am more than willing to personally discuss my experience with and perception of Gary in detail if anyone should so desire.

Very truly yours,