Monday, February 28, 2011

Significant Moments: On Attaching a Negative Meaning to Trivial Events

     It has become fashionable these days to question Freud's character and personality.
K.R. Eissler, Talent and Genius.    
     Throughout history, there have been two opposing schools of thought about men and women of genius. The one portrays the genius as exceptionally well balanced; the other affirms a close connection of genius with insanity, or at any rate with mental instability.
Anthony Storr, Churchill’s Black Dog, Kafka’s Mice, and Other Phenomena of the Human Mind.    
     Although there is in fact no correlation between the type and severity of a genius's psychopathology and the quality of his achievement, most people react like the critic who recently said that, after learning the background of Richard Wagner's . . .
K.R. Eissler, Talent and Genius.         
          . . . bizarre and increasingly difficult relationship with a married . . .
T.J. Reed, Introduction to Goethe, The Flight to Italy: Diary and Selected Letters.
                . . . Mathilde Wesendonk . . .
K.R. Eissler, Talent and Genius.       
     What can be the meaning of this detail?
Sigmund Freud, The Moses of Michelangelo.           
                     . . . he (the critic) . . .
Mursi Saad El-Din, Plain Talk.                                 
                          . . . was no longer able to enjoy the five songs that the master had composed for her poems, and that he was certain this would happen to anyone.
K.R. Eissler, Talent and Genius.    
     I am one thing, my writings are another matter.—
Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo.    
     I should not have been surprised that when my book The Assault on Truth: Freud's Suppression of the Seduction Theory appeared in early 1984, the attention of the reviewers was riveted on the character of the author rather than on an examination of the issues. . . . It seemed that neither the findings nor their implications could be regarded with any dispassion. I learned that people who criticize establishment dogmas are not accorded a serious hearing. I took some comfort in the recognition that the pain I felt over the personal attacks against me was due to my political naivite.
J. Moussaieff Masson, Against Therapy: Emotional Tyranny and the Myth of Psychological Healing.    
     I conjecture that in the same way a good many of the attacks against Freud's personality are aimed at discrediting psychoanalysis itself.
K.R. Eissler, Talent and Genius.    
     A visit to the opera where I saw Wagner's crooked dwarfs protecting the Rheingold suggested an analogy . . .
Joseph Wortis, Fragments of an Analysis with Freud.           
          . . . to the question of the connection between genius and mental illness, . . .
Albert Rothenberg, Creativity and Madness.                  
                   . . . which a friend . . .
Jane Austen, Emma.                
                            . . . then commented on:
Joseph Wortis, Fragments of an Analysis with Freud.    
     This is what he wrote:
Edgar B.P. Darlington, The Circus Boys on the Plains.    
     When you speak of "the strenuous and crooked creatures bearing the precious Rheingold" . . .
Joseph Wortis, Fragments of an Analysis with Freud quoting Havelock Ellis, Letter to Joseph Wortis.   
         . . . my dear Joseph, . . .
Franz Kafka, The Trial.                  
                      . . . I think you are symbolically describing what genius so often is. I have often referred to this aspect of genius . . . —its foundation in deformity, one-sidedness, unbalance, the ability to see the new things accompanied by the inability to see the old. You see I am not troubled by genius.
Joseph Wortis, Fragments of an Analysis with Freud quoting Havelock Ellis, Letter to Joseph Wortis.    
     I wonder whether you knew, dear friend, many years ago, when . . .
Alban Berg, Letter to Arnold Schoenberg.
               . . . Anna Freud . . .
J. Moussaieff Masson, Final Analysis.                     
                         . . . first knew me (I was 25) she thought I had genius; a few years later (without any change in regard for me) she came to the conclusion that I hadn’t. Your Rheingold symbol is admirable. I don't mean that it would necessarily apply to all men of genius. There is, for instance, Einstein, one of the greatest, who seems quite harmoniously developed. Do you know Michaelis's book on "Freud"? Rather interesting and suggestive. He admits Freud's greatness, compares him with Nietzsche, but emphasizes the "crookedness" and one-sidedness of his outlook, and regards him as a disappointed idealist who has taken to systematically repressing his idealism.
Joseph Wortis, Fragments of an Analysis with Freud quoting Havelock Ellis, Letter to Joseph Wortis.    
     A brief statement ought to be added here about psychoanalytic biographies of geniuses. Such biographies, if they are even half-way complete and undertake to discuss what makes the genius different from the rest of mankind, must be different in at least one respect from what one finds in psychoanalytic case histories. A person is called a genius only when he has realized his potential to an unusual degree. In that one respect he is to be considered fortunate, whatever his pains and anguishes might have been. Since most of what has happened with him, in terms of psychological processes, must have served creativity—or else he could not belong to the category of genius—what is examined in most instances requires a different evaluation than if the same things had happened in the life of an average mortal who undergoes psychoanalytic treatment.
K.R. Eissler, Talent and Genius.    
     The problem of . . .
Jack London, The Race for Number One.               
K.R. Eissler, Talent and Genius.                          
               . . . had arisen very concretely for me in the case of Paul Roazen. He had written what I regarded as a terrible book about Freud called . . .
J. Moussaieff Masson, Final Analysis.                                    
                     . . . Brother Animal: The Story of Freud and Tausk
Janet Malcolm, In the Freud Archives.    
     Roazen's book offers a splendid opportunity to confirm a connection that I had already assumed to exist, in a few instances, between a biographer and the person he has chosen as the subject of his presentation. The area of Roazen's biographical inquiry is, to be sure, defined by Freud and Tausk and their relationship, even though Tausk is the central figure of his book, with Freud providing the background. Yet the fact is that there is a triangle (which the author left out, even though he is at times preoccupied with the discovery of triangles); it is formed by the author, Freud and Tausk. Only it is a spherical triangle: its nature is such that a person who is standing at any one corner of the triangle would be unable to perceive the other two.

     Roazen never perceived Freud as he was; at one point he even perceived him as Othello and Iago in one. I doubt that he understood Tausk. Just as he assumes that Tausk used Dr. Deutsch in order to reach Freud, so his own interest in Tausk is apparently focused on the opportunity the latter provides him for detracting from Freud. . . .

     I do not mean to say that a psychotic condition is actually induced in a biographer by the subject of his story; yet the relationship between biographer and subject may have a structure that is equivalent to that of folie a deux.
K.R. Eissler, Talent and Genius.

I attach a negative meaning to trivial events.  Yes, I am a crackpot.  Actually, attaching a negative meaning to trivial events is something that crackpots have in common with geniuses.  Geniuses have a way of seeing the significant in the seemingly insignificant.  While crackpots have a genius for attaching significance to the insignificant.

Freud attached a negative meaning to trivial events.  In fact, one might say that the entire science (or "science") of psychoanalysis is based on attaching psychological import to the seemingly insignificant flotsam and jetsam of everyday life.  Indeed, one of Freud's published masterpieces is his book titled, "The Psychopathology of Everyday Life."

I am struck by the numerous occasions in my life when people fail to attach any significance to events that later turn out to be significant.

1.  On October 29, 1991 I was fired from my job as a paralegal at the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld by an attorney named Dennis M. Race, Esq.  I remained silent throughout the termination meeting.  Some people attach significance to a person's silence in the face of accusations.  Dennis Race, company man that he is, did not attach any meaning to my silence.  At Akin Gump people don't attach any meaning to trivial events.  In fact, the firm fired me because I attached a negative meaning to trivial events.  Yes, I violated company policy by attaching a negative meaning to trivial events.  It was a case of misconduct. I had violated the rules.  At Akin Gump one may only attach a negative meaning to significant events.  My silence at the termination was seemingly insignificant.  For Dennis Race to inquire into my silence would have violated company policy, which might have incurred the anger of other partners.  Such is the firm's aversion to attaching meaning to the seemingly insignificant.  But perhaps my silence had a significance -- a significance that would continue to reverberate through time to the present day.

2.  On January 26, 1996 I appeared in D.C. Superior Court for a scheduling hearing.  I stated in open court that I believed there may be a criminal investigation into my job termination.  Now that was peculiar.  I suppose if the judge were a genius (or a crackpot) she might have inquired into what precisely I meant by that odd assertion.  The judge simply said that was irrelevant and proceeded with the proceedings.  (Not that I'm criticizing a judge.  I no longer criticize judges.)  Apparently that judge, like my former employer, had an aversion to attaching a negative meaning to trivial -- and seemingly irrelevant -- facts.

3.  On January 15, 2010 I was interviewed at my residence by two officers from the U.S. Department of Justice.  I started off by saying that my Social Security disability claim was a total fraud.  Yes, I was admitting to officers of the Justice Department that I was engaged in the commission of a felony.  In fact, I am currently engaged in a long-term process of defrauding the federal government of a half-million dollars.  My statement (or admission) was odd, to say the least.  Apparently that federal officer, like my former employer, and the presiding judge in my court case, had an aversion to attaching a negative meaning to trivial -- and seemingly irrelevant -- facts.  His next question to me was, "Have you been to the opera recently?"  (The opera??  I had just said that I was committing a felony against the United States.  The opera?  In fact, I had seen a production of Gotterdammerung on November 15, 2009--the conclusion of Wagner's Ring Cycle, which begins with Das Rheingold.)

4.  About ten years ago, a couple of chappies went to a flight school to inquire into signing up for flight lessons.  "We want to learn how to take off and fly a jet airplane, but we don't want to learn how to land the plane."  The instructor recalled, "The first day they came in here, they said they wanted to fly Boeings. We said you have to start slower. You can't just jump right into Boeings."  Boeings?? ("What can be the meaning of this detail?")  Apparently that flight school instructor, like the federal officer, like my former employer, and the presiding judge in my court case, had an aversion to attaching a negative meaning to trivial -- and seemingly irrelevant -- facts.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Moral:  Not all red flags are red.  Some are green, some are yellow, some are blue.  But speaking metaphorically, it sometimes pays to inquire into whether a blue flag is really a "red flag."


Gary Freedman said...

Many of my blog posts are inspired by the everyday goings-on in my environment or things in the news.

My reference to flags in this post may have been inspired by the flag of Gaddafi's Lybia, which is solid green.

Gary Freedman said...