Friday, December 30, 2011

Hogan & Hartson: Creative Writing

In mid-September 1985 I obtained employment at the law firm of Hogan & Hartson as an agency-supplied paralegal.  I shared office space with another temp named Charles Leon Green, who had graduated law school earlier that year.

The following creative piece is a depiction of Mr. Green, written as a parody of the writings of Freud.  I must have driven my office mate nuts--there's little doubt of that!

It is interesting that the issues of authorship, diplomatic immunity and the use of symbolic or disguised references arise in a paper I wrote in 1992, seven years after I wrote the following piece.


The Over Civilized and the Malcontent

Ridendo dicere severum


Psychoanalytic circles were recently set a stir by the announcement that a hitherto unknown paper putatively written by Sigmund Freud had been discovered. Though the paper was unsigned the mode of presentation and the acuity of the psychoanalytic insights contained therein leave little doubt that the work emanated from the pen of the master. We believe firmly in the paper’s authenticity and present it now to an eager and expectant world in the interest of bettering the lot of all mankind through psychoanalytic insight.

Even if the paper proves bogus, the style bears such a close resemblance to that of Freud that it merits interest if only as a clever literary forgery.


It is not to be doubted that, owing to man’s animal heritage, hostilities and aggressive tendencies comprise an essential element of his unconscious mental life. Owing to the exigencies of civilized living, however, the aggressive instincts natural to man must in some way be renounced. For a constant and open expression of aggressive instincts, which no doubt pervaded the lives of mankind’s ancestors --and, indeed, ensured their very survival—would be inimical to the reasoned intercourse upon which civilization is grounded.

To be a civilized man is to be in a large sense, a creature of renunciation. Individual human beings differ, however, in the way they handle the dilemma of being “tamed savages.”

Specifically, certain individuals place a high—perhaps a too high—premium on politeness, amiability and repression of all hostility and aggression and view with disdain, and slander as brutish beasts, all those who are not similarly disposed. Does this mean that such individuals do not feel hostility and do not in fact express their natural hostilities by some means? Certainly not.

Generally, the amiability observed in such individuals is merely a thin veneer masking the hostility that is the communal heritage of mankind. The question is: What happens to the hostility?—How is it vented? What might be the response of an individual who becomes the object of a veiled hostility and who, owing to a high intellect and sensitive nature, comprehends that he has become such an object?

I recently had the occasion to make the acquaintance of one such individual of the amiable type—a rather gifted and refined attorney. During the course of our not infrequent discourse, it became clear to me that his amiability was a foreground appearance. He was totally unaware that he was in reality venting a profound hostility on me through an altogether camouflaged means.

Owing to a characteristic common to persons of his type—the “creative” type—he seemed to view all reality as one “unbounded universe.” That is, his references to the objective a world really mirrored images of his own unconscious mental life—his likes, dislikes, hostilities, etc.—and his reactions to those around him. Though his discourse with me was always fastidiously polite, a pervasive hostility seemed to lurk in the background and surfaced though “coded messages.” One could say that his hostility was encrypted. It was by means of such encrypted hostility that he was able to vent normal aggression and yet at the same time maintain the veneer of amiability and derive the goodwill which normally accrues to individuals of such seemingly even-tempered character.

Examples abound. His way of calling me a “phony” was to call attention to a federal judge who had changed her appearance. He was able to tell me—symbolically--that he found it difficult to greet me by calling attention to a political leader’s forced exchange with a revolutionary. Perhaps most telling was that, for a time, he made repeated references to sexual inverts. The implication was obvious and need not detain us. After he became more convinced of my normal sexual disposition, the references to sexual inversion ceased abruptly. This last example is telling since it tends to refute the inference that these observations are rooted in this writer’s paranoia.

It may be concluded that this individual maintained an emotional equilibrium by expressing all hostility in a disguised form: that a morbidly-exaggerated fear of giving offense -- really a fear of rejection and retribution--dictated a rigidly-enforced regimen of amiability and that expression of hostility, otherwise barred as violative of an authoritarian unconscious code of civil conduct, nonetheless gained discharge through veiled and surreptitious means. Thus, goodwill could be maintained while normal hostile impulses found an outlet.

Certainly few, if any, persons who knew my esteemed acquaintance would have recognized in him what I describe; his exchange with others would remain on a polite and amiable level since they would remain unaware that they may have become the object of a beguilingly-insidious abuse. Owing to my own pathological sensitivity, high intellect, and familiarity with psychological dynamics, I was well aware--too aware—of what he was communicating unintentionally and unfortunately, our discussions tended to break down into vituperative and uncivil discourse. Perhaps this is the only possible outcome in such cases—where one speaks in code and is able to condemn with impunity while another is the singular individual who both comprehends the code and recognizes himself as the victim of the slander.

By way of analogy, one might liken my tactful acquaintance to an individual accorded the benefit of diplomatic immunity who might commit crimes with impunity since his crimes would not be cognizable or--recognizable--by the courts. The only resort remaining to the victim, deprived of civil – or civilized – recourse, would be an abusive and abrasive self-help---an exaggeratedly hostile response mediated by feelings of impotence in the face of his victimizer’s diplomatic status.

I would like to add the following observation. I had earlier written in my Civilization and Its Discontents: “Originally the ego includes everything, later it separates off an external world from itself. Our present ego-feeling is, therefore, only a shrunken residue of a much more inclusive—indeed, an all-embracing feeling which corresponded to a more intimate bond between the ago and the world about it. If we may assume that there are many people in whose mental life this primary ego-feeling has persisted to a greater or less degree, it would exist in them side by side with the narrower and more sharply demarcated ego-feeling of maturity, like a kind of counterpart to it. In that case, the ideational contents appropriate to it would be precisely those of limitlessness and of a bond with the [unbounded] universe.”

It is noteworthy that my acquaintance alluded to a passing interest in cosmology and his inability to comprehend the concept of a bounded universe. Psychoanalytic research suggests that such thinking is a common to the “creative type.' If one assumes that my observations regarding ego functioning quoted above are applicable to the subject of this discussion, it is quite plausible that my acquaintance views all existence as part of his own unbounded psychological universe and that this disposition provides a ready identification of objective reality with his own feelings.

Moreover, this disposition may be readily used in the service of the expression of hostility. That is, rather than express hostility openly, such an individual would be able to encrypt his hostility by analogizing or identifying remote events and persons in objective reality with his feelings about people around him.

Of not incidental interest is the fact that my acquaintance often reproached me for my essentially self-oriented view of the world; my constant use of the personal pronoun irritated him. Yet his own world view was no less solipsistic—it was merely that he talked about himself and his feelings through alternative means, i.e., through a process of what he perceived to be unconscious identification with the universe about him.

To close, let me state that I held my acquaintance in the highest esteem. He possessed a rare and highly-refined intellect complemented by a rich and varied mental life. Indeed, it would be appropriate to close with a quote from one of my earlier works: "There is no one so great as to be disgraced by being subject to the laws which govern both normal and pathological activity with equal cogency.”

1 comment:

Gary Freedman said...

I think the Inspector General could see we spent most of our time goofing off all day. I think he wondered who we were and what we did.