Monday, May 07, 2012

GW Psychiatric Treatment: Letter to Dr. Pitts April 13, 1993

April 13, 1993
3801 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008

Suzanne M. Pitts, MD
Dept. of Psychiatry
GW Univ. Medical Center
2150 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20037

Dear Dr. Pitts:

This letter sets forth, and discusses the possible implications of, a similar creative transformation of the father complex in the creative works of Wagner and Pasternak.

Pasternak's poem “Hamlet” (included in a cycle of poems that comprise a postscript to the novel, Dr. Zhivago) and Wagner's Parsifal employ similarly overdetermined representations of the father and son.

Pasternak “Hamlet” depicts a composite hero, representing a fusion of father and son figures. “The biblical prayer 'Abba, Father let but this cup pass from me', which occupies a line and a half of Hamlet, has multiple resonance, and it forces the reader to speculate on the identity of the poem's 'I', who appears in each stanza. Is it Pasternak himself? Is it Pasternak's hero Yury Zhivago? It is Shakespeare's hero Hamlet? Is it an actor playing Hamlet. Or is it the original author of the cry 'Abba, Father'--Jesus Christ.” Hingley, R. Pasternak: A Biography, at 221-222 (Knopf: 1983). Thus, Pasternak equates and fuses various symbolic representations of father and son (1) Pasternak, creative father of his fictional creation; Pasternak, like all mankind, son of God; (2) the Oedipally-torn son figure, Hamlet; the fictional creation Hamlet, sired by Shakespeare's creative imagination (3) an actor playing Hamlet, who assumes the identity of the son figure; (4) Jesus Christ, father figure to his disciples and, to his followers, the literal son of God; (5) Shakespeare, father of his fictional creation, Hamlet; (6) Zhivago, whose identity as father and son are important aspects of the novel.

With respect to Wagner's Parsifal, owing to similarities, or parallels, between key male figures, the use of “I” by various characters, primarily Parsifal himself, also carries a “multiple resonance:” (1) Parsifal (orphan son of the fatally wounded Gamuret), whose act of redeeming the wounded son Amfortas results in Parsifal's being anointed as king [symbolic father]; also, Parsifal barely escapes being fatally wounded by Klingsor; (2) Amfortas (the wounded son of Titurel), whose failure to perform his office leads to the death of his father; (3) Titurel (enfeebled father of the wounded son Amfortas) who dies on Good Friday; Gamuret [who never appears in the drama], fatally wounded father of Parsifal; (5) Klingsor, whose generative capacity was nullified by his self-castration and whose magic powers are destroyed by Parsifal; (6) Gurnemanz, a father figure and mentor to Parsifal; (7) Jesus Christ, a historical/mythical father/son redeemer figure, fatally wounded on Good Friday. Thus, the “I” in lines such as “I seek the king [father] who suffered so cruelly” [Parsifal, Act III, scene 1] has the same overdetermined quality relating to the father complex as the “I” in Pasternak's poem “Hamlet.”

Several tentative but intriguing hypotheses arise in connection with this parallel in the creative expression of Wagner and Pasternak. First, might there be some relationship between the similar creative transformation of the internal representation of the father, as discussed above, and the fact that the fates of both Wagner and Pasternak became entangled with the state (itself a father, or superego, representative)?

Second, in both Dr. Zhivago and Parsifal the immediate narrative is mirrored in the historical, political, or mythical milieu. In Parsifal, the experiences and destinies of the central male characters represent identity fragments derived from the experiences and destiny of their Redeemer, a father-son figure, who invisibly hovers over the action at a historical, mythical level. In Pasternak's novel, the experiences and destiny of Zhivago parallel in part the destiny of the state (a father representative) and Russian society. One wonder to what extent this curious “double perspective" may represent a structural element that is derived from the authors' creative transformation of the internal representation of the father. One wonders whether the “double perspective,” a structural element that relates to a mode of ordering reality, may represent a cognitive counterpart to, or derivative of, a specific content namely, the father complex. In other words, perhaps it is not a mere coincidence that a creative work whose content deals with the father complex would employ the structure of the “double perspective.” (Compare Fritz Stern's, Gold and Iron).

The specific significance of these observations with respect to my case lies in my intense, if only imagined, relationship with the management of my former employer, a symbolic father figure. Worthy of examination is the relationship between (1) an individual's internal representation of the father, (2) that representation's creative transformation (as in Pasternak and Wagner's similar use of overdetermined father-son representations), (3) and the individual's relations—and synthetic entanglements—with real world father representatives (the employer, the state, the chairman of the department of psychiatry, etc.).


Gary Freedman

Postscript to my Jewish friends: if Steve Greenblatt can do it, I can do it. Apparently, Lithuanians are a breed apart.

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