So I spent my weekend in a room listening to people speak of hate, rage and vengeance. Was I at some obscure mystery conference? Was I hanging out with the United States Congress?
No, I was at a psychoanalytic symposium. The cases being discussed had definite elements of noir. I should have been in heaven. Alas, I was frequently bored and my mind wandered. The tellers of tales at these symposia are very smart people and I’m sure they’re well aware of the drama inherent in these stories, but they read their papers and the drama is blunted by psychoanalytic lingo.
Never am I so aware of how badly most people read aloud. Of course, it’s hard to make phrases like “intrapsychic, interpersonal revitalization” and “dissociated, internalized introjects” come trippingly off the tongue. Sir Kenneth Branagh might manage to make the words sing but he’s busy rehearsing Macbeth.
The cases presented are works in progress so it is impossible to know if any of these tales will have a noir ending. People who can afford analysis several times a week are rarely standing on life’s margins (“Though he had won Nobel prizes in several disciplines he felt empty.”). If analysts can't alway achieve happy endings, they can at least aim for what Freud called "common unhappiness."
I go to these conferences on a yearly basis and always bring along a genuine piece of noir as an antidote to the obfuscating language and flat reading. This year’s selection was Cornell Woolrich’s Fright. I have the Hard Case Crime edition with a deliciously lurid cover. In Fright our schmuck is a young man who is being blackmailed by a woman he slept with after a night of drinking. He is engaged to a young woman with money and on his wedding day his one night stand comes for what she says will be her final payment. He murders her but gets to the church on time.
Married now and overwhelmed with guilt, he thinks he is being pursued by a plainclothes detective. His wife might find out. The law might close in. I'm betting on his superego to bring him down.