Sunday, April 28, 2013

Some Time Among the Analysts

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.

Stephanie Patterson


  1. Wonderful sense of humor! Thelma Straw in Manhattan

  2. Stephanie, What a great post. I think I saw a movie of that story with Laurence Harvey and Shelly Winters as the slut. Harvey was his usual stiff self. Wilfred Sheed once called Harvey "the world's third greatest living Lithuanian actor." He was perfect in the Manchurian Candidate because he knew how to act brainwashed!

  3. Oh, I love Wilfred Sheed and am rejoiced that you mention him.

    Ah, "The Manchurian Candidate". I saw it long before I saw "Murder She Wrote,' That Jessica Fletcher never fooled me.

  4. Stephanie, i was fascinated pondering why you go to that psycho conference each year, then I remembered I do, too--the annual dinner of the New York State Criminal Lawyers Assn., held on a January night at the Prince George in Murray Hill, not a hotel, just a cavernous, garish-chandeliered room, brocaded drapes over the floor-to-high ceilinged windows (You kinda expect to see a Poe-pendulum swinging from the ceiling when you look up). But we fill the room, there are a lot of us. I don't go to hear about law, just the stories from my co-religionists, throwing down solace at our tables as I listen, taking mental notes, like a designated driver with pencil and pad. Truth is, I enjoy their company as they do the affair, judging from their raucous hilarity.-Bob K.

  5. Bob, I'm a clinical social worker and to maintain my licenses I have to accumulate a certain number of continuing education hours. The analysts are a greying group. Even in my younger days English departments were more interested in the language of analysis than most clinical psychotherapy groups. I do have to say that these folks are more liberally and broadly educated than their younger colleagues so I find them interesting because of that. Raucous hilarity is largely absent. Some years ago I laughed loudly at something someone said that I found hysterically funny. I laughed alone. Your group sounds a lot more fun and is, I would guess, more plain spoken

  6. Several years ago, I was on the board of directors of a Manhattan clinical psychotherapy center. I found many of the analysts to be SOOO serious in how they regarded themselves - a cut above the rest of humankind. Entre nous, some of the professionals were more disturbed than their patients! I took one of the men to a party once, and he ended up in the bedroom of the hostess! I wondered at the time who persuaded whom!!!! Thelma Straw

  7. What is it about moving so much as a child? You, Sheila, moi??? I went to a different school every year of Grades 1-8!! Maybe that should make us more brilliant writers??? Thelma Straw

  8. Who knows?
    Yep, I was the new girl 10 times in 12 years.