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Let us suppose that from time to time, late in his life, Isaac Newton had “regrets” about his formulation of the law of gravity. Perhaps he should have explored other possibilities. Now, with Newton dead and unable to join in the discussion, his followers solemnly declare that Newton’s doubts put the workings of the universe into question. Will falling bodies still fall? We hope so, because all our designs depend on it, so let us suppress the doubters and carry on with absolute faith in the theories of the master.
This sort of nonsense pervades the struggles of three analysts/historians reported by Janet Malcolm in In the Freud Archives. We have letters, we have documents, we have interviews with those who knew and worked with Freud. Many of these are sealed up in the Freud Archives which has been deposited in the Library of Congress and to which access is controlled by a disciple, K. R. Eissler. (That was true in 1983 when this book was published; the archives has a different director now.)
Malcolm tells us of a complicated wrangle between Eissler and his presumed successor, plus another historian who had a gift for locating lost documents. Their contentions are less interesting than their assumption that these issues have profound meaning for analysts today.
The Freud-Fliess letters reveal the immense difficulty with which Freud negotiated his revolution from without to within; they document the resistance that accompanied each of his steps away from the familiar terrain of so-called objective reality to the uncharted wilderness of psychic reality. This resistance was never completely overcome by Freud – as it never overcome by anyone.
Later, in the same passage, Malcom reaches a rather disheartening conclusion:
The crowning paradox of psychoanalysis is the near-uselessness of its insights. To “make the unconscious conscious” – the program of psychoanalytic therapy – is to pour water into a sieve. The moisture that remains on the surface of the mesh is the benefit of analysis.
Peter Swales, the self-taught historian, saw a critical evaluation of the development Freud’s theories as essential to the profession.
My Freud universe has fermented and brewed, and when I’ve published everything, ‘my Freud’ – if I speak like that – will make more sense to people, will be more internally consistent than the standard Freud. What I’m doing, in a sense, is declaring war on a whole profession—that of psychoanalysis. It can be reduced, in a sense, to my standing up there and saying, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about. You don’t know what this man was.
I confess that I read Malcolm’s book as a human comedy rather than a serious exploration of the sources of Freud’s theories. The theories are what they are. If they are correct – or at least helpful – neither Freud’s sincerity nor his mendacity matter now.
This word whose many intertwined meanings unlocked every room in the house I’d built. I typed it and stared. It’s possible that I smacked myself on the forehead. I could not wait to march downstairs from my study and announced to my family, “I have a title! The Lacuna!”
My husband put on his kindest I-hate-to-tell-you-this face. The trouble with my fabulous title, he offered, is that most people don’t know what that word means.
“Oh,” I said. “Well. I hope they will learn it soon.”
A lacuna is a hole, an opening to an emptiness, as in an underwater cave, and this novel offers us several. An emptiness can have meaning just as much as a fullness can. I picked up the novel because it contained a mixture of history and fiction, with the historical figures being the Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, as well as the anti-Stalinist revolutionary, Lev Trotsky. Kingsolver’s book breaks into two parts, joined together by the fictional writer Harrison Shepherd. I thoroughly enjoyed the Mexican portion and Shepherd’s interactions with the gifted and famous. Kingsolver’s light touch is shown in how Shepherd later characterized how he worked for Trotsky,
As his cook, his secretary typist, and sometimes cleaner of rabbit cages. But usually the Commissar preferred handling the manure himself.
This statement is made, however, in the context of an anti-communist investigation in the “better dead than red” 1950s. No light touch is possible in this second part of the story and Kingsolver’s indignation is clear.
Kingsolver is a teller of stories and she makes Shepherd a very successful teller of tales of adventures in ancient Mexico. Each of his stories is a stand-in for Shepherd’s more contemporary concerns: the escalation of weapons, the failures of leadership. Kingsolver’s novel itself is a story with its own lacuna, the tunnel from the madness of the McCarthy era right through to the foolishness of today.
Agatha Christie, Come Tell Me How You Live. In addition to being probably the world’s best-known mystery writer, Agatha Christie was also the wife of archeologist Max Mallowan and traveled with him many times to digs in 1930s Syria. She loved that life, and I loved hearing about it in her own words.
Mario Vargas Llosa, The Storyteller. In the Peruvian jungle a storyteller brings the Machiguengas together to hear the tales of their people, the people who walk. They must walk to fulfill their destiny, but what is the destiny of the storyteller himself? Some of his stories seem to be those of another people.
Russell Shorto, Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City. This history of the city of Amsterdam and the Dutch republic within which it stands is fascinating, whether or not you accept Shorto’s “most liberal city” designation.
Rumer Godden, A Time to Dance No Time to Weep. In this somewhat disjointed memoir the author of Black Narcissus and The River tells of her upbringing and early life in England and in India. A woman of uncommon strength, she did dance and the weeping did happen, but it was brief.
Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit. Born in Marshalsea debtors’ prison, Little Dorrit (Amy) is the mainstay of her unappreciative family. The is long novel, rich in multiple characters and subplots and a compendium of the social attitudes of the time. It is also entertaining, but not consistently so.
David Malouf, Fly Away Peter. Birds fly; men study birds; men fly, but not like birds; men fight; men die. It all passes away in this somewhat detached novel set in an Australian bird sanctuary and in the trenches of World War I.
Who said this?
If for instance, there was a law, which imposed imprisonment or a fine upon me if I manumitted a slave, I would on no account resist that law, I would set the slave free and then go to prison or pay the fine. If a law commands me to sin I will break it; if it calls me to suffer, I will let it take its course unresistingly.
Was it Henry David Thoreau in his Civil Disobedience essay in 1849? Could have been, but it was Angelina Grimké in 1836. The statement forms part of her “Appeal to the Christian Women of the South,” telling them to break the law.
But some of you will say, we can neither free our slaves nor teach them to read, for the laws of our state forbid it. Be not surprised when I say such wicked laws ought to be no barrier in the way of your duty….
A recent course on American reform movements of the 19th century made me aware of a document collection: Women Together. Subtitled A History in Documents of the Women’s Movement in the United States, it was assembled – with helpful summaries of background information – by Judith Papachistou in 1976. A beneficiary of the third wave of feminism in the 1970s myself, I have a daughter and a daughter-in-law who gained even more because of the changes initiated in those years. What I did not sufficiently realize then, and what most of today’s young women seem reluctant to acknowledge, is how old the struggle is.
It is not a historical accident that, as women gathered in the cause of abolition, they articulated their own need for rights, for freedom to act and to be heard. Freedom was gained for African Americans and the vote was gained for the black man, but not for women, black or white. In 1874 Susan B. Anthony was tried and convicted of “illegal voting.” Not allowed to speak in her own defense, she nevertheless tried to state her case at the sentencing.
Miss Anthony – May it please your honor, I am not arguing the question, but simply stating the reasons why sentence cannot, in justice, be pronounced against me. Your denial of my citizen’s right to vote, is the denial of my right to consent as one of the governed, the denial of my right to representation as one of the taxed, the denial of my right to a trial by a jury of my peers [no female jurors] as an offender against law, therefore, the denial of my sacred rights to life, liberty, property and –
Judge Hunt – The Court cannot allow the prisoner to go on.
Angelina Grimké identified unjust laws which a woman of conscience need not obey. Forty years later Susan B. Anthony went beyond resisting an unjust law to say that the very making the laws was unjust because, although recognized as a citizen, she was denied representation in their making. It seems like a good argument to me, but women waited more than 40 more years to have it recognized nationally.
I haven’t finished the book yet; there will be more to say on this subject!
A Dickens novel is sometimes compared to a plum cake or holiday pudding in which one can find all manner of fruit and nuts. Little Dorrit – 860 pages in my edition – is more like an entire meal, all on the table at once. Little Dorrit is Amy Dorrit, born in the Marshalsea debtors’ prison and the principal support of her father, sister and brother. She is sweet and she is good. Any Dickens novel with a virtuous female central character has a problem in getting us to believe in her – for example, Esther in Bleak House. Little Dorrit’s credibility is only saved by the devious cleverness by which she keeps the family enterprise afloat.
There are other sweet women in Little Dorrit. “Pet,” that dreadfully nicknamed and beautiful girl who makes an unfortunate marriage, distresses us by her loyalty to her sarcastic husband. She is sweet, but she is a fool, which Little Dorrit is not. There are other misguided but well-meaning characters who are much more entertaining. My favorite is Flora, whose run-on sentences capture perfectly how some women talk. After sharing a pie with Little Dorrit, she gives up her dreams of renewed romance.
“The withered chaplet my dear,” said Flora, with great enjoyment, “is then perished the column is crumbled and the pyramid is standing upside down upon its what’s-his-name call it not giddiness call it not weakness call it not folly I must now retire into privacy and look upon the ashes of departed joys no more but taking the further liberty of paying for the pastry which has formed the humble pretext of our interview will forever say Adieu!”
At any meal we have to balance the sweet with the sour, and Dickens’ sour women are much more interesting than his sweet ones. Little Dorrit’s sister Fanny feels keenly the family shame and resolves to reverse it by marrying Mr. Sparkler, who consoles her:
“I mean, my dear, that everybody knows you are calculated to shine in society.”
“Calculated to shine in society,” retorted Fanny with great irritability; “yes, indeed! And then what happens? I no longer recover, in a visiting point of view, the shock of poor papa’s death, and my poor uncle’s – though I do not disguise from myself that the last was a happy release, for if you are not presentable, you had much better die—“
“You are not referring to me, my love, I hope?” Mr. Sparkler humbly interrupted.
Fanny is sour, but Fanny has cause. Mrs. Clennam, Arthur’s mother is her own cause, punishing herself and others in a world full of sinners. Dickens’ contempt for certain religious doctrines and the hypocrisy they engender is expressed in the words of Mrs. Clennam’s long-term partner, referring to her withholding of an important document.
“But that’s the way you cheat yourself. Just as you cheat yourself into making out, that you didn’t do all this business because you were a rigorous woman, all slight, and spite, and power, and unforgivingness, but because you were a servant and a minister, and were appointed to do it. Who are you, that you should be appointed to do it? That may be your religion, but it’s my gammon…. I admire you very much; you are a woman of strong head and great talent; but the strongest head, and the greatest talent, can’t rasp a man for forty years without making him sore.”
Mrs. Clennam is harsh, but she was brought up that way. The sourest woman in the novel is a Miss Wade, whose role is brief but striking, because she was not brought up that way but is still unhappy and rejecting of all good things for herself and others. A lemon, without a cause. Is Dickens giving us some sort of message from his unconscious? Miss Wade is not explained, as Fanny and Mrs. Clennam are. She is given an entire chapter – significantly entitled “The History of a Self Tormentor” – in which she explains herself. No one else in the novel has this privilege and what we learn is hardly central to the plot.
I have the misfortune of not being a fool. From a very early age I have detected what those about me thought they had hid from me.
Any kindness, any forbearance, any good deed, any information serves to convince her that she is a victim.
It showed me many new occasions on which people triumphed over me, when they made a pretense of treating me with consideration, or doing me a service.
She rejects them all, and eventually takes over the domination of a young girl:
In that company I found a girl, in various circumstances of whose position there was a singular likeness to my own, and in whose character I was I interested and pleased to see much of the rising against swollen patronage and selfishness, calling themselves kindness, protection, benevolence, and other fine names, which I have described as inherent in my nature.
Her control of young Harriet is so demanding and complete that at first I suspected unacknowledged sexual attraction. Then I concluded it was power, pure power that Miss Wade needed and which she had never had in her previous relationships where others were in the position to benefit (control?) her.
This novel has a full complement of sunshine and shadow but, even so, Miss Wade and her unhappy nature are a very dark patch within it.
Who tells the stories here? First, we have the author himself, speaking in his own voice and telling the story of his friend of university days in Peru, Saul Zuratas. Saul’s nickname is Mascarita, Mask Face, because of the disfiguring birthmark which covers one side of his face. Mascarita is set apart by his appearance and because he is a Jew in a county where the alternative to Catholicism is the adherence to the gods and spirits of the jungle tribes. Several stories interest Mascarita: the legends of his own people, the Jews; the plight of Kafka’s Gregor Samsa who becomes a disgusting bug; and, most of all, the traditions of the tribes. He relates them to his own life.
The bone is from a tapir and the drawing is not the awkward scrawl it appears to be – just a few primitive strokes – but a symbolic inscription. Morenanchiite, the lord of thunder, dictated it a jaguar, who dictated to a witch-doctor friend of mine from the forest of the Alto Picha. If you think these symbols are whirlpools in the river or two coiled boa constructors taking a nap, you may be right. But, above all, they represent the order that reigns in the world. Anyone who lets anger get the better of him distorts these lines, and when they’re distorted, they can no longer hold up the earth.
Both young men want to study the tribal people, but Mascarita comes to believe that studying them does them a great wrong, destroying their way of life, their world.
The narrator leaves Peru for a writing career in Europe. Another narrator appears. He is not identified, and he speaks of the “men of earth” who are walking, always walking. Whenever they stop walking, there is trouble.
“We have suffered evil and death, but we keep on walking. Would all the sparks in the sky be enough to count the moons that have passed? No. We are alive. We are moving.” So as to live walking, they had to travel light, stripping themselves of everything that was theirs.
That unidentified speaker disappears and the author resumes his story, only to be interrupted by more tribal stories.
The author returns to Peru, and now he tells stories of his country, this time through the medium of television. He looks for Mascarita, but Mascarita is gone. He looks for the Machiguengas tribe which had so fascinated his friend, but they have changed.
Quite evidently, they no longer fitted the images of them that my imagination had invented. They were no longer that handful of tragic, indomitable beings, that society broken up into tiny families, fleeing, always fleeing, from the whites, from the mestizos, from the mountain people, and from other tribes, awaiting and stoically accepting their inevitable extinction as individuals and has a group, yet never giving up their language, their gods, their customs.
But the remaining Machiguengas have a storyteller. They have always had storytellers, wandering men who preserved and recited the oral traditions that bound them together as one people. This one is different; no one speaks of him openly. The evidence is unclear. The storyteller who is never named may be the friend with the birthmark, or he may not be. Then the narrator gets to hear him tell his stories. The storyteller speaks of the tribal gods and the people who are walking, always walking. He speaks of a dessert people who were also walking, looking for their land. He speaks of a man who becomes an insect. He speaks of a parrot who sleeps inside his garment.
Since I can’t call him father or kinsman or Tasurinchi, I call him by a name I invented for him. A parrot noise. Let’s hear you imitate it. Let’s wake him up; let’s call him. He’s learned it and repeats it very well: Mas-ca-rita, Mas-ca-rita, Mas-ca-rita…
I have prepared a new American Silver Booklet. This one illustrates the 1923 Bird of Paradise pattern by Oneida Community and lists all the flatware and hollowware pieces offered in the pattern. Booklets offer general information about the history of Oneida, its marketing techniques, and identifying flatware pieces. The Adam 1917, Grosvenor 1921 and Bird of Paradise 1923 have now been documented.
You can see a list of all the booklets currently available at American Silver Booklets. This information is free. You can read it on the screen or print it out. You can also save it to your own computer and share it with others. Always credit the source. Do not use it for commercial purposes.