Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Monkey and the Fish

As the Tampa Bay Institute for Psychoanalytic Studies, Inc, a contemporary training program, gears up for classes to begin September 21, 2011, I often muse about how to convey to candidates and students an open attitude toward patients, an attitude which often includes ‘letting go’ of the bastion of [pejorative, accusatory] interpretation in its attempt to rid patients of “defenses” as if we are the authority on what is best for a patient.

My colleague, Horacio Arias, and I have, more than once, discussed the idea, captured beautifully in his pithy statement ‘there is no such thing as pathology,’ that patients have established their ways of being in the world (whether nuanced and called symptoms, defenses, transference, organizing principles, RIGS, relational paradigms, etc) for very good reason, and, as such, we therapists best be respectful of the necessary purposes these serve to maintain the psyche’s functioning, however precarious or constraining that functioning may be (or seem to us). Rushing in to interpret may not be at all fortuitous, and may create a less safe –and inadvertently humiliating-- psychoanalytic space, or even result in bringing down a house of cards.

To bulwark my patience, I remind myself of a little story told on Mt. Gorongosa in central Mozambique about white colonists and modern philanthropists who thought they knew what is best for the local African people. It is the story of The Monkey and the Fish and it goes like this:

A monkey was walking beside a river one day and notices a fish in the water. The monkey thinks to itself, “Oh, no! That poor animal will drown! I must do something.” The monkey scoops up the fish and the fish begins flailing in the monkey’s hands. The monkey says to itself, “Look how happy I have made it. It leaps for joy.” The fish dies, and the monkey thinks, “If only I had gotten here sooner, I might have saved its life.”

I try to remember to not be the monkey in this story when I am tempted to think I know what is best for my patients to do, like when I think they should give up drug use, leave a battering spouse, or stop being so stubborn.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial and the Arab Spring

The Martin Luther King, Jr National Memorial, conceived in 1984 by King’s college fraternity and signed into legislation in 1996 by President Clinton, was to be dedicated today, but its dedication was postponed by the vast width of the rains of Hurricane Irene. It stands at 1964 Independence Ave, adjacent to the tidal basin and situated between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. (1964 is the year President Johnson signed, with King at his side, Civil Rights legislation.) Forty-eight years ago, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King gave his “I Have A Dream” speech.

Two huge, granite stones, like a mountain, flank the Memorial’s entrance, symbolic of King’s words: “hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope,” and a thirty foot sculpture of King is carved in this ‘stone of hope.’ A 450 foot wall boasts fourteen quotes, no less relevant today, from King. At its ground breaking in 2006, President Clinton said of the monument to be built there, “The monument … will be but a physical manifestation of the monument already constructed in the lives and hearts of millions of Americans who are more just … because he lived.”

Johnetta Cole, Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, said of the monument that it conveys the “power and possibility of change.” She sees as apropos that “Dr. King rises out of a rock … solid and unshakeable.” “To honor and celebrate him,’ she adds, is done “not by our words but by our actions.” Rev. Jesse Jackson, activist and personal friend of King’s, intimates that this memorial compells Americans to “unfinished business” to “fight poverty, illiteracy, disease…”

Sculptor Lei Yixin of China, hoped to convey in King’s serious expression King’s “passion…for hope for the future.” But I think King would have smiled to have his memorial completed and unveiled in the year of the Arab Spring. Despite the violence in Libya, this popular uprising of the Arab world, especially in North Africa, is a bid for justice and liberty, a bid King knew much about.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Perspectival Realism and Rape

Whose reality is it? Whose truth? As is often the case with sexual assault (a crime which usually occurs with few witnesses) it comes down to a battle of credibility, seeming, then, to put the complaining victim, not the defendant, on trial. Yesterday, August 23, 2011, after three months of investigation, the sexual assault charges against former IMF President and likely French presidential hopeful Dominique Strauss- Kahn were dropped. His accuser Nifassatou Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea, Africa was the hotel maid where Strauss-Kahn was staying. The NY prosecutors, perhaps having rushed to charge a man who was getting on a plane to France (a country without an extradition agreement with the USA), yesterday sounded angry at the accuser for the changes, for which she was discredited, in her story.

Certainly defendants can be falsely accused. With changes in the justice system over the decades, the victim is no longer accused of dressing provocatively or 'asking for' the sexual encounter. But questions will always remain in the case of Strauss-Kahn about what happened in that ten minutes. So many questions! Is Diallo a person who could seize the opportunity of a powerful man's sexual activity for her own financial gain? Can't liars and druggies be raped? And while it is said that there are men who would pursue a sexual encounter with anyone at any time, I ask myself: why would such a powerful and wealthy man be so indiscriminate, so pressing with motivation at that moment?

At the time of her report to coworkers, boss, and police, Diallo appeared credible and credibly shaken and injured. "Beyond a reasonable doubt" favors the defense, as is should. But therapists know that trauma causes disorientation and dissociation, making memory patchy. I can therefore understand Diallo moving to clean the next hotel room or returning to clean the room where the alleged attack occurred. I know that people are known to be motivated to please authority, whether the police or the prosecutor (or the rapist) by telling them what they want to hear. Many people can possibly understand lying to gain asylum as Diallo did to stay in the United States. I ask myself: Will this case set back courage to report crimes such as rape or crimes perpetrated against immigrants?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Let Freedom Ring: Psychoanalysis and Politics

While USA unveiled its Martin Luther King, Jr monument yesterday August 22, 2011, Libyan rebels, after six months of fighting, captured the capital of Tripoli. Of this victory US President Barack Obama said, "The pursuit of human dignity is stronger than any dictator." The PBS Newshour aired last night at least ten minutes of footage of Libyan men rejoicing in the streets, on rooftops, and in cars. In the footage of these hundreds of men I noted, maybe, a half dozen women and wondered to myself if women of Libya, 42 years under dictator Momar Gadhafi, will have a voice as Libya reinvents itself in its striving toward democracy. UK Prime Minister David Cameron intimated as much in his support of a "free, democratic, inclusive Libya." UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called this a "hopeful moment."

In the consulting room, freedom is described more personally, whether freedom from unconscious conflict, or freedom to embrace our multiple selves, or even freedom from the tyranny of the procrustean bed of analysts who hold too tightly to their theories. Individuals require what countries transforming themselves require: access to frozen assets, building of infrastructure, secure enough borders, and (an international) community. Therapists help patients develop their voices. In this moment of hope, my hope for Libya is that the international community aids Libya in including female voices for a truly inclusive endeavor.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Poet Laureate Philip Levine

Yesterday the former Detroit factory worker, 83 year-old, Phillip Levine was named the 18th Poet Laureate of the United States and will begin his one year term in October. The PBS Newshour last evening replayed its interview, from last year, on Levine. In that profile, Levine credited his shift from the metal press to the pen, as “pure luck,” pure luck to have met his wife on his 26th birthday, who worked to support him while he wrote, and perhaps more importantly, Levine noted, “She honors what I’m doing. And I think that is the most crucial thing-- to be honored as a poet, not by a nation, because a nation is an abstraction, but just to be honored by this person or that person…”

His words “to be honored” struck a deep chord with me as an analyst because, for me,an analytic attitude includes, not interpretation as accusation but, love and acceptance, an honoring of all the patient has been through, utilizes in present day to cope, and will one day be. Levine asked incredulously about his wife of, then, 55 years, “How many women would stay with a guy who has no prospects and wants to write poetry…?” I was reminded of a fine marriage of analyst and analysand, sticking with one another through the rough and ready years, honoring each other and the work as best and as tenaciously as each can in minutes of uncertainty and pain, with the hope that something is in the process, like a poem, of becoming.

Here is an excerpt from Any Night

…I will have to learn
to sing in the voices of pure joy
and pure pain. I will have to forget
my name, my childhood, the years
under the cold dominion of the clock
so that this voice, torn and cracked,
can reach the low hills that shielded
the orange trees once. I will stand
on the back porch as the cold
drifts in, and sing, not for joy,
not for love, not even to be heard.
I will sing so that the darkness
can take hold and whatever
is left, the fallen fruit, the last
leaf, the puzzled squirrel, the child
far from home, lost, will believe
this could be any night. That boy,
walking alone, thinking of nothing
or reciting his favorite names
to the moon and stars, let him
find the home he left this morning,
let him hear a prayer out
of the raging mouth of the wind.
Let him repeat that prayer,
the prayer that night follows day,
that life follows death, that in time
we find our lives. Don't let him see
all that has gone. Let him love
the darkness. Look, he's running
and singing too. He could be happy.

Create Date: Monday, January 13, 2003
by Philip Levine