Humanitas #8: Search for the new land
By Edward Mendelowitz, PhD
I was recently sent a book proposal by one of the major publishing houses of an edited volume by “noted authors in the social sciences, humanities and film industry on the role of death and death awareness in film.” The editors, it turns out, are advocates of “terror management theory” — a codification of sorts of the work of the cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker — and of the research findings they and their colleagues have both generated and accumulated around this theory. I am familiar with “terror management theory,” which strikes me as a facile, albeit much reduced, knock-off of the work of one of the more brilliant and passionate thinkers our discipline has ever seen. The enterprise of codification is by now familiar in its course: one packages some aspect of the founding parent’s genius and takes this derivative restatement of things on the road toward academic respectability, possibly even popular primetime. Becker himself was a breathtakingly articulate writer such that any derivative writing done in his name is likely to pale in comparison, lacking almost necessarily the insight, sensitivity and sheer native genius of the original thinker. In an epoch of mass marketing and diminishing imaginative returns (“imagology” and “termites of reduction,” muses Czech novelist/essayist Milan Kundera), however, this is how things tend to go. And there in so much of value in Becker (and his precursor Otto Rank — the “true genius in Freud’s circle,” proclaimed Rollo May on his deathbed) that such popularizations have, I suppose, also their place. Still, some caveats are in order.
I am skeptical about claims that “terror management theory” moves “beyond past scholarship” in order to discern “greater complexity.” There is, indeed, much esoterica and nuance that this approach (perhaps any approach — why Rank once wryly observed that all theory was essentially dead, referring as it did to what had already come and gone and occluding what had not yet been glimpsed) overlooks. “TMT readings are more effective,” claim the authors of one of the sample chapters, but more effective than what? I have often the impression that codifiers of “terror” or “happiness” or “awe” or “transcendence” are selling a product. The codifications, immersed as they are in Becker or Maslow or May or whomever, no doubt, have explanatory merit, but there is much that they miss and blithely overlook. One has the feeling that the packagers of Becker on death or Maslow or May on awe and transcendence are inquiring into selected artworks and states of consciousness as if with training wheels: the ride is safe, no doubt, but dully predictable and limited in subtlety and scope: a packaged itinerary. (“What one finds wrong with American culture,” observes Robert Lowell, “is the monotony of the sublime.”) Traction is garnered in certain quarters of the academic and popular marketplace, but the outcomes of these efforts do not hold up well amid a more rarefied/literary scene.
“Far from the marketplace and from fame,” exhorts Nietzsche’s mouthpiece Zarathustra, “happens all that is great: far from the market place and from fame the inventors of new values have always dwelt.”
In a world of lies the lie is not removed from the world by means of its opposite, but only by means of a world of truth.
-Franz Kafka, Fourth Blue Octavo Notebook
It is upon us to begin the work, it is not upon us to complete it.
Pathos of distance
“Pathos of distance” and “order of rank.” Evocative phrases out of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil underscoring the gaping chasm between everydayness and sublimity. In a lovely essay on Kafka and the Oedipus complex, Becker himself long ago pondered the relationship between artist and codifier. Kafka, he argued, could comfortably be placed alongside Freud and even Kierkegaard as a native psychological genius. It is obvious, however, that Becker means to say even more:
There is a certain scavenging...which the “man of knowledge” cannot deny. After all, he earns his respectability and his imposing title in a somewhat “dishonest” way: he is not fully involved as a person with his subject matter; if he masters it, it is with grace and ease, with the sly shiftiness of symbols, there where the artist literally squeezed his insights out of his own flesh, blood, and bones, and expired young because of the effort. Freud, who got many things backward, thought it was just the other way around: he once remarked — almost pompously — that the scientist has to work so hard to get the insights that the writer tosses off so easily. And this is the hubris of the scholar, who becomes imposingly gray at the temples, rummaging around and putting order into the anguished insights of tormented youth who leave behind the distillation of their genius and collapse early into their graves. Especially is this characterization true of Kafka’s life and his document, which not only lays bare the pathetic human condition, but also must reveal Kafka’s own anguish. Let us then approach it with proper respect, and some fear and trembling, and let us follow our teacher reverently.
An amazing homage coming from someone himself so gifted. Becker is exonerating himself no less than Freud, thinkers before the artist. This is an expression of bona fide humility from a man of staggering abilities, not the false modesty of copyists. One senses that both the brilliance and humbleness of the founding parents are missing in the derivative work of avowed devotees; a relentless self-promotion often typifies the codification game. What would Becker or May or Maslow think about what has been done in their respective names? Dostoyevsky’s parable of the Grand Inquisitor comes often to mind.
It would be fitting for the packagers of “terror management” and “awe” and “transcendence” to keep their mentors’ characters and accomplishments steadfastly in mind as they pursue their own agendas and goals. Becker’s work, after all, abounds with many references to literature and, here and there, even film. It is interesting to note that our division program for APA Orlando will include the scantest reference to the humanities and no richly rendered narrative of psychotherapy at all. We are in danger of becoming, ironically, a humanistic psychology voided of meaningful dialogue with the humanities. May expressed dismay shortly before he died that the existential/literary psychology to which he devoted his life might succumb to a lightweightness associated with an overly Californian cast of mind. He was interested in restless and searching souls who did not comfortably fit into the reigning orders: great minds proceed without acronyms and codes. The systematizers arrive on the scene belatedly, so to speak, applying their truncated inventions and lexicons to everything they see. They are on to something, to be sure, but it is not new or unique and others not wedded to their templates and terminologies are likely to say as much and much more with more intuitive and literary points of view. The filmmaker Federico Fellini once put it this way:
We live in an age that has made a cult of methodology, that makes us weakly believe that scientific or ideological [concerns] have the edge over reality... [One] is suspicious of fantasy, of...originality, in other words of personality.
“Interpretation,” observes Susan Sontag, “is the revenge of the intellect upon art.”
This packaging of our forebears, this business of “unprecedented” and “certified” reductions of far greater spirits and souls, is troubling. We risk losing the gnostic thread in the overall tapestry that has from the beginning ennobled our discipline and work. A recent message concerning the “New Existentialists” website sponsored by Saybrook University announces proudly 2,568 “unique visitors” in the past month to a site now totaling 6,261 pages! Nominally speaking, it is impressive, indeed. (In The Book of Laughter and Forgetting Kundera muses upon “graphomania”: “All man’s life among men is nothing more than a battle for the ears of others.”) Still, knowing eyes cannot help but discern that we are lacking the depth and poetry of the great luminaries of the past.
Yet I see Organization Men in psychiatry, with all the problems of deathlike conformity. Independent thinking by the adventurous has declined;...training has become more formal, more preoccupied with certificates and diplomas, more hierarchical. Some of the finest people in early dynamic psychiatry were artists like Erik Erikson, schoolteachers like August Aichhorn.... Today we are obsessed with accreditation, recognition, levels of training, with status as scientists. These are the preoccupations of young psychiatrists. There are more lectures, more supervision, more examinations for specialty status, and thus the profession soon attracts people who take to these practices. Once there were the curious and bold; now there are the carefully well-adjusted and certified.
-Robert Coles, A Young Psychiatrist Looks at his Profession
The most interesting of the sample articles sent along with the book proposal on death in cinema was an unlikely one on Sam Peckinpaw’s Wild Bunch and Transcendentalism, a fascinating meditation on the correspondences between two apparently wildly disparate things. Who would think to juxtapose the pervasively dark and violent images coming out of the unquiet mind of Peckinpaw with the ethereality of Emerson or Thoreau? I could not help thinking while perusing that chapter that the “profound loss” of “individual freedom” and “moral choice” that film scholar Ashjorn Gronstad there ponders maintains for humanistic psychology too, as our literature tends increasingly toward the application of methodology to all that crosses its path: the triumph of content over creative form. The “homogenization” and “conformity” of which Gronstad speaks are features of our current professional predicament no less than the culture at large. Will more genuinely imaginative work itself become, like The Wild Bunch, an “irrelevant anachronism rendered obsolete . . . by armies of destruction with their [codified/ homogenized] machines”? Truly, this is how some of us tend increasingly to see it.
Order of rank
What might an alternative look like? William Arrowsmith, scholar, critic and translator of classical literature, once wrote an astonishing collection of essays about the films of Michelangelo Antonioni in which he expressed his hope for an eventual “poetry of criticism,” “a criticism designed to do more than report and judge its artistic object, but rather to respond to it antiphonally, to illuminate, even celebrate it.” Humanists have become, states Arrowsmith, “mere technicians” in a gargantuan “knowledge-industry.” “Among any ten thousand humanists you will scarcely find more than a hundred vivid men, radiantly being what they know and being it greatly.” Like May, Arrowsmith points to the inevitability of turbulence:
All order worth having, Sophocles says, is born of the effort of turbulent men — men who do not know themselves — to surpass their limits and break down the barriers between man and god. They do this always to their own anguish, and they are seldom loved for what they do until they are dead. This is because the hero is always an embodiment of turbulence and therefore always threatens the order of complacent, self-knowing men.
Art, in other words, should be revelatory rather than grist for a self-aggrandizing explanatory mill.
A few years ago, I attended an evening at the Harvard Film Archive dedicated to Yasujiro Ozu, one of the great masters of Japanese cinema. The prominent filmmaker Yoshida Kiju, once mistaken as Ozu’s protégé and apprentice, was the featured speaker and guest. Now an elderly man himself, Kiju recalled his early dismissal of Ozu as old-fashioned and passé, steeped as the younger man had then been in French existentialism. He told the story of the visit he paid Ozu in the hospital one month before Ozu’s death due to cancer on his 60th birthday. Ozu thanked Kiju for coming and then fell silent. As Kiju prepared to leave, Ozu whispered to him, “Cinema is drama, not accident.” “He whispered it twice,” Kiju later recounted, “as if speaking to himself.” Decades later these cryptic words continue to haunt Kiju: he has become, it would seem, Ozu’s faithful disciple after all. Perhaps Ozu was defending himself against the accusation that his films depicted only “simplistic daily incidents”; perhaps he was protesting that the simple events he depicted were “the real dramas” in the end, that “stories portrayed in many other films were nothing but artificial and fabricated events.” Yet Ozu was not given to such direct utterance of feelings or to defending himself so vigorously. To this day, Kiju remains struck by Ozu’s distinction between “affirmation” and “negation” — “Cinema is drama, not accident”:
[H]is last words are divided so clearly into an affirmation and a negation that another meaning must be hidden there, and thus his words occasionally return to me and leave me confused.
...Ozu-san’s words constantly shift sense depending on who hears them. The instant a particular meaning occurs to one person, someone else immediately conjures up another. One feels such great breadth and depth in his words. As a result, I feel stuck, unable to decide what he means.... Needless to say, there was nothing “Ozulike” about Ozu-san’s films in the end. They were a world where meaning floats ceaselessly, unmoored from specific designation.
For Kiju, Ozu was an artist of “paradoxical thinking” who discerned in human expression not “the conveyance of clear-cut meaning” but rather “something far more complicated.” Viewers are returned to the “play and profundity of images,” the ascendancy of creative form over content briefly restored. Do you see the subtlety implied by a genuinely creative criticism? We are pointing, really, to Zen.
Old countries and inner rooms
You call yourself free? Your dominant thought I want to hear and not that you have escaped from a yoke
-Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra
Rollo May did not sugarcoat or otherwise mince words in circumscribing the depth of his own immersion in a difficult, even harrowing, past. Even the fame and veneration attendant upon his later years did not preclude the seeking out of psychotherapy when Oedipal daemons reared their restive heads. This ongoing wrestling with the darkness was ineluctably related to May’s greatness as a genuinely novel contributor to the literature of our discipline. I have run into worshipful admirers even in China. We humanistic psychologists have today nothing quite like this—nothing like Love and Will or The Cry for Myth, nothing that so profoundly ministers to a troubled and troubling global consciousness or that might take its rightful place upon the world literary/philosophical/psychological stage. May’s lifelong inquiry into his own past stands in striking contradistinction to far more pat formulations of Oedipus I observe among colleagues in recent years. What are we to make of this tendency toward oversimplification/prettification (for May a cardinal sin!) that typifies the current scene?
The Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski (an intelligent skeptic, interestingly, concerning the enterprise of psychotherapy) once commented on the need for thoroughgoing, even ruthless selfexamination in working with personal narratives:
I keep persuading younger colleagues...to examine their own lives. Not for the purposes of any book or script but for themselves. I always say to them, try to think of what happened to you which...led to your sitting here...on this very day.... What really brought you here? You’ve got to know this. That’s the starting point.
The years in which you don’t work on yourself...are, in fact, wasted. You might feel or understand something intuitively and, consequently, the results are arbitrary. It’s only when you’ve done this work that you can see a certain order in events and their effects.
I tried to fathom out what brought me to this point in my life, too, because without such an authentic, thorough and merciless analysis, you can’t tell a story.... [I]t’s absolutely necessary to those who tell stories about life: an authentic understanding of one’s own life. By authentic, I mean that it’s not a public understanding.... It’s not for sale, and, in fact you’ll never detect it in my films. Some things you can find out very easily but you’ll never understand how much the films I make or the stories I tell mean to me and why.... I know it, but that knowledge is only for me.
And, so, we are returned, as we often are in this column, to matters of character and selfinquiry and the inviolability of art — a web of interrelations that humanistic psychology still does not sufficiently get. In a eulogy written two days after a cherished uncle’s death on the last day of this past year, I set down these words:
There is a cascade of memories. Bancroft tennis rackets; that walking stick he used once to scale Fujiyama (with those arcane Oriental brandings engraved as he traversed each station), the riding ranch in upstate New York. I can still remember the names of horses long since deceased — Cimmeron and Rusty, that unruly one that only Irwin’s relative expertise among us could temper: Irwin was a quirky Jack of many odd trades. Copper bracelets to ward off arthritis, as I recall, and those orthopedic shoes; the red Impala (“Roll up the windows,” he would say in the heat of summer; “everyone will think we have air conditioning”); that immaculate garden. So many memories and just a few moments to speak...
Inner rooms. The great Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini’s final film is entitled La voce della luna (The Voice of the Moon). The protagonist, played by Italian comedian Roberto Benigni, is a kind of wayward schizophrenic recently released from the institution. A misfit in search of meaning and love in a world that has seen better days and gone badly awry. In dreamlike reverie, he returns at times to a room from his childhood, likely the room he grew up in but also a sanctified place within his own mind. And I think of that small side room with the stone outer wall in that house on Crest Drive. Simply furnished and tastefully decorated, an old dentist’s chair, the rustic ambiance and that gorgeous Spanish guitar. I don’t know how much time I spent in that room, but I remember it as a youthful sanctuary of sorts, almost holy. I glimpsed there a sense of aesthetics, perhaps even possibilities. If a space could be different, perhaps a person’s life could be too.
And that tree house in the woods just to the rear of the house. I remember spending many turbulent, even tearful hours sitting there alone trying to make sense of family and world—an Oedipal inquiry of sorts that seems a virtual rite of passage for those few eventual psychologists genuinely worth their salt. These are the stirrings and sensibilities, I now think, that bind me most deeply to Irwin. He had a sense of the incongruity of things and an inkling of what lay beyond—a wanderlust that, whether or not fully embraced, influenced me in an almost preternatural way. That guitar he never quite mastered was a talisman, I think, for that other world. We can all remember the songs with which he entertained us in the most comical yet also moving way. That Haitian folk song, can you hear it?
Up high in banana tree
You sit all alone like me
You can fly away
In the sky away
You more lucky than me
Only now does it stand out in my mind and heart in such psychic relief how my uncle was, simultaneously, exemplar and steppingstone — an indispensable influence upon what, personally and professionally, I have become. A succession of unique and unrepeatable guides would make their appearances upon the meandering highway of life following my departure from home, each inspiringly eccentric, each vitally influential in unconventional ways. Rollo May was a great culmination of these manifold meetings with remarkable women and men.
It is essential that we psychologists investigate our personal and disciplinary legacies and pasts if we are to contribute works that are genuinely passionate and authentically new. This is especially so for those clamoring for leadership and the limelight; these are, after all, the ones who would seem oftentimes to understand themselves least — “convulsions of the ambitious,” remonstrates Nietzsche’s mouthpiece Zarathustra. In the eulogy for my uncle, I mused upon humor, gestures and grace:
Humor. There is a Jewish expression: “Man thinks, God laughs.” Irwin was, hands down, our local funnyman. No one else could compete. There is undoubtedly a canny intelligence in this. Even more, though, it was a sensibility, a philosophy. In a world that doesn’t cohere, humor is essential, a prosthetic of sorts that — momentarily at least — counterbalances one’s tenuous relationship with the universe. I remember once — it really couldn’t have been all that many years ago—waiting in a kind of middle room between the lockers and the local college swimming pool for the lifeguard to unlock the door at the anointed hour. Irwin was there and several of my siblings as well. A dismal place with pipes dangling above that might have been an antechamber to Auschwitz. We sat on a hard wooden bench with our elongated bodies and baggy swimsuits, all of which in the pale florescent light looked to have seen far better days. “Nice,” Irwin said at last, “when family gets together.” It was understated, perfectly composed and rendered; it was flawless. Irwin was a kind of halting contemplative, humor his elixir. Who else would have begun a eulogy for his beloved brother with the astonishing opening line, “He was the best older brudda anybody ever had”?
Gestures. I have been reading these days a biography about Kafka, whose fiction is marked by a masterly portrayal of gesture. He got the idea, it seems, from the traveling Yiddish theatre troupe that sometimes came to Prague. Gesture, it dawned on him, was perhaps the most sublime way to capture the enigma of the human tragicomedy. I will never forget those inimitable gestures of Irwin. That tall, lanky figure — Beckett-like, really — sauntering pensively about, his head tilted slightly downward. I remember almost forty years ago when our grandmother passed away, Irwin here in this synagogue in the front pew. As the casket was lifted to be carried onto the hearse, Irwin reached out and tapped on it lightly. A final moment of contact and parting, a gesture of delicacy and grace I do not think I will ever forget.
D’ou Venons Nous/Que Sommes Nous/Ou Allon Nous is the title inscribed in the upper left corner of Gauguin’s famous painting on display in Boston’s Museum of Fine Art. Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? No punctuation is employed and all words are capitalized. Still, we understand clearly what Gauguin was getting at. He was contemplating humanity after all, the size and range of the human spirit. He was meditating also upon Oedipus. To the extent that we do not wrestle with ourselves in ongoing and painstakingly honest ways, we will be consigned to egoistic and mediocre outcomes and works. “Knowledge in the humanities,” writes Arrowsmith, “is a way of being or it is nothing.”
Search for the new land
One must harbor chaos in order to give birth to a dancing star.
-Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra
A great relationship breaches the barriers of a lofty isolation, subdues its strict law, and throws a bridge from self-being to self-being across the abyss of dread of the universe.
-Martin Buber, Between Man and Man
Become a traveler.
-Franz Kafka, Diaries
Search for the New Land. Jazz aficionados among you will recognize this as the title of perhaps the finest of trumpeter Lee Morgan’s Blue Note recordings. Comrades in arms on that 1964 session included Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, Grant Green on guitar and Herbie Hancock on piano. It did not get very much better than this in the heyday of Blue Note jazz. To set off in search of the unknown — to effect the disorder and courage to create otherwise known as improvisation — requires, necessarily, the very finest accomplices. Jazz at its best has always been immersed in an ethos predicated upon immersion in the liturgy (what has come before) coupled with a uniquely innovative statement of one’s own (what is yet to be). We must ponder what “courage” and “creativity” (words routinely bandied about by psychologists) truly are. They are nothing neat or easy or expedient—no mere “lusting for the heights,” cautions Nietzsche. I had the honor of meeting Claude Lanzmann, director of Shoah, a few weeks ago. Now in his eighties, Lanzmann is a man who has put his life on the line in a fiercely personal war against injustice ever since he was in his teens. Reading his memoir, The Patagonian Hare, we witness a late great flowering of existentialism. Lanzmann recounts there his personal relationship with Sartre and even more personal one with de Beauvoir along with countless other heartrending things. It is a beautifully wrought, brutally honest and supremely ethical work. There is no one among us who even remotely looks or lives like this—and no one who can write like this either.
Trying to be moral in a world which offers no evidence of cosmic morality or meaning...it takes a hero to go on living well. Great men suffer greatly in order to make their lives declare divinity. The cost of that divinity is measured by the turbulence — the animal anguish and disorder — against which, and out of which divinity appears, all that vileness metamorphosed into god.
-William Arrowsmith, Turbulence in the Humanities
A client of mine, an unusually well-read young woman who also writes exceptionally well, has recently crafted a memoir of sorts consisting almost entirely of letters she has written to me during the course of our work together. Titled (in homage to the great Russian filmmaker Andrey Tarkovsky) "Sculpting the Darkness: A Memoir of Psychotherapy," it begins with quotations by Rimbaud and Kafka as if to summon up the muse:
In my bitter hours, I conjure up spheres of metal and sapphire. I am Master of Silence. But why should the appearance of an aperture Gleam white in the corner of the vault?
-Arthur Rimbaud, Childhood
The strange, mysterious, perhaps dangerous, perhaps saving comfort that there is in writing: it is a leap out of murderers’ row, it is a seeing of what is really taking place.
-Franz Kafka, Diaries
This epistolary rendering of psychotherapy concludes with a reverie upon art and connection and then tribulation culminating, finally, in a vision of possibility and reach:
I have always intuitively understood the connection between art and inner exploration. Discussing film and literature is, of course, a primary means by which I share myself with Dr. M; I feel as if I am inextricably wedded to certain artworks such that they are part of me just as my heart or my blood is part of me as well. These works deal with themes similar to those that I face, but it is the very nature of art that truly promotes such a union. The artist enters a vast and tortuous realm to engage in the process of creation, but the reader, viewer, or listener also enters such a realm to absorb the creation. There is an aspect of trust involved in both cases; each party forges a relationship with creativity itself and must surrender to its mystery in order to gain any reward from the experience. It is when some part of me recognizes that this seemingly external inspiration—the words written by another, the painting fashioned by another’s hand—is also found within myself that I truly connect with the artwork, and by extension with the open expanse of possibility.
Just as film or poetry or music allows the ineffable self to flow outward, to fill the spaces that exist in conscious awareness, the psychotherapeutic relationship ought to do the same; it should encourage the self to flow outward, to expand, to find expression for the tiniest, quietest corners of the mind. The loud cries are important, but it is the softness, the silence within me that requires the most care. When I reflect on my relationship with Dr. M, it is his nurturing of these quiet spaces that I most often think of. The subtlety of his understanding is not informed by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or the American Psychological Association, but rather by the true observers and philosophers of human experience, the artists. There is an art to relationship as well, and I have honed my ability to appreciate this throughout the time that I’ve known him. Our relationship, just like any relationship, is a mutual creation; it is mysterious and synergistic, and its healing nature derives from these qualities. I am able to recognize my role in co-creating and maintaining this intricate entity that moves with grace and sensitivity and, also, my contribution to its beauty. It is from this recognition that I draw courage.
The other day, I was standing in my kitchen when, in a moment of stillness, I suddenly perceived the chasm, the inner darkness that I so often write about. Awareness of it sliced through conscious thought with a pang of anxiety and I instantly felt dizzy with the intensity of it. Despite its unpleasantness, I didn’t immediately push it away or attempt to blanket it with more mundane concerns. Within seconds, I found myself plummeting into its depths.
After the initial shock of panic — which was significant — my attention slowly began to shift; I found myself focusing less on the sensation of falling and more on the particularities of what was happening to me. I then began to wonder how I would convey this experience to Dr. M. What did it feel like to be here at this precise moment? How would I describe my surroundings? As I endeavored to shape the anxiety into an image and thus began to notice its subtler qualities, I realized that I was no longer falling; I was in fact back on the ledge, standing beside Dr. M. Wishing to show him the monstrous nature of what I faced, I pointed to the abyss. He followed the line of my finger, past the cold mist clinging to the perimeter, deep into the dizzying blackness below. I watched as he gazed into it for several minutes, carefully surveying the landscape of the dark. Part of me feared that he would be appalled or frightened by its size, its menacing appearance, even though I had surely stood here with him many times before. Perhaps he would see something he had not previously perceived, some fatal flaw, some hidden edge of corruption.
Eventually, he turned to look at me and gently nodded. His face did not display shock or disgust; it was instead receptive, as if to say, Yes, I am here, Lori. I turned back to look out into the vastness, and as he and I continued to stand there, I became aware of the horizon beyond the chasm, the line where the land met the sky. Some distance off, there was what looked to be a meadow of some kind, with a verdant copse of trees and a vibrant river that wound its way around the circumference of the land. The sky itself was rich and deep, with hues of every shade feathering into another infinity altogether. After a time, I noticed a desire to tread further on, to see what lay beyond the void, beyond my current line of sight. I felt anxious, particularly since I remembered the last time I had ventured out only to be dragged back to this pit. Still, there seemed to be so much more out there; it seemed a shame to remain here forever, stuck in this one place. I turned to Dr. M and he nodded again, almost imperceptibly. I smiled quietly in acknowledgment and, after shutting my eyes for a brief moment, began to walk.
Here we encounter both clearing and sacrosanct passage, a domain coalescing far beyond systems and the never-ending proliferation of “unprecedented” certificates and codes—homogenizations, in effect, of what has already come and gone. We are in the realms of authenticity, communion and art. If humanistic psychology is to achieve a regeneration of the great legacy of its youth, it must contribute and effect literature on these rarified planes. Anything less is taking up time and space, tiresomely restating what has likely been better embodied and said innumerable times before. This young woman’s vision points, like this essay, through turbulence, tedium and dread, toward a uniquely personal statement of what is possible, the “many-hued reflection” about which Goethe tells us in Faust, Psychology is in dire need of the superlative, the genuinely imaginative, the scrupulously earnest, the poetic, nuanced and profound—a “pathos of distance” distinguishing wheat from chaff that, as Nietzsche teaches, obeisantly honors “order of rank.” (“Man,” observes Arrowsmith, “the aspiring animal.”) It is time that we, too, gaze beyond the thicket and void and, with truer courage and moral vision, embark upon a search for the new land. I will say it plainly: it will look, upon arrival, like nothing many of you have even dreamed.
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Dedicated to Irwin Rayfield Saberski, 1923-2011.