Psychoanalysis, the Occult, and the Lottery

I recently found a copy of Jule Eisenbud's Parapsychology and the Unconscious at a used book fair. A practicing psychoanalyst, Eisenbud was the chief proponent in the second-half of the 20th century of the idea that patients and analysts often engage in telepathic contact during analysis. Not as a metaphor, but as actual paranormal brain to brain contact. His 1999 obituary in the Journal of Parapsychology summarizes some of his key findings:

In his works he showed how telepathy occurs not only between patient and analyst, but also between patients unknown to each other as well. In this interplay of patient-to-patient telepathy the analyst, on superficial examination, doesn't seem to be involved at all. Upon closer inspection, however, Eisenbud recognized that the analyst's own repressed unconscious material, often something in the therapist's life that he was not particularly proud of, was indeed dynamically related to the patient's repressed material. (Rosemarie Pilkington. Journal of Parapsychology. June 1999).

Eisenbud was not the first to propose this theory--that honor belongs to Freud himself, who gradually convinced himself that telepathy was real and that analysts were particularly vulnerable to psychic intrusion (for more on this, see "Wireless Ego: The Pulp Physics of Psychoanalysis" in the excellent new volume, Broadcasting Modernism). Eisenbud's major intervention here, it seems, is the further claim that an analyst might somehow relay telepathic impressions between his or her own patients--not unlike a relay station or a signal booster.

When I took the book home, I got that added bonus that sometimes comes with a used book purchase--personal items left stashed in the pages. Four slips of paper fell out of the book: 1). a "Far Side" cartoon, 2). a lotto ticket, 3). a rather hostile letter to an analyst, and 4). a business card for same said analyst.

Now, this is fascinating on a number of levels. A key question presents itself up front: did this book once belong to the analyst named on the business card; or was it instead in the possession of his patient (who may have written but never mailed the hostile letter to his shrink)? This has significant ramifications in thinking about the other items left in the book.

First, the "Far Side" cartoon. Three tiny guys stand on the edge of an ear encouraging someone to engage in various forms of insane behavior. Go to the zoo and enlist! Shave your neighbor's dog! Dump your spaghetti on that guy's head! The caption reads: Inside the ear of crazy people. As cartoons go, it's not particularly funny (yes, schizophrenics hear strange voices--why is it funny to draw them as real, tiny people?). But it is a very interesting item to find in a book on psychoanalysis and telepathy. Was this clipped because the patient who once owned this book was poking fun at his own "craziness," trying to diffuse the anxiety attending his own introduction to therapy? Or did he purchase a book on the unconscious and telepathic contact in order to theorize his own ego-alien voices?

If, on the other hand, this book and the cartoon belonged to the analyst, it demonstrates that psychiatrists and psychoanalysts, like any other stiffs working nine-to-five, enjoy collecting cartoons that reaffirm the idiocy of their clients. Next time you're at the dry cleaner or Jiffy Lube or dentist office, look around the reception area--odds are you will find a cartoon depicting you, the customer, as a moron. Or, like this panel, a joke appealing to that particular vendor's day-to-day experience.

Then there is the lotto ticket. Lots of schmucks play the lotto, but again, this rather banal artifact takes on new significance when inserted into a book on TELEPATHY. Was the patient hoping for some type of insight into the art of insight? Is it evidence that people stupid enough to play the lotto are also gullible enough to believe in mind-reading, clairvoyance, etc.?

And what would it mean if this lotto ticket belonged to the analyst? Would you want to consult a therapist who played the lotto? A friend of mine once said she dumped her therapist because of the horrible art in his waiting room. How could you trust your mind to someone who couldn't or wouldn't master the basics of interior design? she reasoned. Wouldn't it be worse to have a therapist that believed telepathy and/or a lottery score were real possibilities for the future, a professional adult hired to address your neurotic childhood who himself believed in infantile "magical thinking?"

As for the hostile letter, I am not reproducing it here for issues of privacy. Suffice it to say, it is a classic document of resistance, the writer-patient angry that he has been asked to ponder all week why he hates his birthday so much (isn't enough just to be aware that you hate your birthday?). He then bristles at the $240 a month in fees (we're talking mid-1980s here) and threatens to give up the whole charade. Again, it is impossible to know if this was a letter never sent, or more intriguingly, a letter kept by the analyst and then inserted into a book on therapeutic telepathy because....the therapist believed this patient could read his mind?

Christian Family Recording Artists (x3)

My "Ben" Hypothesis

I didn't want to post anything about Michael Jackson dying because, let's face it, some forms of symptomatic cultural criticism are best left to professionals like Newsweek and Vanity Fair. But then I saw the above photo, an image that so dramatically confirmed my own sweeping thesis as to the origins of MJ's psychopathology that I felt I could remain silent no more.

Many have argued that MJ, denied a childhood by his well-creepy father, simply never grew up; or, perhaps more accurately, regressed at some point to become the King of Circle Jerks. My thesis is even more specific: MJ sealed his fate the moment he signed the contract to sing the title track from Ben. Yes, Ben, the odd 1972 sequel to Willard, the film about an odd young man whose only friends are rats.

was already a film about a borderline adolescent who just couldn't quite adjust to the demands of adulthood. In Ben, the filmmakers doubled-down on the pathos by centering the movie on the friendship between a homeless rat (with Willard dead, Ben must take his rat family to the streets) and David (Lee Montgomery), a pre-teen boy with a bad heart. If you've never seen this pairing, you should take the time to watch the first few minutes of this clip in which boy meets rat.

Here we have a misunderstood child, alone in his playroom and performing his own private shows for an audience of zero, slowly dying of an undefined heart ailment. In scurries Ben, a rat down on his luck with no place to go. Together they become the best of friends, persevering even when all around them say its wrong for a rat and a boy to be so close. They even share the same bed, because that is what really close friends do! It is a loving act.

For added confirmation, go to around the 8:00 minute mark in this clip and you will see David composing the theme song from Ben, working out the lyrics that will fill out the tune's famous melody. Examine these lyrics closely:

Ben, the two of us need look no more
We both found wh
at we were looking for
With a friend to call my own
I'll never be alone
And you, my friend, will see
You've got a friend in me

(you've got a friend in me)

Ben, you're always running here and there
You feel you're not wanted anywhere

If you ever look behind
And don't like what you find
There's one th
ing you should know
You've got a place to go
(you've got a place to go)

I used to say "I" and "me"
Now it's "us", now it's "we"
I used to say "I" and "me"
Now it's "us", now it's "we"

Ben, most people would turn you away
I don't listen to a word they say
They don't see you as I do
I wish they would try to
I'm sure they'd think again
If they had a friend like Ben
(a friend) Like Ben

(like Ben) Like Ben

If this doesn't explain the last 40 years of Michael Jackson's life, nothing can: Ben as the mute witness to Jackson's own isolation, embodied in the sequestered figure of David (who is so ill he can not go out and play with other boys).

As opposed to the half-assed sociological mumbo-jumbo from Time and Newsweek, this theory explains everything: the seclusion, the obsession with animals, the stunted sexuality, the desire to write his own material. And who could fault Jackson for turning out this way? Imagine being 14 years old (Jackson's age when he sang "Ben") and finding yourself personally involved in a movie that spoke so directly to your own personal feelings of adolescent persecution--it would screw anyone up for life.

If you doubt this theory, look again at the photo at the top of this post. Case closed.

Flipping Bruce Lee

After Bruce Lee died in 1973, Warner Books published this memorial paperback written by his wife, Linda Lee. The book interweaves Bruce Lee's life story with explanations of the philosophy behind Lee's martial arts. All well and good. But apparently Warner Books was concerned a mere biography would not be sufficiently interesting to the average Bruce Lee fan. To remedy this, the publishers boast "This is a Warner Action Book." Flip the pages and see Bruce Lee fight again! And this is not a lie--pages 77 to 131 (that's 54 pages total) feature frames from a Bruce Lee fight sequence that can be "animated" by flipping the pages (producing about 2 seconds of a swinging kick). It has immediate appeal for anyone who has ever drawn stick figure fights or crashing zeppelins in the margins of a textbook. Disrespectful? Unclear. "Transmedial?" Absolutely.

Cyborg-Mullet Man

It's cyborg-mullet man. He's a cyborg with a mullet. It's a mullet on top of a cyborg. (Album cover detail from "First Visit" by Rogue Male [1985])

The Genius of Coolwhip @ the Dorsky Gallery

You can see this cat accompanied by my original composition, The Genius of Coolwhip, at the Dorsky Gallery in Long Island City, New York, between August 7th and September 2nd of 2009. And why wouldn't you?

Jeff Koons: Destroyer of Children

London in July: the height of English summer. Avant-popster Jeff Koons debuts a diabolical scheme to drive the children of England insane. At the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park, Koons exhibits a series of sculptures featuring inflatable pool toys collided with other everyday objects. Caterpillar meets ladder. Sea Walrus meets trash can. Puppy meets woodpile.

Interested only in ice cream and swimming, England's toddlers are tricked into visiting the gallery by their hipster parents. "Mummy, can't we play in the park," implores little Emma, "it's ever-so nice today." But the parents know little Emma will love this exhibit and might even begin cultivating a proper taste for high art. Reluctantly and with little choice, England's sandbox set leaves behind the sunny day to enter the gallery.

To their surprise, a wonderland awaits inside. "Oh look, Mummy, it's so pretty! Monkeys! Popeye! Look at the doggie, Mummy!" Little Emma is giddy with the joys of saturated colors and playful experiments in form.

But what's this? Next to each sculpture stands a gallery worker clad in black from head to toe. "Please don't touch that, miss." "Excuse me, but you must not touch the art." "Please stay behind the line, this piece is very expensive."

But why, wonders little Emma, aren't these toys meant for playing? All the animals look like they want to go swimming as well. Why can't everyone go back into the park and have fun? Why do so many of Mummy and Daddy's friends wear black all the time and act like doody-heads?

And so little Emma learns an important lesson about the world. She began the day hoping to splash in the pool and have she finds herself in some tantalizing punishment chamber, surrounded by cute animal friends that seem to beckon her to come play, and yet quickly loom as forbidden objects worthy of respect and fear. The cries of children thwarted in their desire to touch and explore the pretty objects rings through the gallery. At first dazzled, Emma now knows she can only get in trouble here, and that through some system of grown-up insanity, a language meant to speak directly to her childlike wonder has been converted into a strange sacrament full of mystery and awe.

The world is a fucked-up place, Emma, fucked-up and really expensive.