The Hauntological Foundations of the Psyche
First up, “Are there patients that haunt you? Have any influenced you?”
A: First of all, I resent the question. That’s no mere “patient” haunting me, that’s my mother. And yes, as a matter of fact, mother was a big influence on me. Like me, she was a dated but full-bodied crackpot with a rustic, tendentious nose and a jejune, slightly fruity finish. She would go well with a soft, friendly muenster--not as soft as the Vanity Fair Guy's abs, mind you, nor perhaps as pungent on an August day in Manhattan.
Patients that haunt me.... No, not really. Maybe that one who never paid his bill.... Although I can say this: in order to really treat a patient on a deep level, you must allow yourself to be temporarily “haunted” by them--I hate to say “literally,” but I do mean literally.
You see, when someone comes in for treatment, they are obviously in pain. But they are unable to bear all of their pain. Rather, they have various defense mechanisms in place that shield them from it. However, the defense mechanisms are not entirely effective. The pain “leaks out” and can be picked up by those around them. As a psychologist, you are trained to pick up on the pain which the patient is unable to bear. Oddly enough, you will often be aware of the pain before the patient is. This is known as "counter-transference." Through it, you are able to give words to otherwise unglishable feelings that are beyond the patient's horizon of articulation.
I do not wish to engage in mystagogy--at least not at the moment. Perhaps tomorrow. But this capacity for detecting pain in another is not something one learns in graduate school. Rather, it is something possessed by most humans in varying degrees. For example, one of the things that makes a severely autistic person autistic is a compromised ability to “read” other minds.
This is actually referred to in the literature as our “mind reading” module, although it is not the sort of mind reading one sees on the Larry King show. Then again, who knows? I have no philosophical objection to the idea that consciousness is a field into which we tap. For example, imagine a lampshade with hundreds of pinprick holes. From the outside it will look as if there are many individual sources of light, when in reality, there is only the one bulb--the one source of light.
Come to think of it, I don’t think there’s any question that our minds are connected in ways that we do not understand. This is the whole basis of synchronicity, which allegedly reveals the nonlocal interconnectedness of the cosmos through meaningful coincidence.
Here again, I have no philosophical bobjection to this concept. For example, whatever else the cosmos is, it is ultimately One. Therefore, even though it appears from our vantage point that the cosmos has an “exterior” (matter) and “interior” (subjectivity), somehow these categories must resolve into a higher unity. I have always imagined it as a klein bottle (well, not always--starting in 1973, when I tried one of those herbal jazz cigarettes), which is a geometrical object that has only one surface, but still has an inside and an outside.
I have experienced many strange synchronicities in my life, but one of the weirdest occurred when I was sitting up in bed, thinking about this and that, while my wife was falling asleep. My mind was dwelling on nothing in particular, and I was thinking to myself about how a certain acquaintance sometimes called me “Bob,” other times “Robert.” Mrs. G.--who was sound asleep--then says, “Do you mind if I call you Bob?” Wo! (Feel free to share your synchronicity stories in this thread.)
I’m sure you married folks are aware of the nonlocal connectedness of you and your spouse. I can always tell if Mrs. G. is in a... is in... is in anything less than her typically cheerful and sunny mood even before she is. In other words, I can sense a disturbance in the force even before anybody is talking about some conversation with the flying plates.
So yes, in order to really get to know someone, we must allow ourselves to become haunted by them. Not only that, but in life in general we must decide what we are going to allow to haunt us. For I can assure you, a person is partly defined by what haunts them. Kos, Cindy Sheehan, and the Vanity Fair Comic Book Guy are haunted by some things, while you and I and other normal people are haunted by other things entirely. You, I assume, are not haunted by the prospect of a fascist-Christian theocracy in the United States. But in order to understand such a person, you must dwell in their emotional pain--which is real, if misconscrewed--and trace it back to its actual source. It is a transformation of some other pain that is haunting their house and making them belief the unbelievable--even fervently so.
But the fervor is a measure of the desperation, and ultimately ineffectiveness, of the defense mechanism. When dealing with emotions, there is both form and substance, and the outward form is often a second-hand smokescreen that conceals the actual source of the pain.
Let’s take The Comic Book Guy, for example. I haven’t read much by him, but it is as if everything he writes is in the same musical key--even the same note played over and over. What is this note? Contempt, pomposity, superiority, devaluation, envy. It would be a mistake to analyze his writing for its content---of which there is little--instead of the much more vivid unconscious message that always comes through. Through my studies with Milt Jung, the great chiropractor and second cousin of Melanie Klein, I learned that contempt--especially if it is dominant in the personality--is always a defense mechanism. It is always in the service of primordial envy, a topic I have discussed in the past. If someone is particularly insecure, they can unconsciously manage this insecurity, ward off depression, and elevate themselves through the constant operation of contempt. It is not voluntary, but compulsive.
There is certainly a place for righteous indignation and contempt--for example, toward an Arafat, toward Nasrallah, toward CAIR or the New York Times editorial board... no, wait, the Times is beneath contempt. But the habitually contemptuous person is almost always contemptible--in his own unconscious assessment. The object for whom he expresses contempt is simply a sacrificial victim that allows him to live another day under very difficult circumstances. You wouldn’t want to be that person, their petty little daily contemptuous triumphs notwithstanding. It can't be easy living in that body.