Sexus, Page 38Henry Miller
In a flash he was wide awake and talking. The idea of paying me to take a nap electrified him. He was spilling over in all directions at once. That wasn’t a bad stratagem, I thought to myself.
He began, as I say, with a rush, impelled by the frantic fear that he was wasting time. Then suddenly he appeared to have become so impressed by his own revelations that he wanted to draw me into a discussion of their import. Once again I firmly and gently refused the challenge. “Later,” I said, “when we have something to go on. You’ve only begun . . . only scratched the suface.”
“Are you making notes?” he asked, elated with himself.
“Don’t worry about me,” I replied. “Think about yourself, about your problems. You’re to have implicit confidence in me, remember that. Every minute you spend thinking about the effect you’re producing is wasted. You’re not to try to impress me—your task is to get sincere with yourself. There is no audience here—I am just a receptacle, a big ear. You can fill it with slush and nonsense, or you can drop pearls into it. Your vice is self-consciousness. Here we want only what is real and true and felt. . . .”
He became silent again, fidgeted about for a few moments, then grew quite still. His hands were now folded back of his head. He had propped the pillow up so as not to relapse into sleep.
“I’ve just been thinking,” he said in a more quiet, contemplative mood, “of a dream I had last night. I think I’ll tell it to you. It may give us a clue . . .”
This little preamble meant only one thing—that he was still worrying about my end of the collaboration. He knew that in analysis one is expected to reveal one’s dreams. That much of the technique he was sure of—it was orthodox. It was curious, I reflected, that no matter how much one knows about a subject, to act is another matter. He understood perfectly what went on, in analysis, between patient and analyst, but he had never once confronted himself with the realization of what it meant. Even now, though he hated to waste his money, he would have been tremendously relieved if, instead of going on with his dream, I had suggested that we discuss the therapeutic nature of these revelations. He would actually have preferred to invent a dream and then hash it to bits with me rather than unload himself quietly and sincerely. I felt that he was cursing himself—and me too, of course—for having suggested a situation wherein he could only, as he imagined, allow himself to be tortured.
However, with much laboring and sweating, he did manage to unfold a coherent account of the dream. He paused, when he had finished, as if expecting me to make some comment, some sign of approval or disapproval. Since I said nothing he began to play with the idea of the significance of the dream. In the midst of these intellectual excursions he suddenly halted himself and, turning his head slightly, he murmured dejectedly: “I suppose I oughtn’t to do that . . . that’s your job, isn’t it?”
“You can do anything you please,” I said quietly. “If you prefer to analyze yourself—and pay me for it —I have no objection. You realize, I suppose, that one of the things you’ve come to me for is to acquire confidence and trust in others. Your failure to recognize this is part of your illness.”
Immediately he started to bluster. He just had to defend himself against such imputations. It wasn’t true that he lacked confidence and trust. I had said that only to pique him.
“It’s also quite useless,” I interrupted, “to draw me into argument. If your only concern is to prove that you know more than I do then you will get nowhere. I credit you with knowing much more than I do—but that too is part of your illness—that you know too much. You will never know everything. If knowledge could save you, you wouldn’t be lying there.”
“You’re right,” he said meekly, accepting my statement as a chastisement that he merited. “Now let’s see . . . where was I? I’m going to get to the bottom of things. . .”
At this point I casually glanced at my watch and discovered that the hour was up.
“Time’s up,” I said, rising to my feet and going over to him.
“Wait a minute, won’t you?” he said, looking up at me irritably and as if I had abused him. “It’s just coming to me now what I wanted to tell you. Sit down a minute. . .”
“No,” I said, “we can’t do that. You’ve had your chance—I’ve given you a full hour. Next time you’ll probably do better. It’s the only way to learn.” And with that I yanked him to his feet.
He laughed in spite of himself. He held out his hand and shook hands with me warmly. “By God,” he said, “you’re all right! You’ve got the technique down pat. I’d have done exactly the same had I been in your boots.”
I handed him his coat and hat, and started for the door to let him out.
“You’re not rushing me off, are you?” he said. “Can’t we have a bit of a chat first?”
“You’d like to discuss the situation, is that it?” I said, marching him to the door against his will. “That’s out, Dr. Kronski. No discussions. I’ll look for you tomorrow at the same hour.”
“But aren’t you coming over to the house tonight?”
“NO, that’s out too. Until you finish your analysis we will have no relation but that of doctor and patient. It’s much better, you’ll see.” I took his hand, which was hanging limp, raised it and shook him a vigorous goodbye. He backed out of the door as if dazed.
He came every other day for the first few weeks, then he begged for a stagger schedule, complaining that his money was giving out. I knew of course that it was a drain on him, because since he had given up his practice his only income was from the insurance company. He had probably salted a tidy sum away—before the accident. And his wife, to be sure, was working as a schoolteacher—I couldn’t overlook that. The problem, however, was to rout him out of his state of dependency, drain him of every penny he owned, and restore the desire to earn a living again. One would hardly have believed it possible that a man of his energies, talents, powers, could deliberately castrate himself in order to get the better of an insurance company. Undoubtedly the injuries he had sustained in the automobile accident had impaired his health. For one thing he had become quite a monster. Deep down I was convinced that the accident had merely accelerated the weird metamorphosis. When he popped the idea of becoming an analyst I realized that there was still a spark of hope in him. I accepted the proposition at face value, knowing that his pride would never permit him to confess that he had become a “case.” I used the word “illness” deliberately always—to give him a jolt, to make him admit that he needed help. I also knew that, if he gave himself half a chance, he would eventually break down and put himself in my hands completely.
It was taking a big gamble, however, to presume that I could break down his pride. There were layers of pride in him, just as there were layers of fat around his girdle. He was one vast defense system, and his energies were constantly being consumed in repairing the leaks which sprang up everywhere. With pride went suspicion. Above all, the suspicion that he may have misjudged my ability to handle the “case.” He had always flattered himself that he knew his friends’ weak spots. Undoubtedly he did—it’s not such a difficult thing to do. He kept alive the weaknesses of his friends in order to bolster the sense of his own superiority. Any improvement, any development, on the part of a friend he looked upon as a betrayal. It brought out the envious side of his nature. . . . In short, it was a vicious treadmill, his whole attitude towards others.
The accident had not essentially changed him. It had merely altered his appearance, exaggerated what was already there latent in his being. The monster which he had always been potentially was now a flesh-and-blood fact. He could look at himself every day in the mirror and see with his own eyes what he had made of himself. He could see in his wife’s eyes the revulsion he created in others. Soon his children would begin to look at him strangely—that would be the last straw.
By attributing everything to the accident he had succeeded in gathering a few crumbs of comfort from the unwary. He also succeeded in concentrating
attention upon his physique and not his psyche. But alone with himself he knew that it was a game which would soon peter out. He couldn’t go on forever making a smoke screen of his enormous bundle of flesh.
When he lay on the couch unburdening himself it was curious that no matter from what point in the past he started out he always saw himself as strange and monstrous. Doomed was more precisely the way he felt about himself. Doomed from the very beginning. A complete lack of confidence as to his private destiny. Naturally and inevitably he had imparted this feeling to others; in some way or other he would manage so to maneuver that his friend or sweetheart would fail him or betray him. He picked them with the same foreknowledge the Christ displayed in choosing Judas.
Kronski wanted a brilliant failure, a failure so brilliant that it would outshine success. He seemed to want to prove to the world that he could know as much and be as much as anybody, and at the same time prove that it was pointless—to be anything or to know anything. He seemed congenitally incapable of realizing that there is an inherent significance in everything. He wasted himself in an effort to prove that there could never be any final proofs, never for a moment conscious of the absurdity of defeating logic with logic. It reminded me, his attitude, of the youthful Céline saying with furious disgust: “She could go right ahead and be even lovelier, a hundred thousand times more luscious, she wouldn’t get any change out of me—not a sigh, not a sausage. She could try every trick and wile imaginable, she could striptease for all she was worth to please me, rupture herself, or cut off three fingers of her hand, she could sprinkle her short hairs with stars—but never would I talk, never! Not the smallest whisper. I should say not!”
The variety of defense works with which the human being hedges himself in is just as astounding as the visible defense mechanisms in the animal and insect worlds. There is a texture and substance even to the psychic fortifications, as you discover when you begin to penetrate the forbidden precincts of the ego. The most difficult ones are not necessarily those who hide behind a plate of armor, be it of iron, steel, tin or zinc. Neither are they so difficult, though they offer greater resistance, who encase themselves in rubber and who, mirabile dictu, appear to have acquired the art of vulcanizing the perforated barriers of the soul. The most difficult ones are what I would call the “Piscean malingerers.” These are the fluid, solvent egos who lie still as a fetus in the uterine marshes of their stagnant self. When you puncture the sac, when you think Ah! I’ve got you at last! you find nothing but clots of mucus in your hand. These are the baffling ones, in my opinion. They are like the “soluble fish” of surrealist metempsychology. They grow without a backbone; they dissolve at will. All you can ever lay hold of are the indissoluble, indestructible nuclei—the disease germs, so to say. About such individuals one feels that in body, mind and soul they are nothing but disease. They were born to illustrate the pages of textbooks. In the realm of the psyche they are the gynecological monsters whose only life is that of the pickled specimen which adorns the laboratory shelf.
Their most successful disguise is compassion. How tender they can become! How considerate! How touchingly sympathetic! But if you could ever get a look at them—just one fluorescent glance!—what a pretty egomaniac you would see. They bleed with every bleeding soul in the universe—but they never fall apart. At the crucifixion they hold your hand and slake your thirst, weep like drunken cows. They are the professional mourners from time immemorial; they were so even in the Golden Age, when there was nothing to weep about. Misery and suffering is their habitat, and at the equinox they bring the whole kaleidoscopic pattern of life to a glaucous glue. . . .
There is something about analysis which reminds one of the operating room. By the time one is ready to be analyzed it is usually too late. Confronted with a battered psyche the only recourse open to the analyst is to do a plastic job. The good analyst prefers to give his psychic cripple artificial limbs rather than crutches, that’s about the long and short of it.
But sometimes the analyst is given no choice, as happens now and then to the surgeon on the battlefield. Sometimes the surgeon has to amputate arms and legs, concoct a new face out of an unrecognizable piece of pulp, clip the balls off, devise an ingenious rectum and God only knows what—if he has the time for it. It would be kinder to kill such a wreck off, but that’s one of the ironies of the civilized way of life—you try to preserve the remnants. Now and then, in the horrible annals of surgery, you come across astonishing specimens of vitality who are truncated and pared down to an uncouth torso, a sort of human pear which a Brancusi might refine into an objet d’art. You read that this human what-not supports his aged mother and father from the earnings of his incredible craft, a craft in which the only tool is the artificial mouth which the surgeon’s knife carved out of a once unrecognizable face.
There are psychical specimens of this order who walk out of the analyst’s office to take their place in the ranks of dehumanized labor. They have been pared down to an efficient little bundle of mutilated reflexes. They not only earn their own living, they support their aged relatives. They refuse the niche of fame in the hall of horrors to which they are entitled; they elect to compete with other souls in a quasi-soulful way. They die hard, like knots of wood in a giant oak. They resist the ax, even when it is all up.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Kronski was of this order, but I must confess that many a time he gave me such an impression. There was many a time when I felt like swinging the ax and finishing him off. Nobody would have missed him; nobody would have mourned his loss. He had got himself born a cripple and a cripple he would die, that’s how it struck me. As an analyst I couldn’t see of what benefit he would be to others. As an analyst he would only see cripples everywhere, even among the godlike. Other analysts, and I had known some personally who were most successful, had recuperated from their crippledom, so to speak, and were of use to other cripples like themselves, because they had at least learned to use their artificial limbs with ease and perfection. They were good demonstrators.
There was one thought, however, which bored into me like a gimlet during these sessions with Kronski. It was the notion that everyone, no matter how far gone he was, could be saved. Yes, if one had infinite time and infinite patience, it could be done. It began to dawn on me that the healing art was not at all what people imagined it to be, that it was something very simple, too simple, in fact, for the ordinary mind to grasp.
To put it in the simple way it came to my mind, I would say that it was like this: everybody becomes a healer the moment he forgets about himself. The sickness which we see everywhere, the bitterness and disgust which life inspires in so many of us, is only the reflection of the sickness which we carry within us. Prophylactics will never secure us against the world disease, because we bear the world within. No matter how marvelous human beings become, the sum total will yield an external world which is painful and imperfect. As long as we live self-consciously we must always fail to cope with the world. It is not necessary to die in order to come at last face to face with reality. Reality is here and now, everywhere, gleaming through every reflection that meets the eye. Prisons and even lunatic asylums are emptied of their inmates when a more vital danger menaces the community. When the enemy approaches, the political exile is recalled to share in the defense of his country. At the last ditch it gets dinned into our thick skulls that we are all part and parcel of the same flesh. When our very lives are threatened we begin to live. Even the psychic invalid throws away his crutches, in such moments. For him the greatest joy is to realize that there is something more important than himself. All his life he has turned on the spit of his own roasted ego. He made the fire with his own hands. He drips in his own juices. He makes himself a tender morsel for the demons he liberated with his own hands. That is the picture of human life on this planet called the Earth. Everybody is a neurotic, down to the last man and woman. The healer, or the analyst, if you like, is only a superneurotic. He has put the Indian sign on us
. To be cured we must rise from our graves and throw off the cerements of the dead. Nobody can do it for another—it is a private affair which is best done collectively. We must die as egos and be born again in the swarm, not separate and self-hypnotized, but individual and related.
As to salvation and all that. . . . The greatest teachers, the true healers, I would say, have always insisted that they can only point the way. The Buddha went so far as to say: “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”
The great ones do not set up offices, charge fees, give lectures, or write books. Wisdom is silent, and the most effective propaganda for truth is the force of personal example. The great ones attract disciples, lesser figures whose mission it is to preach and to teach. These are the gospelers who, unequal to the highest task, spend their lives in converting others. The great ones are indifferent, in the profoundest sense. They don’t ask you to believe: they electrify you by their behavior. They are the awakeners. What you do with your life is only of concern to you, they seem to say. In short, their only purpose here on earth is to inspire. And what more can one ask of a human being than that?
To be sick, to be neurotic, if you like, is to ask for guarantees. The neurotic is the flounder that lies on the bed of the river, securely settled in the mud, waiting to be speared. For him death is the only certainty, and the dread of that grim certainty immobilizes him in a living death far more horrible than the one he imagines but knows nothing about.
The way of life is towards fulfillment, however, wherever it may lead. To restore a human being to the current of life means not only to impart self-confidence but also an abiding faith in the processes of life. A man who has confidence in himself must have confidence in others, confidence in the fitness and rightness of the universe. When a man is thus anchored he ceases to worry about the fitness of things, about the behavior of his fellow men, about right and wrong and justice and injustice. If his roots are in the current of life he will float on the surface like a lotus and he will blossom and give forth fruit. He will draw his nourishment from above and below; he will send his roots down deeper and deeper, fearing neither the depths nor the heights. The life that is in him will manifest itself in growth, and growth is an endless, eternal process. He will not be afraid of withering, because decay and death are part of growth. As a seed he began and as a seed he will return. Beginnings and endings are only partial steps in the eternal process. The process is everything . . . the way. . . the Tao.