Sunday, April 15, 2018

Come Join me at the KENSINGTON DAY OF THE BOOK FESTIVAL

     WHEN: Sunday, April 22, 2018 between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
     
     WHERE: 3786 Howard Ave., Kensington MD 20895                
                      Booth 40W

                      Great Books, Great Music, Great Food!

Friday, December 22, 2017



Above the Radar                                                                 
                                                                                              
This is in response to                                                             
onedead twodead
friendly fire
myfamily mytribe myclan
eye-for-an-eye tooth-for-a-tooth  measure-for-measure
Boom Boom Boom

This is in response to
fatherdead motherdead brotherdead sisterdead
human shields
mygod  mygod  mygod
tit-for-tat
Boom Boom Boom

This is in response to
husbanddead wifedead childrendead loverdead partnerdead
unintended casualties
mycountrymyland mycountrymyland mycountrymyland
tradeofftradeoff  tradeofftradeoff tradeofftradeoff
Boom Boom Boom

This is in response to
10,000dead 100,000dead 1,000,000dead citydead
facts on the ground
myism myism myism
sameoldsameold  sameoldsameold sameoldsameold
Boom Boom Boom

This is in response to
100,000,000dead 1,000,000,000dead 7,000,000,000dead worlddead
I’mgoodyourbad I’mgoodyourbad I’mgoodyourbad
ding-dongding-dong  ding-dongding-dong  ding-dongding-dong

That’s all we did  that’s all we did  that’s all we did
December 22, 2017

Talks with North Korea

If the United States hopes to negotiate with North Korea about that nation’s nuclear weapons and missile programs, we should do so without preconditions. Due to perceived threats from the United States, North Korea must view these programs as essential to its survival and would have no interest in conceding anything before negotiations begin. It is true that North Korea had been developing nuclear weapons prior to President George W. Bush’s “Axis-of-Evil,” speech, which named North Korea as one of the “Axis” countries. That speech, however, was followed a little more than a year later, by the war against Iraq, another “Axis” country, and its devastating consequences in Iraq, Syria and other parts of the Middle East. North Korea’s leadership could well have concluded that without continuing and accelerating its weapons programs, they would be next.

Secondly, as part of any negotiations, it makes eminent sense for the United States to suggest exchanging a halt in U.S.-South Korea military exercises for a temporary cessation of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs. Despite increased pressure from China and United States verbal assurances, it is unlikely North Korea will do anything to curtail them unless the United States takes an equivalent, major step. Moreover, if the United State were to offer such an exchange and North Korea refused it, we would be in a much better position to seek additional support from China and Russia for implementing stronger sanctions or taking other measures.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Psychoanalysis Is Back

RICHARD SELDIN

Richard Seldin packs a lot into his well-written, fast paced, short novel about psychoanalysis, marital love and declining male sexuality. The book’s psychoanalytic orientation teems with unusual mental states—psychological muteness, an imagined playmate, a womanizing double and odd mind/body disturbances--and, at times, consistent with its Freudian approach, is quite sexual. In fact, this is one of the best novels about psychoanalysis I’ve ever read and offers readers the pleasure of following a protagonist who thinks in a psychoanalytic way.

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BELOW THE LINE IN BEIJING by Richard Seldin
256 pp. International Psychoanalytic Books. $19.95, paper; $7.99, Kindle Edition.

The plot line in Below the Line in Beijing is fairly simple, though its structure is complicated and atypical. The novel has four main characters: an unnamed narrator who is a 61-year-old U.S. Customs Department lawyer, writer of China travel articles and former track star; his wife, Sheryl, a very attractive, professor of Asian Art; his psychoanalyst, Isaac Lutansky, a short version of Sigmund Freud; and his friend Jim, a former clothes model and current fashionista. 

When the book begins, the narrator awakens next to Sheryl in their Baltimore home with an erection pressed against her thigh. Though initially gladdened by his desire for his wife—he’s had little sexual interest in her for quite awhile—he soon discovers it comes packaged with an inability to speak. This peculiarity becomes more confounding when he finds that, while mute in English, he can communicate in the foreign languages he knows. Although he can only guess at the reasons for his muteness, he does connect it to three apparently unrelated intrusions into his life: a quirky stuttering problem; powerful fantasies about hooking-up with young women; and fortuitously running into Jim, in Baltimore, after not having seen him for over forty years.

Of course, Freud’s talking cure requires talking and as Lutansky only speaks English, several weeks after the narrator becomes mute, they agree to suspend their work. Soon thereafter, as planned, the narrator and Jim travel to Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics, the narrator first and Jim several days later. While the narrator, a proficient Mandarin speaker and expert on things Chinese, expects to dominate their relationship in Beijing, Jim takes over as soon as he arrives and leads them on a quest for young women. Jim’s primacy in Beijing matches the position he assumed when he and the narrator first encountered each other in puberty and later when they attended the same university.   

I won’t give the ending away, but I will divulge that it takes place at an elegant Chinese brothel and is one of the most satisfying parts of the novel. Seldin’s plotting, most often, is adept as well.  He allows the reader respites from the narrator’s sexual pursuits and intense psychological ruminations—both past and present--by alternating them with prosaic and, at times, amusing descriptions of Beijing, Chinese-American culture clashes and the Olympics themselves.

Until now, I have mainly described Jim as a friend, but, aided by Lutansky’s suspicions about Jim’s origins, I prefer to think of him as a double who embodies and acts out the narrator’s erotic wishes. Indeed, Jim is an unrepentant philanderer—some might say a sociopath, a pervert or both—whose sexual interests over the years, like the narrator’s, have turned to ever younger women. In my interview with him, Seldin acknowledged he’d been influenced by the theme of the literary double as developed in Poe’s, William Wilson, Stevenson’s, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Dostoyevsky’s, The Double, and in films such as the Oscar-nominated Black Swan.  Furthermore, in line with the narrator’s erotic problem and the United States’ obsession with the carnal behavior of public figures, he wanted to create a character—friend or double--who acts out the narrator’s sexual fantasies. When I pushed him for a simple answer--which one, friend or double?--he still hedged and insisted it is up to the reader to determine. He emphasized that the important point is that, whatever he is, unlike the narrator, Jim acts on, rather than mind-works, his sexual desires.
     
While the novel’s most poignant erotic scenes might bring to mind Nabokov’s Lolita, its larger literary influence clearly was Freud. And right out of the Freudian book, the narrator’s story is one of a not-too abnormal mind gone awry and attempting to heal itself, both with and without Lutansky’s help.

Now for that point I raised earlier about the novel’s complicated structure, which I consider masterful. The first six parts of the seven-part book end with a dream and a long footnote that seems to accompany each dream.  While I do occasionally encounter descriptions and allusions to dreams in contemporary fiction, I don’t often find dreams fully set forth, though they are relatively short. Also, I have never read a novel with such extensive footnotes—in fact, I rarely read novels that contain any footnotes--and, after struggling with this innovation for several parts of the book, I found them to make an important contribution to the book and possibly even to literature in general. In line with the insightful poetry critic, Helen Vendler’s, view that “Form, after all, is nothing but content-as-arranged,” initially I concluded that the footnotes were only being used to supplement the text as plot drivers and enhancements of character.  But, as I read them more carefully, I wondered if they didn’t serve a larger, less clear purpose for which I couldn’t provide a reason.

Seldin confirmed my impression, explaining that the connections in the book between text, dream and footnote were intended to roughly follow the basic components of Freudian dream interpretation: the text preceding each of the six dreams provides the stimuli for the dream (more technically known as dream residue); and the accompanying footnotes serve as free associations to the dreams and are the key to interpreting them. He acknowledged that while many readers might not articulate the structure that way, he hoped they would be able to intuit the connections. Seldin agrees with many commentators that Freud’s classic, The Interpretation of Dreams, which also includes much of Freud’s theory of the unconscious, is one of his most original, profound and still highly relevant books.

But not everything in this unusual novel works. Some of the central sections lag a bit, and, at times, are repetitious. For example, the narrator’s frequent criticisms of Jim for his self-absorption and lack of consideration for others were fine when mentioned even a second time, but beyond that seemed tedious. I also wondered whether Seldin’s focus on male heterosexuality avoided, Freud’s, for his time, more enlightened ideas about bisexuality and homosexuality.  Though perhaps not the first, it was Freud who suggested that, to different degrees, we all are bisexual in a psychological sense and Seldin never really developed that important idea.  Finally, and somewhat of a nit, while effective in conveying the major themes of the novel, its cover seemed a bit comic-bookish, thus detracting from the serious literary work that it is. Seldin seemed to agree with me here, explaining that cost was the principal factor for lack of further revision of it.

Notwithstanding these minor criticisms, with Below the Line in Beijing, Seldin has earned a place in the company of writers we ought to be reading and thinking about. Psychoanalysis and its sexual focus are not dead or dying as many in the United States assume or wish to think, and I am grateful to him for reminding us of this. Eric Kandel, a Nobel Prize winning (2000) neuroscientist, still regards psychoanalysis as crucial to understanding human nature and providing the “most elaborate and nuanced view of the mind that we have.” I look forward to Seldin’s next work, which, I hope won’t be too far off and will read with great interest.  

Below the Line in Beijing can be purchased from the publisher at www.IPBooks.net, www.amazon.com, retail bookstores and from the author at seldinr3@verizon.net



Saturday, September 26, 2015

THE SEXUAL DOUBLE--Sept. 25, 2015

Below the Line in Beijing
By Richard Seldin

Use of the double in Western literature has given rise to such great works as Poe's William Wilson, Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Dostoyevsky's The Double. Whereas most fictional doubles embody the violent and confused thoughts and actions of their principals, the double in my novel, Below the Line in Beijing, enacts the main character's sexual wishes.

Although in a good enough marriage, the protagonist, a 61 year-old civil servant, has lost sexual desire for his wife and is plagued by fantasies of hooking-up with young women. As the novel begins, he is working on these issues with his psychoanalyst. The protagonist's desire, however, hasn't abated through their efforts and his unconscious soon takes over. A womanizing double, who first entered his life during puberty, fortuitously reappears in his life. Then some months later, for no physical reason, the protagonist loses his ability to speak English which results in the suspension of his analysis. The double soon dominates the protagonist which mirrors their earlier relationship in which the double did most of the talking and lived out the protagonist's idealized erotic life.

The first sex parts of this seven-part novel end with dreams which focus on the main character's conflicts with his wife. In the dreams, his wife and the double appear in disguised forms with the double playing the role of her seducer. This parallels the protagonist's relationship with his father and mother in which he, rather than his father, was her principal male interest. The protagonist must work through this unconscious oedipal issue before he can resolve his problems with his wife, take back his double and regain his voice.

Published in the Fall 2015 E-Newsletter of the Washington Center for Psychoanalysis.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Mind/Body Connections--July 13th, 2015

It seems to me that the important point about mind/body connections isn't that stress generally can affect physical processes or bodily systems, including the immune system. This is a given among most of those involved in mind/body research.  The more important question is how psychological conflicts affect specific parts of the body and the specific psychological and physiological reasons for how this happens. For example, what is the specific mind/body explanation about how a primary caregiver's over attention to a child leads to asthma?  Similarly, what is the specific mind/body explanation for why common colds and respiratory illnesses seem to increase in numbers during the Christmas holidays?

Research into these complicated mind/body issues ultimately could lead to a more healthy integration of mind/body medical treatment.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Wednesday July 8, 2015

Casey Schwartz article in NY Times Magazine "Tell it About Your Mother: Can brain-scanning help save Freudian psychoanalysis?"

Over the past 5-7 years, I've regularly attended conferences of the American Psychoanalytical Association, and at nearly every meeting one of the principal speakers bemoans the diminishing influence of psychoanalysis (PA), both in numbers of people training to become analysts and numbers of patients.  One of the reasons given for this is the lack of interest among psychoanalysts in providing a better scientific basis both for psychoanalytic theories and PA's clinical value.  While some psychoanalysts still maintain that since PA is a highly subjective process it can't apply a science-based approach to these issues, in recent years more analysts are working to bridge the gap.

In the interesting article, referenced above, Casey Schwartz attempts to lay out some of the issues involved.  She points out that within the last decade two psychoanalysts, Andrew Gerber and Bradley Peterson, have been working together to combine PA with brain research by using functional magnetic resonance imaging to observe neural activity in order "to map the process of transference in the brain."  (Transference generally is a Freudian concept involving the transferring of unconscious and earlier conflicts onto present people and situations.)  These two analysts are among a growing number who believe that PA must employ more scientific practices to survive.

Although Freud initially was an experimental scientist, he came to realize that the state of scientific research about the brain was not advanced enough to help him answer the psychological issues he was confronting with his patients.  Thus, he abandoned pure, so-called, scientific research and created psychoanalysis.

Some of the leading voices advocating closer relationships between PA and neuroscience are Mark Solms, an analyst, neuropsychologist and translator of Freud's works; Otto Kernberg, a highly influential analyst; and Eric Kandel, a neuroscientist who won a Nobel Prize in 2000 for his work on memory.  Despite his scientific background, Kandel believes that PA is still crucial to gaining a deeper understanding of human behavior and that neuroscience is not equipped for that.