Reflections on ‘A Kafkaesque Memoir’ (3)

In the account of the analysis Dennis McCort and Dr. P. work on long standing issues around guilt about sex and in one session the idea of transcendence from conflict is explored.

I found the following interpretation by Dr. P. to McCort helpful: ‘Transcendence just means the misery of conflict dissipates since there is no longer any attitude of attachment in you, with which you’re identified to keep it intact.’

Further on in the same session after McCort  remembers feelings evoked at a party with his future wife when he was able to set aside guilt about how he had behaved with an earlier girlfriend – he had feelings of relief at being able to enjoy the experience at the party which were immediately followed by a return of guilt. It is here that again Dr. P. offers a helpful intervention:

‘That’s precisely what analysis is for: gradually to dismantle the wall between these two compartmentalised states of consciousness, the simple, naïve level of the oasis and the mature level of the self – in Blake’s terms the song of innocence and the song of experience. That’s what the transcendence implied by Jung’s ideal of individuation means: what we transcend is the infernal conflict between innocence and experience, or, more narrowly in your case, innocence and guilt. We reach a condition in which even these polar opposites are revealed as inseparable, and, once thus revealed, begin to flow happily into and out of each other. That is freedom.’

Analysis, he summarises at the end of this session is, says Dr. P. the journey to one’s true home, the home of the Self.

The idea of the coincidence of opposites is returned to throughout the analysis including reference to the symbols of the cross and crucifixion as an image of every person’s spiritual charge to bring the warring opposites within one’s own nature together in unity.

I particularly liked McCort’s account of his first encounter with what he calls C.O. (coincidence of opposites) when he was about 10 or 11 and serving as an altar boy and because of unusual circumstances found himself having a few sips of water and totally forgetting about the communion fast which in those days prohibited any intake of food or water until after communion. Realising this on the way home the boy feels  ‘an intoxicating mixture of awe and excitement’ about this brief taste of freedom of breaking a taboo, ‘a whiff of the heavenly perfume of personal autonomy’. This glimpse is shattered by the reaction of his mother who, on being told, ‘went ballistic … On and on she ranted, shrieking rhetorical questions hysterically into the air: “What do we do?! What can we do?! Nothing! The deed is already done! Oh my God!” She even tried to call the rectory to get absolution over the phone.

McCort describes:

‘feeling my little window of autonomy sliding shut as I sat there hunched over my Cheerios listening to her; I guess I couldn’t stand the tension of two contradictory worlds opened up before me at once. One had to go, and I guess it had to be the New World, which hadn’t had time to take root …’

Dr. P. reminds McCort that despite his young age the event would have planted a seed in him – the seed of an understanding or an insight, a direct experiential insight – into the fundamental bipolarity of life, of nature and of the universe itself. A seed that influenced McCourt’s spiritual and psychological quests, and, ironically, shaped much of his academic interests too.