Reflections on ‘A Kafkaesque Memoir’

I’ve just finished reading a fascinating and challenging book by Dennis McCort called A Kafkaesque Memoir, Confessions from the Analytic Couch in it he writes about his analysis over nine years, meeting on a weekly basis. He’s a retired University professor with a great interest in German literature, hence the links in the title and indeed throughout the book to the German speaking Czech novelist Franz Kafka. McCort was brought up as a Catholic and spent many years involved with Zen and on the spiritual path; he’s very interested in all psychospiritual work, there’s also some interesting material on the coincidence of opposites – so in this sense the book was for me a bit of a find. The book which McCort calls ‘an inner autobiography’ is divided into accounts of 27 analytic sessions each beginning with a dream and there’s also a conclusion to the work. There are three sections: Confession; Education and Transformation. His eclectic analyst Dr Charles Purper ‘Dr. P.’ draws mainly on Jungian analytical psychotherapy as well as some Freudian theory.

I’ve picked a few aspects that struck me while I was reading and straightaway I have had to remind myself that every therapy is unique because there are two unique people involved – I needed to say this because my admiration for the dreams that McCort brought and the high-powered intellectual discussions that took place amidst the discussion of McCort’s childhood and symptoms (the more ordinary and expected part of any therapy) began to shift into envious irritation especially when the transformational aspects are described with the recognition of the Self and the description of the individuation process. However I firmly believe, as Thomas Merton did, that books one needs to read somehow arrive in one’s hands and so having acknowledging my envious hostility and holding the tension between that and my absorbing interest in the account I realised that there was a great deal to gain from reading about what had taken place.

Initially McCort sought hypnotherapy for problems of panic and claustrophobia when he was driving on what we would call motorways, so he found his way to Dr. P. in 2000 and left 9 years later. The symptom was relieved for a couple of weeks after hypnotherapy but when it returned McCort embarked on psychoanalysis although with much negativity as he already had had ‘three bouts with three different therapists, all three into depth psychology, which netted me absolutely zero in terms of my mental health.’ This confirms something which indeed research has shown that it all depends on the relationship that develops between the two unique people in the consulting room (similarly in spiritual direction) – sometimes it works and sometimes it just doesn’t.

An early comment that really helped me was the succinct way that Dr. P. delineated the different uses of the term ‘ego’ following one discussion: ‘I take it you understand that you are using the term “ego” in the Buddhist sense of self-image, and not in the Freudian sense of a mediating function between inner and outer worlds’. At last, a succinct way to help explain the rather cavalier way that we are urged to cast the ego aside in contemplation, especially if we have taken years building up the ego!