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  • Adaptations: Disquisitions on Psychoanalysis, 1997-2006
  • Vera J. Camden
Adaptations: Disquisitions on Psychoanalysis, 1997–2006. Phillip Freeman. Boston: Word Association, 91 pp. 2007. $15.00 (pb). With a CD.

Done well, satire can change a political, social, or cultural climate. Classically, Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal," a brutal diatribe against English domination of the Irish in the eighteenth century, exposed the cannibalistic effects of oppressive economic policies and helped reverse these policies while securing Swift a dubious immortality in undergraduate English anthologies for such lines as, "I rather recommend buying the [Irish] children alive, and dressing them hot from the knife as we do roasting pigs" (1729, 2177).

Phillip Freeman's Adaptations, a collection of after-dinner, graduation speeches for the Boston Psychoanalytic Institute, proffers no such disincentive to his listeners' appetites, nor does his modest satire of American psychoanalytic institutions aspire to Swift's political and moral outrage. Yet Freeman's inhouse publication, like his in-house jokes about the current state of psychoanalysis in America, certainly smacks, at times, of a tragicomic despair. Consider, for instance, his "straight-faced" rendering of the dwindling and decaying membership of the American Psychoanalytic Association, the promise offered to this organization by an innovative marketing of its product, and, in counterpoint, the seductive allure emanated by its one-time sister, the American Psychiatric Association, now held tightly in the bosom of Big Pharma.

Nationally the number of psychoanalysts reportedly dropped another 1 percent and the average age of the membership rose to 63. Marketers have encouraged us to approach new audiences with a less forbidding product such as occurred when teenage "popera" sensation Charlotte Church topped the Billboard charts with a selection of crossover hits that sold in the millions and reversed a malaise caused by the downward spiral of classical music sales. Paul Burger, president of Sony Music Entertainment Europe, said that only the "classical cognoscenti . . . a small . . . but regrettably, closed community," felt the [End Page 327] successful outreach was limited by the fact that the recordings are not, in fact, opera. . . .

And there was comfort and commiseration as well for our friends under the Smith Kline umbrella, the American Psychiatric Association, who discovered their doppelganger in two groups with a history of progressive ideals that have insisted that drug money is necessary for their operations and for the preservation of their mission. The groups, the Columbia Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), inherited their drug money from the government-sponsored dismantling of the for-profit Medellin and Cali cartels. Asked whether this arrangement might corrupt the ideals of these people's movements, journalist Mark Bowden said that the movements had never convinced the populace of their worth and that forty years was a long time to live in the mountains.


Consider further, in finer and more particular elaboration, the entertaining ingenuity displayed during a recent "site visit" by representatives of the American Psychoanalytic Association to assess the state of the Boston Psychoanalytic Institute:

They were at meetings. They were at seminars. They were in my house. At the Institute we served a lot of food. . . . After several days the site visitors told us that we were great. Top drawer. The best they had seen. We told the site visitors that we like them, too. The candidates told the site visitors that their report did not address an important issue facing the institute—that psychoanalysis is about to disappear—so we talked about that too.


Freeman goes on to observe that when the site visitors were told that the Institute was confronted with the possible loss of its building, they responded that such an incidental handicap need not derail the business of training candidates. Positively Swiftian in their use of scientific analogy to offer remedies and consolations for a psychoanalytic failure to thrive, the visitors (says Freeman) cheerfully reminded the Institute faculty that [End Page 328] "more than ninety percent of living things lack a backbone." Freeman expatiates:

They suggested that we consider the example of the coelenterates, planktonic marine members constructed around a central body cavity, the coelenterons, in short, jellyfish, that have survived the oceans for over sixty million...


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