- In Memoriam--Donald Kaplan
Donald Martin Kaplan was born on May 8, 1927 in the borough of the Bronx in the city of New York. He died at one o’clock on a sunny Tuesday afternoon on September 20, 1994 in Greenwich Village, across the street from his home, and office, and family. Each was deeply invested with his great passion of mind and heart.
Donald was a lyricist and dramatist. His psychoanalytic mind was sparked by the great dramas of human existence. He loved Shakespeare; and so it is a good place in which to begin to remember him:
And when he shall die Take him, and cut him out in little stars. And he will make the face of heaven so fine, That all the world will be in love with night, And pay no worship to the garish sun.
Donald was a great light. He was a wonderful friend. He was a prince. The prince spreads his light upon his world. He brings youth, optimism, generosity of spirit and the promise of the reclamation of the kingdom from agedness and narrowed purpose. The double shock of Donald’s death comes from his unfailing youthfulness.
Freud’s ideas and ethical quest were Donald’s passion and his love—never his fetish. Like Freud, Donald understood the difference between Krafft-Ebing and Sophocles. Donald’s understanding of human motivation was deeply informed by the drama of those great, overarching structures of the mind—ideals and morality, Eros and Thanatos.
The dynamics of the Freudian landscape—the Oedipus Complex, family romance, transference and the unconscious—were the stuff of everyday life for Donald, suffused with realness, continuously alive, and amazingly immune to dilution and repression. He could entrance students with a heart-leaping [End Page 1] account of his Oedipal love affair at age five, with a gorgeous maternal aunt.
Donald was a great reader, writer, and speaker. His combination of penetrating intellect and scholarship with wit, elegant style, and autobiographical entertainments could be delightfully absorbing, His productivity, too, was impressive. During his lifetime, in addition to thirty years of continuous psychoanalytic teaching, he made more than fifty professional presentations, published more than forty papers, and wrote more than eighty book reviews and popular articles.
Donald’s mind had wings. He suffused our familiar concepts with depth and a sense of infinite thematic variation. He could evoke surprise and pleasure with paradox and juxtaposition. Here in a discussion of narcissism he describes the “narcissistic gratification of meeting obligations of social realities, which originate in the contingencies of early interaction with parental authorities.”
His mind could be epigrammatic and dramatic. In describing one of his patients he spoke of “idle tears as passive incontinence.”
Donald had a gift for psychoanalytic portraiture. Here he speaks of a patient and her mother and deals evocatively with complex matters of identity, identification, and development of the self. “She [the patient] evinced signs of a whole other life, poignantly suppressed within the mother, but nevertheless available to her child as a basis for the development of yet another self-object scenario.”
Here is one of his perspicuous observations upon the pathology of the moral life: “. . . a manifest compliance with the means of the analysis to maintain a buoyant defiance of its possible ends—a monument of defiance wrought in a spirit of virtue.”
In one of his early papers Donald wittily described the masochistic function of depression: “. . . the felt suffering in the present is a provisional alternative to the supplies forthcoming in an indefinite future. A depression is a parody of the virtue of passive waiting.”
Donald was eminently classical in his work with patients. He was never orthodox. Here he is on the subject of abstinence in a 1967 article in Harper’s magazine: [End Page 2]
The rule is that abstinence should be no more nor less than the patient can tolerate. The dosing of this abstinence—how little, how much—is a matter of the analyst’s humanity and courage. The cruel truth is that there is no certainty about abstinence. Each day is a fresh struggle to reduce the error in the analyst’s estimation of what the patient is able...