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  • Psychoanalysis in My Life: An Intellectual Memoir
  • Murray M. Schwartz (bio)

But I, entelechy, form of forms, am I by memory because under ever-changing forms.

—James Joyce, Ulysses

Two distincts, division none.

—Shakespeare, “The Phoenix and the Turtle”

Grief joys, joy grieves, on slender accident.

Hamlet, III.ii.194

My “intellectual autobiography” can be imagined as two sets of three overlapping circles. The first set of circles consists of activities: teaching, academic administration, and writing. The second set consists of three intellectual preoccupations: psychoanalysis, literature, especially Shakespeare, and the Holocaust. Each set is implicated in the other, and all six circles are in motion, their interplay and interaction varying from time to time and place to place, more like Ptolemy than Copernicus.

This abstract scheme is my guide to memory. I hope that the meanings of the circles will become clearer as I tell my story.

I. Beginnings

In 1942, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, I was born into a working-class Sephardic Jewish family. I have a visceral memory of the resounding percussions of the 16" battleship guns practicing in New York harbor during the Second World War. Less than two years later, my father, a skilled carpenter and welder during the Depression, enlisted in the Navy. He was trained as a pharmacist’s mate, spending 1944–1945 on [End Page 125] the island of Tinian, where he ran an infirmary for prisoners, women, and children. On the opposite side of the island, the Enola Gay took off to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. My earliest images of him envision a caretaker and protector against a background of massive violence.

My father was an only child, raised in poverty by a mother on welfare who sold napkins and embroidery for a meager living. His father and a stepfather both died before he was five, thrusting him prematurely into a caretaking role at home, and instilling a desire for a protective family of his own. After the war he became a clothes presser in New York’s garment district, where he represented his coworkers in the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). My brothers and I thought of him as “in the service,” condensing the Navy medical man and the worker. My mother’s family became his haven, though he prized his sense of independence and self-sufficiency, having spent much of his youth on the streets of New York’s Lower East Side “taking care of himself,” as he said.

My mother was the twelfth of thirteen children, nine of whom survived infancy. She became an expert seamstress and devoted housewife, and spoke Ladino as she shared news and mediated disputes among the siblings of her large extended family. Although she had received only elementary formal education, she was a very intelligent woman, who had no trouble speaking truth to power. I remember her sitting at the kitchen table with her buttered white bread and coffee reading Les Misérables as I left for school, and when I came home she would be watching Joe McCarthy’s interrogations of suspected communists on television, smoking her Pall Mall cigarettes and directing expletives his way.

In each of these memories I now see a deeply felt element of my intellectual life: my concern with forms of violence and their relation to personal and familial continuity, my preoccupation with the potential for victimhood, my interest in the uses and misuses of democratic institutions, my desire to mediate conflict. “Murray, you like happy families,” an analyst friend once observed, and my psychoanalytic mind asks what was unhappy about mine, what drives me to seek reconciliations and accommodations. A good part of the answer has to do with the [End Page 126] conflicts and tensions in a large and loving family that was striving to improve its social and economic status while maintaining its Jewish identity in the jostle of mid-century New York.

During my analysis, I dreamed of lying as an infant blissfully alone beside a translucent pool, but in reality my identical twin brother, Albert, was born to (re)join me after nine minutes. Although we were raised as a unit (“The Twins”) and dressed identically until...


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pp. 125-152
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