- Embodying Words: An Analysand’s Journal, 1941–1945
I. The Journal
In May of 1941, a 41-year-old woman residing in Los Angeles sought out psychiatric treatment to address lethargy and hopelessness related to recent professional disappointments. She and her psychiatrist promptly began psychoanalytic treatment, and her analyst made an unusual recommendation: in addition to their sessions, each day she would set aside time to write a journal about whatever came to mind. Perhaps this was a recommendation he gave all his patients, or perhaps only to her, a professional writer by trade. But write she did, prodigiously so, and we are left with a text comprising over 200,000 words (as a comparison, the story of Jane Eyre is told in 186,418). The journal offers an intimate and tremendously moving portrait of a life and a treatment.
The analysand was Gladys Tilden. She hailed from a California family of some prominence. Upon her death she left her personal papers to the University of California at Berkeley and it was in the university archives that I stumbled upon her journal while completing research on an unrelated project. Titled “Autobiography for psychoanalysis, 1941–45,” it belongs to the Gladys Tilden Papers in the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. Tilden wrote her journal on a typewriter, without page numbers, occasionally adding a handwritten marginal [End Page 213] note. All material quoted from the journal comes from this source and is available courtesy of the Bancroft Library.
Although Gladys Tilden allowed the public to have full access to her papers, including her journal, to my knowledge her journal has not yet been discussed in print. Why then do I choose to write on it? I do so in part because I respect her choice to permit the public access to her journal, despite the highly personal details it contains.1 Even more importantly, I am strongly impressed by the sheer power of Tilden’s authorial voice. To read her journal is to become acquainted with a remarkable, tenacious woman with an inspired way of seeing the world and a lyrical way of expressing it. She can, in other words, speak for herself, and in what follows I have made an effort to quote her frequently.
Such a rich document invites exploration on many fronts, but in this essay I focus on one dimension of the analysand’s journal in particular: her relationship with language. Gladys is irrepressibly verbal. She describes herself as a “pathological bookworm” and she is compelled not only to read but also to write and speak as well. Trying to stop writing is “like wringing the neck of a chicken.” With some interlocutors, she “can put in conversation for ten hours straight.” It is no surprise that she takes so readily to psychoanalysis, the talking cure, and to the task of journaling her free associations. This essay, therefore, gives close consideration to what words mean to the analysand. What does her volubility express and what does it obscure? How did her early experiences, which include being raised by deaf parents, shape the particular meanings language possesses for her? But the essay’s main concern, beyond the subjective experience of language, is how Gladys makes use of language in her journal. How does she write? And how does her writing change over the course of her treatment? Because we have so few written records of psychoanalytic treatments, her journal offers us a rare opportunity to track a patient’s written language over the course of an analytic process.
Finally, this essay offers an application of Hans W. Loewald’s theories on language and psychoanalysis. As Loewald describes, language is a unique human capacity in that it “partakes” of both secondary and primary mental processes (1978/1980, p. [End Page 214] 179). We use words to name, refer, categorize, and conceptually link, but also to evoke, depict, and bring to life. Even though language is conscious and verbal by definition, it has the power to evoke experiences that lie well beyond the verbal. Psychoanalysis exploits this function of language at every turn: it is through speech that we beckon the pictorial landscapes of the unconscious, and...