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The Analyst Who Laughed to Death

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The Analyst Who Laughed to Death recounts Dr Reuben Moses' last days as a therapist for suicidal, psychopathic, and depressed patients. Despite his geniality, Moses is tortured. His wife has an affair, exiling Moses to a tiny flat with his neurotic retriever, Jaffe-Jaffe.His life is spent listening to intractable patients-to relieve tension Moses jogs city-streets at odd hours. He debates a radical theory, The Bubba Complex, where one's childhood is shaped by the dominant Jewish Bubba. Moses enters a final analysis with Oskar Pinsky, who battles Moses' psyche unhinged by his help-rejecting mega-millionaire patient, Paula Blum (who is a Bubba doppelganger). Pinsky sleuths through Moses' troubled post-Holocaust past, sexual misadventures, and impossible cases. Despite Pinsky's efforts, Moses jokes away his suffering, dismissing feminists who are infuriated with his theory. Following attacks on his car, office, and vicious assaults, the police order Moses to leave town. He laughs away warnings and travels to Montreal to present his Bubba Complex to jeering audiences. As Pinsky's analysis proceeds, the reader sees Moses wrestling with past demons and an unseen enemy threatening to destroy him.Written as a tragic-comic case-history, this novel, like Freud's Wolf-Man, addresses the complexity of trauma, memory, and childhood love of a powerful woman. Set in present-day Toronto, Dr Moses represents a vanishing breed, a medical psychoanalyst exploring the meaning of patients' suffering set against the current landscape of brief psychotherapy and overuse of drugs.

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Chapter One - The Analysis of M

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It may seem strange that my analysis of M reads more like a detective novel than a case history. If so, it is through no intention of my own, but is related to the nature of M's clinical material. Tirelessly devoted to treating and analysing the most challenging cases, M was on a sacred quest to help patients grasp the meaning of their emotional pain. In a world sodden with outright lies and deception, M strove to bring a measure of profound truth to his patients’ suffering. M saw himself as a knight errant battling against the forces of darkness which lay not only in the external landscape of society but within the deep internal regions of the soul. My patient, a sensitive and gifted physician, polite and generous to all who knew him, laughed at himself and life's folly, descending into self-mocking, scurrilous, and scatological phrases* in my office. His critical comments could be hilarious.

Contrary to my usual professional reserve, I occasionally burst into bouts of laughter.

 

Part One - The Infantile Neurosis June 2007–March 2007

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A lane behind Euclid Avenue where I ran.—R. Moses

*M first presented to me in June 2007, with symptoms of anxiety and insomnia, related to his wife, Frieda, informing him that she wanted a separation. While M laughingly stated this in the first session, he was unable to accept his wife's ultimatum for several months. The separation triggered a partial regression and a host of early childhood memories which M unearthed during the first phase of the analysis. The sketches in this monograph were all drawn by M.—O. Pinsky

Look Pinsky, this is where I tried to run away. I am not making up this neurotic crap, it's absolutely true—that's why I am here. Frieda, my ex-wife, doesn't think it was that bad [she had it far worse]; my late father had his headaches with Bubba and my ninety-two-year-old mother—bless her heart—she hardly talked about the past. This didn't come up in my analysis with Dr. L*—that doesn't mean I am lying, does it? Does it?

 

Part Two - Latency March 2008–July 2008

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PART TWO

LATENCY MARCH 2008–JULY 2008

Mdeveloped a more trusting relationship with me in analysis. I did not confront him about the death of Fidel or the riddle of his excursions to the apartment of the growling dog. M recalled his first analyst, Lippman, an enfant terrible in analytic circles, opinionated, blunt, bellicose, cocky.

Lippman had a try-out with the Toronto Maple Leafs—Lippman's exhibitionistic phallic narcissism fascinated M. The Toronto Daily Star recorded Lippman played six games with the Maple Leafs—he got into two fights, received a game misconduct and punched out a linesman. The reader will note M was refused skates until adolescence. This affected his male identity and accounted for M's frustration with his Bubba and his sexual preoccupation with Estella, his best-friend's stepmom.

As an immigrant kid, the son of refugees, I was bookish. My sport was baseball—my hero, Hank Greenberg. When I asked my Bubba for skates she said hockey was not for a Jewish boy.

 

Part Three - A Borderline Adolescence July 2008–December 2008

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“The eldest child bears the struggle of the refugee grandparents, the deracination from the primary culture, the relocation to host culture, the stigma of prejudice, fear and hate, the brunt of resettlement and neurosis.”

(From Reverence to Rage: Failed Resolution of the Bubba Complex, R. Moses MD, Analytic Journal, Vol. 9, No. 1, p. 20.)

*By July 2008 M completed his first year of analysis. Because of the warm summer that July of 2008, M recalled his first summer at Jewish camp, Camp Hello-Goodbye. Jewish camp marked M's longest separation from his Bubba and family, the onset of puberty, and his initial foray into sexual desire and anxiety.

When we moved to the new house Father told me he had saved enough money to send me for three weeks to Jewish camp. No more plotzing in heat with Bubba shrieking polio if I swallowed lake water. Finally we got rid of Bubba. At last! My mother's pregnancy depleted her energy. My father hired young girls to look after us. No one stayed more than a month. Danny and I exhausted them. In desperation Father called Bubba and Auntie Leah. They slept over and bossed us around as usual. We were back where we started from. Three blocks to the north were shuls, cheders, Zapinsky's fish store, Guttnik's grocery, Greenbaum's dairy and Lustig's bakery. The stores in Kensington Market shifted north to Eglinton Avenue like a tilted Monopoly board. Herbie Faust walked without a cane. He knew each flower. He sketched them as he hobbled. Ruthie-Annie stood guard. Manny J. Karp moved to the next block and Josh joined us. The Guttniks, Greenbaums, and Lustigs relocated their stores to Eglinton and bought homes in our area. Herbie's left leg remained smaller than his right. I saw bruises on Ruthie-Annie's shapely legs—was it the shock of Herbie's polio? I wondered if she hit herself.

 

Part Four - The Last Phase Disrupted Analysis: January 2009–July 2009

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PART FOUR

THE LAST PHASE DISRUPTED ANALYSIS: JANUARY 2009–JULY 2009

One knows how an analysis begins, but one has little knowledge of how an analysis will end. Our predictions are fallible and like many human projects at the outset we are faced with our limited horizon of skill and knowledge. It is only in retrospect that we can trace the complex skein of external situations and internal mental events that influence life, yet even then, we are faced with approximations. Each time when I replaced my notes at the end of a session in M's file, which had grown to four folders, including diaries, sketches, cartoons, Bubba's recipes, personal reflections, I wondered what direction our analytic journey would take.

The most intractable part of M's analysis—his childhood—which in the past had been hermetically sealed, was now gradually opening itself to exploration. Childhood, as we know, is the most formative stage of human development but adolescence and young adulthood with their turbulent passions and anxieties are the most difficult to face. M's early trauma and seduction by his Bubba [whether directly intended or largely imagined we will never know] paved the way for his hypersensitive and unsettled sexual desire. His premature erotic liaison with Estella, a woman twenty years his senior, ignited a storm of monstrous sexual longing and the impossibility of realizing that goal in later life. Although M portrayed himself as a sex-starved thirteen-year-old virgin, he was not the seducer; Estella violated this young impressionable boy. In a sense this was a form of rape. M's somatic symptoms, his physical and psychological anxieties, were derived from this and his infantile neurosis; I came to understand that he needed to return again to his life over fifty years earlier, to his childhood and adolescence in order to grasp himself in the present. Why did M come for a final analysis in his sixties? And what about the unexplained vandalism—it was not present in his first analysis with Lippman. I had no answers to this question. After January 2009, during the last phase of the analysis, however, I came to see three factors which stimulated his quest—first, he felt “abandoned” by his wife, Frieda, with whom he had been deeply attached despite his compulsive work addiction—her separation had triggered his longing for love and affection. Second, as I have written, M was seeing a patient, Paula Blum, who intensified his intricate feelings of love and hate to older women. Third, at this point M was a grandfather; he was to see from an elder perspective the importance of grandparents to a child and vice versa. He was to experience life's transience. No doubt, the sublimation of these strivings and disappointments was the reason he passionately presented his controversial work across North America in his famous book, The Bubba Complex which was criticized more than carefully read.

 

Recipes

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Bubba Bella and Mother's knaidelach (matzo balls)

2 tablespoons of oil

2 eggs beaten

½ cup of matzo meal

1 teaspoon of salt

2 teaspoons of water or chicken soup

Combine oil and eggs and add matzo meal and salt and blend well.

Stir in water; cover and chill for twenty minutes.

Shape into balls and drop into boiling water.

Simmer.

Cool 30 or 40 minutes.

Makes 8–10 matzo balls.

Bubba's gefilte fish

This recipe requires 3 pounds of ground fish—pike, whitefish, carp, pickerel, a slice of lake trout. Sometimes my Bubba or mother threw in a small piece of salmon too. In the old days this was put in the machinka, ground up, and then placed in a wooden bowl, to which was added the following:

2–3 tablespoons of matzo meal

4 large onions

4 teaspoons of salt—more if desired

 

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