Review: Churchill's Black Dog, Kafka's Mice by Anthony Storr Print E-mail

Products_007_291_9780007291373_m_f(San Diego Tribune March 10, 1989)

Storr Digs Up Freud. Reburies Him.

Freud: So, Doktor Storr, you've woken me from my eternal rest. Such a disturbance had better be important. What can I do for you?

Storr: Thank you, Doctor. Have you read my new collection of essays?

Freud: I've absorbed them, yes.

Storr: I was curious about your response to my paper on "Psychoanalysis and Creativity" in which I discuss your ideas.

Freud: Doktor, you are one of Britain's foremost psychiatrists, yet you write on many topics new to me—the roots of violence, adult development, C.P. Snow and a paper attacking the state's use of psychiatrists for interrogating prisoners. Very impressive. But, really, I've had little influence on you.

Storr: On the contrary, Doctor. It was your ideas that compelled me to study psychiatry. Many of us are still building on your theories about neurotic behavior.

Freud: Then why do you find creativity so enabling? Happy people don't fantasize. Their fantasy, their art, is escape, a way of repressing childhood traumas.

Storr: While we're indebted to the theory, it does leave much unanswered. Take Churchill. His strength was his neurosis. If I may quote my book: Because "he had concluded a battle with his own despair, he could convey to others that despair can be overcome." You died, Doctor, before 1940. His finest hour was the Battle of Britain, during which he saved England with his daring.

Freud: Yes, but you argue that Churchill's parents severely neglected him, particularly his mother, and he was raised by his maid. That loss can't explain his triumph.

Storr: Churchill was a hero because he managed his depression so skillfully. He used the challenges that faced Britain as a way to balance his loss of parental love. By rallying others, he kept the Black Dog, his depression, at bay. "Had he been less egocentric he would not have achieved so much."

Freud: Hmmm. But then your analysis of Kafka claims that his identity lacked any security with others, that his radical aloneness was "the price he paid for the crime of living."

Storr: Yes. His despair came from childhood, too. But Kafka's parents were haphazard with their love, forcing him to believe life was ruled by capricious Giants, oversized Beetles. His allegories dramatized—almost therapeutically—his desire and guilt for being alone.

Freud: Which proves he was a neurotic, and his art a disguised expression of his personal, repressed wishes.

Storr: Yes, Doctor. His imagination derived from his dissatisfaction. But his discontent was not neurotic. Not all discontented artists are neurotic. Kafka's art helped him resolve his conflicts, symbolized by the mice, the secret fears that nibbled away at his imagination.

Freud: And live unhappily. I might add, as he wished.

Storr: Happiness is not the point. Kafka's art was his intimate; his solitude was his lover. Had he been better adjusted to others he would have written no great literature. It's the paradox of art. It heals, even when—as with Kafka—its subject is torture.

Freud: This is all too new. You seem to argue that people have a basic need for art, for expression, which I don't see.

Storr: Yes. All us shrinks learned it from Jung—

Freud: Him!

Storr: . . . and we try to use art as therapy for many helpless psychotics. The Jungian analysis of Churchill and Kafka is that their lives express more than their responsibilities.

Freud: I know the line: They express a manifestation of desires the whole human race once had, in its infancy, but repressed when they became civilized. But there you have it—the neuroses still come from infancy.

Storr: The point is well taken, Doctor.

Freud: Ach! All this Jungian transformation, the self-help school, feminism, co-dependency. The key to happiness, so many say, lies in the success of relationships? Life is hell, Doktor.

Storr: Perhaps, Doctor. But life is a manageable hell—that's what we believe now.

Freud: I don't know if I'd call that progress.

Storr: You're absolutely right. I won't disturb you again. Sweet dreams.