May 6, 2010
Tell me again about your garden
Tell me how you planted, in the small
flat of mountain land, corn seed
and bean seed, how your finger poked the soil
then you dropped in three dark bean seeds
for every yellow seed of corn.
Trees and mountains collared your land,
but the fenced garden opened freely
to sun and warm summer rains.
Your potato rows bulged in July. You ached
from digging them up, your hands down in dirt,
the cool lump of a tuber, brown-spotted,
just recovered, a greeting, like shaking hands.
Baskets full of bumpy brown potatoes filled
your basement until fall, until you gave
away what you could, throwing out the rest.
You gave away honey from the white hive too,
that box of bees beside the garden,
honey stored in Mason jars, a clearest honey
nectar from lin tree blossoms and wild flowers.
The bright taste of honey on the tongue
spoke of the place, if a place can be known
by the activity of bees and a flavor in the mouth,
if a person can be known by small acts
such as these, such as the way you rocked
summer evenings from a chair on the porch
tending your inner garden, eyes closed.
It's the birthday of Sigmund Freud, (books by this author) born Sigismund Schlomo Freud in the town of Příbor, in what is now the Czech Republic (1856). His parents were Jewish, and his father was a wool merchant; they didn't have much money, but they wanted the best for their intelligent son. He went to medical school at the University of Vienna, and worked with Josef Breuer, who made a breakthrough discovery when he hypnotized a young woman who had been diagnosed with what was then called hysteria. When she was hypnotized, the woman talked freely, and she herself named it "the talking cure." Freud adopted the talking cure and eventually realized that this sort of talking could happen even without hypnosis. Whether hypnotized or not, patients would discuss whatever was going through their minds, and he would analyze their words and decide what was causing their issues, usually past experiences. Freud was particularly interested in dreams, childhood trauma, and sexual experiences as ways to understand the patient's unconscious motives and desires. Once it was refined, Freud's method of practice came to be known as psychoanalysis, and he ushered in a new era in psychology. And his books, with their heavy emphasis on sex, were very popular.
These days, Freud has gone out of fashion, at least in the scientific and psychology communities. Freud considered himself a scientist. He said, "The poets and philosophers before me discovered the unconscious; what I discovered was the scientific method by which the unconscious can be studied." Freud's conclusions were always controversial, but by the mid-20th century, the idea that his work was actually science was becoming controversial as well. He did not, in fact, use the scientific method, in the sense that the claims of psychoanalysis can't be disproved — they aren't falsifiable.
Today, there are only about 20,000 Americans in Freudian-style psychoanalysis, just over 1 percent of people in therapy.
But whether or not he is taken seriously in psychology and scientific communities in the way he intended, there is no doubt that Freud's cultural influence is huge. Most people will never read his books, but they know about penis envy, the Oedipus complex, phallic symbols, the id and superego, and the famous "Freudian slip." And most people accept the basic idea that our minds are capable of repressing traumatic experiences or feelings, and that there is benefit in talking about them. We encourage people who have undergone traumatic experiences to discuss them, even if they have to get at painful feelings or facts that they have hidden from themselves — that is such a normal idea that it doesn't seem Freudian anymore. Many people casually acknowledge that the way they were parented affects their own patterns of behavior later in life — again, not going down the extreme road of Freud's Oedipus complexes, but the basic idea comes from him.
And everyone seems to have an opinion about Freud, including some famous writers:
John Irving said: "Sigmund Freud was a novelist with a scientific background. He just didn't know he was a novelist. All those damn psychiatrists after him, they didn't know he was a novelist either."
W.H. Auden wrote a long poem called "In Memory of Sigmund Freud," which maybe best captures how deeply Freud and his ideas have permeated culture. He wrote:
If some traces of the autocratic pose,
the paternal strictness he distrusted, still
clung to his utterance and features,
it was a protective coloration
for one who'd lived among enemies so long:
if often he was wrong and, at times, absurd,
to us he is no more a person
now but a whole climate of opinion
under whom we conduct our different lives:
Like weather he can only hinder or help.
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®