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Post Janet Malcolm, Neighbor and Colleague
Created by John Eipper on 06/30/21 3:47 AM

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Janet Malcolm, Neighbor and Colleague (Leo Goldberger, USA, 06/30/21 3:47 am)

My gratitude to David Duggan (June 29th) for his calling attention to the recent death of a wonderful, unique and highly readable journalist and writer--who was indeed associated most of her working life with the New Yorker on a variety of intriguing subjects.

I came to know Janet Malcolm personally, as we both had second homes and mutual friends in the Berkshires, Massachusetts.  Moreover, back in the early 1980s she consulted me about my views on psychoanalysis in the context of working on her articles and eventual book. (I was a graduate of the so-called "orthodox" Freudian psychoanalytic post-doctoral institute, being one of the few non-MDs admitted in my time--as the promise of my being a research-trained clinical psychologist and an academic doing some empirical research was very much needed.)

Malcolm was working on her articles following her interviews with Jeffrey Masson. He was at that point in his colorful and ever-changing life and work history--including a rather brief stint as an analyst trained in Toronto and the keeper of the Freud Archives in London under Anna Freud's supervision--not to mention his dozen or so university appointments over these past years. For a variety of reasons, outlined in his book, he emerged from his early Freudian encounters as a staunch anti-Freudian, as reflected in interviews and his own book, The Assault on Truth (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1984).

After meeting with Masson myself as I was asked to discuss his book at a meeting organized by his publisher, I quickly withdrew from any further contacts with him for a variety of reasons.  One of these was my disagreement with the tenor of the book, but also, for reasons that might involve the sort of psychologizing that David Duggan would likely frown upon. On that score and on a purely descriptive level, I'd simply say he struck me as a seductive charmer, and an interesting and extremely bright fellow--needless to say of a Harvard-trained Sanskrit scholar--but obviously self-centered to a fault. For example, he'd call me and announced he was planning a new project, a book on the "Rescue of the Danish Jews," and wanted some names of historians in Denmark to consult: would I help him? A bit shocked, I reminded him of my own work on the same subject. His response: "Well, I'll find something new in the historic archives." My reply: "But the Danish Archives are all in Danish," to which his response: "It would take me just two weeks to learn Danish."  In a few other encounters, his arrogance was on the same level of grandiosity!

One of his anti-Freudian buddies was Peter Swales--a self-established historian and yet another anti-Freudian with the persistent claim of Freud's affair with his sister-in-law Minna Bernays.  (By the way, Swales's claim is that it was she and not his niece as David Duggan would have it, whom Freud presumably impregnated in Rome, followed by an abortion.) While I heard the story by Swales himself at my invitation at an NYU conference (1981) when I was the director there--you may see my response in this article the next day in the NY Times (link below).


I was a bit put off by David's off-handed dismissal of psychoanalysis as a profession that has "absolutely no standards."  This is far from the truth. What is more to the point is that over the years there have been a wealth of so-called "psychodynamic theories" and sometimes called "psychoanalytic" when, in fact, they might diverge in major or just minor ways from the more traditional Freudian discourse and practice. The latter perspective is quite well disciplined and regulated by the American Psychoanalytic Association.

And I know for a fact that Janet Malcolm respected her psychoanalyst, also a graduate of the New York Psychoanalytic Institute and member of the American association.  I believe her book was a serious and searching exploration of our complex and not too readily explicated profession.

JE comments:  Leo, this is WAIS content at its "WAISiest"--meaning, obviously, its best.  These personal encounters with history's significant people and events are both intriguing and memorable.  May I ask if you continued to follow the Minna Bernays-Freud liaison thesis?  The "non-smoking gun" to refute the Swales claim lies in their extensive correspondence, which contains no hint of a sexual relationship.

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