2015 May

An Analyst Moves: Tai Chi and Tai Kwon Do

Posted by | Uncategorized | One Comment

Chung, my Tai Chi instructor — after I finally get the basic twenty-four movements correctly — takes my palm and firmly presses her forefinger into its live center. Here is the place, my yin from which the Chi must exit; my yang sits in my finger tips.   Chi is the energy, she explains, in the Universe that I can take in with the breathing.  Last year, when I was visiting in San Francisco and rejoined my old Tai Chi group in Golden Gate park, in the basin between the Art Museum and the Science museum, she would take me aside afterwards, this diminutive Korean woman in her seventies, to instruct me in the basic moves. We went to the eastern edge of the Art museum; as she later explained, the pine trees give off more Chi.  These should enter through my finger tips, the soles of my feet.

She “rather leads” the mostly Chinese group (a new member is asked if they speak Mandarin or Cantonese; as I am visiting from Israel, one woman asks if I speak Assyrian.)  “Rather leads,” as she prefers not to. She does her movements often with eyes closed and slowly, as if immersed in some glycerin-like fluid. Her fingers are poised like  a ballerina, the forefinger a bit aloft from the others, the middle finger closer to her yin.  So, I am surprised at the end of our hour of movement when this close-eyed dancer turns to me with concern that I am not breathing properly.  She hears my non-breaths behind her.  I, relieved that I got the basic moves correct, had not noticed my breathing. She explained that the breath should come in through the nose, fill the chest and abdomen to just below the navel. Then I should feel it travel backwards to my spine, upwards and lock the inhale at the top of my neck. Then exhale.  Certain movements for inhale; others for exhale. As it is a martial art, the attacking moves are on exhale.

Today, she dismisses the very new two Chinese men to ask Judy (a newbie) and I to go through the basic twenty-four. She is pleased that I get them and breathe properly, then instructs me with the yin and yang.  Judy is studying acupuncture.

Chung’s husband, Ikjin, is my Tai Kwan Do instructor. (I have become a family enterprise.)  She had told me of him last summer and early this summer, I asked her if I could take lessons with him. He had been brought to the U.S. in the mid-60’s to instruct Army personnel in the Presidio — then still a military base — on martial arts.  She would speak with him. He asks to interview me.  We sit in a meticulous living room, shoes off, hand-tatted eyelet cell linens on the armrests of couch and chairs.  He knows that I am a professor.  He knows from Chung about my Tai Chi efforts. He tells me that he is retired , but still has one class of former military students who come each Monday from Napa, a two-hour drive. He decides that he will take me on as a private student at his old rate — $25.  He asks me to “interview” him. As I gather my thoughts in surprise, he approaches and asks me to grasp his hand: it is brick-like. He asks me to come from behind and give a bear hug; he slips away like quicksilver between fingertips.  He tells how after his interview at the Army base before a table of officers, one, a fellow topping six feet and over 220 pounds, rises from the table and approaches Ikjin.  Tells him that he will put him into a Chinese neck lock intended to kill. Ikjin gets the fellow to his knees in a moment and Ikjin gets the job.  Not permitted to live on the base, he takes the bus to the Presidio each morning, waits at the gate and a jeep escorts him to teach his classes.

Whereas, Chung says, Tai Chi helps one take in Chi from the universe, Tai Kwan Do is to use the Chi against others.  It has a brutal forcefullness, a focus.  When first taught in 1950’s South Korea, Ikjin explains, Tai Kwan Do is taught to kill on first blow. But, he will teach me how to defend myself and get away quickly.

A very different seeps into this basement room. The body is kept low with bent knees but always always upright torso. As best possible, as often as one can, keep the body sideways to the opponent — a smaller target. Feet apart, often one behind, just as one keeps one hand lower than the other so that one is always prepared for a follow-up blow.  One hand may deflect or defend, but the other is ready to hit for eyes, jugular. One foot carries much weight so that the other can strike the ribs (liver or spleen), or head.  I am put through six variations of upper body maneuvers, reminded: legs deeply bent, body low, upper torso upright.  Then come kicks — forward (metatarsal only, toes retracted), roundhouse (using the torso to spiral the force, snapping tthe upper foot at least as high as the ribs), side kick (lower two-thirds of the foot and outer edge).  Whatever the strike, put a snap and torsion into it. He demonstrates how Muhammed Ali surprised his opponents with a terminal torsion to his blows to the head: the final twist breaks blood vessels around the eyes.  Of the fist, middle knuckle leads.

He demonstrates at me, stopping centimeters — perhaps millimeters — away; I feel the force of compressed air against my face.  To learn defensive maneuvers — deflections with the fist (also with torsion, with a snap) — he asks me to prevent his touching my shoulder; I cannot as he is too quick: like snatching a fly with chopsticks.

While Ikjin takes pleasure in my progress, Chung is irritated that I am not remembering my Tai Chi. I reappear today.  It is my redemption as she watches my twenty-four, hears my breathing in the Chi and instructs me on the Yin and Yang of my hands and feet.  She finishes. If I plant my feet with the Yang firmly rooted (she points to a nearby ginko’s roots to demonstrate), I will be stable.  I root myself as well as I can.

copyright N. Szajnberg, 2015

Giovacchini’s Last Book: Impact of Narcissism

Posted by | Uncategorized | No Comments

Impact of Narcissism: The Errant Therapist on a Chaotic Quest by Peter Giovacchini, NH: Jason Aronson 2000.  Reviewed by Nathan Szajnberg, MD

Ved Mehta, the Nobel prize-winning author, gave four principles for good writing: clarity, harmony, truth and an unflinching courtesy to the reader.  

Peter Giovacchini follows these principles in his latest book , Impact of Narcissism: the Errant Therapist on A Chaotic Quest (NJ: Jason Aronson, 2000).

This is two books interwoven. First, he writes clearly about clinical work with the narcissistic component of character disorders.  Like Freud, he punctuates narrative by clinical material.  Second, and a more challenging task, he writes of the jeopardy to our discipline when we become narcissistically invested in our theories over our patients’ needs.

Kuhn emphasized the essential tension between daily normative science and periodic paradigmatic discoveries (Archimedes’ “Eureka!”).  Giovacchini encourages us to use our theoretical ears to listen to patients, yet use our scientific curiosity and thinking to challenge our theories, when patients challenge us.  Dora did this to Freud; we should follow suit.

This book also gives a remarkably crisp summary of major psychoanalytic theories; a cry for not inventing neologisms (“old wine in murky bottles”) when previous terms, such as the transference/countertransference axis, serves well; explorations of how countertransferences can be along a benign/malignant axis; relating the countertransference to the ego-ideal,the superego; and explores the continuum of narcissism from psychopathology to how it contributes to self-esteem and creativity.

Let us return to perhaps the more unsettling theme of Giovacchini’s book: how narcissism in our profession has jeopardized our credibility, or at least, through hero-worship, hindered  our science and technique’s development.

Frattaroli wrote how Freud was both heterodox and orthodox with his own ideas (Frattaroli, 1995, 2001).  Internecine warfare began when his acolytes could become either “orthodox” (Jones, Strachey, Anna Freud)  or “heterodox” (Jung, Adler, perhaps even the beloved Ferenczi).  But, Giovacchini, in a chapter entitled “Old wine in murky bottles,” argues that, at times, our colleagues invent new terms that do not represent new ideas.  Intersubjectivity, borrowing Hegel, leads us to a subjective interpretation of reality, a relativism, that approaches nihilism.  Giovacchini struggles to address the recent revelation that Heinz Kohut’s major work, “The Two Psychoanalyses of Mr. Z,” was clinically falsified, then Giovacchini takes on the cult-like stance surrounding and protecting Heinz Kohut.  He does so, while avoiding ad hominem attack. Giovacchini critiques the substance of Kohut’s theory; but he also cautions that if we as a discipline do not openly discuss falsified data, we lose our credibility.  This is troubling: how do we justify apparently new theories (such as self psychology) when we learn that the clinical data upon which it is based, is manufactured, false.  If Kohut fabricates a second analysis for Mr. Z. (himself), then do we need to question his theories?  In other fields, such as physical anthropology, when Piltdown man was revealed to be a hoax, the scientists within the discipline both revealed the hoax and rejected theories underlying it. Yet, when Newton in his notebooks on the Optiks, would scratch-out experiments because they did not agree with his theories, we see his genius justified his “liberty” with the data.  Yet, our responsibility as a discipline is to at least discuss such fabrications openly.

The core of Giovacchini’s ideas are pristine, simple: maintain an intrapsychic focus; adhere to the goals of psychoanalysis –— to help the patient acquire structure, enhance autonomy and master impulses.

He outlines the differences between Oedipal and Narcissus myths (and the psychopathologies they define.  Oedipus’ tragic life was initiated by his father’s fear; it was set into motion by Oedipus’ lack of self-knowledge  (Had he thought about himself after the seer’s prophecy, he could have known that he would not be the kind of man who would kill his father, mount his mother); and an awareness of others’ needs (his concern about the populace plagued by the Sphinx) matched by his unawareness of himself.  Narcissus, beloved of himself, stares at his image in the stream, until the gods condemn him to be rooted by the stream, head bowed, always to gaze at himself.  He is frozen and unaware of others (except to the extent that they reflect him).

Don Quixote parodies narcissism.  He is grandiose; he disturbs the world; he sees Dulcinea, a whore, in his idealized image.  While the popular Broadway version romanticizes him in an appealing light, albeit suspended between pathos and bathos, he perturbs others.

Giovacchini outlines a structural model of the self as a continuum; from appearance, through religion, to increasingly internal structures, including self-esteem.  He presents the false self as a ubiquitous; to the extent that we sacrifice our true beliefs for the sake of the external world, we all have some degree of false self.

He offers two levels of nurturing: the foreground of nurturing; the background of soothing. And, much of clinical work with those who suffer from narcissistic ailments, benefit from soothing.  The analytic setting is a frame that has therapeutic benefits.

Giovacchini notes that the personal and the professional have become blended, particularly among schools such as the intersubjectivists.  But cultural mores also have shifted, shifting clinical practice. For instance, in his parody of Kohut, “Two analyses of Ms. A.,” he points out how the sexual conservatism of the 1950’s resulted in his supervisor urging him to place restrictions on his patient; rethinking this case fifty years later results in a different formulation and different technique.

But, the softened boundaries between personal and professional puts greater demands on self-knowledge.  When our work area, also our playground, is the intrapsychic, the inner lives of the analyst and the analysand, then analysts have the greater responsibility of self-knowledge — of reading our thoughts, feelings, desires, fears, wishes and hopes — so that these do not substantively interfere with the analysand’s need to create, project, replicate feelings within the psychoanalyst in order to make use of analyses.

Different writers offer different contributions.  Milton gave us passion; Baedecker, economy; Bellow, the adherence of high and low culture.  Peter Giovacchini with economy of language, with passion for psychoanalysis, compassion for his analysands, and with “unflinching courtesy for the reader,” teaches us how to heal.


Frattaroli, E.  (1995). Heterodox and orthodox Freud, In Educating the Emotions; Bruno Bettelheim and Psychoanalytic Development. Ed. N. Szajnberg, NY: Plenum.

Frattaroli, E. (2001). Healing the Soul In the Age of the Brain, NY: Viking.

Kohut, H. (1979) The Two Analyses of Mr. Z., IJP: 60,p. 3-27.

Kuhn, T. (1977)The Essential Tension.Chicago, UC Press.

Mehta, V. (2001). The Academic Scholar.

Getting Dieseled

Posted by | Uncategorized | No Comments

About my first Diesel opening.

OK, my first anything opening.

Since writing this, Diesel has outgrown these digs, shuttered them and ensconced elsewhere. So this is a requiem to a building.

L., who helps Diesel find possible stores and set up their design in U.S. cities, had invited me. Thursday late, she called, saying that Francis or Danieli of Diesel had called desperately saying that they needed extra props for the store: old TV sets, beat-up furniture. The theme was to be the aftermath of a tornado.  We lugged over an ancient tubed TV to the store on Market Street, where we were met by a cheerful helper, who opened the car door and announced, “Hi, I’m Jeremiah,” which was also tattooed on his left neck, should a vampire be interested in the brand name of his source.  But, easy to overlook Jeremiah’s name tattoo amongst the other skin art on him and others. Branson also was helping with the design.  He is topping two meters and heightened by a dyed black hair wave that brings to mind Hirokawa’s tsunami prints; a flip of the wave at the top gives him a lopsided look, which is straightened with a smile. As we hunkered over the TV, he was unloading broken branches for the windows.

The Diesel store is a triangular bankrupt bank building at Market and Stockton, opposite the Apple store. The building looks like the Flatiron building in NYC, an isosceles triangle to fit the pie-shaped corner. Diesel’s landlord gave them two choices for outside color: black or white. Diesel, being Diesel – edgy, a bit ahead, a touch (and then some) outré — picked black. The pockmarked black stone apex contrasted with the smooth grey and glass exterior of Apple’s box.  Perhaps the sand-blasted glass overhang was the one connection with Apples sandblasted green-glass staircase.

Doors opened and there was a line, recession be damned. L. said that one of her twenty-something workers saves months to get a Diesel t; months more to score a pair of jeans, which will set you back at least couple of bills.  Diesel afficionados know their jeans by the precise fabric, the cut and whether they were woven on special paper looms.  We are first greeted by black-suited security guys – no Diesel styling for them, opening the doors at the apex of the corner. Behind them, the DJ was spinning away, mostly hip-hoppish or crunch, but an occasional Montovani version of Thriller. The store is purposely left raw: concrete showing, steel beams. Diesel wants an edgy look. To the left is a plywood wall with markers attached for graffiti. Only at L’s insistence did the Diesel guys cover the exterior window for the dressing rooms and put hooks and chair inside; otherwise, strollers on Stockton or emerging from the BART could have ogled you skinnying into your jeans or a Black gold top.  Diesel was thinking Loehman’s back room; L. demanded more.

Diesel leased 5,000 s ft. of three floors, then ripped out two floors to have a two-story store. The details and how L. worked on these, watching hawk-like over the past 15 months are impressive. For instance, most shopping is done between knee and shoulder height. Many stores use two racks, putting your eyes somewhere between the hems of the skirts above and the waistbands of those below (or the sleeve ends of the suits above and the padded shoulders of those below, for men).  Diesel tries to maximize. They asked that the structural “bones” of the store be incorporated into the selling. Poured lateral concrete anti-earthquake “shins” were to serve double-duty as display shelves just south of the patellae. (One could also take a rest on these, if one could find a moment of rest in the midst of frenzy.)  But, the contractor poured the cement floor some eighteen inches too low, putting the display “shins” at waist level.  First, it took L. to notice the half-million dollar error. Then it took months of forehead-to-forehead negotiation to get them to add a wooden floor over the concrete slab to raise the floor to proper height. I noticed L. and the VP of Diesel enjoying bouncing on their elevated wooden floor, like on trampolines.

Our donated TV was paired with another at the back of the store’s first floor, the jeans region. The TV’s showed a snow pattern; on their faces I had watched the artist paint “straight legs” and “boot cut”, letting the red paint dribble down the screens’ chins.  I nonchalantly checked the fabric of some jeans hanging by hook on display, when a comely saleslady asked if she could help. I said I was only looking and she mentioned that the men’s section was over there.  Couldn’t tell the jeans’ genes without a scorecard.  The different models of jeans are displayed on a rod, with lengthy descriptions on each artificially aged tag: this one was woven on special rice-paper looms to give it the wrinkled look; another had built-in holes and rips.

Diesel takes pride in hiring artists to do their clothing design, keep them at least a year ahead of the couture-curve.  The display tables are all from Italy: vintage machines that now supported the rag trade.  The central column around which the staircase hung was covered in a hammered chromey sheathing.  V. asked if the Diesel people were able to hammer out their aggressions on this display. Atop the staircase were more upscale togs. The design was clever. An $800 delicate black leather guy’s jacket had award medals embossed within. When I felt the jacket, I realzed that these were not embossed but embedded between the leather and lining, pressed into the leather. There were delicate women’s jackets that looked leather but were of soft fabric. A women’s woven top had its back slit above and below, revealing a touch of shoulder and a hint of waist in a light neutral acqua. The Black gold brand, which seems to be for the over 30’s who wish for Diesel but won’t do high-top sneakers, torn jeans and t’s, are in the apse of the top floor. Above a central table is a glittery ball, like those which once rotated above dance floors; on the table were well-beaten brass instruments over which were draped ties, socks. The t’s seemed particularly favored. Most were made in India, L. remarking on the softness of the cotton there; the designs either said Diesel or shouted something Dieseleze.

Back downstairs in the far left corner is Diesel for kids.

Diesel sneakers were worn by all the staff, including F. the VP from New York. Parisian, he sports a blackV-neck sweater, V-d further by his aviator sunglasses. On his feet were the old-fashioned high-tops we used to sport for Basketball pre-Jordan, but refashioned. Some were laced on the bias; some had a touch of Prada.

V. and L., the partners who found this property, oversaw the lease and building and got Diesel into it, parked themselves with F., the Diesel VP on the lower landing of the staircase, admiring, chatting, appreciating what they had accomplished.

Now, to find a pair of jeans that would fit me.