Thursday, February 09, 2012

Ha!

I wrote in the discussion following yesterday's post that Philip Marlowe's tentative, fumbling attempts at psychoanalysis in The High Window are vastly more human, and hence easier to read, than Ross Macdonald's smug, wince-making, know-it-all amateur Freudianism in The Galton Case.

Imagine my delight, then, when I found the following as I read more from The High Window:
“`The old woman treats her like a rough parent treats a naughty child.'
“`I see. Regressive.' 
“`What’s that?' 
“`Emotional shock, and the subconscious attempt to escape back to childhood. If Mrs. Murdock scolds her a good deal, but not too much, that would increase the tendency. Identification of childhood subordination with childhood protection.' 
“`Do we have to go into that stuff?' I growled.”
Chandler puts the analysis in a supporting character's mouth (and that character is a doctor); Marlowe is skeptical of the diagnosis, but despite his gruff response, to which the doctor responds with good humor, he listens. In The Galton Case, the psychologist is the protagonist, Lew Archer, and the psychological pronouncements are offered with the humorless arrogance of the true-believing amateur. I know which I prefer.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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27 Comments:

Blogger Dana King said...

You've put your finger on why Macdonald doesn't resonate with me the way Chandler does. I can appreciate how good Macdonald is, but he seems to go out of his way at least once a book to show me how smart he (and Archer) is. It takes me out of the story.

Aaron Copland does the same as a composer. Most of his pieces have at least one section where I can visualize Copland sitting back and thinking, "Look how clever I am."

February 09, 2012  
Blogger Dana King said...

I almost forgot to thank you. I finished a book yesterday at lunch. Yesterday's blog post reminded me how long it had been since I re-read any Chandler, so I started THE HIGH WINDOW before turning in last night. Like seeing an old friend again.

February 09, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Neat distinction. Yes, protagonists are tricky characters. If you give them some depth, you must do so carefully.

February 09, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, again with the caveat that I've read just the one novel by Macdonald, I never got the feeling that he was showing off. Rather, I got the feeling that he was more a clever college bore, a sophomore absolutely convinced that Freudianism, Marxism, drugs, rock and roll, Reganism or what have you so self-evidently held the key to all mankind's problems that explanation, exposition, and argument were superfluous; the jargon was enough. I have read that Macdonald himself was in analysis. He may earnestly have believed this stuff, at the cost of making Lew Archer, at least for parts of one book, a solipsistic bore (and creating some small plot implausibilities in the bargain).

I don't know enough about Copland to make a argument like that. You think he's showing off with he claims to know the heart of America in the Appalachian Spring Suite?

(And hey, I heard two guys jabbering away about music at the Pen & Pencil Club the other night. They turned out to be the principal and associate principal clarinetists of the Philadelphia Orchestra.)

February 09, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Dana, you're welcome. I may even brave the copy water of Playback one of these days. I've read The Big Sleep; Farewell, My Lovely; The Long Goodbye; The Little Sister; and now The High Window in the past year or so,

February 09, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, I.J. As annoying as Macdonald's Freudianism is in The Galton Case, and as detrimental to the story on several levels, I'll cut him one additional bit of slack

I don't know my American cultural history all that well, but Freudianism may just have begun its penetration into mass culture in 1959, when Macdonald wrote The Galton Case. Some of the passages that are so grating now may have been revelatory then. On the other hand, some popular artists were able to bring humor to the subject (think of Woody Allen's essays not so many years after Macdonald's book.)

Macdonald let an ideology, or an idee fixee obtrude on his story, and that's an unforgivable sin.

February 09, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've just looked back at one of the posts I made when I read The Galton Case this past summer, and the book's Freudianizing is as jaw-droppingly awful as I remember it. Here's some of what I wrote at the time:

"An article called `The Second Generation of Hard-Boiled Writers' tells us that `Ross Macdonald brought Freudian analysis from the university, where millions of students were learning it, to explain to a mass public why good people do bad things.'

"In The Galton Case (1959), some of the analysis is right out of a freshman class:

"But she held herself with adolescent awkwardness, immobilized by feelings she couldn't express."

or:

"She walked away from me and her fear."

How does the protagonist/narrator, Lew Archer, know this on first meetings with people he has never seen before?
...
And how about "I had a delayed gestalt after I'd given up on the subject"? I think that's Macdonald's attempt to update the old something-bothered-me-but-I-couldn't-put-my-finger-on-it.-It-didn't-hit-me-till-later trope. But delayed gestalt? Delayed-effing-gestalt?

February 09, 2012  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

I mentioned this in a comment on an earlier post about Macdonald, so I'll make this brief. There's no doubt that he "earnestly believed this stuff". He began to immerse himself in Freud when he entered university, and his doctoral dissertation on Coleridge was wholly Freudian in nature. Indeed, he argued that Coleridge's prose works could only be understood within a Freudian framework. He shouldn't have made Lew Archer a P.I., but rather a Freudian analyst who inadvertently runs up against crimes he feels compelled to investigate in the tradition of crime fiction's amateur crime-solving lawyers, academics, antique dealers, rabbis, priests and nuns, and sweet little old ladies. Thus his intentions would be out in the open.

February 09, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

But that would have meant no theorizing about Chandler as the father whom Macdonald both worships and must supplant.

February 09, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

A Freudian out in the open. Once, again, ha!

February 09, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

I don't know my American cultural history all that well, but Freudianism may just have begun its penetration into mass culture in 1959, when Macdonald wrote The Galton Case

'59 sounds late to me, Peter. I loathe terms like mass culture but if anything is mass culture, then it's the movies, and I can think of at least three explicitly psychoanalytic movies from the '40s: Spellbound 47, The Dark Past 47 and Home Of The Brave 49.

You mention amateur Freudianism. Do you think McDonald would have been better if he had used professional Freudianism?

My v-word is fiess. Damn, just one letter short of an early psychoanalyst.

February 10, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I think "mass culture" is appropriate here. In this case, I mean Freudianism's entrance into widespread, casual use, its appearance in movies and on television and as a target for jokes, and so on.

The problem with The Galton Case is that Macdonald let his amateur Freudianism overcome his professionalism as an author. The book's weakness is not that its characters repressed fears or secrets, but rather that Macdonald was so clumsy when he chose to have Lew Archer think and talk about them.

February 10, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

That should have been Spellbound 45

After a little Shakespeare, Spellbound opens with this:

Our story deals with psychoanalysis, the method by which modern science treats the emotional problems of the sane

The analyst seeks only to induce the patient to talk about his hidden problems, to open the locked doors of his mind.

Once the complexes that have been disturbing the patient are uncovered and interpreted, the illness and confusion disappear...and the devils of unreason are driven from the human soul.

I love the last bit: the devils of unreason are driven from the human soul. It seems to parallel the religious superstition of exorcism with the non-religious superstition of psychoanalysis.

February 10, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It helps that Hitchcock had a sense of humor, a quality in which The Galton Case does not abound.

February 10, 2012  
Blogger Frank Loose said...

THE GALTON CASE was a pivotal book for RM. It represented a shift in the subject matter he would explore for another dozen books. In them he explored themes of personal identity and family schisms. In every book after THE GALTON CASE, the sins of the past resonate forward to claim new victims.

I can't say that some of the things that bother you in TGC are not present in his other books, I simply don't have that strong a recall ability, but i do feel that the rest of the books got stronger as he went along. That is not the case with a lot of authors who do series work, as they fade trying to stay fresh within the confines of a series character and the mystery genre itself.

I have read all the Lew Archers multiple times and still enjoy pulling one off the shelf to re-read. Ditto Chandler's work. i see shortcomings in both, but i overlook the flaws for the story and for what each author is able to accomplish within the genre that many many other authors are not able to do, even when standing on those two writers' shoulders. And I think everyone writing detective fiction today owes a creative debt to both of them. Chandler because of style, and MacDonald because of theme.

I find much more to complain about in today's contemporary crime fiction than i ever found in Ross MacDonalds work. I can't tell you the number of times i toss a contemporary crime/mystery book because of unimaginative and trite writing.

But, we all have different likes and dislikes. I would suggest you read one of MacDonald's later books before passing final judgment. Three personal favorites of mine are THE INSTANT ENEMY, THE ZEBRA STRIPED HEARSE, and THE UNDERGROUND MAN.

February 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

As essential as Freudian psychology appears to have been in Macdonald's life, I'll have to regard it as an annoying quirk in his writing, at least for now. That quirk, as obtrusive and as badly dated as it may be, can't obscure the stunning plotting of The Galton Case. I don't remember feeling so sharply divided over any crime novel, liking one aspect so much and so dislking another.

I don't think one can divide Chandler and Macdonald so neatly into style and theme. Chandler wrote about family secrets before Macdonald did; he was just no Freudian.

February 11, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I guess I'd have to disagree with Frank, at least as far as The Underground Man is concerned. I was nearly halfway through with it a couple of months ago before I realized I'd read it less than a year ago. I don't think this is due to my impending dementia, because I periodically pick up a book I don't think I've read, read a few pages, and then realize that I've already read it, and put it down again. I just didn't like it all that much the first time. It obviously didn't leave much of an impact on me.

Unlike some other readers, I have found the ever-recurring theme of "the sins of the father shall be visited upon the son" tiresome after a while. I can't recall the exact quote, but a character in an Ed McBain 87th precinct novel thinks to himself that crime doesn't sit around festering until a detective has time to come along looking for some crime to solve. And I think I feel the same way.

That said, I too "toss [aside many] a contemporary crime/mystery book because of unimaginative and trite writing." And I plan to re-read several of the Ross Macdonalds (just not the later ones).

As for Freud, with the exception of the men responsible for the century's wars and genocides, I can think of no person in the 20th century with a more pernicious legacy.

February 13, 2012  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I think you're being too hard on Macdonald, Peter: surely this psycho-analysis is solely for the purpose of putting ideas in the mind of the reader, or, even, of 'leading them along'

I don't think there's so much psycho-analysis in 'The Zebra-Striped Hearse', the Macdonald Archer novel I've been recommending to you since forever, for its beautifully labyrinthine plotting.
But it wouldn't bother me so much, if there was

February 13, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, oddly enough I'm about to finish reading a crime novel that I knew I had started reading some time ago but now realize I had read all of.

I have not considered the matter deeply enough to rank Freud among the twentieth century's villains. But certainly coarse vulgarizations of his ideas has had a pernicious influence on pop culture. This is not to denigrate the potency of families as a theme in crime fiction, as Chandler, Hammett, and others well knew.

February 14, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, the odds are that anyone other than me who comments on this post has read more Ross Macdonald than I have so may be able to judge better his use of psychoanalysis as a theme.

In any case, I don't criticize The Galton Case for incorporating psychoalaysis but rather for incorporating cheap psychoanalytic jargon, which is not the same thing. "I had a delayed gestalt after I'd given up on the subject" may be the most risible line I have ever read in a crime novel.

February 14, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

...not to denigrate the potency of families as a theme in crime fiction, as Chandler, Hammett, and others well knew.

Not at all. But does it have to be the same family dynamic over and over again, as in Macdonald? Sheesh, the way I harp on the poor guy you'd never know I'm a great admirer of his writing.

February 16, 2012  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Of course, Elisabeth, everything starts at 'the Brothers Karamazov'
Or, perhaps, Cain and Abel

February 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've read just the one book, and my annoyance with the freshman-level Freudianism overshadowed my awe at The Galton Case's skillful plotting.

February 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Which is to say that your divided (Macdonald himself probably would have said, "conflicted") feelings about Macdonald don't surprise me.

February 16, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

TCK, I thought everything started with the Epic of Gilgamesh. or the Rig Veda, or...anyhow, the point is that to reject Macdonald's jargon is not necessarily to reject his themes.

February 17, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I was reminded of this post as I was reading the last couple of pages of Charles Williams' Dead Calm, (1963).

The main male protagonist/hero says: "...It's just as I told you all along; he was already irrational and didn't know what he was confusing [him] with his father. Probably nobody will ever know what his father did to him, but it was there in his subconscious all the time, and when his mind began to let go--" He gestured wearily. "God, I'm tired of sounding like a discount-house psychiatrist."

I haven't read a lot of crime fiction of the 1960s-1970s but I'm beginning to think that writers' explorations of the story behind the guy "who seemed like a nice person, I can't imagine why he did these horrible things" must have flowered during these decades.

February 22, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder if that period also marks the flowering of the journalistic cliche of the neighbor who says of some killer that "He was a quiet man."

February 23, 2012  

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