Part 05, Chapters 01-10
Harvard — the Fourth Year
Part 5, Chapter 1
“To know that for destruction ice
Is also great….”
Fire and Ice
Within a few days of arriving in Cambridge, David could see that everything once again would be a little different from what he’d imagined.
After the thirty-hour bus ride from Michigan, he spent an uneventful couple of days with Jim and his wife, and then started looking for somewhere to live. He found a place near the university: a room in a neat, tidy apartment that he would share with four other students, two from Harvard, one from MIT, and an exchange student from Belgrade.
He couldn’t ask his parents for money, of course. He knew that if he did that, his poor mother would start trying to use money again as a way of controlling him, a way of extorting attention from him, because having power and being the center of attention was her substitute for being loved. David knew that if he didn’t submit to that power and give her all his attention, the unhappy, emotionally misshapen woman couldn’t know he loved her.
More than that, she seemed to suffer from a kind of compulsion to make David emotionally dependent on her and on her husband, David’s stepfather, (whom she apparently regarded as simply one more appendage, the way she regarded David).
Not only that, she also had to be able to exploit David’s dependence on her. She couldn’t let him simply do what he wanted to do — for example, go to graduate school and study for a doctorate. (That was something, incidentally, that she and David’s stepfather would in the end be able to put a stop to, just as they had somewhat less successfully tried to stop — or at least discourage — David from going to Harvard in the first place.)
Or so David thought. And because he thought those things – even though he knew he should not be thinking them – a Harvard psychiatrist had diagnosed David as schizophrenic, and certainly that was the right diagnosis. David had told Bradley – his psychiatrist – that he didn’t really believe the things he thought about his mother and stepfather, but he was afraid he might start believing them. Obviously, Bradley was correct in categorizing someone like David, or anyone at all who was even tempted to think such things, as clearly schizophrenic.
And now, at the start of that summer in Cambridge, before his final year at Harvard, he began his solitary search for a job.
When he found one, it was of course neither very interesting nor very lucrative. At that point in his life, though, and after all of the bewildering – for him – things that had happened since he first went to Harvard, he had such a poor opinion of himself that he couldn’t even think of a way of finding work that might enhance or make use of his intelligence, his mind, or his personality. He didn’t know how to find work that even paid a decent wage. He told himself that all of the really desirable summer jobs had already been taken, and that the only thing left was the sort of work that was easiest for him to find, another job in a factory. That decision on David’s part – it is hardly necessary to point this out – was just one more indication of the fact that David was one of those people who always take the easiest way out of a difficult situation.
He didn’t try to see anyone who might have been able to help him find a reasonable job. Probably he was too proud to do that, or he felt he didn’t deserve help from anyone – but that idea is itself probably a kind of perverse pride. Whatever the case, it has to be admitted that there was really very little that anyone could have done to help him. The friends he’d had before at Harvard seemed now to belong to a part of his life that he had no connection with.
He continued to plod along what seemed to him to be his lonely road, which many will say was all he deserved in life. If he’d really been as intelligent and sensitive as he thought he was, he would have been able to find something exciting to do that summer. He would have found a way of supporting himself more comfortably, instead of continuing to inflict a sort of punishment on himself.
He began to think that his essential mediocrity was indicated — even proven — by the kind of work he found for himself that summer.
That thought was the only thing that could explain his despair, his inability to look for help, his willingness to submit to the dullest and physically most painful demands he’d encountered in years.
And many will believe that such a thought was absolutely correct.
He worked that summer in a place that manufactured school supplies — notebooks and note pads. He had to operate different kinds of machinery in a blisteringly hot, dirty, suffocating factory. There were times when he wished he’d stayed on Mackinac and continued to work at the construction site.
By the end of the summer he was in a worse frame of mind than he’d been when the summer started. And of course he didn’t blame himself for that. His allowed himself simply to dwell on the supposed fact that all of the difficulties of returning to Harvard were not made any easier by two of the very people who were supposed to help him return.
Years later he would also realize that perhaps the main reason for the state of mind he was in was that he believed in nothing now, other than what he could see, feel, hear, and touch. With such a worldview of course, God or a coherent system of ethics and morality were as irrelevant as fairy tales.
Part 5, Chapter 2
How many times, like lotus lilies risen
Upon the surface of a river, there
Have risen floating on my blood the rare
Soft glimmers of my hope escaped from prison.
–D. H. Lawrence
Lotus Hurt by the Cold
The first person David had to talk with about re-entering Harvard was the senior tutor — the administrative head — of Adams House, the Harvard undergraduate residence David would be living in again. The senior tutor’s name was Bob Lavransson, a man in his early thirties whom David had known when he’d been in Adams House three years before. With his adolescent faculty for judging others, David had long ago decided that Lavransson was superficial and incompetent; he’d always impressed David as the archetypal bureaucrat: narrow, closed, selfish, concerned with status and appearances, unsympathetic, and addicted to routine and mechanical behavior, in himself and in others.
Some will say that David made this sort of judgment about Lavransson mainly because many of those qualities that he disliked in the man were part of David’s own behavior and personality as well. There may perhaps be some truth to that.
One characteristic David did not share with Lavransson, though, was the way Lavransson tended to perceive anyone who might in the least be gifted or unusual or perhaps extraordinary. Lavransson gave the impression that such people appeared to him to be dangerous or threatening in some way. They were the kind of people he seemed to feel he had to bring to heel, to humiliate, and to control as much as possible. By making other people smaller in some way, Lavransson made himself feel greater, more important, and more powerful. At least that was the attitude he seemed to have toward David.
It made David sad that at Harvard, of all places, such a man was able to achieve and remain in a position where he could influence — perhaps “damage” would be a better word — the lives of so many students who did not quite fit the narrow and confining mold he thought they should conform to.
Bradley, David’s Harvard psychiatrist, would have said, naturally, that such thinking was simply one more example of David’s paranoid tendencies, and no one can question the diagnosis of a Harvard psychiatrist. It’s true that one of Harvard’s intellectual treasures is the idea that one can — must — always question authority, but that questioning stops at the doors of the psychiatrists at the Harvard Health Center. And rightly so. If the judgments and diagnoses of Harvard psychiatrists were ever questioned and it were shown that they had ruined the life of even a single student, one of the great pillars of the university might be irreparably weakened. Legitimacy is sometimes worth a lie, even at Harvard. “Veritas” is not limitless.
When David returned to Harvard that autumn, it was certainly not the first time he realized that Harvard, in the end, was very different from what he’d expected when he entered as a freshman. Yet even with that realization, he was still the same poor, benighted — it would be unkind to say “stupid” — boy he’d always been.
Lavransson was tall and thin and lived in an apartment in Adams House in which he’d placed lace doilies on the headrests of all the overstuffed chairs that seemed to fill the place. Rather weirdly, that was what appeared to bother David almost more than anything else.
Even though he didn’t like Lavransson, David at least understood that he had to deal with him. He believed he had no choice, so he approached the man with the show of naive good will he was still able to approach most people with.
The first conversation they had that summer took place in Lavransson’s suite of rooms in Adams House.
He sat in a chair and looked at David with a thin, icy smile. He tapped his fingertips together in front of his chin. David saw his eyes glittering with a hard light.
“So you’ve come back,” he said.
“Yes,” was all David could answer.
“Or at least you hope to,” and his tight smile broadened a little.
“Well, I hope there won’t be any difficulty.”
“Oh, I shouldn’t think so.”
He turned with a faintly languid air and offered David some candy from a porcelain bowl.
David thanked him.
“Have you gone to see Dr. Bradley for your psychiatric testing yet? You know of course that when you left, the Administrative Board decided you could return only on condition that you undergo a psychiatric interview and testing.”
“I know that,” David answered, looking down at the floor. “I’ve made an appointment to see Bradley next week.”
“That’s fine. I’m sure everything’s going to be all right.”
David continued to look away.
Lavransson went on in a softer voice, “You wouldn’t care to discuss with me your reasons for leaving, would you?”
It was probably only David’s imagination – Bradley would have said it was his paranoia – but it seemed to him that for a moment he detected something like a tone of menace in Lavransson’s voice, as if he’d said, “Discuss with me, or else.” David, though, only replied, “Well, I guess it was just the pressure of work, the exams, my own inability to cope with things.” He took one of the candies Lavransson was again holding out to him. “Good cop, bad cop,” David thought to himself.
“And nothing more?”
“No, I don’t think so.” David was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable. Bob Lavransson was the last person he was going to talk to about the nightmarish day he left Harvard.
Lavransson shrugged and looked out the window. “Well, of course it’s really no concern of mine. The day you left — well, we had no idea you’d even gone, not until your parents arrived several days later to arrange for your things to be shipped back to Michigan.”
Because David was, to put it mildly, excessively sensitive, he would always think that of all the things Lavransson said to him that day, that particular remark was the most cruel. David thought there must have been a reason for saying such a thing, and he didn’t understand what that reason might be. He believed he’d gone through so much during the previous three years, at Harvard and elsewhere, and Lavransson’s remark made him feel that nothing he’d done, nothing he’d gone through, nothing he’d suffered or tried to achieve made the slightest difference to anyone. It made him feel some heavy weight had been added to the burden he was already having to carry.
As always, it would be easy to ridicule David for that kind of thinking. After all, it doesn’t seem to matter very much if what Lavransson said was true or not, though it’s hard to see how it could be true. Bradley — the psychiatrist — knew that David had left. Bradley was the one who’d suggested it, and after David had told him he would in fact leave, Bradley should have informed the university authorities.
That included Lavransson.
Perhaps, though, it wasn’t so much Lavransson’s remark that wounded David. What wounded him was that the remark seemed to show a desire to cause him pain, and he didn’t really understand then why Lavransson would want to do that.
That kind of reaction on David’s part is incomprehensible to most people and therefore, perhaps, serves to show not his sensitivity, but his deviation from the norm. That must always be borne in mind. There must be no illusions about the kind of person David was.
Part 5, Chapter 3
And these are the fruits of misspending our prime youth at the schools and universities as we do, either in learning mere words or such things chiefly, as were better unlearned.
Perhaps David’s real weakness lay not so much in a mediocre intelligence, but rather in his inability to withstand the ordinary nastiness and destructiveness that are usually involved in human relations.
At any rate, there should be no mourning for the apparent destruction of someone who seemed intelligent and idealistic when he came to Harvard. No one can be certain that David even was that sort of person. Nevertheless — whatever sort of young man he may have been — it may be useful to try to explain and define him as he was during those years at Harvard.
At that time, he had the impression that other people were always trying to explain and define him, and he hated that, although he probably brought it on himself by being such a puzzle to other people, a puzzle they felt they had to do everything they could to solve.
Perhaps if they’d succeeded, his life would have been very different.
A few days after the discussion with Lavransson, there was another interview that was important for David, this time with the psychiatrist, Bradley. Unlike Lavransson, who seemed to enjoy being cruel, Bradley seemed to be trying to be kind to him, or so David felt at first. Perhaps Bradley understood and was sorry for the way he had contributed to the wreckage David’s life had become, or for at least being unable to prevent that wreckage. Or it could be that Bradley needed to think that he was being kind, in order to compensate for the times when he’d been thoughtless and insensitive and uncomprehending. David wondered if possibly all “non-directive” psychiatrists of the period were like that. He couldn’t know for sure of course.
David’s conversation with Lavransson took place in June. By the time Bradley’s secretary notified him that Bradley was able to fit an appointment into his schedule, it was nearly the end of the summer. David had spent almost three months in the hot, noisy, brutalizing factory.
Perhaps one reason he’d been able to tolerate those conditions was that the factory was in a way little different from many other places he’d worked in during the previous three years.
David had once dreamed of spending his life as a Milton scholar, contemplating what he thought of as the majesty of Paradise Lost. Now he felt sorry for himself, because he had to use his mind to listen to the raucous chatter of his co-workers and the deafening clanking of machinery. He could see no beauty in any of that.
No matter how intelligent a young man may or may not be, such an environment is probably bound to be depressing. Earlier in life, David had studied and struggled so very hard to possess an education and achieve a level of consciousness that would allow him to transcend the environment he was in in that factory. Now, though, he felt he was being once more forced back into those oppressive surroundings. Of course everyone will say that it was he who was forcing himself, and he no doubt would have been willing to admit that was true, but he didn’t know what in the world he could do to alter his situation, or how to avoid becoming depressed by it.
Certainly one or two periods of manual labor in a young man’s life can be a very good thing. Too many months and years of it, though, can cause a young man to doubt the value of everything he’s learned, to doubt his own perceptions, to doubt himself and his abilities. Naturally he can’t maintain this kind of self-doubt for very long. He’ll either plunge completely into despair or try to emphasize his abilities so forcefully to other people that he’ll sound over-confident, even grandiose.
Of course all that hardly applies to David, since he was at best only a mediocre individual. That is quite obvious to any objective observer.
Or perhaps their survival has little to do with luck or chance. Perhaps they have to make their own luck — whatever “luck” or “chance” may be. Some of them might even believe “there’s a divinity that shapes our ends,” although most reasonable people would of course discourage such thinking. In certain situations, such behavior might be overlooked, though, if those young men end up praying – in a reasonable way of course – praying hard and desperately, for months and even years if necessary, since in the end they may find someone who understands them and enables them to survive.
At that point in time, though, when David returned to Harvard, the only person he was able to find was Bradley.
Part 5, Chapter 4
“The aim of life is to live it intensely, to be fully born, to be fully awake. to emerge from the ideas of infantile grandiosity into the conviction of one’s real though limited strength….”
Escape from Freedom
In his discussions with Bradley at the end of that summer, David found that Bradley was not exactly the sort of person who could understand and believe in him.
In the first meeting David had with Bradley, the psychiatrist wanted to know what David had been doing during the previous three years, and David told him. If Bradley believed what he was told, he gave no sign of it, but that, as far as David was concerned, would have been too much to expect.
As a good non-directive psychiatrist, Bradley never gave any indication of what he believed or didn’t believe. He gave no indication that he had any reaction at all to what David said.
Perhaps that indicated a degree of hostility toward David, consciously or unconsciously, in Bradley’s mind. If so, many would say that that hostility was justified. After all, David had been quite a problem for Bradley. If the psychiatrist had not made sure that everyone knew how really insane he thought David was, David might have cost him his career.
The second meeting David was supposed to have with Bradley was not with Bradley at all, but with members of the health services staff who gave him a long battery of psychological tests, during which he made the conscious decision to try to make himself sound as confident and competent as possible, particularly in those parts of the test where he was asked to interpret pictures and abstract patterns. He thought that by doing so, he would present a more acceptable picture of himself.
When he went back to see Bradley for another interview, Bradley told him he had a rather grandiose self-image.
And of course Bradley was right. Harvard psychiatrists do not make mistakes about things like that.
The words did have an impact on David. Even he had to admit that. A grandiose self-image. The term brought to his mind thoughts and memories and conflicts he didn’t know how to deal with, which – it goes without saying – was an irrefutable indication that Bradley was correct when he told everyone that David was schizophrenic.
At any rate, he certainly was paranoid. The first thing that occurred to him when he heard Bradley’s remark about “a grandiose self-image” was that there was a terrible kind of injustice in it. David felt that three years earlier he’d been cut down, in a very real sense, at a moment of great promise, and Bradley, through his insensitivity, had contributed to that.
Now he was struggling – he might have said, in his melodramatic way, “struggling with all his strength” – just to maintain some belief in his own talents and abilities. He was confronted, though, by an army of doubts about himself, doubts that had been brought on by everything he’d experienced in the three – for him – nightmarish years that had just passed.
He somehow forgot — at least for the moment — that he himself had tried to skew the psychological tests so that the results would show how self-confident and competent he was. Not only did it seem to him that Bradley had unwittingly helped to destroy whatever promise he’d had when he’d been at Harvard before, but now Bradley was blaming him for still trying to fulfil that promise.
To be sure, David’s view of things was clearly warped, and even, as Bradley kept insisting to anyone who would listen, schizophrenic.
Of course David was unable to tell Bradley he’d made a conscious attempt to influence the results of the psychological tests, and he certainly could not say he blamed Bradley for destroying what David considered the “promise” he had when he first came to Harvard. David at least knew – and quite rightly – that that would have done no good.
He could express such ideas only in a rather tortured and obscure way in the journal he kept and in remarks he made to the few friends he had. These individuals of course were in no position to do anything at all to help, even if they’d understood and believed him.
Because he had no one he could turn to at that point, he felt as though the only thing he could do was give up, the only thing he could do was to accept the fact that certain illusions were simply collapsing in his mind – or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he tried to accept that fact. As Freud pointed out, the resistance that the unconscious puts up at such times can be ferocious.
“All right,” he said to himself, “so I’m being grandiose. But I don’t understand why I keep having these feelings that I’m different, that I possess some unusual kind of talent, that I’m bound to do something great. And it wouldn’t do any good to discuss them with Bradley, because it didn’t do any good to discuss them or anything else with him before.”
He thought to myself, “I don’t understand these feelings. I had them when I was at Harvard before, and I couldn’t get rid of them, no matter what I said to myself or how often I saw a psychiatrist. And now they’re still with me, these illusions, this ridiculous desire for great accomplishments.”
Of course David only made himself ridiculous by thinking such things, but in view of his illness – which, it must be remembered, was confirmed by a Harvard psychiatrist – perhaps he cannot be blamed too much for his absurd ideas.
He told himself, “So, I have to get rid of these feelings. I have to destroy them. There’s nothing I can do but set out to prove to myself that I’m no different from anyone else, that I’m not extraordinary, that I’m only mediocre. If it’s insane to think I’m special and can do great things, then I’ll do everything in my power to stop thinking like that. I’ll do everything I can to prove to myself that what Bradley says is true: that I’m capable of only what is ordinary and mediocre.”
Part 5, Chapter 5
“…I pray thee let thine anger cease!”
David was so completely serious about wanting to prove that he was ordinary that the implications in a way might be frightening to anyone unfamiliar with the psychiatric diagnosis of his personality. And even though he didn’t completely understand it at the time, there wasn’t only an element of self-destruction, but also a strong desire for revenge in what he thought and in what he wanted to do.
There was a terrible anger deep in his mind, caused by what he perceived to be the injustice of life, and at what he perceived to be the attempts of his mother — and others — to destroy him. Since he could not allow himself to express that anger, however, and certainly could not allow himself even to think of harming other people, he was able only turn the anger against himself.
He seems to have believed, unconsciously anyway, that he could, at the very least, do endless harm to himself – as a kind of perverse way of taking revenge on the world. He would do this harm by reinforcing the already self-destructive patterns of thinking and behavior that were shaping his life.
It goes without saying that all of that simply proves that Bradley, the Harvard psychiatrist, was right about David all along. He was not gifted and troubled. He was mediocre and schizophrenic – and clearly paranoid schizophrenic at that. For any reasonable, objective observer, who looks at all the facts without emotion or sentimentality, the reality of David’s condition is of course indisputable, and since that is the case, the possibility that there is a “blame-the-victim” situation here must be firmly, categorically, and decisively excluded.
“Fine,” he seems to have told myself, mentally unstable as always, “if Bradley thinks I’m grandiose, I’ll stop being grandiose. I’ll keep telling myself I’m just like everyone else. Every other thought and ambition will be pushed out of my mind because those thoughts and ambitions are obviously dangerous illusions. That’s what Bradley thinks, and who am I to argue with him?”
At Harvard, students are taught never to accept something simply because an “authority” declares it to be true, but for everyone at Harvard, at least at that time, that idea didn’t apply to what psychiatrists said. If a psychiatrist said someone was crazy, everyone else accepted the judgment without question. And that was, of course, the correct thing to do.
He really was so tired of struggling.
He felt he’d struggled for years against the way other people were trying to define him, and he couldn’t do it anymore. He decided he would be whatever other people said he was.
The only problem with that idea, of course, was that different people had, and would always have, different things to say about what he was or what he should be.
Obviously it was monumentally stupid of him to try to be whatever other people wanted him to be or thought he should be, because that leads to more of a struggle and to more insanity than anything else. Although most people would understand it instinctively, it would be a long time before David – with his apparently limited intelligence – learned and understood that everyone expected him to be something different.
Naturally there are people who will argue that the real question is not whether David was insane or not, but rather whether his destruction – or self-destruction – at Harvard represented the loss of someone who might have made a significant contribution to society, or whether it was simply the inevitable weeding out of a human being who really was quite undeniably mediocre to begin with.
Some people, perhaps, might have asked similar questions about the medical student mentioned earlier, the one who was driven to suicide by the “treatment” administered by his Harvard psychiatrist.
People will ask, with some justification, “If he didn’t respond to treatment, was he worth saving at all? If he didn’t respond to treatment, doesn’t that prove he really was very ordinary and never could have made ‘a significant contribution to society’?”
Certainly the answer is clear. If David really had been an extraordinary person, he wouldn’t have been able to accept the definition of himself as mediocre.
And he did accept it.
Or at least he seems to have accepted it.
Anyway, there was obviously really no great loss.
That is something everyone can be sure of. It is certain. It is true. The question has been resolved, once and for all, and cannot be reopened. Not by anyone.
More than that, it has to be said one again, that no one, except David himself, can be blamed for the way he was destroyed, or at least appears to have been destroyed.
Part 5, Chapter 6
“To be no more; sad cure….”
David’s first reaction to being at Harvard again was one of adolescent euphoria. He felt as though he’d been presented with a new life to lead. He began to forget his determination to avoid grandiose thinking. He became obsessed with a desire to recapture in one year everything he’d forgotten and lost during the previous three.
He even let himself believe it was possible to do that.
He began again to walk around Harvard the way he used to — letting lines of poetry absorb him, letting them echo again and again in his mind as he went to class, or to Adams House, or anywhere.
Of course Bradley – or probably any Harvard psychiatrist – would have said that for David to walk around Harvard and let lines of poetry “echo again and again in his mind” was simply one more indication of how serious the schizophrenia he was suffering from really was.
One of the passages of poetry that seemed to mean the most to him then was contained in the lines from Paradise Lost: “For who would lose, though full of pain, this intellectual being, these thoughts that wander through eternity?” It didn’t bother him, as it once might have, that Milton had these words spoken by the villain of the poem. David felt they expressed his state of mind, and he needed such sentiments in order to give himself a sense of hope and purpose. Beneath his adolescent euphoria, there was adolescent depression and despair – which incidentally serves to confirm the psychiatric diagnosis of serious mental illness.
Gradually, it was the depression that made itself felt almost all the time. David realized that as far as the people around him were concerned, he had done nothing except waste three years of his life. His experiences away from Harvard were of no interest to anyone. And since he was not the sort of person who could force his ideas or his conversation on anyone, and since he did not have the gift of arousing the interest of other people in what he had to say, he too began to think of his three years away from Harvard as essentially wasted and meaningless. And to someone who was as highly motivated and conscious of time as he had always been, to someone who hated to waste even twenty minutes going to the laundromat, telling himself that he had wasted three years — of his life — was a very depressing thing indeed. But he thought he had no choice except to think that way. Anything else, it seemed, any attempt to assert the importance or even the significance of what he’d done, would be another example of his tendency to be, as Bradley had said, grandiose.
All of that, it goes without saying, again merely confirms the fact that not only was David extremely mentally unstable – to put it mildly – but he was nothing more than a very mediocre person as well.
And – this cannot be repeated too often – there is no reason at all to grieve for his loss, because there was in fact no loss at all.
There may have been a deeper reason for David’s depression. He’d ceased for the time being to believe in any of his old ideals. And that in turn meant that he’d stopped trying to live the way he’d always been taught was the right way to live, the way “he knew in his heart” was right – as he might have put it. Under these circumstances, how could everything not seem meaningless, how could his life not appear to be a waste, or how could he not become more and more depressed? If he felt at times that in some obscure way he was dying, such a feeling could hardly have been surprising, since he’d cut himself off from what he’s always regarded as the very source of life.
Any rational person in the modern world would, it is clear, consider that kind of thinking bizarre; it would be one more proof of David’s illness. To that, David would probably have responded with some schizophrenic – if not completely incomprehensible – comment such as, “Rational? Le coeur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connait pas.”
He’d once thought — when he was young and idealistic and not very knowledgeable about life or about himself — he’d once thought that he could study at Harvard and get a degree and not be at all influenced by the skeptical attitude toward all ideals that exists there, especially intellectual and spiritual ideals. Or at least that was the attitude that existed when David was there.
It was wrong of him to do it, certainly, but eventually he adopted that same skeptical attitude himself, for a time anyway, an attitude that was widespread not only at Harvard but also among intellectual elsewhere – and not only among intellectuals.
He didn’t really know how things worked for other people, but for him at least, such an attitude, such a way of thinking – this has to be repeated and emphasized – led only to depression and despair. Without a belief in ideals of some kind his life really did have no purpose. Life held no real joy or happiness for him if he adopted the same kind of skeptical attitude that the people around him seemed to have. He was, though, frequently under the illusion that a life without purpose, a life without a belief in ideals of one kind or another could be full of joy and happiness. If it wasn’t, he thought, then there must be some other reason. Most of the people around him thought the same way, and naturally they were right.
He tried to look for happiness everywhere except where he had once believed it can really be found, and his depression grew. David would have said that there had to be a connection between those two elements, but many will say that his depression had other causes. David might have responded that those “causes” were too superficial to have occasioned the kind of depression he was feeling. The fact that he had nothing any more that he could believe in was, he would have said, the core cause of his depression, but certainly other people know better.
At any rate, as his depression grew, and his sense of isolation, he did begin to develop a suspicious — Bradley would have said “paranoid” — attitude toward the world and the people around him. He didn’t believe it was the sort of paranoia Bradley claimed it was, but if he’d been asked for proof of that, it would have been impossible for him to provide it. It must therefore have been one more symptom of his paranoia.
He tried, all alone, to analyze the reasons for what he thought of – or anyone would think of – as his failure at Harvard. He became strangely convinced that the most important reason had been his inability — or his unwillingness — to indulge in what he thought of as the evil all around him.
He began more and more to feel that he’d been doing nothing more than trying to delude himself when he’d been at Harvard before, certainly in one sense at least. He began to feel that he’d been telling himself he could ignore all the evil in the world around him — he could pretend it didn’t exist. It now seemed to him that he’d tried to enjoy all of the intellectual splendors of Harvard while at the same time looking to his ideals of goodness and purity as a refuge from what he saw as the evils that came with Harvard’s intellectual world. It is clear to any reasonable person, though, that what that had really meant was nothing more than an attempt to achieve the impossible: finding a refuge somewhere from all the evils in himself.
It seemed to him that what he’d wanted were the intellectual delights of Harvard and the rest of the world. That much had certainly been clear to him for a very long time. Now, however, he also began to dimly believe that what he hadn’t wanted was the necessity of making any of the sacrifices that leading the life of what he thought of as a good man would inevitably have entailed, in the context of Harvard.
Any reasonable person will agree that David’s confusion on that point was severe. Being “a good man,” certainly in David’s terms, had nothing to do with the intellectual life of Harvard when he was there. Such an idea was irrelevant, as everyone knows it should have been. Every reasonable and intelligent individual at Harvard at that time knew that intellect and morality were quite separate. More than that, everyone understood that morality was an illusion.
David’s attempt to combine morality and the intellect may have been one of the factors contributing to what everyone understood was his very bizarre way of looking at the world.
Part 5, Chapter 7
„Ach, wie ergreift mich aufs neue der Schmerz bei deiner Wiederholung! Und die Furcht gesellt sich dazu, das Übel werde nur größer und größer werden“.
“Your words tear my heart again; and the fear that the evil will become greater and greater adds to my grief.”
The conflict between a desire to be a “good man” and a desire for what he’d always been taught was wrong was approaching gigantic proportions in David’s mind.
In other ways as well, the whole situation that year ultimately became almost hopeless for him. He began to believe more than ever that he really had — as he’d so often thought before — sacrificed everything that was important to him when he left Harvard for those three years. He’d sacrificed everything and lost everything. He’d lost his old beliefs and ideals, and he’d lost a reason for living. He’d also lost the small foothold he’d had in the academic community at Harvard, so that people now treated him as an outcast.
That is what he believed, at any rate, but the truth was a little different. As more and more people talked about David’s “psychiatric problems,” they in fact didn’t just think of him simply as an outcast, they thought of him as a crazy outcast. Almost all the Harvard instructors he’d always looked up to and respected wanted nothing more to do with him – although fortunately David was at first unaware of that. He felt only that the two or three who were still willing to talk with him were treating him as if he were feeble-minded or had suffered some kind of brain injury.
When all of that started happening, he went around telling himself that he was really stupid, monumentally stupid, because he hadn’t spent his time wallowing in all the evil – or what he thought of as evil – that he’d been trying to run away from during the years away from Harvard. That seemed especially true since he found he couldn’t avoid anything in the end. What he called evil seemed to be a part of his own nature. The more he called himself stupid, though, and the more he thought of himself as stupid, the more his depression increased. At Harvard, to be stupid was the ultimate failure.
Perhaps if his thinking had run along these lines alone, it couldn’t have been described as excessively suspicious or paranoid. Unfortunately there was more.
He began to think he’d failed at Harvard three years earlier not simply because he’d refused to indulge in evil in some general way, but because – and this is one more indication of the really bizarre nature of this thinking – he’d refused to engage in specific acts of evil with specific individuals.
Of course that was paranoid — or at least it would have been if he’d ever really believed it. Still, those ideas would not leave him. He felt he was in the same position he’d tried to tell Bradley about when he’d been at Harvard before — having ideas that could not possibly be true but which he could not rid himself of.
Only at Harvard did he have this problem. Only at Harvard was he tempted again and again to think that if he’d been more agreeable to certain kinds of behavior, he’d have succeeded, he’d have received better grades and would by now be well on his way to a successful academic career.
Of course that kind of thinking only proves that Bradley was right: David was simply paranoid to a pathological degree, and the fact that this paranoia was linked exclusively to Harvard was a possibly interesting – but in the end quite irrelevant – detail.
At times, he was even tempted again to think that there was a sort of conspiracy of evil at Harvard, a kind of clique, whose members he’d tried to defy. These individuals – or so David almost fantasized – had then retaliated and attempted to destroy him — had actually succeeded, perhaps, in destroying him. He struggled to rid himself of this idea, though, together with the idea that if he’d cooperated with them, his cooperation would have somehow helped him to succeed at Harvard, socially and academically and in every other way. Whether or not he actually believed that those ideas had some basis in reality was unimportant. Bradley quite rightly understood that even being tempted to have such ideas was a sign of dangerous pathology – one more reason for David to deserve the label of paranoid schizophrenic.
Once more it has to be emphasized how right Bradley was in the end. Years later, when David learned he had said David was the worst kind of paranoid schizophrenic with no real possibility of ever being cured, David was surprised, shocked, and depressed. But what else could he have expected? Even though he kept telling Bradley he never really believed the bizarre ideas he had, Bradley knew David might believe them someday, and that possibility alone proved that David was seriously and incurably insane.
He began to wonder if Bradley’s diagnosis really was an accurate description of him, and in his heart of hearts, naturally, he would always wonder about that. Any objective observer, however, must see that Bradley’s diagnosis was completely accurate. There is no possibility whatsoever that he made an error. The following months would demonstrate that quite clearly.
At the beginning of that last year at Harvard, though, after the first waves of happiness had gone, the feelings of misery and despair and stupidity returned, and these were feelings he may have even begun to luxuriate to some extent. Or at least he may have luxuriated in the possibility that these feelings might be justified: that he really was miserable, that he had no reason to hope for anything, and that he really was stupid – and more than stupid. It was at this point that he nearly came to the conclusion that at Harvard this time he would do whatever was expected of him. He would not hesitate for a moment. He very nearly really believed that if doing evil – or what he considered to be evil, anyway – was the only way to succeed at Harvard, then evil is what he would do.
More and more often he felt he was almost unbalanced, found himself in an ugly state of mind, warped with cynicism. Again and again he swore to himself that he would do anything to get through Harvard. Whatever happiness he’d felt had turned to ashes, and just “getting through” was all he thought about now.
Getting through – that was what he’d promised himself long before he ever came back, although he was thinking then in somewhat different terms. Madness does that to people.
Part 5, Chapter 8
“…(N)ichts ist doch notwendiger, den Menschen vor Augen zu stellen, als gewisse Dinge, deren Existenz weder beweisbar noch wahrscheinlich ist, welche aber eben dadurch, dass fromm und gewissenhafte Menschen sie gewissermaßen als seiende Dinge behandeln, dem Sein und der Möglichkeit des Geborenwerdens um einen Schritt näher geführt werden.“
“…It is absolutely necessary that certain things be brought home to people, things the existence of which is neither provable nor probable. Devout and conscientious individuals, in a way, act as if these things were real, and it is precisely through that action that these things are brought one step closer to reality and the possibility of being born.”
The Glass Bead Game
Anyone except David might have expected what in fact happened when he came back to Cambridge, when the happiness and adolescent euphoria disappeared, when he became bitter in the extreme, bitter in a way that was, to put it mildly, unhealthy.
He told himself, with a bitterness that any psychiatrist would have at once diagnosed as schizophrenic: “If it’s so important in this society for me to have a college degree, if nothing I want to do or nothing I have achieved makes any difference at all to anyone, if society is going simply to allow me to be destroyed unless I do what is necessary to get that piece of paper, then I’ll get it. Why fight the rest of the world? What would be the point? If life is the absurd and meaningless process that everyone at Harvard seems to claim it is, and if everything ends in death anyway, what’s the use of sacrificing myself by not getting the degree and by going off to live as a hermit somewhere? I’ll get that degree no matter what it takes or what it costs.”
This was the extreme his thinking had reached. He felt lost, alone, cut off from his beliefs and ideals, cut off from what he had once considered the only real source of life, what he once might have referred to as an awareness of the existence of God. All of that was a sure sign of mental derangement, as almost any Harvard psychiatrist at the time would have asserted – as some did assert – to David’s friends and acquaintances, to anyone who asked, in fact.
And so David started his last year at Harvard as someone who believed in nothing, hoped for nothing, and despaired of everything. It was the profile of someone with such serious psychological problems that there is no reason to believe he would ever have amounted to anything at all and certainly no reason to feel sorrow or guilt over what happened to him. The fault, after all, was in himself, not in anything anyone around him did.
Naturally there were moments when his adolescent euphoria returned, but those moments became more and more infrequent. The euphoria only conflicted for a brief time with his deeper feelings of depression and what Bradley had recognized as paranoia. This conflict in turn was perhaps an expression of another one that was occurring at an even deeper level of his consciousness.
That burst of adolescent happiness at the beginning of David’s final year at Harvard was probably an expression of his old and entirely outmoded ideals of moral and intellectual achievement. Such a reaction seems to indicate he was as unrealistic about Harvard as he’d ever been. He was still looking for his ancient Greek academy, where wise philosophers and poets carried on their discussions of truth and beauty, playing with ideas and language as if they were making music, spinning their ideas and dreams into a higher reality, creating a reality finer than anything anyone had ever known. David still thought he could find something like that at Harvard, hence his euphoria.
Obviously, though, such ideas were rife with pathology and required medication, as Bradley had quickly recognized – or just as any other good psychiatrist would have immediately seen. For in David’s own mind, at some level or other, there was the conviction that such a place and such people really existed somewhere and that someday he would find them. Someday he would enter the world of Hesse’s Das Glasperlenspiel. He absolutely knew that world was there, and if he worked hard enough that year at Harvard, he would learn enough to make the inhabitants of that world welcome him as one of their own, and he’d make up for all the time he’d lost.
All of those tendencies, though — all of the fantasies — remained in conflict with the darker element he’d discovered in myself, the attraction toward things he’d had always been taught represented evil, an evil he could neither eradicate or accept, not in himself and not in the rest of the world. This attraction warred endlessly with his ideals he had, of goodness and the intellect. If he now tried once again to repress this darker element, as he’d tried to do when he was at Harvard before, the result was of course the same as it had always been: he began seeing the evil in himself projected and exaggerated everywhere, in the students and teachers and in the other people around him, with the result that he seemed to see even more evil in the world than was already there — or at least it was there for those who still believed in the existence of evil, or who could agree on what evil is. David could no longer do that, not at the time anyway.
What is perhaps surprising is that he was able even to function at all, in the face of such bizarre thinking.
So as he struggled with his poor ideals, the darker side of his nature slowly eroded the happiness he’d started the semester with. At first, that happiness had allowed him to be less self-absorbed than when he was at Harvard before. He’d been able to talk with other students in a way that had been impossible before. Some of them seemed very young to him now, but he didn’t think he looked or acted much older than they. Paradoxically, he may even have seemed younger than a number of them.
At first he felt enough self-confidence to talk with them much more easily than he’d ever been able to before. They too seemed more relaxed and more open than before, but this apparent change was perhaps the result of the changes in David’s own personality, changes that were only temporary. As the year went on, and his feelings of happiness disappeared and were replaced by bitterness, the other students began to seem just as closed and tense as he remembered them.
Or perhaps what was happening was that they all changed as the weeks went by, and the New England winter began closing in.
Part 5, Chapter 9
“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”
–Attributed to Einstein
Bradley had advised David to continue seeing a psychiatrist. He said he understood David would probably not want to see him anymore — which David of course understood to mean that Bradley didn’t want to see him.
Apparently David was “difficult” for Bradley, and for most doctors the best way to deal with difficult patients is simply to get rid of them, one way or another. For a psychiatrist like Bradley, David thought to himself somewhat bitterly, getting rid of a patient who’s a student can mean advising that student to go home early for spring break, knowing he probably won’t come back, as Bradley had “advised” David to do three years earlier. Or, as now, it can mean telling the student it’s “understandable” if he wants to see another psychiatrist.
On the other hand, when David was able to set his bitterness aside, even he could understand that he’d caused Bradley enough problems. After all, it certainly was true to say that he hadn’t “responded to treatment,” as Bradley had once put it.
Bradley suggested that David talk with James Constable, a psychiatrist who was also a Jesuit priest who’d joined the staff of the University Health Services that fall, on a temporary basis. David liked the idea of seeing someone like Constable, even though he had, for the time being anyway, ceased to believe in anything at all. He still wanted to believe, he still wanted to live the way he’d been taught he should — the way he believed he still could live — and he thought Constable could help him do that.
Any rational person will laugh at such a hope, because by now it should be clear that not only could David not be rescued from the wreckage of his own life, but he was not even worth rescuing. It was in no one’s interest to rescue him.
For his parents, it would have meant admitting that they had been the problem all along, not David. For Bradley, it would have meant admitting that David was not seriously and incurably insane after all. For Constable, David’s new psychiatrist at Harvard, “rescuing” David would have meant showing that not only had Bradley been wrong in his original “diagnosis” of David, but also that he was so incompetent he couldn’t “rescue” David himself. Constable simply couldn’t afford to show Bradley up in that way, because Bradley was, after all, Constable’s boss. Better for Constable not to rock the boat or make any waves, as they say, not if he wanted any kind of career as a therapist.
As for David himself, he dimly suspected that the coming year would be a difficult one for him, and, stupefyingly naïve as always, he saw Constable as someone who could suggest ways in which he might resolve all of the intellectual, spiritual and moral confusion he was feeling, confusion that seemed always to be pressing on his awareness and threatening to break out of control.
Unfortunately, Constable, the new Jesuit psychiatrist, turned out to be a little different from what David had been hoping for. One problem was that he wasn’t used to dealing with Harvard students — with the way they thought, the way they looked at life, even the way they spoke. As a result, in later years, when David thought about those conversations with Constable, he remembered them as something like a comedy of misunderstanding.
To David, Constable seemed to begin their series of weekly conversations under the assumption that David’s initial happiness and sense of well-being at Harvard were not supported by anything very substantial — any substantial achievement, any substantial hope for the future. Of course this assumption very quickly turned out to be correct: one day, early in the semester, David arrived for their little session in an extremely anxious state of mind.
Part 5, Chapter 10
“And our visions sweep through eternity….”
Leaves of Grass
Sitting in his usual posture in Constable’s office at the Health Center one day, David told the psychiatrist, “The mid-term exams in some of my courses are coming up pretty soon.” David was leaning forward and staring at the floor, his hands gripping each other tightly, as if he were trying to hang on to some support that he could not bear to lose.
He was extraordinarily tense, as if some violent, indescribable emotion — anger, pain, sadness, rage — were about to break free of the restraints he was imposing on it.
“And do these exams worry you?” asked Constable, with what David bitterly regarded as remarkable insight.
“Yes!” he answered loudly, crouching down even more in the chair, as if getting ready to fend off a blow. “I’m afraid that the same thing that happened to me here before is going to happen again.”
“Are you starting to have the same kind of thoughts that you had before?”
David hesitated. “No, not exactly, but sometimes —” he could feel the tears forming behind his eyes, “sometimes when I’m reading —” and the tears started running down his face, “when I’m reading —” He was crying now and couldn’t say anything. Constable waited for him to get control of himself. Constable sat there, and when David glanced up at him, the psychiatrist looked – to David anyway – extremely uncomfortable, as though a child or a pet were making a mess in his office, and he didn’t know what to do.
Finally he said, “what happens when you’re reading, David?”
“Well, sometimes I read something and I feel frightened because the writer seems to be talking about something I know about, and nobody else does — or seems to — things I’ve tried to forget about and put out of my mind.” He leaned back in the chair, as if he had — with the greatest effort — managed to explain everything. He still stared at the floor, though, apparently feeling a deep sense of despair.
“What sort of things?” Constable asked, frowning in a way that made David think that he disapproved, in advance, of anything David might say.
“I was reading something the other day,” he began, slowly, trying to choose every word carefully, trying to get the explanation right, so that Constable could understand. “It was by somebody pretty mediocre, Hart Crane, I think, or Bret Harte, I don’t remember exactly. It was a poem he wrote about New York before he jumped into the Caribbean.” David felt very tense again; he was sitting almost coiled in the chair, bending down toward the floor. His face felt flushed and his voice sounded hoarse. He felt that what he had to say was something important, and he thought he would start crying again. “In the poem, he talks about, about —”
“He talks about what?” said Constable sharply, impatiently.
“He talks about ‘eternity’s dim marge,'” David said, feeling stupid as he said it, feeling how stupid the words must sound to Constable, but hoping against hope he would understand, that somebody somewhere would finally understand. “He talks about eternity flowing through his veins,” David went on, and as he said the words he couldn’t hold back the tears any longer.
Most people would have laughed at that kind of maudlin and rather stupid behavior – and certainly would have been right to do so – but Constable did not. As a non-judgmental, non-directive psychiatrist, he just sat there, looking as though he were fighting off the urge to fall asleep, and waited for David to stop crying. Finally he said, “Is this the way you felt when you were here before?”
“It wasn’t as bad then,” David said, wiping his face. “Anyway, I’ve already told you what really bothered me before.”
“You mean, what happened before the exams?”
“I mean what psychiatrists call ‘ideas of self-reference.’ I’m talking about what used to happen to me when I was listening to the lectures for my courses. I used to think the professors had prepared everything — every word — in their lectures for me. Of course I didn’t really believe that, even though I thought it, because rationally I knew it was such a stupid idea. But I couldn’t get rid of that idea. Everything that every one of them said had such meaning for me, I mean such significance for everything that I was thinking then. So this weird idea would occur to me that they must all be getting together and reading my papers and exams and talking about me, sort of exchanging information or something. But of course I never really believed that, although I was constantly afraid I would start believing it. But I kept having this idea — and I knew it was irrational when I was having it — that they were all talking about what I was thinking and saying to people, what I was reading that week, what I was interested in, what sort of conversations I was having with my tutor.”
He paused, perhaps convinced that he had once again been able to “explain” everything. Constable said nothing, probably thinking what any normal person would think about such ideas: David really was as hopelessly insane as Bradley had told everyone he was.
David went on, though, oblivious to the pathological impression he was making: “And why did I think things like that? It was because from what these professors said in their lectures, they seemed to know almost everything about me that had some connection with my academic work. But I knew all the time that it was crazy to think that way.”
“Of course it was,” said Constable, folding his hands and looking down at his knuckles. “Don’t you see that if you weren’t able to go to those professors and get some kind of confirmation or denial of what you were thinking, then that itself proves that those ideas really were false?”
David couldn’t see that that would have proved anything one way or the other. Certainly he was willing to admit he was crazy if people like Bradley and Constable diagnosed him as crazy. But that wasn’t the point. He didn’t need proof that his ideas about what was happening in his professors’ lectures were false, he knew they false. He’d always known that. He used to tell Bradley that all the time, three years earlier. All David wanted was to stop having those ideas without having to leave Harvard the way he did before. But Constable couldn’t seem to understand how he could have those ideas and not believe them or not want to go on having them.
“I think it might be helpful if I gave you a prescription for some medication. Will you take them?”
Would David take them? Like most people then — most young people at Harvard, anyway — David found the idea revolting, but in his case this reaction was only a result of his paranoia.
His thinking – irrational as it was – should perhaps be examined: he felt he’d come to Constable looking for help and advice from a priest and therapist, and Constable had responded by wanting to give him some pills.
No sane, intelligent person would have felt that way, but for David, it was as if Constable couldn’t be bothered to really try to understand what he was going through. David continued to have the bizarre idea that if he could somehow make someone understand, or if someone would just listen to him and believe him, or if someone would help him understand what was true and not true about his mother and stepfather, about other people, about Harvard and the world, and about himself, then he wouldn’t need to take what he called “tranquilizers,” but which were in fact anti-psychotic medication. It is clear that such medication was absolutely necessary for David. Everyone agreed about that. Anything else was nonsense.
The suggestion that he take “tranquilizers” made David feel even more depressed and cynical than he already was. He thought the same thing that he’d thought three years earlier: if he needed tranquilizers, then there must be something seriously wrong with him (which was certainly true, as everyone knows). That idea made him feel even worse — even more inferior and inadequate than he felt already.
It occurred to him that he’d never needed tranquilizers when he’d been travelling and working for three years in Canada, Africa, and the Middle East. Apparently, though, that was irrelevant to people like Constable. In his blackest moments, David thought that the only thing that seemed important to anyone was simply that he should get through Harvard somehow and get a degree – and that Harvard should finally be rid of him. It didn’t matter to anyone what kind of psychological violence might be inflicted on him in the process, because everyone knew he deserved whatever he got.
Everyone knew that he deserved the burden that seemed to be piled on burden, as he talked to Constable. Not only did David feel that he was being told again that those three years when he’d been away from Harvard had been quite pointless, but also all of the dim, vague ideas and questions that he was struggling to articulate, that he needed to articulate and to resolve — all of these things were of no consequence either; they were to be simply erased with a few small orange-colored pills.
“So then the whole thing really is a hoax,” he thought to himself, “just as people at Harvard had always said. The intellectual life is nothing but a shabby, meaningless little game. All of those great ideas I thought were so important are really nothing but miscellaneous chemicals and electrical discharges in somebody’s brain. All right then, I’ll go along with the charade. I’ll play the game. I’ll take the tranquilizers and read the books and sit through the stupid lectures. I’ll take the exams and say whatever they expect me to say. If nothing I’ve done is at all important, then I’ll do whatever people at Harvard think is important, otherwise there’s no way I can survive. And I might as well make the effort to survive, even to survive at any cost. I have to survive, because if I don’t, if I simply die, nobody will know what my death meant. Then really nobody will care. Better to survive at any cost,” David thought to himself, “while playing this stupid mind-game, than die for an ideal that is not an ideal at all, but only a brain chemical. And anyway, even if it is an ideal — whatever that means — it’s not an ideal that has survived. I don’t see any evidence of its survival.”