157. The Automaton

The third and final part of the 'New Analysand' series. (Starts here.)

I DOZED OFF AGAIN – that’s the third time this month. Perhaps my wife is right, and I should consider retirement. Did he notice? The new analysand sits before me, elucidating his problems. He hasn’t skipped a beat, so presumably he didn’t notice. Not like the last time, when he took offence, and told me so for almost half the session. I don’t blame him. He, like most of my patients these days, is young and unhappy, and has an interest in Bergianism. He will often waste precious minutes, each of which is costing him a pretty penny, to explore some theoretical problem or other. They are all like that. They think only Bergianism can help them. I was like them once. They come to see me because I am widely considered to be the pre-eminent Bergian of my generation. They tell me so. Of course, Bergianism has fallen on such hard times that it’s sometimes hard to believe that there are still young people with an interest in it. But certain young people still like to dabble in all kinds of esoterica, so it is not unreasonable that Bergianism should be among them. When I became interested in Bergianism, there was a certain prestige to esoterica. People would consult the I Ching and do PhDs on the Rosicrucians. When you were at a party and you told someone that you were a Bergian – say, a young woman, slightly drunk, but serious, trying to overcome her drunkenness, not entirely successfully, with a frown – they were more than likely to be impressed. I am too old for parties now but I can’t imagine a serious young woman allowing herself to be impressed by a young Bergian these days. If anything, she would be more likely to consider him a fool. Back then, there was a mystique that surrounded Bergianism, like a mountaintop shrouded in mist. His writing was so dense, so allusive, that it took courage to dismiss him out of hand. No one had yet dug deep enough into the morass to come to a reliable conclusion either way: was Berg a seer or a fool? It was a challenge I was prepared to accept, and because I was a simple-hearted youth I decided that, as a starting point, I should take his thought seriously. I entered the labyrinth without a thread and allowed myself to become lost inside it for years. I explored its every nook and cranny, always giving him the benefit of the doubt. There were passages I never deciphered, although it wasn’t for lack of trying. But on the whole I believed myself to be making progress. I devised an interpretation of Bergianism; I published widely on the subject; along the way I came to be one of the three pre-eminent Bergians of my generation. I then delved into the theories of the other two and found them incompatible with my own. Without a hint of malice, I began to publish articles critical of these competing theories, and eventually I managed to convince my peers that my interpretation was the most correct, the most authentic, the truest, the most reliable. I became, in short, the pre-eminent Bergian of my generation, all long before I had turned 50. But my triumph was a hollow one. Already, the forces of the enemy were gathering. The new generation wasn’t interested in Bergianism: they were forging ahead in entirely new directions, directions that had nothing to do with Bergianism. It was as if Bergianism had proven so impenetrable that they had simply sidestepped him. The ultimate refutation of Bergianism was their indifference. And so the pre-eminent Bergian of my generation was suddenly stranded, with nowhere to go: lauded, applauded, and already irrelevant. Fortunately, it took time for this news to trickle down to the young acolytes. Year after year, they landed at my door, knocking humbly, entering piously, awaiting enlightenment from the pre-eminent Bergian of his generation. And I didn’t disappoint. I had mastered the language: how to speak in riddles, how to charm them with paradoxes and puns. And somewhere along the way, the theory became its own, self-sustaining universe. The language games became disconnected, self-contained. My patients would see me for years, once, twice or three times a week, and each time they would pay me a handsome sum, and during our time together I would say very little, as little as possible, in fact, as Berg had instructed us to do, and if something needed to be said I would simply invert what the patient had just said, present it back to the patient as a paradox, and the patient would gratefully accept it and continue. Sometimes it took them years before they cottoned on, and when they finally did I had a trick for that too: I told them that they no longer needed to see me, that they had been cured, that they had, in effect, cured themselves, precisely in the way that Berg had intended them to do. They thanked me, they shook my hand, even, and they wandered out into the street, dazzled as much by the darkness from which they had emerged as by the brightness outside. I can’t remember precisely at what point I stopped believing, because at first the crisis of faith would have occurred secretly, unwittingly. This was Berg’s central premise, although he wasn’t the first to realise it: we keep secrets from ourselves. We can’t be too sure of anything. We are, at heart, inauthentic beings – especially when we are most striving to be authentic. Especially when we claim to be able to cure inauthenticity. Fakes, every single last one of us. It is an ugly truth, and for a long time I was blind to it myself, or rather to what it meant for me, for someone in my position. Possibly I went for years without admitting it to myself. I don’t when I stopped believing, but I remember the moment I realised I no longer believed. It was a January morning, in my consulting room, when I received a telephone call from a grieving mother, telling me her daughter, one of my patients, had committed suicide. She hadn’t been seeing me very long, admittedly, and she had one of the most complex presentations I have ever seen, but she too was one of those young people with an interest in Bergianism. I wish I could say that I was aware from the very beginning that Bergianism had no answer to her problems, but it wasn’t so much an awareness as a gut feeling. I simply could not help her, and I don’t think I ever recovered from that. It has been almost twenty years since, and the young, serious people keep knocking on my door – in diminishing numbers, admittedly, but enough to superannuate me, my wife, maybe even my children. They keep knocking on my door, they keep telling me their problems, asking me for assurance, and I keep nodding as if I am listening, as if I haven’t already heard everything there is to hear, and occasionally now I doze off for a few seconds, and when I open my eyes I do so slowly, as if they were meant to be closed so that I could hear their problems all the better. And when they pause, with their silent pleas for reassurance, I reach into my repertoire of paradoxes, depriving them of the very thing they seek, reminding them there is no such thing, which, on the whole, they seem to accept with something almost like relief.