Monday, October 5, 2009

Another Doctor, Another Terror

Freud, Jekyll, Pine, even Norman studied human nature. Starting to wonder about these learned men.

This section of class I was lucky enough to be able to post on Dr. Arnzen’s blog. So, instead of rehashing that post I thought I’d relate a personal issue that came up during all this Freudian analysis.

I must admit Freud’s theories I tend to smile and nod about. That is to say, it sounds good, but really it doesn’t seem to hold up to modern thinking. Freud has more credibility than alchemy, astrology, or phrenology, but I tended to put his theories closer to those pursuits than to actual psychological theories of today. Yet, as I read “The Uncanny” I had a repressed memory event happen, and it was disturbing.

Do you remember the television show “Ripley’s Believe it or Not?” Host Jack Palance in his breathless overly dramatic way would narrate little segments about all manner of things, most of them outlandish or over the top.

One of these segments concerned the nineteenth century European terror of being buried alive. This fear became so pronounced that the mortuary industry stepped in and began providing a device they attached to your coffin. If you were buried alive you could pull on a chain or handle and a little signal flag or device would pop out of a pipe attached to the lid of your coffin six feet down.

Think of it as a coffin chimney or coffin periscope. The live person in the coffin would pull this device and would then be dug up and returned to the land of the living.

Reading “The Uncanny” and seeing being buried alive as one of the uncanny fears brought this back up in my mind. I hadn’t thought about this since that show aired probably twenty-five to thirty years ago. I remember being terrified to go to sleep for weeks, afraid I would wake up in a coffin buried six feet down, but no chain or lever dangling over my head so I would just claw at the lid slowly suffocating in the dark.

Two nights ago I woke from a nightmare. In it I was behind Nazi lines in some kind of WW II dream. I had been separated from my unit and was being tracked by Nazis. Trying to evade capture I dove into a foxhole. The foxhole was actually a vertical cylinder of concrete, wet earth under my boots the only yielding soft thing I could touch. I pulled a dirty piece of plywood over my foxhole and stayed still.

Movement, shadow, then eyes peering down the slit between the lip of the concrete tube and the splintery wood, then something spoken in German and the sound of rocks or bricks being dumped atop the plywood. I panicked, and began pushing at the plywood, but it would not move. More noise, more heavy sounds of rocks or bricks being dumped on top of me. I clawed at the wood, at the concrete, all the while grabbing for a chain or a lever. Then I woke up.

Now, I’m not a big proponent of repressed memories, but I just experienced one. So, Freud was onto something, but I would still argue the root causes he attributes to his theories are a little too developmentally centered.

I don’t think my fear of being buried alive has anything to do with my mother or female genitalia. I think it has more to do with a feeling of helplessness, of being in a no-win-situation in which I can’t control the outcome or at least try and alter my fate. That and dying slowly down in the dark, I think that that thought has enough fear in it that I don’t need to equate it with some unrelated childhood trauma.

Finally, if there is one thing Freud was spot on correct about, it’s that repressing feelings, not facing up to one’s fears, will result in acting out or manifestations of a different kind. People are too complex to all fit into any one theory of behavior, but if something is bugging you it is probably best to deal with it than to let it fester. Freud was right about that.

1 comment:

  1. Great treatment of the fear of being 'buried alive'... I've read about those coffin bells before (I know there's a classic poem about one -- maybe it was Dickenson? I'm feeling forgetful)... it would be very uncanny to see one ring while walking through a graveyard!

    Sorry about your nightmares, but I'm jealous of your ability to remember them and write them down.

    I like your balanced response to Freud's more questionable theories. Good post!