Saturday, August 24, 2013

Psychopathology in Academic Life + La Devoradora (an opera)

I refer to academic life, since I want to focus on the university, rather than the more isolated scholar or scientist.

Universities are big enough, and porous enough, so that they accommodate many people who are "difficult." Some may be Aspberger's Syndrome, the currently popular confessional of the academy. There are alcoholics, drug addicts, OCD, depressives, and sometimes psychotics. The latter is often a tragic story of enormous promise and achievement, but then they are too ill to do their work. Some of these "difficult" people respond well to therapy and medication, others much less so.

There are as well sociopaths (Wikipedia "a pervasive pattern of disregard for, or violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood. There may be an impoverished moral sense or conscience and a history of crime, legal problems, impulsive and aggressive behaviour") and psychopaths (Wikipedia "personality trait or disorder characterised partly by enduring antisocial behavior, a diminished capacity for empathy or remorse, and poor ).")

And many insecure or manipulative or dangerous people (who are dangerous for whatever reason). In general, you may well end up being in the focus of their obsessions and anxieties, just because you happen to have done something--more or less how you get drenched in a rainstorm because you happen to be someplace. Such people may well be unstable, psychologically needy of attention, temporarily or permanently. They may well have strengths, valuable skills, but that does not make them less dangerous. If you are lucky they will send you a note in the middle of the night resigning their jobs. Immediately send a note to the effect that you regret their decision but must accept it, and you will initiate their separation from your institution immediately.

You need to treat these people clinically, trying not to feed their anxieties, although that may well prove impossible. Never assume they are normal, even if they appear to be. See below.

And try to avoid putting these people in contact with clients, students, or others--you cannot rely on them.    


It is useful and helpful to refer some to the university health or therapy offices, but sometimes they are in positions where that just won't happen. They may act out in astonishing ways, they may be liars and manipulators, they may organize trouble for whomever they happen to focus their anxieties upon.

Now you have to protect yourself. Usually, it is best to very politely be Teflon for them, their shenanigans having nothing to do with you. Never respond to their emails, and if they want to talk with you, after five minutes announce a pressing engagement. They are unlikely to take your kind counsel, perhaps saying that they know you are against them. It's not nice, but probably they will have to hit rock bottom, offending some powerful person (or creating liabilities for the institution) who will have the authority to do something.


Imagine an opera: La Devoradora (The Devourer), an opera in one act, by Kockadoodle Do, a Japanese composer.

       [The homonymic reference to Dora The Explorer is intentional, and reflects Kockadoodle Do's fascination with girls of great competence facing danger. But now the Dora figure [see below on Dora in Freud, and on Devora in the Hebrew Bible] in effect becomes her opposite, "Swiper,  bipedalanthropomorphic masked thieving fox" (Wikipedia). The opera directly engages the audience (much as in Dora) but now they are deceived into helping La Devoradora, the broken fourth wall  inverting traditional theater's audience that was more involved with socializing with each other than what was happening on stage. Rather than Dora finding her goal and singing "We Did It!", La Devoradora "finds" a goal she accepts but does not search for. The parallels to Don Giovanni are deliberate.]

The premier performance stars Ezio Peni, as Panini, who sings loud and slightly off key (as required by the music!), and Ms. Nana Ntrebki who sings beautifully, under her breath and with a forked tongue, again as in the libretto and music. We are incredulous watching and hearing La Devoradora's machinations to defrock Panini. For by his mere being, Panini challenges La Devoradora's claim to be the best interior desecrator in all of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, and in the Avenues of Art and Design. The three-star operatic moment is when La Devoradora arises from her zombie state and takes over Panini’s soul ("Il Authoritorio," sung majestically by Ntrebki). Panini then sings, “Going to Wash That Woman Right Out of My Hair”--echoing the melody of the song from South Pacific, but of course off key and with a frightening thumping bass. The great anti-climax follows, when La Devoradora falls into a pit of her own making, and sinks below (much as does the Don in Mozart's Don Giovanni). The rest of the characters, especially Panini, joyfully join holy orders, resolving to be better people, as they sing "We Did It!", so bringing the audience back to their early television experience of Dora the Explorer. We see at the end, a chorus of interior desecrators wondering what has happened to Panini and to La Devoradora.

Johnny Levi conducts the Barclay's Center Brooklyn orchestra, featuring Brooklyn Nets players, Lubavitchers from Coney Island Avenue and Eastern Parkway, and children from neighborhood families in the Barclay's Chorus (who, of course, know Dora and Dora the Explorer very well).

As for Dora, here is Wikipedia on Freud on Dora:
Through the analysis, Freud interprets Ida's hysteria as a manifestation of her jealousy toward the relationship between Frau K and her father, combined with the mixed feelings of Herr K's sexual approach to her.[15] Although Freud was disappointed with the initial results of the case, he considered it important, as it raised his awareness of the phenomenon of transference, on which he blamed his seeming failures in the case.
Freud gave her the name 'Dora', and he describes in detail in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life what his unconscious motivations for choosing such a name might have been. His sister's nursemaid had to give up her real name, Rosa, when she accepted the job because Freud's sister was also named Rosa—she took the name 'Dora' instead. Thus, when Freud needed a name for someone who could not keep her real name (this time, in order to preserve his patient's anonymity), Dora was the name that occurred to him.[16]

And on Devora (bee in Hebrew) Judges 4-5, again Wiki:
Deborah (HebrewדְבוֹרָהModern ‹See Tfd›Dvora Tiberian ‹See Tfd›Dəḇôrā ; "Bee", Arabicدبورة Daborah) was a prophetess of the God of the Israelites, the fourth Judge of pre-monarchic Israel, counselor, warrior, and the wife of Lapidoth according to the Book of Judges chapters 4 and 5.
The only female judge mentioned in the Bible, Deborah led a successful counterattack against the forces of Jabin king of Canaan and his military commander Sisera, the narrative is recounted in chapter 4.
Judges chapter 5 g