From the Casebook of Doctor Coppelius
The patient A. was a man in his thirties, unmarried, a minor official in the local government here in Vienna; eminently respectable, enjoying the esteem of his colleagues and the confidence of his superiors. His parents and siblings were persons of the most prosaic normalcy, presenting no genetic cause for A.’s condition. Superficially, A. appeared quite ordinary, except in his care for his physical appearance, which at times approached nattiness. A. came to me suffering from the usual constellation of neurasthenic symptoms, ennui and spleen and a number of other related italics — evidently the result of reading worldly (i. e., French, books), and exacerbated by the practice of onanism which was, as is common nowadays, greatly facilitated by Internet access. It soon became apparent that A.’s psyche had been early on tainted by unwholesome reflection (delectatio morosa), and a morbid interest in the by-ways of Classical literature, especially the monstrous rhetorical orchids one may cull from the late Latin poets Claudian and Dracontius.
These tendencies had been worsened by an early failure to participate whole-heartedly in team-sports. While undergoing treatment, his condition degenerated further in the direction of irrevocable metamorphosis sexus, accompanied by sensations of unreality. It is best to give the facts in his own words, as recorded in my notes: these are of course somewhat condensed, but the expressions are his own, and offer a valuable insight into the acquisition of a reversed sexual instinct, and what one must denominate an alteration in his state of being. Not his well being, but his being itself. Here I believe I may offer to psychiatry a record of something undiscovered. A bold claim, I know, to set before a profession already well acquainted with nearly “all the wonders that the hot sun hatches,” to borrow Nietzsche’s splendid phrase.
The tragic outcome of A.’s relentless obsessions, seems in retrospect a foregone conclusion. Hopefully this clinical record may permit a swifter recognition of the situation and save other unfortunates from the same fate. In the following account, I will alternate a condensed version of the patient’s disclosures with my own comments, so that my colleagues in psychiatry may follow exactly the course of the treatment, and profit from my errors (alas!) as well as my insights.
I received a traditional education of a sort nowadays uncommon since my parents, prospering during the boom postwar years, were able to send me to a school that had not fully emerged from the nineteenth century. There my character was formed, and perhaps deformed, by the sort of instruction that defined a gentleman in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
With the intellectual advantages secured by this excellent education, I was easily able to pass the examination to obtain a post in the civil service, which I still hold. I remained a bachelor, despite my best efforts at dating. Women considered me good company, and found me entertaining, but never seemed to regard me as a romantic prospect. On a number of occasions I pursued friendships with women, but these never advanced beyond the platonic. Inevitably the objects of my attentions would meet another man who would be chosen as a mate. Without exception it was a dull brute, innocent of literature, the sort who could placidly belch and scratch himself while demanding “What’s for dinner?” It became clear to me that I could never arrive at this level of simian masculinity, even with the mightiest backward effort of the mind. An unthinking state is not to be attained by thinking. I abandoned all hope of fulfilling the masculine role with a woman, and resigned myself to a celibate life. I continued my education, so long pursued in libraries, in adult bookstores.
This state of affairs continued until I came across a circular in Human Dressage, one of the specialized periodicals to which I had become addicted. Therein a certain Madame Magda Wang offered initiation into the techniques of a tantric and Taoist yoga, which would, she asserted, realign and center one’s character, endow one with a new and existential certainty in all one’s affairs.
Her photograph showed a determined, even aggressive looking woman with a predatory sparkle in her eyes, which inspired confidence in the efficacy of her program of spiritual discipline. The description of her methods was more suggestive than informative, but she referred readers to her memoirs, The Purple Days, published by the Institute of Anthroposophy. The volume was not cheap, but considering the rarity of the insights it promised, I considered the expense justifiable.
At length the book arrived, and I was not disappointed by its contents. Born in Budapest to a Chinese-Austrian couple, Magda Wang passed her childhood in the Hong Kong where her father’s presence was demanded by business interests. In a curious eccentricity, her father had taken her mother’s name, Wang, at the time of their marriage.
The girl Magda grew up in that tiny British colony in East Asia, equally at ease in Chinese German and English. The city had become a principal refuge for Taoist adepts when the communists proscribed religion on the mainland, and Magda took an interest in “The Way” in her teens, rapidly advancing on a mystical path which included not a few elements of what we in the West would call sorcery.
Her narrative recounted her sometimes hair-raising initiations into the upper levels of practice, and her encounters with various ghosts and spirits. Of particular interest was her cryptic description of Taoist erotic practices, which increase one’s spiritual power by sublimating sexual energy. In keeping with Madame Wang’s high decorum, these passages were allusive, taking the form of a commentary on the Tao Te Ching. Though there are countless translations of that inestimable anthology of mystical poetry, they are as rule not true translations but reworkings of earlier renderings. Even the fresh attempts by genuine Sinologists, like dear old Arthur Waley, rely on traditional, medieval Chinese commentaries, which explain away the book’s genuine difficulties with pious platitudes. Though my own grasp of Chinese is amateur at best, I was able, dictionary in hand, to confirm that Madame Wang’s interpretations did ample justice to the often inexplicable turns of phrase. One could say of her renderings, “the text here is cryptic, but if it means anything at all, it surely means this.”
I was particularly struck by the lines
One who knows the Dao’s maleness
yet cherishes within himself its femaleness,
is a bond between heaven and earth,
a link between the masculine clarity of sky
and the patient yielding of the land.
The eternal power of the Dao never leaves him,
and he returns, comes home to a childlike state
He knows and shares in the glory, the splendor of the Dao,
he cherishes the shame and disgrace of it too.
He is the most perplexing being in heaven or earth,
no one understands why he accepts all that befalls him
as a valley accepts every stream.
I felt these lines limned the most secret contours of my soul. I saw in them the promise of somehow alchemizing the shame that accompanied my most private reveries into a confident acceptance of my entire existence. The verses spoke to me in ways I did not even wish to resist.
Doctor Coppelius’ Comment:
It should startle no one that Daoism, with its conscious idealization of the Yin, the feminine principle, would give the somewhat effeminate A. the sense that he intuitively understood, and was understood by, the text. The femininity of Chinese poetic culture is a subject that has never been adequately considered, nor is it likely to receive a fair and full treatment in the present political climate, though it was noted as long ago as the days of Wilde & Whistler.
More disquieting than the implied abdication of masculinity, is the retreat from independent existence implied by the phrase “in ways I did not even wish to resist.” A persistent motif in A.’s self-disclosures was fatalism, the no longer reluctant “realization” that he is what he is for life, that he was born to be this and could have been nothing else.
Madame Wang’s circular in Human Dressage noted that she was available for private instruction, and the post office box given for inquiries was right here in Vienna. I wrote to her in a frenzy of enthusiasm, not pausing to reflect on what I said for fear of losing my nerve. I stamped and sealed my letter and walked briskly to the nearest mailbox. I heard its metal entry clang shut upon my missive with a mixture of dread and relief, something like what a criminal must feel when the cell door clashes closed behind him. Fear of what may happen next, and a strange comfort at realizing the decisions are no longer his.
After several months of cruel anticipation, when I’d frankly given up hope of receiving a response, there came a letter from Madga Wang, saying she’d been touched by the frank details of my history, and had confidence I was a good candidate for her spiritual guidance. She gave an address and an evening when she would receive me. There was no question of negotiation or scheduling. I would present myself then.
On the appointed evening I was at her door, several minutes early. As is my habit when paying calls, I stood at the door with my eyes on my watch, rapping the very second the appointed hour struck.
Madame Wang met me graciously, took my hat and coat, and led me into a parlor which was a veritable Wunderkammer, a private museum of ethnographic and natural history curiosities, antiquities and art objects. All of these were remarkable, from the Ptolemaic Osiris figure to the remarkably plausible Fiji mermaid with a diminutive 18th century powdered wig, tied in the back with a ribbon, on its wizened head. But they were surpassed by several china dolls in a magnificent miniature house.
China dolls have nothing to do with the country China: they were first produced a little to the north of here, in Germany, in the 1840’s, and there the finest examples are still made. They are named for the porcelain from which heads are formed, like little portrait busts. The hair and facial features are painted and glazed, which gives them a glossy, and at times eerily realistic appearance, alive yet unalive. The slightly uncanny impression created by these figures is well attested by the name given to a particular and popular model: the “Frozen Charlotte.” The name came from an American folk ballad, which described a young woman who would not wrap up warmly for a New Year’s Eve sleigh ride because she didn’t wish to hide her pretty dress from view. The ballad concludes,
How quickly into the lighted hall,
Her rigid form is borne.
They call her name, they chafe her hands,
Her life they’d fain restore,
but Charlotte is a frozen corpse,
she’ll never answer more.
Three diminutive Charlottes stood in the drawing room of Madame Wang’s doll house. They were, as the ballad would lead one to expect, of a chilling beauty. Their realism suggested the embalmer’s art as much as the doll-maker’s skill.
We sat on Madame Wang’s couch. She poured me coffee and offered me a slice of sacher-torte. It was in some ways a stiffly traditional Viennese at-home even amid that jungle of oddities.
She asked whether I was able to commit to her program of spiritual development, to fully entrust myself to her direction? There would be no question of compensation. What she had to offer was “not for money and not for everyone.”
She explained that manly independence and a strong sense of self would not be assets here. Spiritual progress depended on absolute submission to her tutelage: mine must be an unconditional surrender. Once I declared myself her pupil, if I should then hesitate or demur, she had methods (here she clenched her teeth) of strengthening my resolve.
As I gazed upon her strong determined features and took in the stylish leopard-print pattern of her riding-coat, I was overcome by her personal style as much as by her words, I pledged myself to her, come what may.
“What I will teach you,” she said, is shwon pin.We must use the Chinese words because the concept itself doesn’t fully exist in the West. The phrase comes from the sixth chapter of the Dao De Jing. Perhaps we could render it with Blake’s phrase “the shadowy female,” This is the name of the spirit of the feminine, the yielding yin quality that is the very heart of Taoist teaching. The Western words I could use to characterize yin — womanly, female, feminine; dark, cold, passive — mislead, because they only describe aspects. We must have recourse to the Chinese. The first character, shwon,” (here she drew it on a piece of paper)
means “black, dark; profound, mysterious” and shows a piece of thread. The reasoning here is that thread is dyed, whence we go to the idea of darkness, of mystery. There is also the implication of something woven or knotted; from the idea of the knot we proceed to the notion of the difficult and mysterious.
“The next character, pin,” (here she took up her pen once more,)
meaning: “female; female animal; cow”, shows on the left a cow’s head with horns on top. This makes it clear we have to do with a physical, mammalian reality. On the right the character for man
The first little image shows a man standing up on his two legs. In the second, which is the form it takes in the word pin, his legs are in the air, and his upper body is bent round as if to look back at the height he’d fallen from. The use of the inverted man in the character indicates that the female is the opposite or complement of the male.
“But for us this character has a further, esoteric meaning. The reversed person is the emblem of transformation, like the “hanged man” of the Tarot deck. It represents the “death” which is part of true initiation: loss of self and a passing beyond the limits of mortal existence. “
Doctor Coppelius’ Comment
As a man whose world-view is determined by science, I was unable to credit the claims made by Madame Wang, and assumed that she simply victimized the unfortunate A. by exploiting the his Oedipal susceptibilities.
But is a poor sort of scientist who is never skeptical of his own skepticism, so I ask the reader to defer a dogmatic dismissal of Madame Wang’s pretensions, and follow the case history with as open a mind as possible
Under Wang’s direction, A. undertook a regimen of yogic exercises, particularly breathing meditation, aimed at strengthening his chee, a Chinese word which means, literally, “breath,” but (like the Hebrew ruak, the Latin anima, and the Greek pneuma,) has along with this root meaning the connotation of spirit, soul or vital force. He adopted a diet which excluded meat, alcohol, and even grains.
Along with this he was subjected to a course of erotic training, which was characterized by sexual submission and denial of orgasm — the anxiety resulting from this frustration of libido of course found relief in the rest of the “spiritual regimen,” which was in fact an artificially induced symptom, which at once expressed and relieved his psychic malaise. It had the same calming effect upon A. as the “rituals” of obsessive compulsives. All this confirmed him in his idolatrous devotion to the woman who now possessed him, almost in the demonic sense.
The details of A.’s activities can easily be imagined and need not be repeated here. Masochism is the most common of neuroses, and its particulars are as banal as they are well known. What was unusual was the pseudo-religious intensity which was imparted to them by Madame Wang’s mystical claims, and which were accepted without reservation by the neuropathic and morbidly sensitive A.
Excerpt from The Purple Days
I remember my first interview with my Taoist master in Hong Kong. We sat in his run-down little apartment drinking tea; while he explained to me in wearisome detail some fine points regarding the I Ching. One of the light-bulbs in the fixture overhead expired with fizzle and pop, and we found ourselves conversing in a dreary 40 watt twilight, which made the shabbiness of the decor ever more dispiriting. I began to wonder whether this fellow wasn’t another of the greedy frauds and third rate mediums who peddled amulets and promises to others as badly off as he. But then the master took a slip of yellow paper, drew on it the character for the moon along with a few lines of esoteric script, and stuck it high up on the wall. The abstracted crescent of the moon character glowed on the paper, and grew into a round, full and bright, though miniature, moon that shone down upon us from the wall which had melted into fog around it.
The room itself took on a luminous, hazy quality, and the cracked formica table became a fine teak example of the carpenter’s and carver’s art, the fragrance of the tea, now steaming in delicate porcelain cups, became rich and rare. The lesson continued in a lunar palace.
I came to understand two things that evening. That magic may be employed casually, but never without need. Our lunar excursion had been made for the sake of the light; the master was never concerned with whether I was impressed or not.
And this was also my introduction to the mechanics of Taoist magic, which, like the Tao Te Ching, comes into being at the beginning of the Common Era, with the Chinese discovery of how to make paper. To be sure, there had been mediumship, shamanism and no shortage of religions and philosophies before then, but the breakthrough to real esoteric science seems to have depended on paper. Previously, all writing had been done on long slats of bamboo sewn together like window-blinds, a manner of publication so cumbersome that the Analects of Confucius would have filled a small cart. Paper brought about an awareness that the characters had their own independent reality. They represented physical forms, but were independent of them. The nearly weightless medium which now carried the characters, and the simple flammability of paper, made it clear that what was written, which could at the touch of a flame pass over into the realm of immaterial, existed on an intermediate level of being between real and unreal. Figured and printed paper began to be used as joss offerings, for reflective minds saw how writing formed a permeable membrane between the levels of being.
Anyone who has been transported into a further world by reading a novel has experienced the occult potential of the written word. Reading a fantasy or science fiction short story is in fact an authentic religious experience. To be sure, not a particularly high level one, but the way in which such reading holds time in abeyance, and can distract from even such insistent physical reality as noise or bodily pain, makes it clear that reading literature is a kind of trance.
What the sorcerer does is enter far more more fully into the world of the written. This is most effectively achieved in Chinese or Ancient Egyptian, since these are the only fully developed writing systems consisting of pictures. Western amulets, particularly Arabic ones, where the text is sometimes calligraphed into an image, show a faint awareness of how the work must be carried out. The Egyptians made perhaps a little too much progress in this direction: in their literature the quantity of spells outweighs every other literary genre.
Written Chinese is the most difficult of languages to learn, since it doesn’t have any letters at all. Egyptian had a set of alphabetic characters which spelled out the sound of the word, and these were followed by a determinative image which specified what sort of person, thing, or activity was meant. Chinese is all pictures, with at most a single secondary image worked in as a visual pun to suggest the sound. Chinese thinks in pictures, and thinking in images and symbols is the very essence of sorcery.
Chinese characters paint the landscape of ancient, mythological China, from the time of the Three Sovereigns, the third millenium BC. They were invented by Foo Shee, the first man, or nearly man, for he and his wife Noo Wa were actually snakes with human faces. (The Hebrew first man, Adam, is similarly credited with the invention of human language, and the serpent at the tree of knowledge suggests a similar constellation of concepts). Foo Shee invented not language but writing, and with the power of the characters he created humanity out of clay.
The characters represent a complete, though admittedly neolithic, landscape, one dominated by female figures, plant life, flood-water, and heavenly signs, a realm of livestock, seeds, fetuses and food. You begin by reciting one of the portal texts, of which the greatest is the first chapter of the Tao Te Ching, visualizing the characters as you speak them. Presently they take on their own life, animate into independence, like the last ideas that pass through your mind as you begin to dream. The diet, meditations and breathing yoga are all aimed at giving you control over this transitional moment so you can enter a state of lucid dreaming.
Whenever I chant the line from that first tremendous chapter of the Tao, “thereby you see its wondrous subtle mysteries,” the word for see, gwan, drawn as a bird of prey with claws extended, lifts me out of my physical body, like a soaring hawk, and my eyes take on the telescopic penetration and clarity of a raptor. The word for “wondrous subtlety” miao, is a schematic angular female figure. Beside are marks that mean something small subdivided, that is, the unimaginably small. The symbol for something small is a visual pun on the sign for fetus, which was in the days before ultrasound, the ultimate emblem of the minute and mysterious. Between words gwan and miao my sight takes in not only the tiny and remote, but the hidden, the latent, the implied. The dream scroll from which I read the memorized text becomes a landscape painting, and that becomes animated. The calligraphed characters of the accompanying poem flow into the animated art which is now the actual. In this world, the word and the image and the real precisely coincide, spells are efficacious and magic is a fact.
I was gradually induced to take over certain menial household duties for Madame Wang, though by then I esteemed them as a privilege.
A woman’s home is, like her clothes, not only an expression but an extension of of herself, I tended Madame Wang’s rooms with the same adoration I directed to her. It was the temple of her presence.
I was in effect her priest, and priesthood requires special vestments. I gradually came to dress in feminine clothing. I accepted this as part of my initiation into shwon pin, the “dark feminine,” and soon took pride in being able to dress myself attractively and apply makeup well.
Though elsewhere I dressed in “civilian” clothes, I found myself playing sly games of self-exposure in normal society: betraying in my conversation an undue knowledge of women’s artifices.
Also, though I dressed in male attire, I would sometimes wear one ring too many, or a perfume that fell a little too far on the feminine end of the spectrum. I socialized more with women at my workplace, exulting in the fact they felt so comfortable around me, and wondered (with unexpected satisfaction) if the women realized why that was so.
All this describes only the surface. The occult dimension of my relationship will supply the motivation, if not the logic, of these transgender exercises.
Madame Wang was my guide into the spirit realm, my Beatrice, if you will. And though I myself lacked her power to ascend through heavens or plunge into ghost worlds, she could take me with her when she took me by the hand. The first time she did so, it was in her parlor, by the doll house. As instructed, I was staring at this, while the incense smoked on the coffee table and she conjured in Chinese, one hand grasping mine. I noticed for the first time that the doll house bore a surprising resemblance to the room in which we sat. The furnishings, the curios, all were there, to the finest detail. I remember thinking how odd it was that I had never noticed this before. I tried to decide just what it was in this flawless reproduction that made it seem unreal, that betrayed the fact that these were merely toys. Was it the presence of the three dolls? Examining more carefully the dollhouse furnishings I found that the sense of something askew remained. Perhaps it was that the objects were ever so slightly off-scale? But no, as I looked at them more closely, the proportions proved to be correct. I studied the tiny furnishings, not realizing that I could not have seen them so well from where I sat on the couch, nor could I have picked them up and held them as now I did.
I was inside the doll house room, and the three porcelain figures, were now as real to me as the furniture. The room in which we were now seemed closed and complete, with four walls surrounding the reality within. The four of us now sat at the table and one of the now real female figures poured tea for us all. We sipped and conversed with that wonderful seriousness which you find only in children playing make-believe. We were like four little girls having a dolls’ tea party with their dolls — except we were ourselves the dolls. We pretended to be very adult, as only little girls can, and complained of how everything had been better when we were young, of the high price of tea and how difficult money had become — as though we really were grown up ladies. It was childhood regained, life as we find it in a sentimental poem, like Rimbaud’s youthful “The Orphans’ New Year’s Gift” or Heine’s “My Child, When We Were Children . . . ” It was the more than mortal happiness one glimpses in antique Christmas cards, which one tastes in fruit-shaped Christmas marzipan.
I never mentioned this or my succeeding excursions into the doll house to Doctor Coppelius. He would never have believed they actually took place, and I didn’t wish to listen to him grapple with my special and secret reality, leaving the dirty fingerprints of his secular and scientific reality on the perfect, private, and, yes, the holy inner world which had admitted me. And, I confess it, I was afraid he might somehow break the spell. I hadn’t anticipated this when I began my treatment, and would not have even begun it had I known the new course my life would abruptly take. Where I did hope he might be of use to me was in coping with the ways in which my new reality devalued the old, made the everyday world seem artificial, implausible, and subtly disproportioned.
Dr. Coppelius’ Comment
It was fortunate for science, though sadly of little use to A., that he was in analytic treatment, and here, as his pathology developed. Vienna is the original homeland of psychoanalysis, and if New York has displaced it as the capital, so to speak, the Americans have considerably adulterated Freud’s teaching over the last century. Across the Atlantic, medication, personal advice and popular wisdom have gained favor at the expense of the real work of psychoanalysis. The same propensity to fads and enthusiasms which made America open its doors to Freud has kept them wide for less respectable therapies.
Because I am a traditional analyst, there was no question of my urging A. to break off the relationship with Madame Wang. The work of psychotherapy is to bring the patient to his own realizations: attempts to hasten self-discovery bring treatment to an abrupt end. That is the first lesson the beginning analyst learns.
As the affair with Madame Wang progressed, A. complained of a sense of unreality in his waking life, and the complete cessation of dreams. This was of course impossible: it was A.’s resistance to the content of his dreams, which prevented him from bringing them to conscious awareness.
His wish to reveal his shifting gender, to be exposed, was unexpected. It would have been the suppression of his drives into the unconscious that made his dreams inaccessible to recollection. Such an interior law of secrecy should have resulted in delusions of being watched, paranoia. Not this quasi-exhibitionism!
It is no doubt relevant here that Madame Wang would catechize him regarding his lowly, servile and feminized state, requiring him to to admit aloud, that he was her property, a neutered object, a thing, a feminine plaything, a doll. The acknowledgment of A.’s emerging feminine identity, which Madame Wang required of him, and he which obliquely asked of others, finally pointed to a problem less sexual than existential.
A plausible, rational (and for those very reasons inadequate when we are examining the unconscious!) explanation might be that, A., coming awkwardly to terms with a non-binary gender identity, was starved for any validation, positive or negative.
But we might more usefully wonder whether the archaic and impractical education A. received, and the way he had shaped his character, finding his models in the obscure barbarities of late Latin literature, hadn’t, from the outset, compromised his reality? One might plausibly take the point of view that A.’s was an ontological problem, one that should be understood in occult rather than psychological terms. I realize this diagnosis falls outside the accepted categories of psychology, but I implore the reader to form his judgment on the facts when they are fully presented
Was A. now crossing gender boundaries because he had already crossed metaphysical ones? This explanation alone seems adequate to account for his desperate need to be reassured of his being. For the impression I received in our analytic hours was that, as much as A. longed to be told what he was, directly by Madame Wang, and indirectly by his female co-workers, he longed even more ardently to be reassured that he was.
A.’s narcissistic predicament, hypnotized by his feminine image in the mirror, may have less to do with vanity or homosexual tendencies, than with the need to find irrefutable evidence of his existence.
If it were a true psychosis developing, I would have expected delusions. When the ego falters, the repressed emerges into waking beliefs as it does in dreams. But this was not the situation. His sorcerer’s apprenticeship to Madame Wang was assuredly unwholesome, but it was by no means a delusion. A. was not in flight from reality, though his reality was now so exotic as to almost constitute an alternate world.
At times I could now hear far distant conversations, though not clearly enough to get more than the general drift. I began to foresee events, though only a few seconds in the future. I saw the water-glass tip before the man at the next table in the restaurant knocked it over reaching for the bread-basket. I would have thought I was losing my mind if these telepathic and precognitive events had had any significance, even a purely personal one. But they were random and trivial. Madame Wang explained to me that these new awarenesses were signs of spiritual progress.
I advanced in the spiritual disciple — I use the term discipline advisedly. Initiation comes at a painful price. The figurative death of the self must be physically furthered and confirmed. Madame Wang liked to make this point with a rather wicked quotation from Confucius, the famous line from the fourth book of the Analects,
The superior man cherishes punishment; the paltry person wants to be coddled.
Of course it’s rather better in the Chinese, where the world for punishment, shing, sounds like a riding crop swishing briskly through the air.
And this was in fact a primary means by which Madame Wang hastened my progress to, as she put it, “a gallop.” Afterwards she would stand me in front of a mirror so I could see my mouth open in an involuntary astonished “O,” my foundation-whitened cheeks striped with mascara-blackened tears, the very picture of punishment. Mine were the fantastic sorrows of a weeping Pierrot, whose pale face betrays his ghostly status. At such times I felt a spiritual thrill as Madame Wang addressed me as “sweety,” with her special malicious grin. Gender was just another surpassable limit of the mortal condition.
Under her maternal command, beneath her punishing hand, I attained a sense of helpless wonder, like the awe an infant feels before his (to him) godlike parents. As the great twenty-eighth chapter of the Dao De Jing says,
the eternal power of the Dao never leaves him,
and he returns, comes home to a childlike state
Doctor Coppelius’ Comment
Madame Wang was transforming A. in ways for which the psychiatric case histories afforded me no precedent. The closest parallels I could arrive at were in the Asian tales of ghosts and fox-spirits who become romantically involved with living men, and drain them of their chee, their vital force. They carry out these parasitic liasons for the endless extension of their own life spans, or to restore their energies exhausted by acts of sorcery. I had viewed this analogy, albeit with a shudder, as a psychological clue, rather than an investigative fact.
Another oddity which I dismissed at the time as an irrelevant impression, but which I am now inclined to take rather more seriously, is the change in A.’s physical appearance. When he first came to me he was a presentable, neatly dressed man, with shoes always shined, never in need of a shave or slovenly in any detail. As time went on his complexion became more pale and even, the faint blotches and blemishes which one finds on any adult male’s face were no longer visible. I assumed he taken to wearing foundation and makeup. He kept this indulgence within acceptable limits, though he finally arrived at a complexion which was at a little unnaturally natural, a shade too smooth, like that of a computer generated character. His skin had taken on the translucence of — I cannot withhold an accurate detail of clinical observation merely because it may make a melodramatic impression — of fine porcelain. With the advantage of hindsight, I now see that I should have insisted on a physical examination. I considered doing so, but resisted this out of a sense of scientific delicacy. An illness of suspected psychosomatic origin would justify such a proceeding, but a psychosomatic cosmetic effect? That would be an inquiry for a beautician, not a physician!
Shortly before A. ceased his treatment, I had a dream of him, in which he appeared with one of his eyes heavily masacara’d, like the character Alex in the film Clockwork Orange. The name connection, A. becoming Alex, is easily understood, but the reference to Kubrick’s film, and the Burgess novel on which it is based, is more revealing.
The title comes from a Cockney saying, “Queer as a clockwork orange.” Burgess used the phrase to describe Alex’s mental reconditioning, which was meant to make of him a docile automaton, a human robot programmed to social norms. The phrase “clockwork orange” implies a replacement of the organic by the mechanical, or an impossible fusion of the nature and art.
Though an analyst’s dreams are ordinarily irrelevant clinically, in this particular case, where the facts were so far from ordinary, I should perhaps have taken it as a clue which might be fruitfully pursued.
Perhaps Madame Wang’s regimen was merely behavior modification, brainwashing, with an overlay of exotic and erotic elements. But this explanation leaves a number of questions unanswered.
A. never complained of anxiety, but rather of a mounting sense of unreality. Along with this there was the apparent but impossible disappearance of his dreams. Dreams are the lifeblood of the psyche — the very definition of artificial intelligence is an intelligence which cannot dream. Very well, you may say, the dreams were repressed. But repression without anxiety? Another oddity was the complete absence of Fehlleistungen, verbal misfires, what they call in English “Freudian Slips,” which always betray the unconscious. It was as though A. no longer had an unconscious.
It seemed as though A.’s sense of unreality was well founded. From the new texturelessness of his skin to the apparent vanishing of his unconscious, he seemed to undergoing a gradual idealization, becoming an abstracted representation of person, a figure to be added to Madame Wang’s wunderkammer, a further Frozen Charlotte to stand in the series with her sister figurines.
I cannot help but wonder how matters turned out for him. In any event, the following is the final record of our sessions.
To be a toy, to be a doll — this turned out to be my final fantasy. To stand before the mirror that shows my painted face, to approach it as closely as I do when applying eye-shadow, and never fog the glass with living breath!
Dolls themselves go back as far as human artifacts and, technically, one could include in their number small statues of deities, medical models, even action figures, but the preponderance of dolls represent adult females and are intended to be played with by girls. Barbie is the best known contemporary example, and may be taken as paradigmatic. For a little girl, Barbie is a model of imagined future femininity. She is dressed, coiffed, and admired by her young owner — and at times used to act out anxieties regarding the vaguely understood facts of life. Barbies are outgrown at the very point when a girl becomes a young woman and herself takes on the feminine traits Barbie only suggests.
For me a doll represents something similar yet significantly different. Yes, a doll is a paradigm of femininity, but a femininity that can never be literally realized. A doll’s stylized, exaggerated proportions and especially the graphic idealizing of the face — circles of rouge on the cheeks, intensely red pouting lips on a porcelain-perfect face, long lashes on over-sized eyes — this was the ideal for which I strove in my own application of makeup. To create a face that was less an image than an icon, more a graphic symbol than a physical reality.
For me the most important aspect of a doll is one that is not shown and indeed is not there to be seen: its genderlessness, the flat dead level of plastic in place of a vulva was like a poignant reflection my own indefiniteness — what Madame Wang characterized as my identification with the limitless.
There is more. I want to be a doll — so as to be dressed, played with, and owned by a girl.
I have no aspiration towards womanhood, the tender bonds of maternity, nor to femaleness and the biological fine detail of fecundity, nor am I ambitious for femininity, which includes the subtly competitive social world of girls, in which generosity and fairness are not always foremost:
Rather, I envision an idyll of girlish pastimes and play, a looking-glass world into which I can bluff my way by a program of spectral resemblances. I am a ghost attempting to haunt a dollhouse.
Madame Wang’s Journal
I have always loved miniatures, charm bracelets, tiny vignettes and things that fit in lockets.
I breathe a sigh of satisfaction as I add the fourth figure to my doll collection. These creatures are so happy when the process is completed. You tell by the sly little smiles on their rosebud lips, between the large red rouge circles on their round and shining cheeks. There are those who court immortality in vampiric wise, draining males of their yang energy until they sicken and waste away. Cruel and lewd, it seems to me, this exhausting a man of life through the loins. I prefer submissive, feminine men, whom I lighten of their masculine force in exquisite anticipations of pleasure, the interminable sweetness of deferred release. I deprive them of their virility along with their actuality, I domesticate the male. I fix him, to use the coy little euphemism current among pet owners, but leave him a blissful if diminished existence. Out in the wild, the world of men, these aggression-impaired boys would hardly fare so well. They’re far better off with me, in my wunderkammer of implausible desires, my miniature circus of polite behavior, my microcosmic finishing school and theater of charm.