The dead are fully assimilated into the living, a process he called introjection. In mourning that does not proceed normally, mourning in which something has gone wrong, this benign internalization does not happen. Instead, there’s an incorporation. The dead occupy only a part of the one who has survived; they are sectioned off, hidden in a crypt, and from this place of encryption they haunt the living.
Except for the fact that this wasn’t Freud at all. Julius, I could see, had confused Freud’s Mourning and Melancholia with Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok’s 1972 essay ‘Mourning or melancholia: Introjection versus Incorporation’, in which all these ideas are elaborated away from, and in response to, Freud. For one thing, I thought, Abraham and Torok’s use of the term ‘introjection’ to mean ‘a process of broadening the ego’ by working through loss and trauma – but also any new, challenging experience – comes, most ironically, from their fellow Hungarian Sandor Ferenczi – the same Ferenczi with whom Freud famously fell out when he retreated from the so-named ‘seduction theory’ to his one of the drives and the Oedipus complex. I then got to thinking that it was likely to have been Derrida that had confused Julius (or Cole): perhaps something that Derrida had written, or something that someone else had written about Derrida. After all, it was Derrida, whose Foreword, ‘Fors: The Anglish Words of Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok’, to their The Wolf Man’s Magic Word: A Cryptonomy, did most to bring the ideas of this Franco-Hungarian pair to a wider readership. What kind of psychiatric specialist, or writer about psychiatric specialists, I was wondering, would make such a slip?
Of course, I could see that Open City was all about slips and failure, unedifying deaths and indecisiveness – from Julius’s overwhelming sense of multiple erasures at the site of the World Trade Centre towers, his unacknowledged avoidance of a dying friend, to his experience as ‘a pathetic old-young man padding about in the grip of some nervousness’, unable to remember his ATM card code. And it seemed that the codes that so often elude Julius represent, merely, the sorts of meanings that make the functional materiality of our living a little smoother – codes for the ordinary workings of financial transactions, for apparently coherent, if archaic, systems of making sense of herbs – and not for meanings resisted and denied, as the oblique, and in fact erased reference to the Wolf Man suggests. Initially I was thinking that there simply was no key encrypted word/action like ‘teret’ in Open City – that this novel, despite its faux Freud reference, was not so much about encryption at all but the more predicable theme of the inadequacy of signs.
Then Moji speaks – and to say more would give away too much – but it should suffice to say that the great blind spot that Julius identifies at the heart of his profession – and the blind spots in his memory, the great blinding spot that both lures the birds of New York to their deaths and obscures how they died – blinding spots that flare on each side of Moji’s story – might very well have to do with the word ‘force’ which, before its noticeable play in both the telling and the context of her story, emerges in the novel not long after Julius encounters Moji for the first time in New York:
I noticed a copy of Simone Weil’s essays. I picked it up. My friend turned from the window. She’s wonderful on the Iliad, he said. I think she really gets what force is about, how it motivates action and loses control of what it has motivated. You really should take a look at it sometime.
Behind this ‘force’ – should we read here Freud’s theory of the drives? Julius’s entire field of expertise? – is something that Abraham and Torok would have called the ‘fantasy of incorporation’: ‘The magical “cure” by incorporation,’ they write, ‘exempts the subject from the painful process of reorganization’. Incorporation enacts a pretence, after a loss or a trauma, that ‘we had absolutely nothing to lose’.
But as Moji says to Julius: ‘Things don’t go away just because you choose to forget them.’
Immediately after listening to her story, Julius becomes obsessed with Camus’s account of Nietzsche and Gaius Mucius Cordus Scaevola, and the pain they inflicted on their own bodies just to demonstrate to others – if not more to themselves – their fearlessness. As though to deflect the import of what Moji has just told him, Julius finds himself researching exactly what the fifteen-year-old Nietzsche had done to himself in the presence of his schoolmates. Was it a hot coal or a brace of matches? Such questions serve, most usefully, to distract.