June 11, 2014

I went to see Adam Phillips, British psychoanalyst/author, speak with Daphne Merkin at 92Y last night. Merkin had this odd way of asking questions where she would pile many questions in one go, reading from her prepared notes. By the time she finished asking them, I couldn’t remember what her first question was. She was visibly nervous. Pretty obvious that she is not an experienced public speaker. I related to her fear/pain and felt nervous for her. Phillips, on the other hand, is a skilled public speaker; smooth, witty, funny, and relaxed. His British accent added to his aura of authority too. By the middle of the talk, it became quite clear that it wasn’t just me who found Merkin’s style of questioning jarring, or even annoying. In a few instances, Phillips stopped her from piling on more questions. “Can I respond to that first?” he interjected. Towards the end, Merkin was given a stack of cards with questions from the audience, and Phillips jokingly said, “Can I answer one at a time?” The audience broke into laughter. In that moment, Phillips bonded with the audience over that pain, officially acknowledging the fact that it was annoying, which lead to a sense of relief for the audience, which in turn was expressed as laughter. I wondered; if so many people felt the same way, why didn’t SHE see it? What prevented her from perceiving the same thing which was so obvious to everyone else?

After the event, I became more curious of Daphne Merkin. I kept thinking about her, as if the event was about her. Phillips was interesting but made no lasting impression on me. In comparison to Merkin, he was like a charming machine. There was something very human and vulnerable about Merkin, so I Googled her and found this essay about her struggle with her own weight where she bravely exposes her vulnerability. In a way, what I saw at 92Y was an exchange between a typical psychoanalyst and his client. I believe that most psychoanalysts and therapists become interested in psychology as a way to deal with their own vulnerability. Their method is to apply the maximum intellectual control whereas people like Merkin choose to apply the least, or even remove their impulse to control. Two different paths with two clearly different results, like yin and yang of human vulnerability.