Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A REMARKABLE DISCOVERY

In 1948, I was a precocious, troubled teenager, bedeviled by obsessive and terrifying fears of death. My mother at that time worked for a Manhattan-based organization called The Child Study Association, a progressive operation dedicted to advocating enlightened techniques of child-rearing. A young psychiatrist named Bertram Schaffner, returning from the war, approached Child Study with the idea of trying pyschoanalytic techniques, then used only with adults, on a teenager. My mother got wind of this plan, and arranged for me to go into treatment with him, at a reduced fee [necessary since my parents were living on a rather tight budget]. For the next two and a half years, until I graduated from high school and went to college, I would leave Forest Hills High School early two or three days a week, take the E train to 53rd and 7th avenue, walk the six blocks to Central Park South, turn right for half a block and enter one of the imposing apartment buildings lining the park where Dr. Schaffner had his home office. I lay on the couch just like an adult patient, and I imagine free associated, reported my dreams, and so forth. I say "I imagine" because I do not in fact remember much of anything about the actual sessions, an odd fact considering how precise my memory is of so much else from those days. Very soon the fears of death abated, and I went off to college a reasonably sane young man. My big sister, Barbara, had gone to Swarthmore, and although I wanted to follow her there, Swarthmore was leery of taking an applicant who was receiving psychotherapy [how is that for an indication of the changes time has wrought!] They actually told me that if Harvard rejected me, they would admot me, but Harvard couldn't have cared less, and said yes, so I never did get to go to Swarthmore.

Barbara is a loyal Swarthmore alum, and reads the Alumni Bulletin each month when it comes to her home in Washington, D. C. Yesterday she emailed me about a story in the Bulletin. Didn't someone in the family go to Dr. Bertram Schaffner? she asked. It seems Schaffner was a Swarthmore alum, class of '32, still living and practicing a bit at the age of 97! The story focused on the fact that he was gay, and had been forced to lead a deeply closeted life until he was in his sixties, treating gay men and working sub rosa to help those discriminated against by the brutal prejudice both of the psychoanalytic profession and of America in general.

And there he is, still living in the same apartment, sixty years later. For me, this has somewhat the air of "turnabout is fair play." From time to time, I make contact with men and women who were my students as much as fifty years ago, and I often think that in a corner of their minds is the thought, "Gee, I didn't realize he was still alive." Now, here I am in awe that Dr. Schaffner is still alive and in the very apartment where I saw him so often as a boy.

If anyone is interested in following up, just do what I did. Google "Swarthmore" and "Bertram Schaffner" and the story will pop up.

2 comments:

ajrosa said...

Great story. 97 years! Inspirational!. Same apartment? Not so much.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

A h, but it is a New York apartment! AS one person remarked to me, "It is probably rent controlled."