Tuesday, August 28, 2012


I don’t “do” Indians -- at least not generic Indians.  What I do is Blackfeet, Blackfoot (Canadian, same tribe) and maybe a few other high prairie tribes (Gros Ventre).  Every time I see a book with “Blackfeet et al” in it, I grab it, even if I have to sell a cat (jokes) to afford it.  When “Reality and Dream:  Psychoterapy of a Plains Indian,” showed up on my radar, I grabbed it.  I’m not sure whether I got it from the Powells in Hyde Park (the original) or Michael’s Powells in Portland where each category of books was “curated” by someone who knew what they were doing.  In the Seventies I combed that section every few days.  The Native American literature renaissance was just ending.  Publishing houses were remaindering their “Indian” books because they didn’t sell, mostly because no one knew how to market them.  They weren’t about people who hunted buffalo.

I remember thinking that George Devereaux was the name of the Indian being psychoanalyzed.  It’s a familiar Blackfeet/Metis name.  But instead Devereaux was the therapist:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Devereux  In fact, he devised a new field:  ethnopsychoanalysis.  His Ph.D. adviser was Alfred Kroeber and his relationship with his analysand in this book reminds one of Kroeber and Ishi, though it’s not the same.  Everybody Talks About was traumatized by war and personal betrayal, but he was not a primitive bow-and-arrow man.  I taught several people from that family.  One of the little problems with this book is that it’s a lot more transparent that either Devereaux or Talks About really guessed.  People who have lived here a while can solve the little name switches and so on, as easily as they were able to see through a Cosmopolitan magazine article about dating in which “Peaches” was converted to “Cherry.”  (I’m not sure that author was picking up on the overtones of the new name.)  it’s unclear whether Devereaux ever visited Browning.  He seems to have been getting his information from anthro journals.

But this is an earnest book in which two men sincerely wanted to understand each other and that’s what comes through.  In fact, I think that probably had more to do with sorting out Talks About’s dreams, understanding and recovery than the careful explanations of Freudian metaphors.  Talks About  often ends up blushing!  Devereaux is not just a silent observer, but an active conversationalist.  He pays close attention to transference and countertransference.

Basically, Talks About went off to war, came back only to discover that his wife had left him for another man and had sold everything.  He had a daughter out of wedlock and valued her, even had a pretty good relationship with her, but was worried that he didn’t have enough to offer her.  Also, he had mysterious illnesses:  headaches, pain that prevented him from riding a horse (he worked as a cowboy), and depression.  

This classical analysis using Freudian concepts is entertaining to read these days, watching as Talks About realizes the meaning of “tall grass”, a man standing on a hill, a foot slipping into a shoe.  (Meaning sex, sex, and sex.)  He catches on quickly, which is not surprising when one knows how much old-time Blackfeet life was governed by dreams.  But he’s not an old-timey “blanket” Indian and sometimes I got the feeling he was being suitably "amazed" because it pleased Devereaux so much.  But the bottom line is that Talks About was justifiably enraged over his mistreatment, but denying it.  Clearly he needed to get that emotion out of the way so he could find a practical means to put the world back in order.  He was certainly not alone.

I have no idea how they managed to convert this book into a screenplay.  Most of it is transcripts of the counseling “interviews” plus some consideration of “theory and technique,” some test results, and other discussions.  There is a probably unavoidable odor of “Hey look at me, Ma!  I’m counseling an INDIAN!  A real INDIAN!!”  The book came out in 1951 so we’re talking about events soon after WWII.  

Devereaux’s original name was György Dobó, he converted to Christianity from Judaism, and he was from a romantic but volatile part of the world that was sometimes Austro-Hungarian (like Adolf Hungry Wolf’s parents) and other times Roumanian (like Mircea Eliade).  His family was similar to Geza Roheim’s Jewish bourgeois family.  A good ethnopsychoanalyst would take all that into account.  But there was no way Talks About could return analysis of his analyzer, no way he could say,  “I think you’re projecting.”  

Talks About did come up with some childhood sex play (an anthro footnote appended to explain it as cultural) but the memory that seemed most significant was a young girl who went through the ice and drowned while he was present.  He ran away.  The guilt followed him.  The tragedy was witnessed by another young girl.  Devereaux explains the Blackfeet phobia about water.  (There are Water Monsters down there!!)

Both psychoanalysis and anthropology were sort of early in their development at this time.  Karl Menninger and Robert Lowie contribute prefaces to defend the proceedings, but no Blackfeet was consulted.  Today they would contact Jim Welch, were he living, or maybe Darrell or Woody Kipp.  In the Fifties it did not occur to the big shots that a Blackfeet would have anything useful to say.  Nowadays the Blackfeet would have so MUCH to say, that they would know better than to get involved.

Until this movie.  I gather that much of it was filmed where the counseling took place in a Midwest Veteran’s hospital rather than on the rez.  There are two other movies proceeding, one in Cut Bank with that name and the other a filming of Welch’s “Winter in the Blood.”  The Cut Bank one doesn’t seem to have Indians in it.  http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/cannes-cut-bank-armie-hammer-john-malkovitch-cut-326836   They haven’t finished shooting the Lone Ranger movie with Johnny Depp as Tonto yet.  The reaction to his get-up has not been entirely positive, though I myself like that bird on his head. 

The generation of Browning people who fought in WWII and returned betrayed and traumatized was the generation to which Bob and Harold Scriver belonged.  Both could have used some psychoanalysis, but there was no way they would have let any psychoanalyst get near them.  Everybody Talks About undergoing the “talking cure” was a brave and intelligent man.  George Devereaux understood that.

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