Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Holy Hunger, The Couch and The Tree

By Kelle Scheillaci and Gherada Castillo

FEBRUARY 23, 1999: 

Holy Hunger
by Margaret Bullitt-Jonas (Knopf, cloth, $23)

Subtitled "a memoir of desire," this book is sure to impact anyone who's ever lost themselves to addiction. Statistically speaking, eating disorders such as compulsive overeating, anorexia or bulimia tend to occur unproportionately high in otherwise educated and successful women. More often than not, food is used as a numbing device, and extra weight is carried around or desperately discarded in a distorted effort at self-protection. In this unabashedly honest memoir, Bullitt-Jonas traces her continuous battle with compulsive overeating, from bingeing through the bakery aisles of her grocery store to her first OA meeting to the jarring memories of her childhood.

Bullitt-Jonas was a classic overachiever brought up in a privileged household, following the footsteps of her Harvard-educated and tenured father, an emotionally abusive drunk, and struggling to win the love of her affectionately-numb mother. As is the case with many emotionally starved children, she began desperately transferring that abstract hunger into physical form, whether it be through sex, drinking, or, her addiction of choice--eating.

The book reads as a journey of self-discovery, whereby current events trigger covered-up memories, and Bullitt-Jonas, with the help of support groups, an OA sponsor and a new yearning for spirituality, begins to understand herself out of addiction. She doesn't make it sound easy, and her struggle to reconnect herself and her family is an ongoing test of strength. In one of the best passages, Bullitt-Jonas describes an adult moment when she first seems to discover her own body--its beauty and movement and profound practicality. Like an infant, she marvels over her own skin, kneecaps and genitalia. Other victorious moments include the author's ability to share minor "break-through" moments with her terminally ill father, as well as rare moments of "connection" with her mother, without succumbing to weepy over-sentiment.

Ultimately, the memoir is less an account of addiction than it is a story of an emotionally-stilted family. However, by the end, it becomes clear that above all it is a testament of courage to the author herself, not only for having gone through the process of personal recovery, but for having the courage to say it out loud with such honesty. (KS)



The Couch and The Tree: Dialogues in Psychoanalysis and Buddhism
edited by Anthony Molino (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, cloth, $30)

Anthony Molino's two-part contemporary anthology is a must-read for all studious psychoanalysts and budding Buddhists alike. Revisiting the dialogue originally presented in the 1960 classic Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis, The Couch and The Tree--a reference to Freud's couch and the Buddha's bodhi tree--is a chronology of classic and contemporary writings pondering the eternal psychoanalytical conflict with Buddhist text.

In this collection, thoughtful and renowned psyche-Buddhist minds weave and ravel, spin and turn poetic phrases and ethereal ideas while vainly grasping for the keys to human thought and nature. Classic essays from Joe Tom Sun, Franz Alexander, Erich Fromm, D. T. Suzuki and Co. resound in bold and subtle attempts to address the Freudian self and the Buddhist non-self as the proverbial "two sides of the same coin," ultimately suggesting the eventual/impossible links of psychoanalysis to Zen.

The complex/simplistic nature of it all is most tangible/intangible in the discussion between Joyce McDougall and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Musing over the question "Is there an Unconscious in Buddhist Teaching?" this Q&A rumble is crammed with esoteric psycho-babble and dream/memory lingo. Highly entertaining is the monumental transcript of a 1979 symposium in which Ram Dass, John Kornfield and Mokusen Miyuki engage in a "cyclical" dialogue of psychoanalytical Buddhist jargon entrenched within a 1960s hippie culture. Interesting "faith-science" references are scattered throughout.

In the thoughtful interview Slouching Toward Buddhism, Nina Coltart characterizes her philosophy, eloquently clarifying the dual existence of her scientific mind within a "religious temperament."

The most notable entry is the first English publication of the 1958 Jung-Hisamatsu Conversation. This direct translation from the German protocol of Jung's secretary provides a new and clarifying perspective to that of the previous German to Japanese to English translation. The older version lacked the subtle language variations to fully express the esoteric dialogue, ultimately resulting in a Freudian/Jung confusion. Specifically, references made to "ego" were misinterpreted as Freudian "ego" instead of the intended Jung's "I." Even more interesting than the conversation itself are the footnotes, which provide amusingly pedantic literati musings. (GC)


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