“Even when you can’t make out the whole shape of a coming catastrophe, you might well feel that you’re living in an idyll, and count the hours.” I feel honored that the novelist Pauline Kerschen was prompted by my recent poem about the Pemaquid lighthouse to write a riff about Auden, and about love in a time of politics (Metameat).

John Jemiah Sullivan writes a poem about the plumbers who came to his rescue (Harper’s):

They liked to compete over who could sell the other one out first and worse.
Greg would tell me Fran was a thief. Fran would say that Greg smoked crack.
It soon became apparent that both of their accusations were absolutely true,
But they made them as if they expected me to react in a scandalized fashion.
Here was the amazing thing—both men were skilled, even brilliant plumbers.

Laura Kolbe writes a poem about trying to tell the duck and the rabbit from the duck-rabbit (Harper’s):

For a week I tried keeping

forks and spoons in separate
drawered slots. But everything

that aids you tends
toward a similar handle.

Jonathan Lethem writes about the invention of the Brooklyn neighborhood Boerum Hill, where he grew up, and the ambiguous history of its gentrifiers (New Yorker): “The moral calculus lent righteousness to the brownstoners’ preservationist stance. Yet a tone had crept in, that of an élitist cult.”

Jane Hu on Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning Part One (Paris Review): “The plot, so gloriously convoluted that the film spends its first thirty minutes explaining it as though addressing a baby, can be boiled down to something like this: Ethan Hunt is tasked with saving a series of beautiful women, which is a metaphor for saving the entire human race, which is of course, an allegory for Tom Cruise’s endless mission to save the movies.” Jane Hu on Barbie(Dissent): “This narrative unraveling isn’t all that different from the history of Western feminism itself, which has long entailed amnesia and recursion.”

“ ‘It’s good you have left America,’ she said. ‘Perhaps you’ll avoid a death of despair.’ ” In Albania, an American literary critic makes a long-overdue visit to a dentist (i.e., Christian Lorentzen writes autofiction).

“What the patient wants is for their old way of managing, which has begun to sputter and malfunction, to work again. Psychoanalysis therefore consists, according to the Lacanian analyst Bruce Fink, in giving the patient ‘something he or she never asked for.’ ” Ben Parker writes about why Adam Phillips thinks psychoanalysis doesn’t cure anyone and shouldn’t (n+1).

I didn’t realize that Charlotte Brontë had Melvillean moments. But consider this conversation, in her novel Shirley(which is about Luddites! why did none of you tell me she wrote a novel about Luddites!), between the fiery aristocrat Shirley Keeldar and the pale but passionate Caroline Helstone:

[Keeldar:] “And what will become of that inexpressible weight you said you had on your mind?”

[Helstone:] “I will try to forget it in speculation on the sway of the whole Great Deep above a herd of whales rushing through the livid and liquid thunder down from the frozen zone: a hundred of them, perhaps, wallowing, flashing, rolling in the wake of a patriarch bull, huge enough to have been spawned before the Flood: such a creature as poor Smart had in mind when he said,—

‘Strong against tides, the enormous whale

Emerges as he goes.’ ”

Zelda’s teeth

Most of the information about psychoanalysis in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night is pinchbeck, but I noticed something unexpectedly genuine when re-reading it yesterday. After Nicole Diver grabs the steering wheel from her husband Dick and nearly gets the whole family killed, Dick decides to take a vacation of sorts from the psychiatric clinic where he works and his wife resides. His excuse is a psychiatrists’ conference.

He had no intention of attending so much as a single session of the congress—he could imagine it well enough, new pamphlets by Bleuler and the elder Forel that he could much better digest at home, the paper by the American who cured dementia praecox by pulling out his patient’s teeth or cauterizing their tonsils, the half-derisive respect with which this idea would be greeted, for no more reason than that America was such a rich and powerful country.

The American psychiatrist who pulled teeth to cure schizophrenia was a real person: Henry Cotton, profiled by historian Andrew Scull last year in Madhouse: A Tragic Tale of Megalomania and Modern Medicine, a book I’ve been meaning to read. Cotton believed that schizophrenia occurred when brains were poisoned by toxins produced by infection. To cure the psychopathology, he thought, you had to treat the infection. He therefore pulled out his patients’ teeth, tonsils, and long sections of their colons, killing many of them in the process. Cotton’s mentor, and to some extent enabler, was Adolf Meyer, and as it happens, Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda, upon whom the character of Nicole Diver was not very loosely based, was in Meyer’s care at the Phipps Clinic at Johns Hopkins in the early 1930s. Scott Fitzgerald wrote Meyer long letters protesting that he wasn’t really an alcoholic.

As near as I can suss out the chronology by skimming, by the time Zelda was in Meyer’s care, Cotton was in the process of being exposed as a fraud. But Cotton held to his scientific theories until he dropped dead in 1933, the year before Tender Is the Night was published. Fitzgerald probably resented Meyer’s authority, and he certainly envied it, so perhaps there was an intentional jab at Meyer in Dick Diver’s scorn for Meyer’s protégé. Or perhaps the novelist simply sensed what was bogus before the expert did.