A few years ago, I had the privilege to listen to a presentation of cases by Gustavo Dessal. It was not so much the great difficulties involving patients that caught my attention but, rather, Dessal’s exposure of his process as an analyst, a process involving uncertainties, risks, wise moves, errors and their rectifications. His clinical presentation and reflections were made with a rare honesty.
I find it difficult to believe that Dr. Dave Palmer and Gustavo Dessal do not work in permanent collaboration. Dave Palmer defines himself as a 'word hunter’, seeking out those words which ‘suck the blood’, consuming the life of their patients: for better or worse, they tenaciously define the life of his patients. He also regards himself as a waste researcher, for it is in the apparent debris that the true detective knows how to find their treasures, while not ignoring the fact that they are themselves a part of the material they are looking for.
If I were to categorize 'Surviving Anne', I would say that it is a mystery novel, a psychoanalytical investigation into the lucidity of the protagonists’ madness. It is a novel that defies categorization. It does not seek to find guilty people - although they are present in the real history which ultimately led to the case - but to give a sense of responsibility, to help us to know how the solution that was built to solve Anne’s torment would generate the very suffering it was intended to neutralize. It is also about collaborating in almost unimaginable situations, so that each one can find, invent - or not- a renewed way of responding. Dave Palmer enters into the logic of madness with curiosity and determination. He respects it, allows himself to be taught by it, discerns it, and from there, guides his patient towards her own unique resolution. He does this honestly, without artifice or the offer of an idyllic ending, for which Dessal vigorously criticizes other therapeutic approaches.
There are various cases of madness: Shanice, Jessica, Jack, Harold. Dr. Palmer explores each one in a subtle, yet intense and sometimes overwhelming manner. However 'Surviving Anne' – a suitably ambiguous title, for Anne both survives and others survive her, is the one that finally names and gives weight to this intriguing novel. Anne is the daughter of a marriage that 'survived' the Holocaust and WWII. Her mother is bedridden in an agony far more lasting that Edgar Alan Poe's 'Mr. Valdemar' and in a position closer to the 'sunken ones' than to the 'saved ones' according to Primo Levi. Her thoughts are only audible for Anne and for the privileged reader. Her father has taken, a long time ago, the irrevocable decision to save her. Anne, carrying the atrocities heard and imagined, finds a unique function in the world. She goes too far.
Fails. She gets lost. She goes mad. She is a time bomb - there are some signs warning of explosion - requiring deactivation with resources that only a psychoanalyst with a certain orientation can invent, though not without the collaboration and courage of his patient. The author demonstrates this through the ingenious conversations between Dr. Palmer and Dr. Rubashkin, his wise ex-analyst. You have to know how to be taught by them, how to learn from the experiences shared and to listen closely for insightful, prescient words. (These exchanges are so different from the confused conversations of ‘psychoanalysis of control’ that take place in the episodes from the TV series 'In Treatment' between Dr. Paul Weston and his ex-analyst).
Ah! for the record: Gustavo Dessal is a psychoanalyst; member of the WAP and ELP; writer, lecturer. He was born in Buenos Aires and resides in Madrid. He is the author of this novel which is essential reading for analysts of the Lacanian Orientation, for those who are not, and for those who want to be caught up in a novel that combines the suspense of the vicissitudes of a cure in a patient who suffers from a singular madness, in her responses to the fact that overflowed the imaginable: the immensurable and atrocious madness of the Holocaust, that crosses generations.