On Janet Malcolm

On Janet Malcolm
(AP Photo/George Nikitin, File)

Early last week I was lying prone on my couch reading a passage from Janet Malcolm’s 1980 book-length report on characters in and around the New York Psychoanalytic Institute, Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession, to my boyfriend as he sat behind me in an armchair. The passage I read introduces an analyst who is given the pseudonym Gregory Cross. As with so many of Malcolm’s characters (“subjects” never seem like the right word, although she was a journalist by trade), our first glimpse of Cross is hinted at by the manner of the room in which we find him: his consultation area, which “had the harsh and anguished modernity of the rooms in paintings of Francis Bacon.” Such observations culminate in a withering evaluation of his person: “He was a man without charm, without ease, without conceit or vanity, and with a kind of excruciating, prodding, twitching honesty that was like an intractable skin disorder.”

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