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Nuetzel, E.J. (1999). Psychoanalysis as a Dramatic Art. Ann. Psychoanal., 26:295-313.

(1999). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 26:295-313

Psychoanalysis as a Dramatic Art

Eric J. Nuetzel, M.D.

The past is the present, isn't it? It's the future, too. We all try to lie out of that but life won't let us.

—Long Day's Journey Into Night

It is Mary Tyrone who acknowledges the past in the present in Eugene O'Neill's haunted masterwork, Long Day's Journey Into Night, as she recalls the death of her second son. She spends the play attempting to lie out of the present, denying the possibility that another son might have a life-threatening illness, consumption. Through the course of the play, she numbs herself from both the unfaceable present and the tragic circumstance she painfully recalls. Her surreptitious, escalating morphine use transports her beyond both painful realities, into a distant past in which she “was so happy for a time” (O'Neill, 1955p. 176). The play itself is an autobiographical portrait of O'Neill's actual family, mired in selfdestruction, in the year 1912. Eugene O'Neill, represented in the tragedy as the young man threatened with consumption, finished his play “of old sorrow” (1955, Dedication) in 1941, well aware of his past in the present. His achievement ensures that his version of the past will live in the future, too.

The past in the present is, of course, a central concern of clinical psychoanalysis, and those involved—patients and analysts—try not to lie out of it, even when life might let them. The actual, verifiable past is often unrecoverable as such, but the subjectively experienced past can be assembled, much like a puzzle, with the pieces in fragments of speech and fits of action over a period of years. Those in psychoanalysis, again, patients as well as analysts, live by the injunction, Know thyself.

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