Malignant Self Love
Narcissism Revisited
Sam Vaknin, Ph.D
(Narcissus Publications, Skopje, Macedonia)
He gives us fair warning --- right on the title page, under his name. It deserves a black box around it, like Dr. Koop's alert on a pack of cigarettes, viz.,

The Author is NOT a mental health professional

No, Dr. Vaknin, who begins the book with his curriculum vitae, has a Ph.D. from Pacific Western University (currently in Hawaii) in the Philosophy of Physics.

After a trial and some time in jail for his role in an attempted takeover of Israel's Agricultural Bank, ("in a legal precedent studied in business schools and law faculties across Israel," as he puts it), he went on to win "numerous awards," ending up as a "financial consultant to leading businesses and government agencies in Macedonia." He is, in his own words, "a controversial figure," and seems to relish a certain notoriety.

    Dr. Vaknin's thesis, as best I can understand it, is that Narcissistic Personality Disorder is an incurable condition that torments not only him who has it, but those who surround him, as well. The book was written in jail as I was trying to understand what had hit me. My nine year old marriage dissolved, my finances were in a shocking condition, my family estranged, my reputation ruined, my personal freedom severely curtailed. Slowly, the realization that it was all my fault, that I was sick and needed help penetrated the decades of defenses that I erected around me. This book is the documentation of a road of self-discovery. It was a painful process, which led to nowhere. I am no different --- and no healthier --- today than I was when I wrote this book. My disorder is here to stay, the prognosis is poor and alarming.

I confess that I did not understand this book. I thought I understood the two languages in which Dr. Vaknin claims fluency --- Hebrew and English. Try it yourself:

  • The Reactive Repertoire is reawakened (encouraging the Narcissist to escape from the scene of the failure and thus to create an alibi for future failure).
  • An increase in the consumption of PNSS (if SNSS are deficient) or of SNSS (if PNSS are deficient).
    All of this is done mainly to protect FEGO. The Narcissist "knows" that if the FEGO is effected too badly the ability of the Hyperconstruct to resist the punitive influence of the SEGO dwindles and the TEGO and the Narcissist's relations with outside objects are in danger.
And if you have a few Denars you would like to invest, there is a bridge over the Vardar River in downtown Skopje that Dr. Vaknin might like to sell you.

--- Dr. Michael Ingall


The Anatomy of Depression
Lewis Wolpert
(The Free Press)
It is an embarrassment to write of this book in the same review as the first. Blame the editor. He sent me both books in one shipment, and given the similarity in size and title, I could not resist.

Lewis Wolpert, Ph.D., is Professor of Biology as Applied to Medicine at University College London. He is one of those rare medical personalities who understand science and can write, as well. The book is a reflection on depression that followed his own recovery from an illness that he describes as "the worst experience of my life."

But fear not --- this is no Survivor's Tale, no "I Beat the Big D" memoir. Dr. Wolpert devotes only two pages to an acknowledgment of his own depression and how it impelled him to set down in readable form, for the benefit of patients and relatives, what is known about depression today. In true humility, he does not claim that his book might be useful to health care professionals. But it certainly was to this one. In 185 elegantly written pages, he touches on the biological, psychological, genetic, and cultural aspects of this disease. There are adequate references, not an exhaustive list, but one that will lead the reader to more, as s/he wishes.

This is a book written with thoughtful respect for others by a man who, it seems to me, would be a healer of great skill, if he were to choose that course.

--- Dr. Michael Ingall

To a

James McConkey
(Paul Dry Books)
McConkey has fallen in love with Anton Chekhov, and has written this work about his love. Specifically, he addresses himself to Chekov's 1890 travel memoir, The Island: A Journey to Sakhalin. Sakhalin was one of Russia's penal colonies, and, like most penal colonies of the era, was grim: a place where the guilty and innocent alike were starved, flogged, and forced to undergo miserable working and living conditions.

Chekov went to the island on a whim, spent months crossing the wastelands of central Russia to get there, travelling by rail, boat, troika, trap and, at times, on foot. It was a heroic journey. In those days, there was no Trans-Siberian railway, and, in many places, no accommodations outside of wretched inns.

The author, coming into the last stages of tuberculosis (which was eventually to kill him at age forty-four), apparently revelled in his rough journey. Once at Sakhalin, he "took a census" of the prisoners, their families, their children, the guards, and other inhabitants of the island.

McConkey relates Chekov's journey to one he himself made in the late 60s to Florence, with his family, on fellowship, in which he got away from personal depression brought about by the turmoil of America of that era. It's an interesting conceit, but it's stretching it a bit. The conditions of travel and accommodations for Chekov were, to say the least, somewhat more primitive. In addition, he travelled alone, was dying of TB, and didn't even have the security of knowing exactly what would happen when he arrived at the end of his arduous journey. (He lacked official permission and only had his writing fame to open doors for him.)

This does not mean that To a Distant Island is not without some interest. Some of the insights McConkey comes up with are not unoriginal:

    One flees death, according to legend, only to find Death waiting, as if by appointment, at the remote corner of the earth one has escaped to; but one can flee life as a loathsome prison to find it redeemed in an actual prison at the cold edge of the world. Halfway on his journey, T. [Chekov] found he wanted to live, immediately coloring other lives with his own elation and a rediscovered sense of the good.

The necessary conclusion --- both Chekov's and his amanuensis's --- is obvious, one that those who have been in, worked in, or studied prisons always come to: Who's in prison, anyway? The prisoners, the guards, the families of those who are imprisoned, Chekov himself, the rest of us? As Bo Lozoff famously observed, We're All Doing Time.

McConkey fails us at those moments when he imposes too much of his own beliefs on Chekov, making statements which have nothing to back them up, outside of his love:

    In tagging along with the policeman from brothel to brothel, T. no doubt joined his guide in consuming much cheap alcohol. However, if the policeman, with an appealing or sheepish look back at him, did finally ascend the stairs with a woman, T. would have remained at his table, staring at his glass of vodka.

Since we weren't there, how do you, I, or McConkey know anything about the "cheap alcohol," the "appealing or sheepish look back," and Chekov remaining at his table, "staring at his glass of vodka?"

As worthy as this book is, I found myself wanting to dig up Chekov's original travel piece so I could make that journey with him. McConkey is helpful in that pursuit. He lists his preferred translations, suggesting Luba and Michael Terpak's on The Island. He also gives high marks to Constance Garnett (who guided many of us through the Russians in college), and suggests The Portable Chekhov, in Avrahm Yarmolinsky's edition. He also favors Ann Dunnigan's Anton Chekhov: Selected Stories for some of the short stories.

--- Lolita Lark

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