Article — From the December 1954 issue
- Current Issue
SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
Article — From the December 1954 issue
The man on the couch was a young government scientist who presented his analyst with a curious problem–he believed, quite simply, that he was living part of his life on another planet. A more extended version of this case history will be published in Dr. Lindner’s forthcoming book, The Fifty-Minute Hour.
The chair behind the psychoanalyst’s couch is not the stationary object it seems. I have traveled all over the world on it, and back and forth in time. But it remained for Kirk Allen to take me out of this world when he transformed the couch in my consulting room into a space ship.
My tale begins on a sultry June morning in Baltimore with a telephone call from a physician at a government installation in the Southwest. He said he was calling about a patient whom he wished to refer to me. “This fellow is a man in his thirties,” he said, “a research physicist with us out here. As far as I can tell, he’s perfectly normal in every way except for a lot of crazy ideas about living part of the time in another world–on another planet. Washington sent him out to do a key job, and until a few weeks ago he was going great guns. But lately he’s out of contact with the work so much and for so long that something’s got to he done about it.”
“How did you find out about his ideas?” I asked. “Did he complain to you or what?”
“No,” the doctor replied. “Allen–the patient’s name is Kirk Allen–thinks it’s all perfectly natural. Of course, he’s sorry about the drop in departmental efficiency. Says–get this–says he’ll try to spend more time on this planet! His department chief sent him to me, and frankly I can’t handle it. I’m just an ordinary medical man. That’s why I’m calling you. You see, Allen is under contract. We’re required to provide medical services for him, but we’re not set up here for his kind of case. However, we’d be responsible for all his expenses. I’d like to send him on to you.”
I hesitated. “Tell me,” I said, “is it your impression Allen requires hospitalization?”
“Oh no,” he replied quickly. “I’d say this… fantasy, I guess you’d call it, is a perfectly innocuous business. I mean, Allen appears to be completely unaffected by it most of the time.”
After a little more hesitation, I agreed at least to interview him.
Kirk Allen walked into my office three days later. Any speculations I had had about him as a “mad scientist” evaporated when I saw him. A vigorous man of average height, clear-eyed and blond, his seersucker unwrinkled and his panama encircled with a gay band, he looked like a junior executive. His manner, as he introduced himself and we made some initial small talk about the weather and his flight East, was charming. He spoke with just enough diffidence to let me know that the situation he now found himself in was slightly embarrassing.
His pleasant, well-modulated baritone voice intrigued me from the first. Although his speech was unmistakably American, it had a vaguely foreign, musical lilt. This observation I chose as the point of entrance for my clinical examination of him.
“You were not born in the United States, were you, Mr. Allen?” I said.
“No,” he answered, “but how did you know?”
“The way you talk. I would suspect you spoke a softer language at one time.”
“You’re right,” he said. “My first language was a Polynesian dialect, but I thought it was pretty well hidden. Does it annoy you?”
“Not at all,” I said. “As a matter of fact, I find it quite pleasant. Tell me, how did it happen?”
“My father,” he said, “was a naval officer. I was born in Hawaii, where he was stationed when the first world war broke out. My nurse until I was six years old was a Polynesian woman, and it was her dialect I learned to speak as a small child. Later my father was Commissioner on one of the small mandated islands …. “
Kirk Allen was the only child of his parents’ marriage. His father, already an old man when Kirk was born, had been married previously and was even then a grandfather. Kirk recalled him as a man of imposing presence, proud, taciturn, stern. From those about him he exacted absolute, immediate obedience, for which the only reward was a gruff monosyllabic acknowledgment or, in Kirk’s case, a tousling of the boy’s hair with his heavy hand. To cross this old man was dangerous. The walking stick he carried was never out of his grasp; there was no one on the island, except his wife and the transient white governesses, who did not at some time feel its weight. And yet, Kirk said, something about his father was warm and kind. That quality was remembered in later years chiefly through the boy’s sense of smell; a blend of tobacco, whisky, leather, and salt air would evoke, for Kirk, a poignant picture of the aging gentleman who was seldom seen out of naval uniform, who conducted his home and “his island” like the wardroom of a battleship.
Kirk’s mother was at least thirty-five years younger than the Commodore–as his father was called–and temperamentally his opposite. Her father had been a wealthy diplomat who had served in most of the European capitals and died under tragic, somewhat scandalous circumstances in Italy. Soon afterward her mother, who could not tolerate the revelations following his death, retired to Honolulu with her daughter, then eighteen. There the girl, under constant supervision, fell into a kind of apathy. Then she met the elderly widower and after a brief courtship married him, perhaps, Kirk now speculated, as a desperate means of escaping from her mother.
Immediately after her marriage Mrs. Allen recovered her natural ebullience. The Com- modore was indulgent with his beautiful young wife and their home rapidly became Honolulu’s social center and remained so through the war years, although the Commodore was not often present.
Kirk was born in 1918, and immediately after his birth the family went to Paris, where his father was assigned for duty at the peace negotiations. After about a year, he was re-assigned to Hawaii, and shortly after appointed Commissioner over a mandated island. There was, Kirk later heard, some question about accepting this assignment. His parents were reluctant to exchange the comfortable life of Honolulu for the rigors of existence on a remote outpost. They agreed, however, to accept the appointment for one year in order not to prejudice a long record of excellent government service.
The first year of their stay on the island both the Commodore and his wife were busy, he with administrative duties and she with welfare projects for the natives. When the year ended the Commodore put in for a replacement. His still very young wife joyously anticipated the return to more civilized society. But the days of anxious expectation stretched into weeks before, finally, the Commodore was informed that his application for replacement had been denied.
At this collapse of her hopes, Kirk’s mother reverted to her premarital apathy and went into a decline of spirits from which she did not recover for more than ten years. For a time she spent her energies in quarreling with her husband, vainly urging him to resign, and refusing to consider his suggestion that she and her child return to Hawaii. Obviously needful of his paternal protection, she chose instead to accept the situation resentfully. She abandoned the projects she had begun and withdrew from all social intercourse. Whereas she had formerly taken at least a supervisory interest in Kirk, she now left him completely in the charge of servants. Her relations with the Commodore became merely formal: she would emerge from her room only at dinner time and retire as soon as the meal ended. She became a shadowy, mysterious figure in Kirk’s life–someone unknown and apart.
The only other significant human rela- tionships Kirk had during childhood and early adolescence were with his Hawaiian nurse, the native women who took charge of him after her death, and the few white women whom his father employed from the United States.
Myna, the Hawaiian nurse, was the first and most important influence on Kirk’s development. She had come to the family as a wet nurse for the infant and remained to mother him until the end of his sixth year. Kirk’s recollection of her as a person is unclear, but the feelings evoked by her memory are sweet and strong.
She was a dark-skinned, buxom young Polynesian matron who had come down from the hill country to seek employment in Honolulu just at the time Kirk was born. She could speak only a few words of English but was bright and intelligent and took over the mothering of the infant the moment she saw him. Not only was he nourished from her huge bosom, but from her vast placidity and comforting presence he obtained everything his real mother denied. During the day she was hardly separated from him for a moment, and at night her warm nakedness engulfed him. In every way Myna treated Kirk as her child, rearing him in her own tradition.
One day a visitor expressed surprise that Kirk prattled only in the dialect of his nurse. That brought the situation to the attention of Kirk’s mother, and for a few months Myna was given other duties. As a result, Kirk learned the rudiments of English and was slowly–but only slightly–transformed into a passable facsimile of a “civilized” child. When Kirk recalled this period of re-education, he remembered it as a painful experience in which the world seemed to close in on him, and his freedom was constrained by clothes and shoes and the worry of keeping clean.
But his mother could not maintain her enthusiasm for the new regime. Gradually, Myna recovered her place. After that, however, the nurse kept a weather eye on the amenities of the speech, clothing, manners, and habits of her charge; and was careful to insure that Kirk–when his parents were about, at least–appeared to be a child of their culture rather than hers.
Participation in this conspiracy only deepened the love between Kirk and his nurse. Except for a few hours each day when the boy attended a school organized by his mother for the native children and taught by the wife of an Army officer, he never left Myna’s side. She died suddenly when he was six years old, and the space in his life left by her death was never filled.
There were no other white children on the island, so until he was fourteen Kirk did not see another boy–or girl like himself. While outwardly this curious condition seemed to have no significance, it led to internal perplexity. Throughout childhood and early adolescence he was haunted by the difference between himself and his companions–a difference not solely of skin color but of social heritage and the innumerable subtleties of life.
While he could communicate with his playmates more directly and more fully than he could with his own family, he was still set apart from them and different. This produced a split in his personality that generated two contradictory views of self and world. On the one side, he developed a feeling of inferiority and a sense of having been rejected for good cause. The native world, with its warmth and communal cohesiveness, admitted him only half way. While he longed to share in it totally, he could not; and he naturally attributed this to some defect in himself, to some profound but undiscoverable fault.
On the other side, Kirk developed an internal sense of superiority. Because of the deference accorded him as a white boy, the son of the Commissioner, and because he was not permitted to take the final step toward total community with his native associates, a conviction of difference and special election was born in him. A private sense of distance between himself and all other inhabitants of the world grew: he was different and better, he told himself; therefore he was entitled to special treatment.
Between six and nine Kirk was cared for by a succession of native women. These women, he remembers, were cut from the same pattern as his lost Myna, but unlike her, they had other preoccupations, often children of their own, and they cared for him dutifully rather than from love.
At nine began the parade of governesses, brought out to educate Kirk. There were four or five of them: each remained the better part of a year; all but one left because of boredom. The job of educating Kirk was the single responsibility of each governess; nevertheless, it was onerous. He had an overwhelming curiosity and, even then, an insatiable intellectual appetite. By nine, despite a slow start and casual teaching, he was far advanced in his ability to read and comprehend. Forced to seek substitutes for significant interpersonal relationships and experiences, he found in reading his only way of apprehending the world. Carefully, painfully, but later with amazing ease, he plowed his way through everything readable on the island. The sorry textbooks used in the school, the religious tracts sent by missions, the volumes in the library of a resident Catholic priest, the paper-backs discarded by sailors from vessels that put in for various reasons, the novels brought out by wives of transient island personnel, his father’s naval, engineering, navigational, and gunnery manuals–all these he devoured, not once but many times over. Merely to keep up with his spongelike mind demanded more of the governesses than they were prepared to give. The best they could do was to organize and discipline what he already knew.
Only two of these women made any real impression on Kirk. One was his first governess, a middle-aged widow whose passion for cleanliness was pathological and whose hatred and mistrust of the natives amounted to hysteria. From the moment she arrived until the day she left Kirk’s life was a hell of prohibitions and negative commands. She insisted on physical cleanliness to a degree beyond reason and imbued Kirk with such dread of contamination from his familiar, innocuous surroundings that he literally threaded his way through the world like a cat on a sideboard. Because she considered the native children “filthy niggers,” Kirk was forbidden even to converse with his friends. After she went he was again free to consort with the children, but he could never recover his sense of easy naturalness with them.
Because of this woman–”Sterile Sally” Kirk called her during his analysis–he was pushed more deeply inside himself. As a consequence, his fantasy life–until then of a fashion and degree usual among lonely children-increased sharply. Daydreaming now came to occupy much of his time, and there appeared those lavish, imaginative reconstructions of the world which were to be so significant for him.
The initial fantasy that he toyed with during Sterile Sally’s residence and for some while thereafter was a childish hodgepodge, constructed from odd remnants of reading. He identified himself with characters from the Oz books, for example, and mentally played out a cordial existence in a friendlier, more exciting world. What is important about this primary experience is that it unfolded the imaginative facility and technique of mental detachment which he developed to astonishing proportions in adulthood.
When he was eleven a new governess entered Kirk’s life, a young woman whom he recalls as quite attractive, who remained only long enough to introduce the boy to sex–and to run off with the schoolteacher’s husband. Here is Kirk’s story of his sexual education:
“You must remember that on the island kids mature more rapidly than here and sex is treated in another way. Sex play, for example, is not only open but encouraged by adults of the native community. The natural curiosity of kids is unchecked and the exploration of one another’s bodies–which here children do in secret–is conducted openly.
Matter of fact, the adults, if they attend to it at all, do so with amusement. Later, of course, the whole thing is surrounded with odd taboos because of their involved kinship regulations, but none of these apply before a certain age. The loin cloth is the only article of clothing worn by men, while the women wear only a skirt or, if they work around whites, a loose dress. Until ceremonial initiation for boys and marriage for girls, children ordinarily wear nothing except when they go to school or church. I imagine things are different now, but when I lived there that’s the way it was.
“Anyhow, kids know all about sex from the beginning, and although the adults showed a certain restraint when I was around, in this area–the kids-accepted me wholly and I participated in their sex play.
“When Miss Lilian arrived–that was her name I now remember–I was, at least by her standards, a sexual sophisticate; although I hadn’t actually had intercourse. I was well developed sexually. She noticed this and commented on it when she gave me my first bath. It wasn’t long before she took to undressing before me–exhibiting herself, I guess you’d call it–in a way I had never seen any woman behave. Native women and girls certainly never acted that way. Even in their complete nakedness there was a kind of modesty–or maybe it was just unconcern. But I soon understood that Miss Lilian was urging me on-and she succeeded.
I remember I first tried to hide my reaction–not out of shame, you understand. It couldn’t have been shame because shame and sex, then, had nothing to do with each other. Shame among the natives was connected with other things–eating in the presence of others except at ceremonial banquets, failure to pay a debt, neglecting to employ the correct form of address to someone, doing anything taboo. So what I felt when I reacted watching Miss Lilian wasn’t shame. Now I think it might have been a feeling of wrongfulness, a sort of prescience of danger that this would betray me into behavior I should avoid.Later Kirk understood this feeling he so painfully tried to describe during our first interviews. Both the feeling and its significance became clear when, during analysis, it was revealed that Miss Lilian was the first and only woman with whom Kirk had had intercourse. She was, of course, taboo for him, as were all white women–a consequence of his deeply unconscious incestuous fears. So the feeling Kirk was talking about is really connected with guilt–which explains not only this incident but its drastic immediate as well as long-term consequences.
“Needless to say, Miss Lilian spotted my aroused state before I could hide it–and that was that. And after that, she was insatiable.
“How did I feel about this? Well, I was of two minds. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy some of it; but I’d be lying even more if I said it was all pleasure. There were times when I had to run away, lock her out of my room, or even threaten to tell the Commodore. Even worse was the physical debility. When I was unable to respond she would get furious. Sometimes she would beat me, claw at me with her nails, bite me.
“If she had remained on the island much longer than she did, Miss Lilian, I think, would have headed into real trouble. How- ever, the schoolteacher’s husband, an Army officer, came along. I don’t recall much about that. She sneaked off to see him a few times, and then one morning both of them were gone. Apparently they bribed the master of one of the merchant vessels and were smuggled aboard just before the ship sailed. She didn’t even say good-by and I can’t say I was much distressed about her going.”
With Miss Lilian gone, Kirk returned to his usual pursuits with an even greater sense of isolation. Brief as her stay had been, she had brought about an almost complete severance of the boy from his playmates, for she had demanded his constant presence, his total preoccupation. After she left, there was no way of closing the gap. Other factors, also, now alienated Kirk. His experiences with the governess had catapulted him into premature adulthood beyond the range of his friends and he could not have achieved fellowship with them even if they had been willing. Most important of all, he unconsciously assisted his own alienation. It became his self-punishment for an awful, ever-present sense of guilt, and this, in turn, exacerbated the inferiority he already suffered. In a dim, and at that time inexplicable, way the boy became plagued with a kind of horror of his actions, a horror that can be compared with what the natives of his island felt when they trespassed the boundaries of taboo. His relationship with the native culture in which he was reared had deeply affected him: in his soul he was an islander. Therefore, his sexual behavior with the white woman, to whom he was related psychologically by common color and origins, was tantamount to incest, to a crossing of the invisible line no person of that culture could cross without punishment, sometimes inflicted by the group, more often by the person on himself. So, feeling that he had “sinned,” Kirk chose to expiate his guilt by separation from society.
In his isolation Kirk returned to his books and to the fantasies he had largely abandoned during Miss Lilian’s residence. From the stories he read he constructed another and different universe, peopled with characters from the tales of his favorite authors. In the beginning such fantasies were random, fitful, inconsistent, and loosely constructed, as most daydreams tend to be. He did not concentrate on any given set of characters, events, or places, but freely developed whatever took his fancy. All that changed in his twelfth year when a trivial coincidence altered his life.
One day a large crate of books was delivered to the mission house and Kirk was invited to borrow whatever he wished. Instead of the usual collection of sermons, dog-eared children’s books, sets of inspirational essays, and obscure biographies, this shipment contained many novels, including a whole set by a highly imaginative and prolific writer.
The first book Kirk read was a novel by a famous English author whose acquaintance he had already made through other books which he had enjoyed immensely. He had hardly begun reading this new one when he suddenly became aware that the name of the hero was the same as his own. As he describes it, “A kind of shock ran through me: for a minute I felt completely disoriented.” This feeling dissolved rapidly and he read with greater interest, finding himself intent and involved as never before. When he finished the book–the same day he had begun it–he turned immediately to the first page and read it through again. After a third reading he finally set the book aside.
Several days later the experience of encountering a fictional character bearing his name was repeated–this time in a volume of semi-philosophical reflections by an American stylist of the 1920s. The discovery once more shocked Kirk: it led him into passionate participation in the book, followed by so many rereadings that parts of it were automatically committed to memory.
It was not long after these two experiences that Kirk once again came across his own name applied to another character of fiction. This time, however, the experience caused no shock. Kirk says, “I think I expected it somehow, and when it happened it was as if I had known it all the time and was finding something that had been lost.” On this occasion the character who bore his name was the protagonist in a long series of fantasies by an American author. Through volume after volume of strange and adventurous tales this figure wove a perilous way as all-conquering hero–a prototype for the modern Superman. Fascinated, Kirk followed. And soon there came about in him an uncanny transformation which can only be described in his own words:
“As I read about the adventures of Kirk Allen in these books the conviction began to grow on me that the stories were not only true to the very last detail but that they were about me. In some weird and inexplicable way I knew that what I was reading was my biography. Nothing in these books was unfamiliar to me: I recognized everything–the scenes, the people, the furnishings of rooms, the events, even the words that were spoken. My everyday life began to recede at this point. In fact, it became fiction–and, as it did, the books became my reality.”
Kirk read the numerous volumes of his “biography” over and over again. Soon he no longer needed the books “to refresh my memory,” but was able to recapitulate them entirely in his mind. While his corporeal body was living the life of a mundane boy, the vital part of him was far off on another planet, courting beautiful princesses, governing provinces, warring with strange enemies. Now, using his “biographer’s” material as a base, he took off on his own. Assisted by the maps, charts, diagrams, architectural layouts, genealogical schemes, and timetables he had painstakingly worked out while using the books for his guide, he filled in spaces between the volumes with fantasy “recollections” of his own; and when this was done, he began the task of his life: that of picking up where his “biographer” had left off and recording the subsequent history of the heroic Kirk Allen.
When Kirk was fourteen his father died. Almost immediately his mother awakened from her ten-year apathy and prepared to leave the island. She arranged for Kirk to be admitted to a preparatory school in the Eastern part of the United States, accompanied him there, and when satisfied that he had settled in the school, left to begin a restless Odyssey. For fifteen years thereafter, until she died on an island off the Greek coast, she moved around the world. Only occasionally during these years did she visit Kirk, and then but briefly; nor did she write to him except to discuss financial matters.
Meanwhile, Kirk entered a new type of existence, very different from the one he had known, yet marked as before by loneliness and isolation. He found it all but impossible to relate himself to his schoolfellows, and although he made a few friends at school–and later at the university–he was unable to enter into real companionship with anyone. He devoted himself to his studies, in which he progressed with amazing rapidity, and to the development of his fantasies. During holidays he either remained at school or visited the homes of his stepbrothers. Occasionally he went on solitary walking tours.
At nineteen he entered one of the great Eastern universities. Here his interests solidified and he began to prepare for a career in science. Three years later he matriculated for advanced study. After the first semester he was given a research fellowship under the joint auspices of the university and the U.S. government. When he completed the requirements for his doctoral degree he was mustered into military service and assigned to a special project then approaching a significant conclusion. When the second world war ended (in a manner that had something to do with Kirk’s work) he was discharged. There followed a year of study abroad under a much-coveted grant. When he returned he was invited to join the project at X Reservation.
Throughout the years between the discovery of his “biography” and his appearance in my office in Baltimore, a large segment of Kirk’s time and a portion of his mind were devoted to the detailed development of his abiding fantasy. Whenever he was not totally preoccupied with scholastic or scientific work–and often even then, since his fantasy and his research interests (and assignments) coincided in certain ways–he was engaged in weaving an ever more closely knit imaginative mental life, the main lines of which were dictated by the recorded “biography.” Here is how Kirk described it:
“As you know, I became convinced the books were about me, that somehow the author had obtained a knowledge of my life. So the first thing I had to do was remember, and it seemed to me that I actually recalled everything he described. It was, of course, a curious position to be in–an adolescent boy remembering the adventures of himself as a grown man. But I got around this difficulty by convincing myself that the books had been composed in the future and had been sent back by some means into the present for my instruction. It’s hard to explain, but I soon developed the notion–now a favorite one with science-fiction writers–of the co-exist- ence of temporal dimensions so that the past and the future are simultaneous with the present.
“My first effort, then, was to remember. I started by fixing in my mind, and later on paper in the forms of maps, genealogical tables, and so on, what the author of my biography had put down. When I had this mastered, by remembering I was able to correct his errors, fill in many details, and close gaps between one volume of the biography and the next.
After some time I became bored with reliving my future life and intrigued with the question of what was going to happen to Kirk Allen–or, from where I sat, what had happened to him–after the place at which the writer’s biography ended. So I set myself the task of remembering what was going to happen to me heyond the point reached by my biographer. There were no guide-lines for this, so the job became terribly difficult. One of the great difficulties, by the way, was to distinguish between imagination and recall. I knew how easy it would he merely to imagine a future for Kirk Allen and fool myself into believing it. But I wanted truth–curious as this may seem to you–and I determined doggedly only to remember.
“I discovered that always when I imagined, some small detail, usually an insignificant thing, was out of place; but when I remembered everything fit. For many years I devoted myself to this operation–indeed, until I returned from abroad and began work on the project I was on when I came here.
“When, as I said, I got back from Europe the whole business took a new turn. One night soon after moving to X Reservation I was preparing a map of a territory Kirk Allen had explored during an expedition to a planet in another galaxy. Somehow the details refused to come clear, although I had a vivid memory of flying over the territory at a fairly low altitude and taking stereoscopic photographs of it. I also remembered that when I arrived back at my home planet from this adventure, I gave a set of the pictures to the proper scientists at the Intergalactic Institute, but kept copies of the originals for myself. I even remembered exactly where they were–in a filing cabinet in a secret room in my palace. Well, the unfinished map lay before me on my drafting board, while the information I needed to correct and complete the map was more remote from me in space than the farthest star I could see, and far ahead of me in time. It was the first time I had encountered such a situation–ordinarily my memory served me perfectly–and I was as frustrated as I have ever been. I thought of those blasted photographs stuck away there in a place no one but me could get to, and then I thought: ‘If only … if only I were there, right now, I would go directly to those files and get those pictures!’
“No sooner had I given voice to this thought than my whole being seemed to respond with a resounding ‘Why not?’–and in that same moment I was there!
“How can I explain this to you? One moment I was just a scientist on X Reservation bending over a drawing board in a clapboard BOQ in the middle of an American desert–the next moment I was Kirk Allen, lord of a planet in an interplanetary empire in a distant universe, garbed in the robes of his exalted office, rising from the carved desk he had been sitting at, walking toward a secret room in his palace, going over to a filing cabinet in a recess in the wall, extracting an envelope of photographs, and studying the pictures with intense concentration.
“It was over in a matter of minutes, and I was again at the drawing board. But I knew the experience was real; and to prove it I now had a vivid recollection of the photograph and no trouble at all completing the map.
You can imagine how this experience affected me. I was stunned by it, shaken to the core, but excited as I had never been. In some way I could not comprehend, by merely desiring it to be so, I had crossed the immensities of Space, broken out of Time, and merged with–literally become–that distant and future self whose like I had until now been remembering. Don’t ask me to explain. I can’t, although. God knows I’ve tried! Have I discovered the secret of teleportation? Do I have some special psychic equipment? Some unique organ or what Charles Fort called a ‘wild talent’? Damned if I know!
“From that night on I have spent more and more time being the Kirk Allen of the future. At any time, no matter where I am or what I am doing, I can will to be him, and at once I am. Now, you see, I no longer have to depend on memory: I actually live what the future Kirk Allen lives; and return here to amend or add to the biography, to the maps and tables and other stuff I will give you to examine. Please don’t ask me how I get back to this present self–I can’t tell you any more than I can tell you how I become him by merely wishing. When I am him, I don’t seem to know of this earthly self–I guess I’ve forgotten it somehow–so I could not wish to return. It just happens—that’s all …
“But there is one thing more I should tell you, and that is that I am aware of a great disparity in the passage of time between events in the lives of these two selves. My existence here, in this present, goes at a pace you’d call normal; while as Kirk Allen of the future time goes fast, seems compressed. What I mean is that the time I spend as him–although as him I experience it at a normal pace–compresses into only minutes on the clock my mundane self keeps. So I live perhaps a year or more as that Kirk Allen in a few minutes of this Kirk Allen’s time. But what got me into trouble, I think, and led to my being sent here, is the fact that I’ve been spending more and more of my time as the other Kirk Allen, leading more and more the life there, going more frequently and staying longer. I don’t think I can be blamed for this–his is such an exciting life compared with mine; but of course I have a job to do here … “
The life history of Kirk, as I have set it down, took some days to obtain. The chief difficulty was that he regarded himself as completely normal. He acknowledged, of course, that his experiences were extraordinary; but he believed that they were due to some unknown psychic quality or ability with which he had somehow been endowed. Why this should interest anyone else, especially why it should cause such a fuss, he could not understand.
From our initial talks, I received two impressions. The first was of Kirk’s utter madness; the second, of the life-sustaining necessity of his psychosis. Regarding the former, what was of paramount significance to me as a therapist was Kirk’s inability to comprehend his mental abnormality (or, to put it another way, the abnormality of his experience). For the most part psychotics are aware of their disturbance-either because it itself makes them suffer or because others make them suffer for it. In only the rarest circumstance does a mentally afflicted person escape suffering, and hence an acute knowledge of his own disorder. Kirk was such a one: his madness was a private one, an insanity nourished in and by the isolation he had known since early childhood. And what he experienced–now that his psychosis had, so to speak, been made public–was not of a distressful nature: the shock expressed by his supervisor and the doctor at X Reservation only amused him. Against the wall of Kirk’s absolute conviction of his own sanity, I was, at first, completely helpless.
My second impression–that Kirk’s very life was sustained wholly by his madness–rendered his case even more difficult to handle. It is true that every psychosis represents a life-saving maneuver on the part of the individual–is in other words his way of solving the conflict between the world and himself. Yet in practically every instance there remains some area of life that–through therapy or otherwise–can be made to yield satisfactions comparable to those available to the person through his madness. In the case of Kirk, it seemed, there was none. What, after all, could compete with the unending gratifications of his fantasy? I knew, in short, that without the fantasy Kirk could not be–that he was only in his dramatic imaginative life. How, then, could he be restored to sanity and yet remain alive?
More from Robert Mitchell Lindner: