I found this in Tuesday’s Tribune and found it highly amusing. - C.I.
In Surprise Move, Mersault Steps Down, Appoints New Director
After a colorful career that has spanned nearly half a decade, Dr. Maurice Mersault, the controversial psychoanalyst whose theories of transference and countertransference sparked an internal debate about the role of patient-doctor relations in the psychiatric community, has announced he is stepping down from his position as director of the Psychiatric Institute of Arts & Letters. Mersault’s announcement comes at a time of renewed interest in the direction of the institute and raised immediate concerns about the institute’s future - or if, in fact, the small institute can survive such a crushing departure.
The Psychiatric Institute of Arts & Letters has seen its share of controversies and nadirs since its inception thirty years ago, but its curious blend of highbrow academia and ardent, from-the-trenches mental illness narratives (what some dub "autopathography") have kept the institute at the helm of alternative psychiatric thought - a trend which, according to its supporters, isn't going away.
Dr. M. Roodhouse Gloyne, Mersault’s longtime colleague and co-founder the institute, expressed a staunch, even indignant optimism at the announcement of Mersault's departure. Gloyne, a bookish, almost emaciated figure with large, bespectacled eyes and signature white lab coat, cuts an interesting contrast to the boisterous, bearded Mersault, who smoked Cuban cigars and whose antics at parties and medical conferences earned him a reputation as a brilliant thinker but gregarious hedonist. The two befriended one another while students at the Royal College of Charlatans in Cambridge, forging an unlikely personal and professional friendship that would span decades.
"The cross-contextualization of leitmotifs of suffering in art, psychology, and literature?" Gloyne asked, perhaps rhetorically. "Not the sort of thing one would call a ‘passing trend,' would one? Mersault's vision will live on."
That may be, but what's next? Dr. Gloyne offered some of his thoughts at his cramped research office. Gazing over his pristeen desk at a portrait of Mersault, Gloyne fondly recalled his colleague's peculiar research methods. Maurice Mersault was an obsessive note-taker who claimed his best ideas came to him away from his desk. Hence, he accumulated quite a collection of scraps over the years, detritus which nevertheless gave birth to some of his most complex theories.
“You name it, he wrote on it," Gloyne said. "Napkins, ticket stubs, racing forms. Once I saw him carve notes to himself into the wood pulp of a pencil. Carved into a pencil - with another pencil,” Gloyne marveled. As to the content of the spontaneous criteria? Were they merely daydreams, the musings of a man too distracted to bother with formal writing implements? “That,” Gloyne said, leaning forward in his chair as though he were sharing with me a private joke, “Was the inception of MPD.”
Megalomaniac Personality Disorder, known also by its acronym MPD, first appeared in the Paradiagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1972. The PSM (an alternate volume to the better-known and more widely accepted Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) was another of Mersault’s brainchildren. In it, Mersault and a small research team working out of a basement apartment collected the data and clinical criteria either discarded, disproved, or disowned by the larger psychiatric community.
Though dubbed “sensational” by its critics at its inception (a kind of “self-indulgent, self-serving, and medically irresponsible” encyclopedia, according to one famous comment by the head of the American Psychiatric Association), the manual surprised everyone by not just interesting a few specialists but by becoming a national bestseller, rising as high as number twenty-three on The New York Times bestseller list. This feat would be impressive for any book of psychology, let alone an obscure, 878 page clinical psychiatric manual written by a man some people called “the most narcissistic man since Narcissus.”
Far from a one-off, the PSM rose in stature and is now begrudgingly accepted as a companion text to the DSM. None of this would have been possible without the tireless vision and aggressive ad campaigns of Dr. Maurice Mersault, who stated from the beginning that, “like the famous assertion that we only use 10% of our brain capacity, the psychiatric community is only using 10% of its diagnostic and treatment capabilities - and I am out to change that. Singlehandedly,” he chuckled at a press conference, before downing a full glass of Shiraz and tossing the glass at the feet of reporters.
Mersault later added that the “bit about using 10% of the brain” was “bunco,” but stated he liked the sound of it and that it proved his point.
Dissatisfied by what he called the “scientific snobbery” of the psychopharmaceutical movement of the seventies, Mersault had conceived the institute as a forum to bridge the gulf between literature and psychology, his two loves. (A previous effort to bridge the gulf between psychology and sexuality, Mersault’s other two loves, was personally satisfying but professionally disastrous, and led to Mersault’s expulsion from the APA, an event he now jokingly refers to as the “excommunication.”)
The Psychiatric Institute of Arts & Letters was the crowning achievement in Mersault’s long career, and Gloyne had long had a hand in the institute’s operations - editing, compiling, and collating articles and submissions contributed by professionals and patients alike. Dr. Mersault and Dr. Gloyne’s longtime friendship made Gloyne the obvious successor to Mersault. And so it was an unexpected announcement when, at Mersault’s resignation last week, he dubbed as his successor - not his faithful, bookish colleague he laughingly referred to as “Ichabod Crane” - but a young, unknown, and some say “mindbogglingly underqualified” psychologist called Christina Iritano.
The announcement came as a shock to the psychiatric community, not the least of which was Dr. M. Roodhouse Gloyne himself, who appeared pale and ill when asked for his perspective on Mersault’s surprise appointment. “Mersault appointed who?” Gloyne said, and after asking me to repeat myself several times, Gloyne stood up and left the room. He never returned.
The mystique surrounding Mersault’s youthful successor was only compounded when, two days after the announcement, Dr. Iritano refused an interview with The Metapsychiatric Herald, a well-known journal founded by Mersault himself (Mersault’s resume of self-started psychiatric and psychoanalytic journals totals a staggering forty-seven publications). Phone calls and attempts to contact Christina Iritano went unreturned. In fact, Iritano did not even have an answering machine.
A listing in the “Who’s Who in American Psychiatry” had only one entry under Iritano, and the profile was starkly utilitarian, stating only the briefest of educational credentials. Christina Iritano graduated in 1997 with a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) from the School of Transcedental Linguistics, an M.A. from the Transient Research Society, and a Ph.D. from the Royal College of Charlatans, the same institute where Dr. Mersault and Dr. Gloyne forged their professional friendship. No other information on the young psychologist was made readily available, though Mersault had hinted that Dr. Iritano’s primary research interest was borderline personality disorder.
Mersault, in his drunken press conference, also hinted that his successor was not only “totally qualified for the job,” but was also “beautiful, a Siren, a Circe. You’ll love her. She’s perfect for Psych Inst. She’s got an interest in abnormal psychology - some of it empirical, if you know what I mean.” After listing several more of Dr. Iritano’s talents (writing, art, French philosophy), Mersault took an expansive breath and regained his composure. “God, she’s brilliant. You’ll find her (expletive) breathtaking.”
So who is Dr. Christina Iritano? And what makes her qualified to take on the direction of The Psychiatric Institute of Arts & Letters? Opinion in the psychiatric community ranges from the disinterested to the outraged to the frankly fascinated.
“This is a highly interesting appointment,” opined Dr. Phillip Hughes, one of Dr. Mersault’s former colleagues, who now oversees the Program for Megalomaniacal Personality Disorders at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. “On the one hand, Mersault’s appointment comes as a surprise. Who is this girl? Is this a qualified intellectual or some former patient Mersault slept with? You never know with Maurice. But I think it only makes sense that a man who many saw as an enigma should appoint, as his successor, an enigma. A younger, prettier, perhaps even smarter enigma. It just makes sense.” Hughes stopped to examine his pager, sighed, and excused himself to make an important telephone call. “You didn’t get Iritano’s phone number, did you?” he asked at the end of our interview. “Damn. Damn.”