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STATEMENT OF PLANS (from a grant application)

Like my previous novel, Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings, Fatherland will explore the nature and consequences of what James Baldwin termed “moral apathy,” that mix of selective attention and self-deception that enables ostensibly well-meaning people to remain ignorant of their own complicity with evil. Fatherland interweaves the stories of Otto Zeitz, an “Aryan” psychoanalyst, and his Jewish daughter, Hannah, during and just after the Third Reich.

In 1928, Sigmund Freud sends Zeitz to work at the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute, which, at that time, Freud still hoped would be the vanguard of the psychoanalytic movement. Read More 

Third Posting in My Much Neglected Blog

I delivered the following talk about the role of the unconscious in my writing at Johns Hopkins on February 4, 2013. I began my presentation by reading parts of two works of fiction. The first was “Ziggurat,” a version of which was published in the New Yorker in 2009. Here is a link: http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2009/06/29/090629fi_fiction_oconnor
The second was an unpublished excerpt from my novel-in-progress, HUMAN EVENTS. Here is the first paragraph:

“A drizzle grays the air when Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings visit the Museum of Miscegenation. They approach the columned and domed marble edifice (which Thomas Jefferson cannot help but notice is in the Palladian style) along an avenue of plane trees, all-but-invisible droplets drifting between bare branches tipped with the tiny lettuces of just-bursting buds. The drizzle coats the square cobbles like breath upon a mirror, and Sally Hemings, wearing leather-soled shoes, finds the footing so slippery she has to cling to Thomas Jefferson’s arm until they are inside the museum.”



I am going to talk about the role of the unconscious in my writing, and in my writing career. But I should probably start by telling you two things.

The first is that I am the son of a psychoanalyst. People have often asked me if my father psychoanalyzed me when I was a kid—a possibility that would have horrified him, I suspect, as much as it does me. While I never lay on a couch and told my father my troubles, I did grow up in a house where it was a truism that people rarely said or did what they thought they were saying or doing, and that my real self—especially in regard to my fears and desires—was and would always be something of a mystery to me. I grew up thinking less that I was the captain of my self than a passenger, or even a stowaway.  Read More 

Second Posting in My Much Neglected Blog

The following questions were put to me by Catherine Lacey (http://www.catherinelacey.com), who is working on a book about faith and spiritual practice. As my answers might provide readers with insight into certain aspects of my work, I asked Catherine if I might include them in this much-neglected blog, and she graciously consented.


Did you grow up in the same faith you practice now? If not, when did you begin practicing this faith?

--I was brought up an atheist by two lapsed Catholics, both immigrants. My mother was French, and her Catholicism had never been terribly serious, as is true for many French—France reputedly being the most atheistic country in the world. My father, however, was an Irish Catholic, and went to Catholic schools in Ireland and in New York City. Although he claimed never to have taken religion seriously, his hatred for religion in general and for Catholicism in particular was so extreme that he would not even allow a Bible in the house.  Read More 

An Occasional Blog


I always start a poem by trying not to think—which is one reason why I prefer to write first thing in the morning, before I have eaten, when I am still partly in the associative mode of dreams, and the cares of the day have not yet taken hold of my mind. Often I am deeply groggy when (coffee in hand) I sit down at my desk, and it sometimes astonishes me that I can write at all, given how utterly incapable I would be of talking to another person.

My goal is to sink into that part of my mind where inspiration seems to arise of its own, without the influence of my will.  Read More