Greil Marcus In The Threepenny Review

March 16, 2008

 Greil Marcus And His Problem Fathers

A Psychological Analysis


R.E. Prindle

 Part I

      Greil Marcus has a new article on his old theme in the Spring 2008 Threepenny Review.  The way it is written it appears to have been a talk or lecture at some unidentified place.  His obsession must be intense for while the theme is of an interesting psychological motif I don’t really understand why he thinks the theme  is of such general interest it bears repeating so often.

     If he’s looking for a psychological interpretation I am prepared to offer him one.  It must be understood that I offer an objective analysis of that which M. Marcus has publicly aired.  Whatever I say is based on what he says.  No unkindness is intended.  This version of his obsession is the fullest he has yet offered.  To read the article go to:

     The main facts are these:  M. Marcus’ father and mother met in 1944 during WWII.  She had just graduated from Stanford in May or June.  He, Greil Gerstley, came from Philadelphia.  He was an officer in the Navy, apparently a full lieutenant so he may have been in uniform since shortly after hostilities began.  They met in San Francisco which was crawling with Navy in 1944.  M. Marcus either doesn’t know or doesn’t tell us but it would appear that as a wartime romance they met and married within a week or two.  M. Marcus doesn’t tell us what Gerstley’s social status in Philadelphia was but it appears as though he came from an affluent background.  We are left uninformed as to the time of year they met.  I’m guessing September or October.  Shortly after marriage the couple left for Seattle where Gerstley shipped out.  He was subsequently lost at sea six months and a day before M. Marcus was born in the summer of ’45.

     Approximately three years later in 1948 his mother married Mr. Marcus whose first name, I believe is or was Gerald.  He apparently married the mother and adopted the son in one swift movement.

     Thus, and this is crucial, for the first three years of his life of which he says he has only haunting memories, M. Marcus was Greil Gerstley.  Even though he has only faint memories of the period this dual identity has left an indelible impression.

     Now we get into what C.G. Jung calls the collective unconscious.  M. Marcus is not responsible for any of his reactions.  They all emerge from the true unconscious.

     Gerald Marcus and his mother gave him siblings.  M. Marcus’ half-brother Bill looks out for him and runs an internet alert.  I have been in communication with brother Bill.  In 1955 the family moved into a fine new home in Menlo Park, California.  Menlo Park is a very affluent suburb on the San Francisco Peninsula so Gerald Marcus was a good provider.  M. Marcus seems to have no complaints about his step-father.  Indeed as Gerald adopted him on marriage it would appear that he was trying to sidestep unconscious psychological animosities by making another man’s child his own, at least in name.

     Shortly after moving into the house in Menlo Park M. Marcus was toying with the radio and heard an announcement about American GIs fathering babies on Korean mothers and then abandoning them.  M. Marcus immediately related that announcement to his biological father’s marriage to his mother and subsequent death that struck a subliminal chord related to the abandonment of the Korean children.  Now the response is not rational but unconscious and fully explicable on that level.

     At some later time M. Marcus saw David Lynch’s movie  Blue Velvet.  Certain homey scenes struck the subliminal chord of his father’s abandonment making him believe that the idyllic scenes were what he had lost with his father’s death or abandonment.  He subconsciously perceived his father’s death or non-return as abandonment.

     These are the facts for Part I.

     In analysis there seems to be a sense of loss between birth and the age of three when his mother remarried.  A blank spot in his life.  When he questioned his mother (now deceased) about his father she had nothing to tell him as she had only known the man for two months or even less.  Thus M. Marcus virtually knew this man he had never met almost as well as his mother.  Whether he has been able to accept her statement or not he doesn’t make clear but there seems to be some doubt.  Some nagging sense of the need for closure which cannot be obtained.

     Now, M. Marcus carries the genes of Greil Gerstley and not those of Gerald Marcus.  Therefore Gerald and his progeny must always have seemed foreign to him.  M. marcus may have resented Gerald’s  co-habitation with his mother.  For instance my mother divorced my father when I was three although I have plenty of memories of my first three years, remarrying seven years later.  I never thought about it then but I always resented my step-father having access to my father’s woman at the same time,  my mother.  The attitude comes from the collective unconscious and is not a conscious reaction.  There is no defense against it.  Therefore from three to ten M. Marcus probably suffered a degree of alienation from his step-father with some lingering resentment of his mother and that resentment was brought into focus in this new house when he heard of the abandoned Korean children.  Even though his step-father was providing well M. Marcus believed, thought or hoped that his real father would have provided even better.  Once again, the reaction was unconscious and could not be helped.  Still this attitude must have distanced him from his step father a little probably causing some resentment on Gerald’s part.

     When M. Marcus saw Blue Velvet with its idyllic opening scenes the subliminal message was that life would have been like that with Gerstley but that had been irrevocably lost when he ‘abandoned’ M. Marcus in the same way the Korean children were abandoned.  I’m almost surprised that he didn’t change his name back to Greil Gerstley.

     A secondary problem is with his mother.  I suspect that he has a haunting feeling that perhaps Greil Gerstley may not be his father and indeed there is a chance that this is so.

     M. Marcus makes a point of saying he was born exactly six months and a day after his father was lost at sea.  but, he refuses to give us his birth date instead saying that he was born between VE and VJ days which leaves some lattitude.  Nor does he give us the date the couple were married or the date Gerstley shipped out.  His mother destroyed any letters received from Gerstley so that resource is missing.

     Certainly apart from the wartime conditions of romance the hasty marriage might have implications.  No one can now know but I suspect the fear haunts M. Marcus.

     I know that children in his situation have real difficulties with their fathers.  I have known adopted children who went to great lengths to locate a biological parent inevitibly being disappointed.  For myself I never saw my father again but neither have I had real curiosity about him.

     Greil Gerstley is gone from M. Marcus’ life and his is stuck with the frustrating situation of being able to do nothing about it  except possibly accepting the fact that that was the hand fate dealt him.  That’s how I’ve always dealt with this early part of my life.  What can you do but play the cards you were dealt.  Wartime conditions produce wartime results.  What can anyone say or do?

     Then one day M. Marcus almost miraculously learned the details of the day his father’s ship went down.

     That in Part 2.

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