Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

Archive for the ‘Psychology’

The difference between Jealousy and Envy

December 30, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Psychology No Comments →

Georges Barbier: Envy, 1914
Envy, 1914 by Georges Barbier

Love makes the world go round, says the poet, while the cynic says it’s money; and Peter Toohey, professor of classics at the University of Calgary, constructs an entertaining argument for jealousy being the wellspring of a much greater part of our emotional lives, and of a larger proportion of literature, law, and daily existence, than we may have thought. Elsewhere, Professor Toohey has also worked up boredom and melancholy; in those books as in this brisk survey, he proposes some benefits of emotions usually considered to be negative: jealousy is “a potent means for the assertion of individual rights and the encouragement of cooperation and equitable treatment.”

To distinguish jealousy from its relative, envy, he quotes Peter van Sommers’s succinct definition of the two: “Envy concerns what you would like to have but don’t possess, whereas jealousy concerns what you have and do not wish to lose.” I am jealous of that woman my husband seems to admire; I envy her ability to walk in high heels. Othello is jealous of Desdemona, but Iago is envious of Othello. Toohey emphasizes that the definition is slippery, but that we usually know one from the other; it’s just that the two are intertwined, a Laocoön psychic trope, with jealousy more often than envy associated with violence—thrown dishes, outraged husbands, women scorned, murder. He details some of the more famous, gruesome modern murder cases, but Othello and Medea are the archetypes. “Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?”

Read Who Is Not Guilty of This Vice? by Diane Johnson in the NYRB.

When the problem is that you have no problem.

November 22, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Psychology 5 Comments →


Thanks to Tina for the alert.

Shocked into resurrection

May 07, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Psychology, Science 1 Comment →

Sherwin Nuland, the brilliant surgeon and author of How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter, died in March. (Read Remembering A Surgeon Who Healed With Words. The article has links to his articles at the New Republic.)

Dr. Nuland wouldn’t have written his great works if he hadn’t recovered from a crushing depression leading to his confinement in a mental hospital. When all the available treatments and medications had failed to bring him back from the black pit, a resident suggested electroshock therapy. Those of us who watch too many movies (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Frances) think of electroshock therapy as a form of torture that turns its victims into zombies, but as Nuland recounts in his moving TED talk from 2001, it was his resurrection.

Oddly enough, after watching this TED talk, we picked up Andrew Sean Greer’s The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, in which the heroine undergoes shock treatment for her depression…and travels through time. (First impression: The plot is very similar to that of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, which came out in the same year.)

D.I.Y. Writing Workshop Tips

April 23, 2014 By: jessicazafra Category: Psychology, Workshops 10 Comments →


Find your Discomfort Zone: the subject that makes you uncomfortable and squeamish, that you don’t want to discuss because you’re afraid people will judge you.

Now pitch a tent there. It is the most fertile place for writing, plus it’s free psychotherapy.

If you thought we meant camping, literally, forget about writing. It requires many levels of meaning, and you perceive only one.

A feline star is born in the new Coen Brothers movie

December 06, 2013 By: jessicazafra Category: Cats, Movies, Music, Psychology, Science No Comments →

Inside Llewyn Davis stars a ginger tom cat named Ulysses, who is actually several cats because cats are divas and don’t like doing retakes. Cute cat, and his human co-star’s not bad, either. Ulysses has received plaudits for his performance, particularly for that scene in the subway where he watches the signs whooshing by (and he is apparently a running theme haha). We are wary of movies featuring animal performers because we were traumatized by Old Yeller, and we especially hate movies where the animal characters are killed off just so the audience will feel something. We don’t think the Coen Brothers will torment Ulysses, but they do enjoy torturing their human characters (wood chippers, bolt guns, etc) so we can’t be sure. Nothing bad better happen to that cat. (This being a Coens movie, we’re assuming Llewyn Davis doesn’t live happily ever after.)

Here are Saffy and Mat’s horror movie auditions.

Saffy on the door
The horror!

Read Do Cats Control My Mind? in The Atlantic.

Got a question about sex? Ask our guest psychiatrist, Dr. Agnes Bueno

October 23, 2013 By: jessicazafra Category: Podcast, Psychology, Sex 14 Comments →

Balthus: girl and cat photo 72Therese.jpg
Therese dreaming by Balthus, 1938

Everybody thinks about sex; the question is, how often? Is it possible to think about sex too much? (What is “too much”?) Is it possible to not think about sex at all?

Around the time we declared independence from our parents and moved into a place of our own, we turned on the TV late one night and discovered the woman who has the answers. With her high intelligence and erudition, her direct manner, her colored contact lenses and decolletage, and her absolute refusal to treat sexuality as a subject “not suitable for polite company”, she helped to liberate us from our silly, giggly notions about love and relationships.

On Tuesday we’re doing a podcast with the famed psychiatrist and human sexuality expert, Dr. Agnes Bueno. We’re tackling everything you’ve always wanted to know about sex but didn’t know whom to ask (or were afraid to ask for fear of being judged and condemned as a maniac). So post your questions for Dr. Bueno in Comments, and we’ll try to cram them all into the podcast next week. Don’t be embarrassed; she won’t be.

* * * * *

The 50 Shades of Grey books being devoid of literary value, does their use as masturbation helpers for the creatively-challenged justify their existence?

Could you recommend some good erotica?

Which fictional couples (from novels, movies and TV) would you say have healthy relationships?

Why do some people insist on staying in abusive relationships? Do they feel they deserve the abuse? Get their kicks from being abused?

Is Freud still relevant to the times?

Is monogamy natural and possible, or are people kidding ourselves?