It’s been said that great minds think alike and that great artists see or intuit truths about the world long before others can. With that in mind, here is an excerpt from an acclaimed writer, Denis Johnson, winner of the National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize finalist. I believe it contains an uncanny reflection of Dr. Bail’s imprint theory that was beginning to be articulated by Bail at around the same time that Johnson created his artistic image.
This excerpt is the description of a drawing in a museum that the main character goes to view on a daily basis:
“This picture was an anonymous work that almost anybody on earth could have made, but as it happened, a Georgia slave had produced it. The work’s owners, the Stone family of Camden County, had found the work in the attic of the family’s old mansion. It was drawn with ink on a large white linen bed sheet and consisted of a tiny single perfect square at the center of the canvas, surrounded by concentric freehand outlines. A draftsman using the right tools would have made thousands of concentric squares with the outlines just four or five millimeters apart. But, as I’ve said, the drawing, except for the central square, had been accomplished freehand: Each unintended imperfection in an outline had been scrupulously reproduced in the next, and since each square was larger, each imperfection grew larger too, until at the outmost edges the shapes were no longer square, but vast chaotic wanderings.
To my way of thinking, this secret project of the nameless slave, whether man or woman we’ll never know, implicated all of us…Though simple and obvious as an act of art, the drawing portrayed the silly, helpless tendency of fundamental things to get way off course and turn into nonsense, illustrated the church’s grotesque pearling around its traditional heart, explained the pernicious extrapolating rules and observances of governments—implicated all of us in a gradual apostasy from every perfect thing we find or make.
Implicated. This wasn’t my reaction only. I talked with lots of people who’d seen the work, and they all felt the same, but in various ways, if that makes sense. They felt uneasy around it, challenged, disturbed. I suppose that’s what made it art, rather than drawing.”
The Name of the World (2000)
The imprint passes down through the generations and is essentially the unintended imperfections contained in the mother’s unconscious, both those she was passed by her own mother and those accumulated in her own life experience. These imperfections are the distortions caused by the pain arising from a lack of love in its many forms: cruelty, abuse, neglect, violence, war, etc. They are replicated in the next generation unintentionally because they are unconsciously passed despite all a mother’s best intentions for her baby.
These distortions become so exaggerated over time that it becomes difficult to ascertain the original design, becoming ultimately “vast chaotic wanderings.” Anyone who has observed the broken state of our world has been observing the effect of these distortions passed through the imprint over hundreds of generations. Or as Johnson describes it, the “helpless tendency of fundamental things to get way off course and turn into nonsense…” He writes that this phenomenon of distortion “…illustrated the church’s grotesque pearling around its traditional heart, [and] explained the pernicious extrapolating rules and observances of governments…” In other words, just as individuals become increasingly distorted by their imprints over many generations, the institutions they create and control become grossly distorted as well.
Dr. Bail has often said that to repair something we must know where and how it came to be broken. Any healing must go back to the source of the injury. His theory of the imprint reveals to us that we are unintentionally injured by the early trauma of having to carry our mothers’ unbearable burden of imperfections and distortions. Sadly, until the world comes to know and recognize the import of Dr. Bail’s theory of the imprint, any attempts to repair our world, our institutions, our families and ourselves will remain superficial and result in little appreciable progress.
Johnson’s insight that the imprint implicates us all is uncannily accurate. No one escapes the imprint; we differ only with regard to the degree of distortion or suffering contained in our imprint, in that happier, emotionally healthier mothers pass a less distorted, less troublesome imprint to their children. But no one is born free of distortion. It is the name of the world, secret until now. Johnson is also correct in observing that we all feel “…uneasy…challenged, disturbed…” when we come face to face with this truth that lies deep in the heart of the human condition. Any patient who has had the distortions in his personality revealed through dreams and traced those back to earliest life and the relationship to his mother can attest to how deeply disturbing, and ultimately freeing this knowledge can be. These patients are, without a doubt, very courageous individuals.
Hopefully, we will all find the courage in the years to come to investigate the truth of Dr. Bail’s theory and to test it for ourselves in clinical settings, despite our reluctance to enter that disturbing territory. Facing our imprints will allow us to know the true name of the world, the imprint, so that we can begin to change it. Only in this way can we make real progress towards restoring order, symmetry and sanity to our world.