Andy Warhol was my psychotherapist back in the 70’s. I would go to him once a week with my problems: talk to him about my latest arrest, my latest relationship break-up, or divorce — whatever had occurred that week. But all he’d ever say in response was, “It doesn’t matter,” and then ask if I saw that show on TV last night, “the one with Mary Tyler Moore? She looks so old these days,” he’d say, “I‘m sure she‘s got pimples and the cameraman tries to hide them from us. That’s what TV is like.”
And this is how it would continue, week after week. It made no difference what traumas I brought to our sessions, it was as if I’d said nothing. He would simply respond by talking about everyday things from his own life.
The situation began to frustrate me, and an anger built up in me at not being heard. So one day I confronted him, I told him that all he thinks about is himself, and that I was tired of him crapping on about TV, rich people, famous people, hot dogs and Coca Cola. I wanted a human response. I wanted him to tell me why my father left when I was eight. Why my mother died when I was 14. Working myself into a frenzy of shaking fists and irate trembling, I punched the walls and kicked the furniture.
When I’d tired myself out, Andy just said that I seemed very angry and that maybe I should watch some TV, or have some candy or maybe a hotdog: “I have some soda in the fridge if you’d like some, it’s from Schwarz’s on Fifth.”
I felt completely lost. I felt empty and frustrated that not even my therapist would listen to me. I looked disconsolately around the room and saw a picture of Marilyn Monroe. I’d always felt indifferent to her, and figured maybe this was where I was, that this was life — a bombardment of recurring images of people I didn’t really know. People I never had, or would, make contact with. A world of dissociated surfaces. I looked at Andy’s impassive face and told him that I felt empty, and for the first time ever he heard me. He responded: “Have you tried watching television, there are some really great shows on.”
Something in this petty surface response was comforting, a familiar universality that allowed a connection between us, and we proceeded to talk for some time about what it was like to do shoe laces up every day, and how boring it is to breathe, to do it continually, unable to refrain from it.
At the end of our session I paid Andy and continued with my life. Andy was no longer my therapist, but over the years we would occasionally meet for a Coke somewhere, or at some facile art gathering, and share our superficial observations. I had now realised that much of my previous life was mere reactionary posturing. I now appreciated that my emotional reactions to the world were of no consequence in a culture of infinitely recurring images. That I was nothing in the face of this onslaught — a void in a world filled with the detritus of other peoples ideas. I saw that I could no longer be angry with that, no more than I could be angry at the fact of having five toes on each foot. My sense of loss and resentment at the world dissipated, and from then on life seemed to flow through me — easier than a popular sitcom through the brain.
Many years later, when I was asked to write about Andy’s therapeutic methods and how they‘d worked for me, I was reminded of that loss again. Fabricating a response to this request was like inserting something into my nature that didn‘t belong there, like slipping in a gratuitous question between myself and the world. Ultimately it didn’t matter why I was like this, and it didn’t matter why Andy was like he was — if you can be vacant with yourself, it’s a cure that doesn’t need explanation.
I remember Andy and I having a conversation once where he suggested that it might be good for people to have a “tautologist” instead of a therapist. Someone who would repeat back everything you said, or even just repeat something over and over. He said he’d seen repeats of TV shows, seen them so many times that he’d seen the whole process of ever diminishing returns as the show became more and more familiar and less and less entertaining, eventually realising that it is what it is. I assume a tautologist would say the same.
Soren James is a writer and visual artist working in the UK.