Bruce Fink a practicing psychoanalyst (who studied under Jacques Lacan) and prolific author in his own right, has recently written a book of three stories entitled, The Psychoanalytic Adventures of Inspector Canal. I just picked this book up a few days ago and finished reading the first of the three stories called “The Case of the Missing Object.” This is a great text and I plan on using this in my course that introduces psychoanalysis to my college students.
The plot takes off because the music director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra has reported the theft of a very old and significant musical score. The main character, Dr. Canal is a retired inspector from the French Secret Services who now lives in New York. He is called to the scene by his acquaintance Olivetti who is an inspector in the New York Police Department. The latter is a blue-collar worker who takes pride in his “common-sense” and practical perspective on the world, whereas Canal is extremely reflective and sees the world as like an icon. Inspector Canal employs the method of psychoanalysis as a way of uncovering the causes behind certain behaviors, slips, and beliefs all of which animate the characters and the story. Canal’s brilliance is his mastery grasp on psychoanalysis and how, through this method, he is able to explain certain actions and beliefs and thus, in the final analysis, solve the mystery. For example, as Canal and Olivetti are on their way to interview the Director, Rolland Saalem, the blue-collar inspector makes a mistake. This is significant for two reasons. First, because Olivetti did not know he made a mistake—he led Canal to room number 203 and not 302 (in the director’s office building). Secondly, Canal is able to explain this mistake using the method of psychoanalysis. He does this specifically by showing Olivetti’s mistake exposes his real desire to want a ‘2’ and not a ‘3’. You see Olivetti is a divorcee and now his ex-wife is dating another man—a triangle—i.e., the number 3! This explains why he made the mistake—Olivetti’s desires moved him to make a “mistake” a slip, as it were, and so he ended up on the second floor (exposing his desire for 2, i.e., his ex-wife and him together) and not their accurate destination, the third floor, room 302.
What makes Fink’s story fun is how the method of psychoanalysis is deployed and moves the plot along until the missing object is finally recovered. A plot like this can sometimes be annoying in so far as there is a master who is in full control of everything resulting in reducing the reader down to an inert passive observer in a fully determined plot. But Fink prevents this by having a strong character as the Music Director, Saalem who is smart enough to prevent the bulldozer-like effect of the Master (Canal) from taking hold. Yet, in the end, Canal is able to figure out where the missing object is, which is a brilliant lesson in itself. In the process, Fink constructs an extraordinary conversation between Canal and Saalem in which deep existential truths and puzzles (Fink reveals to us how truth and the puzzle are inextricably bound up together) are communicated. I highly recommend this story and am looking forward to reading the next two stories in his book (if only I can get my book back from my colleague!).