The Apprentice

By J. D. DanielsAugust 28, 2017

The Apprentice
This piece appears in the LARB Print Quarterly Journal: No. 15,  Revolution

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THERE IS NOTHING Satan likes better than telling himself he has powers equal to those of his creator, God; there is nothing a little boy likes better than telling himself he is the sexual equivalent of his big adult father, fit to be the consort of his own mother; and there is nothing an American likes better than telling himself he is more qualified to be president than that office’s holder, which is why it is so grievous that we have elected such an incontinent, intemperate fool to our presidency. Satan is not God, and you are not your own father; but your competence as a mature adult almost certainly exceeds that of the current president of the United States. 

The great psychoanalyst Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel writes: 

Lucifer is a perfect example of Hubris, of man’s desire to discredit the power of the Father-Creator, and put himself in His place […] The faulty identification with the father — the subject wanting to become God. 

A foundational American myth, the American Revolution, is our refusal to obey our king. Traditional American authority derives from hatred of authority itself, from debasing and destroying existing authority. There is no surer path to political power in our country than for a candidate to proclaim that he is a rebel angel, not a politician. Unfortunately for him, once elected, he becomes a politician; and many Americans, like willful children, cannot bear to be ruled.

You don’t have to be religious, or to take psychoanalysis seriously, to see the analogy. Now is the most dangerous, most seductive moment of all. If you believe you would be a better head of the government than our president, you may be correct. Hubris and reality have aligned. The Satanic fantasy has become a fact.

There is nothing the apprentice likes better than telling himself he is the sorcerer. Many readers will recall an episode from the Disney film Fantasia in which Mickey Mouse believes he can outdo his master at wizardry. The enchanted brooms he uses to do his washing chores obey his command at first, but will not stop when the washing is finished. 

As Goethe has it:

And they run! Wet and wet
in the hall and on the steps:
What terrible waters! 
Lord and Master, hear my call! 
Oh, Master, come! 
Lord, the need is great! 
The spirits I have summoned
will not depart. 

But the sorcerer will not return: there is no sorcerer. There is only the foolish apprentice, who so wished to be greater than his master that he elected a still greater fool over himself, to rule him. He will drown.


J. D. Daniels drove through North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas for Esquire before the 2016 US Presidential Election; his collection The Correspondence was published by Farrar Strauss and Giroux, by Jonathan Cape UK, and Suhrkamp Verlag in 2017.

LARB Contributor

J.D. Daniels is the winner of a 2016 Whiting Award and The Paris Review’s 2013 Terry Southern Prize. The Correspondence (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) was published in 2017. His writing has appeared in Esquire, The Paris Review, n+1, Oxford American, The Los Angeles Review of Books and elsewhere, including The Best American Essays and The Best American Travel Writing. 


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