Monday, October 10th, 2011
Frederick Crews has reviewed two books on the lives and works of doctors William Halsted and Sigmund Freud. The essay was published in two parts in the New York Review of Books. Both doctors experimented personally and professionally with cocaine, albeit with different motivations and different ends–but the typical effects of repeated cocaine use are comparably present in the two influential men. Apparently, Halsted is to praise for contributing much to modern surgery’s awareness of the need for sterile equipment and environment. Freud, of course, is known for psychoanalysis, and modernity’s radical and arbitrary flight into the sexualized self to find the reasons for all that ails us. What’s amazing is how this modern science and its genesis is to be found in Freud’s own self-medicated neuroses. On this Columbus day, citation of Crews’ conclusion might provoke a read of Parts I (29 September 2011) and II (13 October 2011) of the essay:
From miracle drug to a near-miraculous ‘science’: that was Freud’s progress as an exponent of purported therapeutic marvels. At no point in either campaign did he place the safety and welfare of patients ahead of ambition. When cocaine was found to be tragically addictive for physicians and patients who had followed his thoughtless advice, he fought back desperately in 1887, bending the truth in order to exculpate himself. And when, after decades of claiming that psychoanalysis is the sovereign remedy for psychoneuroses, he allowed that he had ‘never been a therapeutic enthusiast,’ he didn’t apologize; by then his fame as the Columbus of the unconscious was secure.
Freud’s triumph in reaching that pinnacle without the aid of any confirmed discoveries or cures may be the most amazing chapter in the entire history of self-promotion. Neither Rousseau nor Nietzche enjoyed such success in reconstituting the intellectual world to match his idiosyncrasies. But Freud’s own transformation was remarkable as well. Without cocaine, the polite and unhappy doctor of April 1884 might never have become so reckless, so adamant, so sex preoccupied, and so convinced of his own importance that the contagion was caught by millions. Cocaine, along with nicotine, was Freud’s drug of choice–but in the century to come, the opiate of the educated classes would be psychoanalysis.