The Sorrows of Young Werewolf (eyeteeth) wrote,
The Sorrows of Young Werewolf

Out of bed in a fury

The lines in this one are different from the usual. This is because, as I have learned, the pencil does not take as well on damp days, and it's been like forty days and forty nights here in New York recently. I guess the paper soaks up the ambient humidity and then the lines are anemic. I have to mess with the levels and then I get a line with more definition but less subtlety. A lobotomy-patient kind of line, if you will.

Here is Walter talking about S. Weir Mitchell. You remember old S. Weir, pioneering American neurologist, right? He was Civil War pals with Dr. Keen, and he made Charlotte Perkins Gilman worse, and I'm pretty sure Virginia Woolf had him in mind when she wrote about the doctor Sir William Bradshaw, who also makes things worse with a rest cure that sounds very much like S. Weir Mitchell's: "The friends and relations of his patients felt for him the keenest gratitude for insisting that these prophetic Christs and Christesses, who prophesied the end of the world, or the advent of God, should drink milk in bed as Sir William ordered." Anyway:

"The rest cure became famous. It united three measures, prolonged bed rest and isolation, over-feeding, and daily body massage -- measures that had proven useful in wounded soldiers as well as in patients with tabes and other painful conditions. It became so popular (for the wealthy) that it was abused, and fell into disrepute. When to start and when to terminate became difficult problems for other physicians who did not understand women as Mitchell did. [Notice how Walter didn't even say most bed rest patients were women -- we're supposed to take this as a matter of course.] A. R. Burr relates the story of two such terminations:

"'On one occasion, he had struggled unsucessfully [sic] for many weeks to persuade an inert lady to walk a certain distance daily. She chanced to be in his office when his carriage was at the door so he asked her to get in. The patient supposing she was being taken to her home -- a long way -- obeyed; but at a given distance, Dr. Mitchell stopped the carriage and sternly bade her alight and walk home!...

"'Of the woman who refused to get out of bed. Dr. Mitchell had run the gamut of argument and persuasion and finally announced: "If you are not out of bed in five minutes-- I'll get into it with you!" He therefore started to remove his coat, the patient still obstinately prone -- he removed his vest, but when he started to take off his trousers -- she was out of bed in a fury!'"

These aren't Walter's anecdotes, but that he chose to recount them is him all over. Certain incidents in his own career, like that business of stealing a guy's cock ring, show that he approved of taking advantage of people in ways that had the shape of jokes, even if to a person with human sympathy they were really messed up. To a person with human sympathy it is messed up to bully a patient into doing what you want by threatening her with sexual assault, but to Walter it wasn't merely funny, it was commendable: it showed how much Mitchell understood women. (It's not exactly perceptive to realize that women are motivated by the threat of sexual assault, Walter. Many men, some of them very stupid, had already figured that out long before Mitchell.)

You can't use the changing-social-mores defense here, because The Psychiatrist was written in 1966. This is one of Walter's many odd ironies, as noted by Jack El-Hai: he was a brilliant man, with a tremendous passion for knowledge and discovery, but about certain fixed ideas he simply refused to learn. In the end he had affiliated himself so closely with lobotomy that he had to turn his back on the scientific world in which he had lived all his life, because it had rejected lobotomy -- rejected him. He had no choice but to reject it right back even though he was really only hurting himself, like my nephew refusing to eat his dinner to spite his parents. Walter couldn't let go of lobotomy because to him that would have been a form of suicide. So he turned his intellectual vigor onto useless projects like writing The Psychiatrist, a book that was really no good to anyone (except, decades later, me and Jack El-Hai). And this is terribly sad on a personal level, but also a shame because a mind like his should have been doing something useful. That was what you always said, wasn't it, Doctor? That the human mind should be made useful?
Tags: beautiful men, charlotte perkins gilman, gruesome historical information, s. weir mitchell, stix, virginia woolf, w. w. keen, walter freeman
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