Lisa Appignanesi is Chair of the Royal Society of Literature and of this year’s Man Booker International Prize. She is the author of Mad, Bad, and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors and Losing the Dead. Her next book, Everyday Madness, will be published in September. (February 2018)
an exhibition at the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam, October 20, 2017–March 25, 2018
Life? or Theatre?
by Charlotte Salomon
A woman walks down the red stairs of a tall roofless building. Her dress is almost black. Her hair is pulled back, her arms crossed against the cold, her face melancholy. She walks past denuded trees up a darkened street, curves into another, and another. The wind seems to be propelling her, tugging at her, so that at one point her hair tumbles free, her dress whirls. Lamplight turns pavement and road a stormy sea blue. As she comes closer her path is outlined in blood red, until red takes her over to transform her into a drowning figure in a blackened lake.
Frederick Crews has a loyalty of preoccupation rare in a literary academic. His attacks on Sigmund Freud began way back in the mid-1970s with his publicly proclaimed conversion away from the Freudian literary criticism he practiced at the time. His new biography, Freud: The Making of an Illusion, damning and mesmerizing by turns, is about the young Freud. It marks the zenith of what has become Crews’s crusade “to put an end to the myth of psychoanalysis and its creator” by stripping Freud of both his empiricist credentials and the image of a “lone explorer possessing courageous perseverance, deductive brilliance, tragic insight, and healing power.” The idealization of Freud the man that Crews is so keen to prove a blinding illusion is hardly prevalent.
The irony of Trump now suggesting that his former chief strategist Steve Bannon “has lost his mind” is evident. But laudable as their call may be, psychiatrists can do little more than trumpet danger—unless Twenty-Fifth Amendment proceedings determining the president “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” are set in motion. At that point, the vice president or the Cabinet or Congress can call for a full mental health test and diagnostic assessment. But what will guard against the president’s excesses and remove him from office is more likely to be politics than the mind doctors.