Sunday, March 21, 2010

Significant Moments: The Nobel Prize Complex

          Throughout his life Freud struggled with his father's mandate . . .
Marianne Krull, Freud and His Father.
            . . . to possess a famous, triumphant son.
Peter Blos, Freud and the Father Complex.
          Sigmund, for his part, must have realized that his father wanted him to be a second Joseph: upright, clever, the support of his father in old age, and—I would add—a son who did not enquire into his father's past, let alone reproach him for it.
Marianne Krull, Freud and His Father.
          Freud's obsession with the desire to make a discovery of universal significance . . .
Billa Zanuso, The Young Freud.
               . . . to present to his father the gift of fame and distinction as expected of him . . .
Peter Blos, Freud and the Father Complex.
                       . . . had consequences which proved damaging to his career.
Billa Zanuso, The Young Freud.
          On the evening of April 21, 1896, Sigmund Freud gave a paper before his colleagues at the Society for Psychiatry and Neurology in Vienna, entitled "The Aetiology of Hysteria."
J. Moussaieff Masson, The Assault on Truth: Freud's Suppression of the Seduction Theory.
          This is the place where I shall start my great career, I daydreamed.
Arthur Rubinstein, My Young Years.
          He took . . .
Mark Twain, The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg.
             . . . the paper . . .
David Evanier, The Man Who Refused to Watch the Academy Awards.
                         . . . out of his pocket, opened it, glanced at it, looked surprised and worried, and stood silent for a few  moments. Then he waved his hand in a wandering and mechanical way, and made an effort or two to say something, then gave it up, despondently. Several voices cried out:
          "Read it! read it! What is it?"
Mark Twain, The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg.
          His listeners were all experts on the twisted byways of erotic life. The great Richard von Krafft-Ebing, who had made sexual psychopathology his own, was presiding. Freud's lecture was a lively, highly skillful forensic performance. The student of hysteria, he said, is like an explorer discovering the remains of an
abandoned city, with walls and columns and tablets covered with half-effaced inscriptions, he may dig them up and clean them, and then with luck the stones speak—saxa loquuntur. He expended all this rhetorical effort to persuade his incredulous listeners that they must seek the origin of hysteria in the sexual abuse
of children. All eighteen cases he had treated, Freud noted, invited this conclusion. But his mixture of colorful eloquence and scientific sobriety was wasted.
Peter Gay, Freud: A Life For Our Time.
          A dozen men got up now and began to protest.
Mark Twain, The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg.
          The twelve men spake, and said . . .
Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews.
              . . . that this farce was the work of some abandoned joker, and was an insult to the whole community.
Mark Twain, The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg.
          I felt as if I were going to the scaffold.
Arthur Rubinstein, My Young Years.
          Afterwards they stood about in groups chattering. I heard some say: ‘It starts just as if he were out to play a carnival joke on the public.’ Others were disappointed that there had not been more hissing.
Natalie Bauer-Lechner, Recollections of Gustav Mahler.
         The seduction theory in all its uncompromising sweep seems inherently implausible, only a fantasist like Fliess could have accepted and applauded it.
Peter Gay, Freud: A Life For Our Time.
          The whole thing was a bitter experience for me.
Arthur Rubinstein, My Young Years.
          All his grandiose visions of future glory fell away.
Karen Armstrong, In the Beginning: A New Interpretation of Genesis.
          How different was this state of affairs from Freud’s initial hopes!
Gary N. Goldsmith, Freud’s Aesthetic Response to Michelangelo’s Moses.
          I have had to demolish all my castles in the air, and I am just now mastering enough courage to start rebuilding them again.
The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904.
          So be it!
H.G. Wells, The Time Machine.
          The lecture, he told Fliess a few days later, "had an icy reception from the donkeys and, on Krafft-Ebing's part, the odd judgment: 'It sounds like a scientific fairy tale.' And this," Freud exclaimed, "after one has shown them the solution of a thousands-years-old problem, a source of the Nile!"
Peter Gay, Freud: A Life For Our Time.
          One thing I know for certain as I think back on that night: nothing, in later years, had such an impact on my character.
Arthur Rubinstein, My Young Years.

In 1966 Helen Tartakoff introduced a nosological entity, the “Nobel Prize complex,” to apply to people who have in common many of the following characteristics: They are preoccupied with the achievement of diverse ambitious goals, which may include, for example, the wish to become President, to attain great wealth, to be a social leader, or to win an Oscar. Many are intellectually or artistically gifted and possess charismatic qualities that others admire. They are often firstborn and frequently only children. They adopt an all-or-nothing attitude toward their aspirations. They are hypersensitive to disappointments in life, particularly to lack of recognition, and may become depressed and develop psychosomatic symptoms at the time of real or fantasized disappointment. They unconsciously look upon psycho-therapeutic treatment as a magical cure and expect to be rewarded during their treatment with the same applause they received from their mothers.

Dr. Michael A. Sperber has elaborated on the concept in his paper: "Freud, Tausk, and the Nobel Prize Complex." Dr. Sperber is a practicing psychiatrist, affiliated with Mclean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts.

We know that Freud had a Nobel Prize complex.  In his writings, Freud referred, on several different occasions, to his disappointment after learning that he had been passed over for the Prize:

"'Definitively passed over for Nobel Prize,' the seventy-four-year-old founder of psychoanalysis grumbled in his Chronik, his private diary, in November 1930. It wasn't the first time his life's work had been passed over for recognition by the international scientific and medical communities—or the first time he'd complained about it. As early as 1917, when he was nominated by a previous winner, Freud had been fervently hoping for a Nobel in physiology. But it wasn't to be. 'No Nobel Prize 1917,' he wrote on April 25 of that year. He was still sufficiently preoccupied with the Nobel the following year to make note of it once again as the Europe he knew disintegrated around him. The Chronik entry for October 30, 1918: 'Revolution Vienna and Budapest.' For November 3: 'Armistice with Italy. War over!' For November 4: 'Nobel Prize set aside.'"

There is persuasive psychological evidence that I too have longed for a Nobel Prize.  I suspect that my Nobel Prize complex, my need for fame, is part and parcel of my (orally-thwarted) phallic strivings.  My Nobel Prize Complex is psychoanalytically, I believe, driven by a secret, unconscious desire for a permanent erection that will awe the world!

Wilhelm Reich has written in Character Analysis:  "In the childhood histories of the phallic-narcissistic character, the most severe disappointments in love are found with surprising regularity, disappointments precisely in the heterosexual objects, i.e., in the mother in the case of boys and in the father in the case of girls.  And, in fact, these disappointments are experienced at the height of strivings to win the object by phallic exhibitionism (emphasis added)."

The most recent eruption of my ambition for fame, interestingly enough, is this blog itself: My Daily Struggles.   Has no one noticed that my feverish, attention grabbing posts that began last October coincided almost exactly with the news that President Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on October 9, 2009?

Can that be a mere coincidence?  I remember the morning I heard that the President had been awarded the Prize.  Now, mind you, I love President Obama.  But when I heard that the winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize was Barack Obama, my immediate thought was -- "What did they just say?  That can't be true.  What on Earth did he do?  He never did anything.  I, on the other hand, wrote a brilliant book.  I, at least, did something.  I deserve the Literature Prize more than he deserves the Peace Prize."  Such were my thoughts.  Such was my immediate reaction to news that I had been passed over for the Prize.  (Not that I had been nominated!)  I was deeply envious of President Obama.

If you read The Freedman Archives Part I (Letters to Brian Brown), you will find a letter titled: "The Fantastic Adventures of Don Quixote," dated November 1, 2004.   The letter recounts an anecdote from my childhood that indicates a desire for fame of unusal dimensions: a desire for fame that is linked to my taking foolhardy risks to achieve a "great discovery."

Before I recount that anecdote, let me provide the historical context of the letter "The Fantastic Adventures of Don Quixote," dated November 1, 2004.  Oddly enough, the Nobel Prizes for 2004 had just been announced in October, as they always are.  Also, significantly, on the evening of October 27, 2004, PBS broadcast a season-opening concert featuring The Philadelphia Orchestra in performance at Carnegie Hall in New York.  The concert was an All-Strauss program that featured Richard Strauss's "Four Last Songs" and the tone poem "Don Quixote."  I noticed Caroline Kennedy -- daughter of President Kennedy -- in the audience.  I am a Philadelphia native.  When I attended Temple University Law School in Philadelphia, I lived across the street from the Academy of Music, where the Orchestra performed, and where I attended many concerts -- perhaps too many, as my law school grades possibly reflect.

It is probably also significant that 2004 was a presidential election year

It was in 2004 that I wrote the "Letters To Brian" contained in The Freedman Archives.  The letter titled "The Fantastic Adventures of Don Quixote" is at the link below:

It was in April 2004 that Brian P. Brown, Cleveland Park Branch Librarian, called the D.C. Police to have me ejected and banned from the library for the following six months.  It was on October 12, 2004 (Columbus Day) that ten D.C. Police Officers and four FBI agents showed up at my apartment to haul me off to D.C. General for an emergency forensic psychiatric exam (Dianne Martin, M.D.).

Telling is the following excerpt from the letter to Brian dated November 1, 2004: "The Fantastic Adventures of Don Quixote."  I describe an incident that occurred in the spring of 1965, when I was 11 years old, and enrolled in the sixth grade:

"So, what is the profile of the lone investigator, the individual who will risk life and liberty to establish a principle, legal or scientific?

Oddly enough, early in his career, Freud used himself (and a friend) as test subjects in his experiments with cocaine. Scientific discovery, abiding fame, and expansive riches were his goal; unfortunately for Freud (and his very dear friend), the undertaking ran aground. Freud ended up killing his friend, unintentionally, of course; he didn't push the friend off a precipice, rather he administered too much of an alkaloid precipitate through an i.v. push.

'Freud's need to assert himself -- which was part conquistador's daring and curiosity, part scientific tenacity and part the more down-to-earth but no less urgent preoccupation of a prospective young husband -- compelled him to seek some area of personal research the results of which would attract public attention. Two pieces of work seemed as if they might fulfill this aim. In the first instance he devised a method to assist neurological research by dyeing the nervous tissues with gold chloride, but although it won much praise, this method proved too costly to be practical. Secondly, he discovered the analgesic properties of cocaine, an alkaloid whose effects were little known in those days. Freud therefore deduced that it might have anesthetic properties also, and might be useful in surgery. But the ophthalmologist Carol Koller was the first to make systematic experiments with the drug, and it was he who became famous and successful as a result.

Freud's obsession with the desire to make a discovery of universal significance had consequences which proved damaging to his career. He experimented on himself with cocaine without ill effect, and decided, being completely ignorant of the dangerous nature of the drug, to prescribe it to his very dear friend Fleischl-Marxow who was suffering from morphine poisoning, as a result of taking morphine to relieve unbearable neuralgia. The unexpected result was cocaine poisoning: Fleischl-Marxow's protracted agony was punctuated by fits of excruciating pain for which ever-stronger doses of cocaine were prescribed until death finally released him. Freud's faith in the curative properties of the drug thus proved fatal. When cases of cocaine addiction began to spread through Europe, and to be diagnosed, he faced justifiably bitter criticism.' Billa Zanuso, The Young Freud at 84 (New York: Blackwell, 1986)."

Be that as it may.

It is said that more than Franklin Roosevelt, or even John F. Kennedy, Al Gore was raised to be President, to live in The White House. And we know where that political experiment ended up. It ended up in the Florida Supreme Court and beyond: speaking metaphorically, it ended up like Rubenstein on spring break, mired in a seemingly-interminable tennis game in a Miami Beach tennis court, without any means of transportation back to the home office (or the chemistry lab -- or the G-X blacktop, for that matter). It's called: "Life Beyond The Pleasure Principle."

Message for Vice President Gore. You need to reread your Freud. Perhaps you were not destined to be President; maybe you were destined to win the popular vote for President and lose in the electoral college. Perhaps the experience of crushing disappointment was your destiny, and that -- THAT -- you fulfilled.

[I find it uncanny that in the year 2004, when I wrote this letter, Al Gore had not yet won a Nobel Prize; he was awarded the Peace Prize three years later, in the year 2007.]

If the individual's experiences, as Freud said, are a set of "fantastic variations" on an unconscious theme, perhaps the following incident from my childhood will shed light on the dark travails of my adult life.

In the spring of 1965, when I was eleven years old, I hit on the idea that I would make a scientific discovery of universal significance that would lead to worldwide fame. I settled on the notion that I would find a cure for poison ivy rash. I proceeded to collect poison ivy and rub it all over my face and arm: a topical application of ivy, as it were. You probably don't believe me. My childhood friend Mark Needleman (who didn't speak Spanish, by the way) was a witness. I developed a serious and painful rash in short order. I tried calamine lotion and an array of other lotions and potions. I didn't find a cure. Mark Needleman said: "You're crazy! You are so crazy! Who would infect himself with poison ivy in the hope of finding a cure?"

At one point -- and this is significant in its parallel to recent events -- my sixth grade teacher, Miss Kaempfer, demanded in alarm that I see the school nurse, Mrs. Heckman. Miss Kaempfer was afraid that I might pose a risk of infection to other students. Mrs. Heckman, the nurse, confirmed that I had a poison ivy rash, and that I did not pose a public health risk. "No medications were given, prescribed or recommended."

The child is father to the man."

I've always been an insane risk taker.  My blog is not an expression of anger.  It's an expression of my need to create a buzz -- a buzz that will be a sure fire ticket to fame, hopefully, world fame!  After all, I have a book to publish.   If I could generate a headline-grabbing scandal, the book publishers would be clammoring at my door. 

As usual I make no effort to disguise my strategy.  But, after all, I'm insane!

Aside:  You know my father's name was Jacob, like the Biblical Jacob: father of Joseph, the dreamer who made a name for himself in the highest circles of government.  As for me, I'm still waiting for my seven good years!


Gary Freedman said...

If only a powerful, well-connected person would have said to me: "Young man, I can find a publisher for you. I can get on the phone and get you an appearance on Oprah. I can call my own publisher and see what they can do."

Gary Freedman said...

If only I had an experienced therapist to talk to about these issues. For twenty years I've wasted my time with residents -- who are worth about as much as the Office of Vice President of the United States.

Gary Freedman said...

I attended a concert once at Carnegie Hall in New York. It was New Year's Eve 1978 -- the evening of December 31, 1978.

I attended a concert performance of none other than Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, conducted by Eve Queler.