From the archive
In “An Anatomy of Addiction” Dr. Markel braids [Sigmund Freud and William Stewart Halsted]‘s stories intricately, intelligently and often elegantly. His book, worthy on many levels, suffers from a pervasive mildness, a certain PBS-ness of the soul. There are few memorable sentences or ecstatic insights. Cliches (“green around the gills,” “avoid like the plague”) dot the surface. This book seems to have been composed not on Bolivian marching powder but on chamomile tea.
Dr. Markel does write well about, among other things, the appeal of cocaine to overworked doctors. A famous medical professor of the era admonished his students, “Whoever needs more than five hours of sleep should not study medicine.”
What was not to like about cocaine? About the drug’s effects, the author writes: “This is not the slaphappy, ‘I love everyone’ kind of joy that transpires after a few belts of whisky. When under the influence of cocaine, one feels supremely confident, almost electrically charged with faster thoughts, better ideas (at least in one’s own mind at the time of the high), an increased speed of speaking and a greater appreciation of such sensations as sight, sound and touch.”
Freud liked the stuff so much that between roughly 1884 and 1896, when he was in his 20s and 30s and in his major cocaine period, he tended on many days to have a red, wet nose. He gave cocaine to family and friends. He employed it to “make bad days good and good days better,” the author writes, and to ease “the pain of being Sigmund.”
His letters to his fiancee were sometimes ripe with sexual feeling, of the kind a line of powder can incite. “I will kiss you quite red and feed you till you are plump,” Freud wrote. “And if you are forward you shall see who is the stronger, a gentle little girl who doesn’t eat enough or a big wild man who has cocaine in his body.”