Friday, February 19, 2016

Tom Wolfe on Freud

In a 2006 lecture he delivered at the National Endowment for the Humanities, Tom Wolfe offered some remarks about Freud. I report them without commentary.


In medical terms, Freud is now considered a quack. But his notion of sex as an energy like the steam in a boiler, which must be released in an orderly fashion or the boiler will blow up, remains with us, too. At this very moment ... you can be sure that there are literally millions of loin spasms and hip-joint convulsions that are taking place ... throughout the world that would not be occurring were it not for the power of the words of Sigmund Freud. 


I turned to the literature of the physiology of the brain for the answer, only to discover that Sigmund Freud had stopped the physical study of the brain cold for 40 years. Freud had been so persuasive, had so convinced the scientific community and the academic community in general that he had found the final answers to mental disturbance in his theories of the id, the ego, the superego, and the Oedipal drama within the family, that it was rather pointless to go through the tedious, laborious business of determining what synapses, what dendrites, what circuits in the brain accounted for what one already knew anyway.


priss rules said...

Strong stuff but half-valid.

Ares Olympus said...

Don't we all feel better now? For a moment there, us readers almost thought Stuart had some good thoughts about Freud.

Is this the same Tom Wolfe who wrote "The Right Stuff" about the Mercury astronauts? ... ah, yes, he mentions it in the lecture.

Can you tell if he admires these honor-bound men? Or how could you not admire young men willing to die in the name of duty? At least you can be sure you'd rather be the unfortunate pilots than their wives, who'd have to carry on raising his children without a father.

I saw the movie but didn't read the book. I remember a scene from the movie where Chuck Yeager sees a list of names on the wall of a local bar and asks "How can I get my name up there?" and a woman answer soberly "You have to die."

But fate gave him the greater glory, and by Wikipedia he's still alive at 93, out lived his first wife of 45 years, and remarried at age 80!

...Military officer corps are rife with inner circles aloof from the official and all-too-political hierarchy of generals, admirals, and the rest. I went to work on a book called The Right Stuff thinking it would be a story of space exploration. In no time at all, I happened upon something far more fascinating.

The astronauts were but part of an invisible, and deadly, competitive pyramid within an inner circle of American military fighter pilots and test pilots, and they were by no means at the apex. I characterized this pyramid as a ziggurat, because it consisted of innumerable and ever more deadly steps a fighter pilot had to climb to reach the top.

The competition demanded an uncritical willingness to face danger, to face death, not once but daily, if required, not only in combat but also in the routine performance of his duties--without ever showing fear--in behalf of a noble cause, the protection of his nation.

There were more ways to die in a routine takeoff of a supersonic jet fighter of the F-series than most mortals could possibly imagine. At the time, a Navy pilot flying for twenty years, an average career span, stood a 23 percent chance of dying in an accident and a 56 percent chance of having to eject at some point, which meant being shot out of the plane like a human rocket by a charge of dynamite under his seat, smashing into what was known as the "wall" of air outside, which could tear the flesh off your face, and descending by parachute. The figures did not include death or ejection in combat, since they were not considered accidental.

According to Korean War lore, a Navy fighter pilot began shouting out over the combat radio network, "I've got a Mig at zero! A Mig at zero! I've got a Mig at zero!" A Mig at zero meant a Soviet supersonic fighter plane was squarely on his tail and could blow him out of the sky at any moment. Another voice, according to legend, broke in and said, "Shut up and die like an aviator." Such "chatter," such useless talk on the radio during combat, was forbidden.

The term "aviator" was the final, exquisite touch of status sensitivity. Navy pilots always called themselves aviators. Marine and Air Force fliers were merely pilots.

The reward for reaching the top of the ziggurat was not money, not power, not even military rank. The reward was status honor, the reputation of being a warrior with ultimate skill and courage--a word, by the way, strictly taboo among the pilots themselves. The same notion of status honor motivates virtually every police and fire fighting force in the world.