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TheCanadian Review of American Studies, Volume 12, No. 2, Fall 1981 Freudand the Radicals: TheSexual Revolution Comesto Greenwich Village Leslie Fishbein Bythe time that Freudianism arrived in the United States in the feverish yearsbeforeWorld War I, the bohemians and radicals who lived in GreenwhichVillagewere ripe for its message-overripe, perhaps. The Villagers representedin extremis the social revolt that characterized the rest of the countryas a result of urbanization and the dissolution of communal ties. Thefreedomfrom moral scrutiny that cities provided weakened methods of socialcontrol so drastically that a "revolution in manners and morals" occurredduring the Progressive Era well before the first rumbles of the Roaring Twenties.' The most intimate aspect of personal life-sexual behavior-became a focusfor public discussion. If the "repeal of reticence" meant that the "conspiracy of silence" on the subject of sex had been broken, many worried thatthe new concern with sexuality verged on obsession. While Agnes Repplier was heartened by the dissipation of the ignorance of natural laws thathadcharacterized her own generation, she pleaded with her readers in TheAtlanticMonthZy for some modicum of restraint: "But surely the breakingof silence need not imply the opening of the floodgates of speech. "2 Infact, the startling frankness of public discourse had prompted William MarionReedy, the editor of the St. Louis Mirror, to announce that it had struck "sex o'clock" in America. 3 174 Leslie Fishbein The stage had been set for the introduction of psychoanalysis to Americ long before the main actor in the drama, Sigmund Freud, made hisinitia~ appearance at the now historic Clark University conference of 1909.America in the early twentieth century had arrived at a stage of wealth and leisure which made possible a concern with personal life and for the mentalwellbeing of disaffected individuals. A segment of the medical profession rebelled against the pessimistic attitude of current psychiatry and neurologyand began to experiment with means of adapting patients to their environment. As a logical corollary of this process, the more forward-looking psychiatris~ acknowledged a need to change that environment and found themselves committed to programs of social meliorism as part of the wave of Progressive reform. Progressive psychiatry and psychology were imbuedwith optimistic s~cial reformism absent from the corresponding European professional literature. 4 Psychoanalysis met with initial success in America becauSe it coincided in time with the first stage of the moral revolution, the repeal of reticence, and because it seemed to coincide in tone with the optimism and ethical realism of the Progressives. 5 American psychoanalysts hoped to use sublimation to harness the errant sexual drives of their patients; though their rhetoric, particularly their frankness with respect to sex, mayhme appeared revolutionary, they themselves remained committed to a faith in "civilized" morality and ethical progress (Burnham, pp. 462-63; Hale, pp. 223-472). The artists and radicals who lived in Greenwich Village were equallyread} to respond to the appeal of Freudianism. The Village had a traditional interest in the various sciences and pseudosciences of the mind. Old Village figures Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman in a previous generation had been serious advocates of phrenology. 6 Early twentieth-century Villagers had conducted various experiments with mind-altering drugs. Carl Yan Vechten claimed to have taken "heroin or cocaine or something like that a couple of times" as early as 1912. 7 The hero of his autobiographical novel of pre-World Warl Village life, Peter Whzffle, had experimented with hashish, marijuana, peyote and cocaine for visionary ends. 8 Van Yechten viewed drugs as offeringthe release of primitive impulses and creativity stifled by too much civilization. Always a catalyst of the avant garde movements of her day, Mabel Dodge held an infamous peyote party at her Fifth Avenue salon in the springof 1914.The peyote had been supplied by Raymond Harrington, an anthro· pologist who had been living among the Indians of Oklahoma doing ethnological research; through his auspices the ceremonies of the Peyote Cult were transplanted to Greenwich Village, where bohemian exploration ofthe frontiers of the primitive ended only in grotesque failure-madness andsing· ing that appalled the hostess and the mental collapse of one of the guests: These early experiments with mind-altering drugs share a willingnessto suffer personal...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 173-189
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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