-contributed by Rhonda Rinehart.
I’m not a psychologist, I don’t play one on TV, and I certainly don’t make for the best conversationalist on the topic. And yet here I am, attempting to prove how the Cummings Center for the History of Psychology can be connected to an author of a rather obscure piece of literature in the most abstract way.
I go boldly forth only because I do know a little about American literature (English major turned librarian here), and I think I can successfully prove a relationship between a small, unassuming booklet written by an early 20th century novelist and the CCHP, with Banned Book Week and David Shakow thrown in for good measure.
So, first question: What’s the connection? Since most of us like visuals, here’s a chart of this particular Six Degrees theory, which I will explain in the following text.
What can you say about America, its neurotic state, its collective sex impulse, and its national character without making a stop for collaborative materials at the CCHP? What can you say about America, its neurotic state, its collective sex impulse, and its national character without consulting more than one source? If your answer is “Not much” (and it should be if you’re playing along), then you’ve come to the right blog.
The author of controversial novels Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy (both of which are college English-class staples) dabbles in some non-fiction with his Neurotic America and the Sex Impulse And Some Aspects of Our National Character, part of a larger work titled Hey Rub-A-Dub Dub: A Book of the Mystery and Terror and Wonder of Life. Theodore Dreiser had a reputation for penning tales about displaced people getting themselves into bad situations, and the general downfall of early 20th century society.
Dreiser attempts to answer all of the above questions in one short, tiny adapted booklet. Its physical stature is slight – only 5” tall by 3 ½” wide – and 62 pages long, but Dreiser’s commentary is robust as he postulates on the intricacies of sex and the shortcomings of American constitution.
Next question: So what’s this little book doing in the psychology archives?
You won’t have to look too closely to see David Shakow’s name printed on the top right of the title page and make the obvious connection:
David Shakow was a clinical psychologist.
The CCHP houses the personal and professional manuscript papers of over 350 psychologists.
The CCHP holds the David Shakow papers.
The book was in the David Shakow papers.
See where I’m going here? Six Degrees theory proven.
Now, we can only surmise why David Shakow owned a copy of this Little Blue Book No. 661. Did he take the sentiments between the pages seriously? It’s doubtful, since Rub-A-Dub-Dub, from whence it was adapted, was severely panned by critics and fellow authors alike for failure to sustain its arguments on a variety of philosophical ideas.
Though panned, it still seems quite possible that Shakow could have taken an interest in Dreiser’s citing of those quite familiar with schizophrenia in this adapted version. Dreiser references Freud, as did many authors, but he also notes another psychoanalyst of the day, H. W. Frink, in exploring the idea that the “sexual factor [is] dominant in every neurosis.”
If we explore more of David Shakow’s library of 1,039 books that he donated to the CCHP, we would find many titles that discuss neuroses in some aspect: Abnormal psychology: a clinical approach to psychological deviants; The abnormal personality; The psychology of functional neuroses; The analysis of fantasy; Annual review of the schizophrenic syndrome, Psychopathology of the psychoses, and so on. [Click here to view all of David Shakow’s books at the Cummings Center].
So I’ve made the connection between CCHP and Theodore Dreiser but let’s not forget there’s an entire second part of his little book – Some Aspects of Our National Character – and this is where I think the true controversial nature of this book lies. It’s easy to say neuroses and sex were taboo topics in 1920, and that might be true, but the sexual revolution of the Roaring ‘20s was on its way with Flapper girls at the helm, and it would seem more likely that controversy could very well be in the thoughts and ideas behind any outlook on America that didn’t seem patriotic. I could easily create a second Six Degrees chart for Banned Book Week and Little Blue Book No. 661; I could even fairly easily create a new twist on the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon parlor game (with CCHP as the subject), but I won’t do that. I will simply leave you with these pages from Dreiser’s book that may have been a difficult and controversial pill to swallow in 1920.
[Please add comments to suggest your own version of “Six Degrees of the CCHP” or to contribute a title for Banned Books Week]
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