HomeIntroductionSzasz MaterialsDebatesLinks/Related Items

Selected M.E. Grenander Materials:

The fourfold way: Determinism, moral responsibility, and Aristotelean causation.
published in:
Metamedicine, Vol. 3, 375-396. (1982).

Science, Scientism, and Literary Theory.
published in:
Annals of Scholarship, 2 (No. 3), 65-84. (1981).

Benito Cereno and legal oppression: A Szaszian perspective.
published in:
Journal of Libertarian Studies. Vol. 2. No. 4, pp. 137 - 342. (1978).

"Of Graver Import Than History: Psychiatry in Fiction"
published in:
Journal of Libertarian Studies, 2: 29-44.

BOOK REVIEW - Pull Down Thy Vanity: Psychiatry And Its Discontents
published in:
Political Psychology, Vol. 6, No. 3. (1985).

Book Reviews: Thomas Szasz, Sex by Prescription
published in:
Journal For The Humanities & Technology, 3 (1981), 39-42.

M.E. Grenander letter regarding Szasz Web Site

[Note: This review was donated to the Szasz Site by M.E. Grenander shortly before her death. Copyright Political Psychology, 1985.]


The Therapeutic State: Psychiatry in the Mirror of Current Events. By Thomas Szasz. Prometheus Books, Buffalo, N.Y.; 1984, 360 pp., $22.95 cloth, $10.95 paper.

The Reign of Error: Psychiatry, Authority, and Law. By Lee Coleman. Beacon Press, Boston; 1984, 300 pp. + xvi, $18.95.

The Roots of Treason: Ezra Pound and the Secret of St. Elizabethıs. By E. Fuller Torrey. McGraw Hill Book Company, New York; 1984, 339 pp. + xx, $19.95.



    Although psychiatry is in parlous straits, its extensive 
state - granted powers continue to endanger the constitutional 
safeguards of society. Every American who is concerned about the 
deterioration of our criminal justice system to its current 
shambles of official lawlessness should read all three of these 
books, which go far to explain how we have arrived at our 
current impasse. Each one, written with verve and flair by an 
M.D. who is also a psychiatrist, describes in detail 
administrative perversions of justice implemented by members of 
the authorsı own profession. However, they bring differing 
perspectives to the anomalies they present which stem in part 
from their distinctive orientations to psychiatry. Dr. Szasz, 
who is also a psychoanalyst, is a professor in the Upstate 
Medical Center of the State University of New York in Syracuse. 
Dr. Coleman, in private practice in northern California, directs 
the Center for the Study of Psychiatric Testimony in Berkeley. 
Dr. Torrey is on the staff of St. Elizabethıs Hospital, the 
federal insane asylum in Washington, D.C. Nevertheless, since 
certain themes are woven like scarlet threads through all three 
books, the reader is greatly assisted in interpreting any one of 
them by reading the other two.

     Of the authors, Thomas Szasz is probably the most instantly 
recognizable to readers of this journal. Dean of the critics of 
involuntary psychiatry, he stood almost alone when he began his 
analysis and description of what institutional psychiatrists 
were actually doing beneath their mantle of benevolent 
medicalized rhetoric. Now, 25 years later, his pioneering 
insights have permeated our zeitgeist. Those who have never read 
a word he has written are familiar with his name and spout his 
carefully articulated ideas as if they were self - evident 
truths. Far from resenting this development, he is, I suspect, 
rather pleased at the way things have turned out. This - his 
18th book - is a collection of occasional pieces and book 
reviews culled from newspapers, magazines, and professional 
journals, all reprinted in their original form, plus two 
previously unpublished essays, with each sketch being self - 
contained and very short. It is a great advantage for the 
student of our culture to have these brief items readily 
accessible between covers. And since they are contemporary with 
the episodes they describe, their freshness and immediacy make 
them, as the subtitle indicates, a "mirror of current events" so 
far as psychiatry is concerned. Because the volume can be opened 
almost at random and read at any point, it would make an 
excellent bedside or guest room book.

     But the coherence and consistency of Szasz's thinking 
continue to command respect and admiration. These short pieces, 
which appeared from 1965 to 1983, have in common an examination 
of the observable professional habits of psychiatrists (which 
are frequently at variance with their ostensible aims) in mental 
hospitals and courts of law. The essays are grouped under seven 
major rubrics: "mental illness," mental health policy, the 
insanity defense, psychiatry and politics, psychiatry in the 
Soviet Union, drugs, and sex. Since each gathering includes from 
5 to 16 sketches (most have 10 or more) they defy easy summary. 
Nevertheless, a few can be singled out for special mention and 
some generalizations can be made.

     Szasz, who was also trained as a physicist and brings the 
rigor of the hard sciences to his investigations, contends that 
both the medical and the psychosocial models of "mental 
illness," which can be neither defined nor demonstrated, are 
pseudoscientific oversimplifications. Both fail to recognize 
that human problems are not diseases, but the consequences of 
conflicting personal aspirations involving moral values and 
social controls, with consequent misery and unrest, aggression 
and suffering. Introducing psychiatry into the courtroom 
confuses these issues.

     A paradigmatic example of the "therapeutic state" is the 
unholy alliance between government and medicine to deprive the 
citizen of his free choice to use, buy, or sell certain 
substances which are not officially sanctioned. Szasz is 
universally recognized, even by his harshest critics, as one of 
the great contemporary masters of style in the English language. 
His brief "Dialogue on Drugs" between Socrates and Hippocrates 
is not only an acute examination of the issue of so - called 
"drug addiction"; it also captures perfectly the dialectic 
method and the Platonic style. This little gem deserves to 
become a classic, meriting inclusion in handbooks of rhetoric 
and composition as a model of its kind.

     Szasz and Coleman both analyze the insanity defense and its 
variants like "brainwashing" and "diminished responsibility," 
discussing such notorious cases as those involving John 
Hinckley, Patty Hearst, and Dan White. Szasz has always been 
known for his pithy apothegms, and two of the most memorable 
occur in his discussion of Patty Hearst's supposed 
"brainwashing," which he dismisses as a misleading metaphor: "A 
person can no more wash another's brain with coercion or 
conversation than he can make him bleed with a cutting 
remark.... Trying to ascertain whether Patty Hearst has been 
brainwashed by having her examined by psychiatrists is like 
trying to ascertain whether holy water is holy by having it 
examined by priests."

     Lee Coleman's book, which is in the Szaszian tradition, is 
tightly organized and extensively documented. Although it is a 
scathing indictment of the practices he abhors, its tone is 
temperate and judicious. He recognizes the help that 
psychotherapy can give to a troubled individual who seeks it 
out, but is adamantly opposed to state - imposed psychiatry for 
two reasons. First, even though psychiatrists are initially 
trained as physicians and are taught to use medical 
interventions frequently on patients who do not want them - 
psychiatry is not a science and does not have the tools society 
thinks it has. Second, the problems psychiatry is called on to 
solve are not medical problems, but ethical and political ones.

     The author has testified in over 130 criminal trials, but 
always to the effect that psychiatrists have no special skills 
enabling them to read the defendant's mind; judge and jury 
should rely on factual evidence concerning mental intent. In 
Coleman's view, society is at fault for giving psychiatry the 
power to deal with four hidden agendas it is not equipped to 
handle. First, we pretend that involuntary psychiatric treatment 
is for the good of the patient, when in fact it is a convenient 
device for allowing a troublesome individual to be separated 
from his family without leaving them feeling guilty. Second, we 
rely on psychiatry to protect us from violent individuals, 
failing to acknowledge that it has no tools for predicting 
dangerous behavior. Third, we evade the responsibility for 
making difficult ethical decisions by acting as if they involve 
psychoses rather than moral issues. And fourth, we preserve the 
illusion of a free and tolerant society by dealing with 
disturbing people according to psychiatric procedures that are 
fundamentally different from the rules of criminal justice.

     Both Szasz and Coleman discuss the blatant perversion of 
justice that resulted from the use of psychiatric testimony at 
John Hinckley's trial. Coleman analyzes how such a travesty 
could come about by a detailed examination of the insanity 
defense - which he calls "storytelling on the witness stand" - 
and its consequences. Both judge and jury may recognize it for 
the charade it is; under existing law, however, they are 
powerless to do anything about it. The solution must come from 
legislators. Coleman recommends that, instead of fiddling with 
the present system, they bar all psychiatric testimony from the 
courtroom, establishing mens rea solely on factual evidence. 
Banning psychiatric speculation from the courtroom and assigning 
definite punishments on the basis of the severity of the crime 
would also end such miscarriages of justice as the "diminished 
capacity" defense, a further extension of psychiatry's forensic 
empire. The most notorious instance was the case of Dan White, 
who shot San Francisco's Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor 
Harvey Milk. Both Coleman and Szasz trace the diminished 
capacity defense back to its origins in 1957. It was the brain 
child of Dr. Bernard Diamond, professor of psychiatry and law at 
the University of California at Berkeley, who has admitted 
committing perjury in the courtroom in seeking a way for 
psychiatry to stick its nose under the forensic tent when legal 
insanity was not involved. According to Szasz, "Diamond is not 
the least interested in justice - and... he says so. What he is 
interested in is treatment - that is, in medicalizing law, 
crime, and punishment."

     Even more bizarre than the insanity and diminished capacity 
defenses are those cases in which the accused is never brought 
to trial at all because of psychiatric testimony that he is 
incompetent. Since the result is his incarceration in an asylum, 
he is, in effect, judged as guilty and imprisoned without ever 
having had his day in court. This is what happened to Ezra 
Pound. But the procedure is patently unjust; society never has 
the opportunity to establish the guilt of the defendant, and the 
accused never has an opportunity to establish his innocence.

     Psychiatrists frequently ignore the legal basis for 
incompetence to stand trial: inability to understand the charges 
and to assist one's lawyer in preparing a defense. Instead, they 
often base their findings on whether they think the accused will 
benefit from psychiatric treatment. Involuntary commitment 
leads, in most cases, to involuntary treatment, which 
psychiatrists alone among physicians have the authority to 
impose. Coleman feels strongly that mental patients should have 
the right to refuse treatment, and that this right should be 
made meaningful. One of the outstanding features of this 
generally excellent book is his explicit discussion of the 
actual treatments foisted on mental patients - lobotomies; 
insulin, metrazol, and electric shock treatments; and 
psychoactive drugs - and their physical and psychological 

     Like Szasz, Coleman also describes the Army and CIA 
experiments on unsuspecting human guinea pigs which resulted in 
at least one death. These experiments, which caused a scandal 
when they came to light and were publicized in 1975, involved 
two highly placed and respected psychiatrists, Paul Hoch and D. 
Ewen Cameron. (Hoch - who was New York State Commissioner of 
Mental Hygiene from 1952 until his death in 1964 - also tried to 
torpedo Thomas Szasz's professorial post at Syracuse after the 
publication of The Myth of Mental Illness.) Coleman makes a 
telling point about both Hoch and Cameron: They had for years 
been conducting in the open, to professional acclaim, precisely 
the same kinds of experiments on powerless institutionalized 
mental patients that they were posthumously criticized for 
having done under secret government auspices. Szasz calls these 
influential psychiatrists "patriotic poisoners." As Coleman 
notes, the army and the CIA knew exactly where to turn for the 
architects of their undercover experiments simply from reading 
the professional journals.

     Both Szasz and Coleman believe that the massive 
deinstitutionalization of mental patients over the last 25 years 
owes less to the coincident widespread use of psychopharmacology 
than to federal support for community treatment and welfare 
payments for those released. Since the mental hospital is often 
an asylum for adults who cannot make it on their own in society, 
they should not be forcibly evicted any more than they should 
have been forcibly incarcerated. For many inhabitants, it has 
become the only home they know, providing them with room, board, 
and an escape from the day - to - day responsibilities of 
ordinary life. If it were demedicalized, it could be transformed 
into an inexpensive voluntary haven where non - medical 
personnel could give them more effective and far less expensive 
counselling, guidance, and support than psychiatrists.

     Nevertheless, in a classic example of the logical fallacy 
cum hoc propter hoc, "antipsychotic" medications are being 
credited with the movement of patients out of the state mental 
hospitals. Since such drugs do indeed exert a noticeable 
influence not only on the brain but also on the body, mainstream 
psychiatry is using their undoubted effect on behavior as 
evidence pointing to the imminent discovery that the major 
psychoses are biochemical in origin. Although this premise is a 
hope rather than a fact, it is being acted upon as if it were 
already proved. As Coleman points out, however, in the last 
analysis the issue is not whether mental disorders are medical 
diseases; it is the fact that in coercive psychiatry patients do 
not have the right to reject the treatment forced upon them.

     Perhaps the most shameful of the psychiatric abuses Coleman 
recites are those affecting children and adolescents involved 
with our juvenile justice system, which operates according to a 
blatant double standard. Girls who are guilty of "status 
offenses" solely because of their age are treated more harshly 
than adults, while boys guilty of rape, armed robbery, and 
murder are treated much less harshly. Coleman attributes this 
shocking sexism to the myth that denies punishing either boys or 
girls: both are being "treated" for the psychiatric disorder 
that caused their behavior. He recommends setting up two 
completely distinct systems, but without the intervention of 
psychiatric evaluation in either one. A child custody system 
would care for children who have been abandoned or mistreated 
and who genuinely need the decent care of the state as parent. 
On the other hand, juvenile offenders who have committed actual 
crimes should be dealt with as criminals through a separate 
juvenile justice system. We need not apologize for punishing 
young lawbreakers openly and honestly; our social order requires 

     Coleman's book is carefully documented with references to 
legal and psychiatric professional journals, state and federal 
government findings, and court cases, as well as many anecdotes 
from his own experience. His bibliography includes not only such 
classic writers as Thomas Szasz, Erving Goffman, and Michel 
Foucault, but also many authors he disagrees with, for books 
which have been highly regarded in the psychiatric profession 
are "filled with the most fantastic theories of and remedies for 
mental disorder." As he says, "I know of no better way to 
understand the horror experienced by many institutionalized 
mental patients" than a careful reading of such books. His 
extensive research leads to the recommendation in his concluding 
chapter that our mental health system should be "totally 
voluntary ... ) completely separate from any state power and 
from the criminal justice system and the courts." Such a 
separation would mean that "the criminal justice system would do 
a better job of law enforcement, the courts would do a better 
job of deciding civil and criminal questions, and psychiatry 
would finally be free to offer honest and voluntary services to 
those who want help."

     Writers have not fared well at the hands of psychiatrists; 
Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, and Tennessee Williams come 
immediately to mind. But their experiences pale beside those 
which involved Ezra Pound, the great 20th - century expatriate 
poet whose radio broadcasts in Italy during World War II led to 
his indictment for treason. Leaving the broad panorama of state 
- imposed psychiatry that both Szasz and Coleman paint with 
sweeping strokes, one turns to the cameo of Torrey's book. 
Although it is etched in painstaking detail, some Pound scholars 
may not find it a very recognizable likeness of its subject. It 
includes a few trivial errors: Hilaire Belloc's first name is 
misspelled, H. V. Kaltenborn is given the wrong middle initial, 
and a bawdy (and hoary) limerick is called a "sonnet." These 
mistakes, however, are of no great significance.

     The fundamental problem is that Torrey is what literary 
theorists call an "unreliable narrator." The fallibility of his 
account stems from his conceptualization of the administrative 
relationship between forensic psychiatry and the law. Torrey 
nowhere questions the system exemplified by the failure to bring 
Ezra Pound to trial. Instead, he takes his stand on the premise 
that, according to the opinion of most psychiatrists, Pound was 
not "insane"; Winfred Overholser alone publicly took the 
opposite point of view, although in doing so he betrayed his own 
criteria. Indeed, Torrey even holds Pound himself responsible 
for getting caught in the trap of forensic psychiatry and 
failing to chew his leg off. It is as if one of the judges in 
the Salem witchcraft trials who upheld the concept of demonic 
possession had written an account of a victim who was hanged, 
blaming her for the fact that, acting under overwhelming 
pressure from her accusers and supporters alike, she had 
"confessed" to being a witch.

     The context Torrey has given his narrative provides him 
with a convenient villain and dramatic conflict. But it has led 
to some curious consequences. I am not the first reviewer to 
remind him that, under Anglo - American law, a defendant is 
presumed innocent until proved guilty. This point cannot be 
insisted upon too much. A growing body of evidence - much of it 
adduced by Torrey himself - indicates that Pound probably would 
not have been convicted of the crime for which he was indicted 
if he had been allowed to come to trial. The tragedy is that, 
although he was so famous that his case will continue to be 
scrutinized, many other individuals, obscure and unmourned, have 
suffered and are suffering the same fate. Torrey seems oblivious 
of that fact; we must turn to Szasz and Coleman for an 
understanding of the reasons why psychiatric speculation should 
be eliminated from our criminal justice system.

     The title of Torrey's book is thus a misnomer; more 
accurate, although not as mellifluous, would have been The Roots 
of an Indictment for Treason. And one is struck by the startling 
omission, from Torrey's otherwise dazzlingly complete 
bibliography, of Szasz's 1967 review - essay on the Pound case, 
which appeared in the Rutgers Law Review and is reprinted in The 
Therapeutic State. This omission is the more conspicuous given 
that Torrey's early book, The Death of Psychiatry (1974), had 
leaned heavily on Szasz's writings. However, his ideas have 
undergone a striking devolution over the last decade (Torrey, 
1983). Where earlier he had wanted to forsake the medical model, 
he is now one of its leading advocates; it is his notion, for 
example, that schizophrenia is a viral disease; he looks eagerly 
forward to the day when - he thinks - it will be diagnosed by 
testing blood and spinal fluid. And he has made the astonishing 
admission that he himself sometimes stretches the truth in 
courts of law exactly as Overholser had done in the Pound case. 
Moreover, he is strongly in favor of allowing psychiatrists to 
give involuntary mental patients involuntary treatment.

     As a further consequence of his orientation, at least one 
reviewer (Chace, 1984) has questioned his ethics in violating 
patient - physician confidentiality by publishing the contents 
of Pound's psychiatric file. What Chace failed to recognize is 
that none of the psychiatrists involved were in any sense Ezra 
Pound's psychiatrists; he was always an involuntary subject of 
their ministrations, not only in St. Elizabeth's but later in 
Italy after his release. The relationship, therefore, was not 
one between physician and patient, but between oppressor and 
oppressed. On this issue, therefore, I would defend Torrey, 
although not perhaps for reasons that would please him: the more 
wraps we can remove from involuntary psychiatry the better we 
can deal with it.

     And I am certainly not prepared to go as far as the 
reviewer (Eaves, 1984) who dismisses "Dr. Torrey's book [as] an 
irresponsible one that no scholar of Pound or of the period can 
take seriously." Despite its limitations, it deals with a 
significant and highly controversial aspect of Pound's life 
which increasingly demands attention. And in some ways it is an 
admirable book. My serious reservations concern Torrey's powers 
of critical analysis; his scholarship is superb. He has gone to 
unpublished sources in America's great research libraries. In 
addition, he has plumbed the files of St. Elizabeth's, the Army, 
the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of 
Justice; culled relevant books, newspapers, magazines, and 
scholarly journals; corresponded with and talked to numerous 
individuals with first - hand knowledge of the events he 
describes; and tracked down successive editions of Pound's 
writings to see how they changed over the years. Often a 
portmanteau footnote cites a number of different sources for 
information he presents as a consensus. If an assertion has 
gained currency in scholarly circles but cannot be 
substantiated, Torrey indicates his failure to find any source 
which would validate it.

     Before looking at his substantive findings, however, it is 
useful to review Szasz's discussions of Ezra Pound's sacrifice 
on the altar of psychiatric power. They include a biting one - 
paragraph summary: "At the end of the war, American psychiatry 
lost no time demonstrating its usefulness to the country at 
peace. Ezra Pound, one of the greatest poets of his time, was 
indicted for treason - a charge he vehemently denied. Whether he 
was innocent or guilty of that crime, psychiatry spared the 
nation the need to undergo the political soul - searching that 
his trial would have generated. Prosecution and 'defense' 
conspired to declare Pound mentally unfit to stand trial, 
condemning him instead, without a trial, to serve a thirteen - 
year sentence in St. Elizabeth's Hospital, the nation's model 
psychiatric dungeon in Washington, D.C. Pound's jailer was 
hailed as a great psychiatrist, the benefactor of Pound as well 
as the nation."

     Szasz's thoughtful review, published in 1967, antedated 
Torrey's book by a number of years, but despite its brevity is 
in some ways more trenchant in its analysis. Stating that 
Thurman Arnold, who was instrumental in securing Pound's release 
from St. Elizabeth's, flatly contradicted the claim that he had 
agreed to the insanity defense, Szasz raises "the possibility, 
if not probability," that he "could not have been convicted of 
treason, because his broadcasts were, in fact, not treasonous." 
Since he died without ever having been tried, we will never 
know. Szasz also discusses Pound's degradation subsequent to his 
departure from St. Elizabeth's. It is hard to disagree with his 
conclusion: "Those responsible for Pound's post - war fate - our 
legal system, our psychiatry, and especially the persons 
instrumental in depriving him of the opportunity to clear his 
name in court - have placed a black mark on the pages of 
contemporary American history."

     Torrey examines this psychiatric derailment of justice from 
his limited perspective. Although he traces Pound's career from 
his birth on October 30, 1885, in Hailey, Idaho, to his death at 
87 on November 1, 1972, in Italy, Torrey breaks chronology to 
present, as his riveting first chapter, the horrifying tale of 
Pound's confinement in the American Army's Disciplinary Training 
Center just north of Pisa, Italy. Pound was brought here on May 
24, 1945, when he was 59 years old, and remained until November 
16. Incredibly, he began the Pisan Cantos - for which he was 
later awarded the Bollingen Prize - in these circumstances. (The 
notable Canto 81 from this series, often anthologized, has 
furnished the title for this review - essay.) When he walked out 
of the dispensary for the last time, he "'turned, and with a 
half - smile, put both hands around his neck to form a noose and 
jerked up his chin."'

     Thus Torrey concludes the first chapter in this fascinating 
story, Tolstoyan in its epic sweep, spanning as it does two 
world wars, most of the Western world, and a cast including some 
of the most famous characters of the 20th century. The remaining 
eight chapters begin with a flashback to Pound's early years and 
continue until his death in Venice. In the middle of the book 
are 12 splendid photographs, presenting a visual summary of his 
life from the time he was a handsome young poet in London, 
around 1913, to his appearance in Spoleto in July 1969, at the 
age of 84.

     It must be said at the outset that, however great a poet 
Pound was, and however dedicated his services to the many 
artists he helped, he was not an attractive human being. 
Precocious spoiled youngster, mediocre college and university 
student, failed academic after only 4 months in his first job, 
gullible adherent of half - baked theories of the occult (a 
trait he shared with his early idol, William Butter Yeats), 
offensive vulgarian, duplicitous lover, faithless husband, 
callous father, insulting friend - the depressing litany goes on 
and on. He was also an anti - Semite and, despite his numerous 
romantic liaisons, a male chauvinist. He was, moreover, 
economically dependent all his life: first on his parents, then 
on his in - laws, and finally on the very government he bitterly 
attacked. Arrogant, egotistical, and eccentric, he advocated 
government subsidies for artists at a time when William Carlos 
Williams, Robert Frost, and T. S. Eliot all managed to support 

     But having conceded all these flaws in his character, the 
student of human nature is finally brought up short before the 
ultimate mystery at the core of his being. This overbearing, 
conceited rake, boorish, occasionally cruel, and often 
ridiculous, was nevertheless the most influential literary 
figure of his time. He inspired passionate devotion in many 
women and lifelong loyalty in the most distinguished writers of 
the 20th century. And Torrey does a splendid job in bringing 
this amazing figure to life. After the harrowing portrayal of 
Pound in his Pisan prison cage awaiting transport back to 
Washington for a trial on charges of treason, the second chapter 
relaxes the tension by tracing his early years in Philadelphia, 
where his family moved after 2 years in Idaho, continuing 
through Pound's student years at Hamilton College and the 
University of Pennsylvania. Succeeding chapters are vivid 
descriptions of his expatriation in London, Paris, and Rapallo, 
Italy; his family life; his poetry; and his professional 
contacts with the greatest artists of his time, many of whose 
careers he advanced with selfless devotion. In Pound's own view, 
his two most important projects were a work of epic magnitude, 
his cantos, which he began in September 1915; and his study of 
political economy. The latter fueled his anti - Semitism, since 
he focused on international financiers, identifying them 
primarily with the Jews, regarding them as usurers, and holding 
them responsible for the world's ills, including wars. It also 
drew him eventually to the fascistic theories of Mussolini.

     When World War II broke out, he threw himself whole - 
heartedly into the fray on the side of the Axis, being on the 
payroll of Italy's Ministry of Popular Culture for writing 
slogans and broadcasting propaganda. On May 2, 1945, he was 
arrested by Italian partisans and turned over to the American 
authorities. After the horrors of his confinement in Pisa, he 
was flown to Washington and locked up. At a preliminary hearing 
on November 19, 1945, the judge denied his request to act as his 
own attorney because the charges against him were so serious. 
Plans for an insanity defense, meanwhile, were being put 
together by a group of his friends; of the entire network, 
apparently only Archibald MacLeish and Eliot had reservations 
about it. James Laughlin, Pound's publisher, pursued it 
vigorously, enlisting the services of a young lawyer, Julien 

     At this point in Torrey's version, Pound's life ceases to 
be high tragedy and becomes farce. Cornell decided to have him 
declared unfit to cooperate in his own defense instead of 
bringing him to trial and pleading not guilty by reason of 
insanity. To this end, it was necessary that he be examined by 
psychiatrists who would then testify as to his mental state. Of 
the four psychiatrists involved, three for the prosecution and 
one for the defense, only Winfred Overholser - renowned 
superintendent of St. Elizabeth's - had any real professional 
weight, and he was easily able to sway the others to his 
position, which was that Pound should be adjudged insane and 
incapable of standing trial. The contrary judgment of St. 
Elizabeth's' young staff psychiatrists was more than overbalanced 
by the single entry in his hospital record by Overholser 
himself, who seems to have excised from the file all his other 
comments. None of Overholser's juniors dared to differ publicly 
with their authoritarian chief. He had too much power over their 
future careers for them to challenge his opinion, and he was 
known as an autocrat who swiftly and decisively punished any 
subordinate who stepped out of line.

     According to Torrey, Pound, too, had done an abrupt flip - 
flop and was playing along with Cornell's strategy. He 
contributed his own exotic diagnosis, claiming that he had "a 
queer sensation in the head" as though the upper third of his 
brain were missing, with fluid floating on what remained. This 
whimsical symptom was consistent with the notion he had long 
held that his brain was a "great clot of genital fluid." On 
December 14 the four psychiatrists officially agreed that he was 
paranoid and mentally unfit for trial; they presented their 
findings at Pound's sanity hearing on February 13, 1946. 
"Paranoid state" was probably chosen as the diagnosis because it 
was vague enough to stand up in court; certainly the symptoms 
ascribed to Pound bore little relation to those Overholser was 
using to describe paranoia in a textbook on psychiatry he was 
writing at the time.

     The jury deliberated only 3 min before reaching the verdict 
that Pound was of "unsound mind," and he remained incarcerated 
in St. Elizabeth's. The Department of Justice had secured his 
imprisonment without ever having to bring him to trial. 
According to Torrey, Pound's friends - and perhaps even Pound 
himself - felt his life had been saved. The fact that Dr. 
Overholser, one of the most revered figures in American 
psychiatry, had committed perjury to achieve these ends went 
unremarked. After all, he had lied under oath - or 
"exaggerated," as Torrey delicately puts it - "with the best of 

     Here it becomes necessary to comment on the subtitle of 
Torrey's book. The "secret" of St. Elizabeth's was so open that 
it has never involved any mystery at all. Although Pound was 
eccentric, bigoted, and conceited (as indeed he had been all his 
life), he was not in any legal sense insane, and he was 
certainly fully competent to cooperate in his own defense. He 
and Cornell had thought he would be released from St. Elizabeth's 
after only a few months and could then return to Italy. But they 
had failed to realize that, once set in motion, the mills of 
institutional psychiatry grind slowly, and they grind exceeding 
small. Cornell's further legal maneuvers were unsuccessful, and 
Pound was to remain at St. Elizabeth's for 12 1/2 years. The 
detailed account at this point of the delights of Pound's life 
there - a subject on which Torrey waxes almost lyrical - is no 
substitute for an examination of the social and ethical 
significance of his martyrdom. It must be admitted, however, 
that, in Dr. Overholser, Pound seemed to have found what he had 
been seeking all his life: a powerful authority figure who would 
shelter him from the vicissitudes of everyday life, including 
earning a living, at the same time indulging his whims and 
paying respectful attention to his poetry and to his ideas 
(Overholser's undergraduate Harvard degree had been in 
economics, with honors). Pound had never been able to get very 
close to Mussolini, despite his best efforts; he did much better 
with il duce of St. Elizabeth's, where he remained until May 6, 

     After his release he sailed for Italy accompanied by his 
wife, Dorothy (his legal guardian, since he was technically 
incompetent), and a young woman named Marcella Spann, who 
traveled with him as his "secretary." Both his departure and 
his arrival in Naples were well - publicized media events. But 
time had moved ahead in Italy, now a republic, while Pound's 
political universe was static: he greeted Italy 
anachronistically by thrusting his arm forward in the Fascist 
salute (pictured in Torrey's book). For a few months he seemed 
like his vitriolic old self, continuing to write poetry and 
numerous letters. Increasingly, however, as he became more and 
more a relic of the past, doubts began to assail him: about his 
cantos, about his political and economic beliefs, about his 
fateful decision to avoid a treason trial by hiding behind the 
mask of insanity.

     That decision, at long last, was bringing him up against 
the seamy underside of psychiatry. And once again the 
limitations of Torrey's frame of reference become apparent. His 
conclusion is problematic. He accepts without question what 
happened to Pound at the hands of European psychiatrists - which 
seems to have been far worse than what happened to him in St. 
Elizabeth's - because he was "seriously depressed," with a 
"narcissistic and cyclothymic personality disorder." Falling 
back on this psychiatric jargon, Torrey seems not at all 
disturbed by the fact that Pound was involuntarily committed to 
a Merano clinic in April 1961. He was given psychoactive drugs, 
and one wonders whether this "treatment" was also involuntary. 
Buried in a footnote is the information that, according to 
undocumented rumors in psychiatric circles, he was also given 
electroshock treatments. If this was so, a comparison of Pound's 
symptoms with Dr. Coleman's description of the aftermath of 
electroshock raises the question of how much of Pound's mental 
state in Italy was the result of a tragic awareness of his own 
shortcomings and how much was the result of iatrogenic 
neurological impairment. Since he was given mind - altering 
drugs - possibly against his will - it is not surprising that a 
mind as finely tuned as his should have been altered.

     Pound's unavailing pleas to Dr. Overholser in the letters 
he wrote him from Italy, asking whether it was not possible to 
get out from under Dorothy's legal guardianship and become his 
own man, are pathetic in the extreme. Like a dolphin caught in a 
monofilament net, the more he struggled to extricate himself 
from the web of forensic psychiatry, the more cruelly entangled 
he became. He was foolish enough to ask Marcella to marry him 
during a trip to Lake Garda in which they were accompanied by 
Dorothy, who intervened and sent Marcella back to the United 
States. Pound's commitment followed less than 2 years later. He 
broke with Dorothy; although Torrey does not explain why, her 
turning him over to psychiatrists who lacked Overholser's 
sensitivity to his plight could well have accounted for his 
animus against her. In early 1962 his long - time mistress, Olga 
Rudge, rescued him from a rest home and took him to live with 
her, part of each year in Venice, part in Rapallo. He and 
Dorothy became completely estranged; he saw her only twice 
during the 4 years before he died.

     In his last decade, plagued by physiological deterioration 
and facing honestly his own hubris, he achieved the tragic 
grandeur of an aging Lear. He told Allen Ginsberg in 1967 that 
his "worst mistake" had been "that stupid, suburban prejudice of 
anti - Semitism." And 2 months before he died - on November 1, 
1972, at the age of 87 - he said, "What's done cannot be 
undone.... I was wrong." Conceivably he glimpsed the moral 
universe evoked in lines from "Sailing to Byzantium," the famous 
poem by his early idol, William Butler Yeats:

     An aged man is but a paltry thing,
     A tattered coat upon a stick, unless 
     Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
     For every tatter in its mortal dress.


Chace, W. M. (1984). Conspiracy at St. Elizabeth's. The Sciences 
24: 62-66. Eaves, T. C. Duncan (1984). Review. Am. Lit. 56: 447-

Torrey, E. Fuller (1974). The Death of Psychiatry, Chilton Book 
Company, Radnor, Pennsylvania.

Torrey, F. Fuller (1983). Surviving Schizophrenia: A Family 
Manual, Harper and Row, New, York.

M. E. Grenander
State University of New York at Albany 
Albany, New York

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