In reading a book review on "The First Man-Made Man, The Story of Two Sex Changes, One Love Affair and a Twentieth-Century Medical Revolution," I came upon a curious reference to "Steinach surgery," something Freud had in 1926 and Yeats in 1934.
It was meant to rejuvenate a man sexually, and like the vasectomy it was, took all of fifteen minutes. It did nothing for Freud, but Yeats was convinced it had revived his poetic and sexual energy. Apparently Steinach's idea was that if you prevented the free flow of sperm from the testes, the hormone levels would respond and increase sexual performance and youthful energy.
In researching the Steinach operation on the Net, the first seven references were those irritating teases one finds more and more--"Here's the abstract of the article. Now if you only subscribe to the Journal of Gerontology, you can read the whole thing. Just give us your credit card number." Is it just me or has this mercenary marketing of information become more prevalent in the last five years? It seemed I used to be able to reference arcane information more easily without these barriers, this "expert's tax."
Anyway, back to the story. (Due to a crash I now have lost the source of this free information, though I know an Australian wrote it.)
"One April day in 1934, at the age of 69, William Butler Yeats entered the Harley Street clinic of an Australian sexologist, Norman Haire. Sunk into gloom, convinced that his inspiration and his sexual potency were decaying together, the poet had heard about an operation that promised to rejuvenate old men.
Although the procedure was called a Steinach operation (after its inventor, Eugen Steinach, a Viennese doctor), it was, in effect, a vasectomy. It took 15 minutes. From a scientific point of view, it shouldn't have worked. But Yeats, who had dreaded the effect of age on his virility since he was young, wanted so hard to believe in it that he was, mentally at least, given new energy. Six months later, he embarked on a close new friendship with a beautiful 27-year-old actress, Margot Ruddock. His late poetry - he lived and wrote until 1939 - burned with fresh fire, and some defensiveness. The Dublin papers started calling Yeats "the gland old man".
The poet wrote "The Spur," a four-line verse: "You think it horrible that lust and rage/Should dance attention upon my old age;/They were not such a plague when I was young;/What else have I to spur me into song?"
The Steinach operation didn't always renew its beneficiaries. Sigmund Freud had it done in 1926. He said it did nothing for him. Another Steinach patient, Albert Wilson, was so enthusiastic about the benefits of the operation that he booked the Albert Hall to deliver a lecture entitled How I Was Made Twenty Years Younger. On the eve of the lecture, he died."
Yeah, but he died younger.
Interesting how the pursuit of the fountain of youth affects men irrationally, despite their intelligence or scientific pretensions. The irony is particularly thick with Freud, who also believed the operation--though I don't know if this was a late justification--would prevent the recurrence of his oral cancers--although he didn't give up his cigars.
As a country singer once said: "He knew better, he just couldn't do better."
As for yesterday's draft of the "Rapunzel" poem, I agree with the critic who pointed out that the second part was livelier than the first. And indeed, I now think that is the poem. The process of revision often becomes searching for the poem within the poem. Here's the new version:
I’m sorry to say it, but "The World Trade Center?”--
Good target!--as if we owned the world!
It is this hubris that the world hates,
the blindness of a consumer-driven culture
of anti-culture, a whore's bed of merchandise.
There is no hegemony, Wolfowitz.
The dollar's fallen. Long live the Yen!
Come down, American, come down, Rapunzel.
Your hair is tangled with barbwire.
Your gown is made of Kevlar.
Apes swing on your braid;
The impotent Congress nods.
They will pull us out by the roots,
stain our tower with the blood of scalps.
Now I need to take my own advice and put this poem in a drawer for a month and then look at it again, see what needs to be done or undone--or admit it has no future and discard it. That's the hard part--"killing your darlings."
Thine in Steinach Solidarity (I haven't had the operation),