Ralph Steadman Creates an Unorthodox Illustrated Biography of Sigmund Freud, the Father of Psychoanalysis (1979)

Sig­mund Freud died in 1939, and the near­ly eight decades since haven’t been kind to his psy­cho­an­a­lyt­i­cal the­o­ries, but in some sense he sur­vives. “For many years, even as writ­ers were dis­card­ing the more patent­ly absurd ele­ments of his the­o­ry — penis envy, or the death dri­ve — they con­tin­ued to pay homage to Freud’s unblink­ing insight into the human con­di­tion,” writes the New York­er’s Louis Menand. He claims that Freud thus evolved, “in the pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion, from a sci­en­tist into a kind of poet of the mind. And the thing about poets is that they can­not be refut­ed. No one asks of ‘Par­adise Lost’: But is it true? Freud and his con­cepts, now con­vert­ed into metaphors, joined the legion of the undead.”

The mas­ter of a legion of undead psy­cho­log­i­cal metaphors — who, in the ranks of liv­ing illus­tra­tors, could be more suit­ed to ren­der such a fig­ure than Ralph Stead­man? And how many of us know that he actu­al­ly did so in 1979, when he pro­duced an “art-biog­ra­phy” of the “Father of Psy­cho­analy­sis”?

Sig­mund Freud, which has spent long stretch­es out of print since its first pub­li­ca­tion, tells the sto­ry of Freud’s life, begin­ning with his child­hood in Aus­tria to his death, not long after his emi­gra­tion in flight from the Nazis, in Lon­don. It was there that he met Vir­ginia Woolf, who in her diary describes him as “a screwed up shrunk very old man: with a monkey’s light eyes, par­a­lyzed spas­mod­ic move­ments, inar­tic­u­late: but alert.”

There, again, Freud sounds like one of Stead­man’s draw­ings, some­times out­ward­ly unap­peal­ing but always pos­sessed of an unig­nor­able vital­i­ty gen­er­at­ed by a sol­id core of per­cep­tive­ness. Ear­li­er chap­ters of Freud’s life, char­ac­ter­ized by intel­lec­tu­al as well as phys­i­cal vig­or­ous­ness aid­ed by the 19th-cen­tu­ry “mir­a­cle drug” of cocaine, also give the illus­tra­tor rich mate­r­i­al to work with. One can’t help but think of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which forged a per­ma­nent cul­tur­al link between Stead­man’s art and Hunter S. Thomp­son’s prose. How “true” is the drug-fueled desert odyssey that book recounts? More so, per­haps, than many of Freud’s sup­pos­ed­ly sci­en­tif­ic dis­cov­er­ies. But as with the work of Freud, so with that of Thomp­son and Stead­man: we return to it not because we want the truth, exact­ly, but because we can’t turn away from the often grotesque ver­sions of our­selves it shows us.

You can pick up a copy of Stead­man’s illus­trat­ed Sig­mund Freud here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Sig­mund Freud, Father of Psy­cho­analy­sis, Intro­duced in a Mon­ty Python-Style Ani­ma­tion

Sig­mund Freud’s Psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic Draw­ings Show How He First Visu­al­ized the Ego, Super­ego, Id & More

How a Young Sig­mund Freud Researched & Got Addict­ed to Cocaine, the New “Mir­a­cle Drug,” in 1894

Ralph Steadman’s Wild­ly Illus­trat­ed Biog­ra­phy of Leonar­do da Vin­ci (1983)

Gonzo Illus­tra­tor Ralph Stead­man Draws the Amer­i­can Pres­i­dents, from Nixon to Trump

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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