Article — From the January 1955 issue
- Current Issue
SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
Article — From the January 1955 issue
Last month, Dr. Lindner, a Baltimore psychoanalyst, described how Kirk Allen, a young research physicist, was sent to him by the doctor at the top-secret installation where Allen worked. Allen suffered from the delusion that he was spending part of his life on another planet. As the first step in his treatment, Dr. Lindner got his life history: Allen was the only child of an elderly father, the U.S. Commissioner of a small Pacific island, and a young mother who neglected him. As a small boy he had an affectionate Polynesian nurse, and at eleven he was prematurely introduced to sex by his white governess. At twelve he stumbled on a series of science- fiction books whose interplanetary hero had the same name as his own. Identifying himself with the legendary Kirk Allen, he began to believe the books were his own life history. Then he invented new adventures for this Kirk Allen which he believed he was “remembering.” He continued these fantasies through school and college in America, and even after he became a scientist. At last he found that he could at will “become” the other Kirk Allen. And, his analyst discovered, this conviction had become essential to his life.
A more extended account of this case history will appear in Dr. Lindner’s forthcoming book, The Fifty-Minute Hour.
For many days I pondered the question of how Kirk Allen could be restored to sanity–and yet remain alive. For there seemed to be nothing that could compete with the unending gratifications of his fantasy. Meanwhile Kirk turned over to me all of his records.
It is impossible to convey more than a bare impression of these. There were, to begin with, about 12,000 pages of typescript comprising the amended “biography” of Kirk Allen. This was divided into some 200 chapters and read like fiction. Appended to these pages were approximately 2,000 more of notes in Kirk’s handwriting, containing corrections necessitated by his more recent “researches,” and a huge bundle of scraps and jottings on envelopes, receipted bills, laundry slips.
There also were a glossary of names and terms that ran to more than 100 pages; 82 full-color maps carefully drawn to scale, 23 of planetary bodies in four projections, 31 of land masses on these planets, 14 labeled “Kirk Allen’s Expedition to —,” the remainder of cities on the various planets; 161 architectural sketches and elevations, all carefully scaled and annotated; 12 genealogical tables; an 18-page description of the galactic system in which Kirk Allen’s home planet was contained, with four astronomical charts, one for each of the seasons, and nine star-maps of the skies from observatories on other planets in the system; a 200-page history of the empire Kirk Allen ruled, with a three-page table of dates and names of battles or outstanding historical events; a series of 44 folders containing from 2 to 20 pages apiece, each dealing with some aspect–social, economic, or scientific–of the planet over which Kirk Allen ruled. Finally, there were 306 drawings of people, animals, plants, insects, weapons, utensils, machines, articles of clothing, vehicles, instruments, and furniture.
The reader can imagine my dismay at the sheer bulk of this material; I do not know if he can appreciate with what misgivings I approached the task of weaning this man from his madness. Aside from everything else, he was my patient under the most inauspicious possible conditions, for he had not come of his own volition. The authorities had sent him, demanding he be treated not only for his sake but because they feared that in his disturbed condition he was a poor security risk who could neither be kept on the job nor discharged.
In his dealings with me Kirk acted the part of a noble opponent who courteously permits his antagonist to choose the time, the place, even the weapons of their encounter. Unfailingly polite, he submitted to my ministrations, attempted to follow my instructions to the letter, and gave me every possible scope for my activities. But I understood at once that his courtesy was only the mask for a deep antagonism–and, perhaps, fear. In a dim way, I saw, Kirk too appreciated that his very life depended upon the maintenance of his psychosis. The small doubt implanted by the action of the authorities as well as my decision to treat him threatened the structure essential to his existence.
So far as I could, I tried to avoid giving Kirk any impression that I was entering the lists with him to prove that he was psychotic. Instead, because it was obvious that both his temperament and training were scientific, I set myself to capitalize on the one quality he had shown throughout his life: curiosity.
More from Robert Mitchell Lindner: