The Pooh Perplex
|Institutions||University of California, Berkeley|
Frederick Campbell Crews (born 1933) is an American essayist and literary critic. Professor emeritus of English at the University of California, Berkeley, Crews is the author of numerous books, including The Tragedy of Manners: Moral Drama in the Later Novels of Henry James (1957), E. M. Forster: The Perils of Humanism (1962), and The Sins of the Fathers (1966), a discussion of the work of Nathaniel Hawthorne. He received popular attention for The Pooh Perplex (1963), a book of satirical essays parodying contemporary casebooks. Initially a proponent of psychoanalytic literary criticism, Crews later rejected psychoanalysis, becoming a critic of Sigmund Freud and his scientific and ethical standards. Crews was a prominent participant in the "Freud wars" of the 1980s and 1990s, a debate over the reputation, scholarship and impact on the 20th century of the founder of psychoanalysis.
Crews has published a variety of skeptical and rationalist essays, including book reviews and commentary for The New York Review of Books, on a variety of topics including Freud and recovered memory therapy, some of which were published in The Memory Wars (1995). Crews has also published successful handbooks for college writers, such as The Random House Handbook.
Crews was born in suburban Philadelphia in 1933. Both of his parents were avid readers and were tremendously influential in his life, said Crews; "They had both been raised in considerable poverty, and books had been extremely important to them personally, in shaping them. My mother was very literary; my father was very scientific. I feel that I got a little something of both sides." In high school, Crews was co-captain of the tennis team, and for decades he remained an avid skier, hiker, swimmer, and runner. Crews lives in Berkeley with his wife of 57 years, Elizabeth Crews, a photographer who was born and raised in Berkeley, California. They have two daughters and four grandchildren.
Crews completed his undergraduate education at Yale University in 1955. Though his degree was in English, Crews entered the Directed Studies program during his first two years at Yale, which he describes as his greatest experience because the program was taught by a coordinated faculty and required students to distribute their courses among sciences, social sciences, literature, and philosophy. He received his Ph.D in Literature from Princeton University in 1958. Crews cited Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche, Hawthorne, and Freud as his major influences during his time at Princeton.
In 1958, Crews joined the UC Berkeley English Department, where he taught for 36 years before retiring as its chair in 1994. Crews was an anti-war activist from 1965 to about 1970 and advocated draft resistance as co-chair of Berkeley's Faculty Peace Committee. Though he shared the widespread assumption during the mid-1960s that psychoanalytic theory was a valid account of human motivation and was one of the first academics to apply that theory systematically to the study of literature, Crews gradually came to regard psychoanalysis as a pseudoscience. This convinced him that his loyalty should not belong to any theory but rather to empirical standards and the skeptical point of view. Throughout his career, Crews has brought his concern for rational discourse to the study of various issues, from the controversy over recovered memory, the credibility of the Rorschach test, and belief in alien abductions to the Theosophical Society, creationism, and "intelligent design." He has also advocated for clear writing based on standards of sound argument and rhetorical effectiveness rather than adherence to rigid school-book rules. "What interests me is general rationality," said Crews,
General rationality requires us to observe the world carefully, to consider alternative hypotheses to our own hypotheses, to gather evidence in a responsible way, to answer objections. These are habits of mind that science shares with good history, good sociology, good political science, good economics, what have you. And I summarize all this in what I call the "empirical attitude." It's a combination of feeling responsible to the evidence that is available, feeling responsible to go out and find that evidence, including the evidence that is contrary to one's presumptions, and responsibility to be logical with one's self and others. And this is an ideal that is not so much individual as social. The rational attitude doesn't really work when simply applied to one's self. It is something that we owe to each other.
In 1963, Crews published his first bestseller The Pooh Perplex: A Student Casebook that satirized the type of casebooks then assigned to first-year university students in introductory literature and composition courses. Derived in part from a play put on by Crews' English department in 1958, the book featured a fictitious set of English professors writing essays on A. A. Milne's classic character Winnie-the-Pooh, parodying Marxist, Freudian, Christian, Leavisite and Fiedlerian approaches to analyzing literary texts. Though urged by readers to publish a follow-up volume, Crews delayed writing one until after his retirement in 1994, producing Postmodern Pooh in 2001. While The Pooh Perplex parodies earlier trends in literary criticism, Postmodern Pooh parodies later trends in literary theory. In it, Crews extends the satire of the original, covering more recent critical approaches. such as deconstruction, feminism, queer theory, and recovered memory therapy, in part basing the essay authors and their approaches on actual academics and their work.
In The Patch Commission (1968), Crews satirized the activities of Presidential Commissions, displaying his disapproval of American involvement in the then-ongoing Vietnam War. The book is a transcription of the work of the fictional Patch Commission, a discussion among three government commissioners attempting to save the nation from disaster caused by Benjamin Spock's overly permissive child-rearing guidelines.
Much of Crews's career has been dedicated to literary criticism. Crews's first book, The Tragedy of Manners: Moral Drama in the Later Novels of Henry James (1957), was based on a prize-winning essay written by Crews while an undergraduate student at Yale University, initially published as part of a series. In the book, Crews discussed three late novels by Henry James: The Ambassadors (1903), The Wings of the Dove (1902), and The Golden Bowl (1904), analyzing the function and tensions within a system of manners, the interaction between an individual's ethics and their reflection within the values of a community.
In 1962, Crews's doctoral dissertation from Princeton University was published as E. M. Forster: The Perils of Humanism. In 1966, he published a study of Hawthorne, The Sins of the Fathers: Hawthorne's Psychological Themes, in which he examined Hawthorne's entire literary career including unfinished novels; it was re-issued in 1989 with Crews's reassessment of his initial position and an analysis of how literary criticism has dealt with Hawthorne since 1966. In 1970, Crews edited Psychoanalysis and Literary Process, a collection of essays by his students that analyzed a variety of authors from a psychoanalytic perspective; a review credited the book with important accomplishments, including being "an achievement in the teaching and learning of psychoanalysis in a department of literature", which the reviewer noted was a rare occurrence. The collection included an essay, "Anaesthetic Criticism," in which Crews disparaged contemporary schools of literary criticism, especially that of Northrop Frye and his followers.
In 1986, Crews published The Critics Bear It Away, which was wholly devoted to literary criticism. It was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction and won the Spielvogel-Diamonstein Award for the Art of the Essay.
Parts of Crews's 1975 collection Out of My System, the 1986 collection Skeptical Engagements, and the 2006 Follies of the Wise were also dedicated to literary criticism. Crews's repeated message to literary critics is to be critical of their own interpretation when making statements about the meaning of a work. Regarding Crews's position on literary criticism, C. A. Runcie notes, "What Frederick Crews says about psychoanalysis is true for all criticism and its theorizing: 'A critic's sense of limits, like Freud's own, must come from ... his awe at how little he can explain.'" Crews has been identified by the literary theorist Joseph Carroll as one of "the very few scholars who have consistently and effectively opposed poststructuralism."
Crews began his career using psychoanalytic literary criticism but gradually rejected this approach and psychoanalysis in general. In his article "Reductionism and Its Discontents", published in Out of My System in 1975, Crews stated his belief that psychoanalysis can be usefully applied to literary criticism but expressed growing doubts about its use as a therapeutic approach, suggesting that it had a weak, sometimes comical tradition of criticism. In 1977, Crews read the draft of a work by the philosopher Adolf Grünbaum that later became The Foundations of Psychoanalysis, and helped Grünbaum to obtain a publication offer from the University of California Press. Crews rejected psychoanalysis entirely in his article "Analysis Terminable" (first published in Commentary in July 1980 and reprinted in his collection Skeptical Engagements in 1986), citing what he considered its faulty methodology, its ineffectiveness as therapy, and the harm it caused to patients.
In 1996, Crews credited the psychiatrist Henri F. Ellenberger's The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970) with beginning a twenty-five-year-long reevaluation of the position of psychoanalysis within the history of medicine, and acknowledged other book-length critical analyses of Freud and psychotherapy, including Frank Sulloway's Freud, Biologist of the Mind (1979), Grünbaum's The Foundations of Psychoanalysis (1984), and Malcolm Macmillan's Freud Evaluated: The Completed Arc (1991). Crews wrote the foreword to the revised 1997 edition of Freud Evaluated, suggesting that its republication "advanced the long debate over psychoanalysis to what may well be its decisive moment".
Crews, who describes himself as "a one-time Freudian who had decided to help others resist the fallacies to which I had succumbed in the 1960s", sees his criticisms of Freud as two-pronged - one aimed at Freud's ethical and scientific standards, and the other aimed at showing that psychoanalysis is a pseudoscience. Two of his essays, "Analysis Terminable" and "The Unknown Freud," published in 1993, have been described as shots fired at the beginning of the "Freud Wars," a long-running debate over Freud's reputation, work and impact. "The Unknown Freud" prompted an unprecedented number of letters to The New York Review of Books for several issues.
Crews went on to criticize Freud and psychoanalysis extensively, becoming a major figure in the discussions and criticisms of Freud that occurred during the 1980s and '90s. Crews was one of a number of critics who requested that a Freud exhibition planned for the Library of Congress be rendered less one-sided; the protests evidently delayed the exhibit's opening by almost a year, and almost cancelled it outright. Author Eli Zaretsky, who identifies Crews as one of Freud's most prominent critics, writes that Crews's challenges to Freud and psychoanalysis have gone largely unanswered. Crews's Freud: The Making of an Illusion was published in August, 2017.
In 1993 and 1994, Crews wrote a series of critical essays and reviews of books relating to repressed and recovered memories, which also provoked heated debate and letters to the editors of The New York Review of Books. The essays, along with critical and supporting letters and his responses, were published as The Memory Wars (1995). Crews believes the "memories" of childhood seduction Freud reported were not real memories but constructs that Freud created and forced upon his patients. According to Crews, the seduction theory that Freud abandoned in the late 1890s acted as a precedent and contributing factor to the wave of false allegations of childhood sexual abuse in the 1980s and 1990s.
In 1974, Crews published The Random House Handbook, a best-selling college composition textbook that offered extensive rhetorical advice for writing academic essays as well as reference information on correct and effective use of the English language. The book brought together two aspects of writing instruction not generally covered in a single text. It was widely praised for being highly readable and helpful and was written in a clear, often elegant style, with occasional flashes of humor, something rare in college writing handbooks then or now. It was also highly successful, running to six editions. Crews also co-authored three editions of The Borzoi Handbook for Writers for McGraw-Hill.
In his capacity as a reviewer for The New York Review of Books, Crews has written on various topics including:
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