Ben Kafka

  • Are Friends Electric?

    Victor Tausk was one of the more restless of the many bright young men and women surrounding Freud in the 1910s. Born into a Jewish family in 1879, he first studied law, practicing in Sarajevo, then Mostar, where he made his reputation defending a young Muslim woman accused of murdering her illegitimate child. The prosecutors had asked for the death penalty; he got her acquitted. He then moved to Berlin, setting out on a new career as a critic, which no doubt contributed to the nervous breakdown he suffered soon after. At the sanatorium he decided to study psychiatry, completing his medical

  • Medication and Its Discontents

    It’s hard to say exactly when her depression began, Lauren Slater tells us, but she has a memory from the summer of her sixth or seventh year. She and her sister were sitting on their stoop, sweltering in the heat, when they were approached by a sweaty man in a dark suit. “His face perspired heavily as he knelt by my sister and me and asked if we would like to see his monkey dance,” she writes. “He was so close I could smell his cinder breath and then I saw his hand, or rather his lack of a hand, how one empty cuff just hung down, the skin at the knob of his bony wrist marbled and seamed.”

  • Analyze This

    In 1895, two neurophysiologists issued a book-length report on experiments they had been conducting with a group of young women suffering from a cluster of mysterious ailments. In a series of often dramatic case histories, the authors described the revolutionary new technique they had been using with these patients: listening to them. To be sure, the experiments were not double-blind, the publication wasn't peer-reviewed, and both real and potential conflicts of interest went undisclosed. But the technique showed promise, and one of the report's authors, Sigmund Freud, would go on to gain a

  • The Passport in America: The History of a Document

    “I should consider a passport as necessary a means of protection in Europe as a pistol would be in one of the rough Western settlements.” This pearl of wisdom, worthy of Tocqueville, was offered by Mr. J. H. Rosenbaum, notary public, to a New York Times reporter in 1882. Rosenbaum, whose office was on lower Broadway, went on to describe the challenges involved in helping clients handle the application process: “Single ladies who apply for passports sometimes blush or even show signs of anger when I ask them their age or perhaps the length of their feet but I show them the law on the subject,


    A week after moving to New York, I hired a car service to take me to the commercial loading docks at Kennedy Airport. I was trying to pick up several cartons of books I had shipped from Paris. After signing for the contents, I proceeded to the Customs Office, where an agent was waiting to stamp the import papers. I had forgotten my passport; all I had was an expired, out-of-state driver’s license. “Kafka, eh?” he said, looking closely at the license, then at me. There was a pause. “I guess you must find this all pretty Kafkaesque!” He chortled—actually chortled—before permitting me to collect