Part of the reason K. never caught on with the public is that his writings are far more pedestrian than those of Freud or Jung; his notions, such as he enunciated them in the early '20s, lacked paradigmatic appeal. It would require the development of Big Pharma starting in the '50s to give Kraepelin the almost ubiquitous significance he has today.
But such as it is, his detailed work on manic depression, even by today’s standards, is truly impressive. He not only mapped out the poles of bipolar, but also the less well-known mixed states (agitated depression, racing paranoid or suicidal thoughts while lying on the couch, etc.) in considerable detail. He was a great empiricist: he had a talent for amassing huge quantities of seemingly contradictory data and laying it out in broad, compelling categories.
And yet, there is something disquietingly cold-blooded in Kraepelin’s descriptions of his patients (rather, subjects). That cold-bloodedness is representative of much of what goes on in psychiatry today: medical professionals who for the most part have never been touched by the symptoms they treat, smug in their assumptions of superiority, generally slighting of those with a condition that, while it can be, in extreme cases, truly debilitating if not downright fatal, has also truly enriched humankind, particularly in the realm of the arts.
Manic Patients are (his writings, taken from Godwin and Jamison’s Manic Depressive Illness)
convinced of their superiority to their surroundings…Towards others they are haughty, positive, irritable, impertinent, stubborn… unsteadiness and restlessness appear before everything. They are accessible, communicative, adapt themselves readily to new conditions, but soon they again long for change and variety. Many have belletristic inclinations, compose poems, paint, go in for music. . . Their mode of expression is clever and lively; they speak readily and much, are quick at repartee, never at a loss for an answer or excuse…K. goes on to discuss a milder form of manic temperament within the domain of the normal but still a link in the long chain of manic-depressive disposition, a form that progressed to what he called the "irritable temperament". This too is perhaps as revealing of K. as the subjects he purports to describe:
Their life is invariably a chain of thoughtless and extraordinary, not infrequently also nonsensical and doubtful activities… Many patients join new movements with fervent zeal which rapidly flags…make purchases far beyond their circumstances… (1921)
It concerns here brilliant, but unevenly gifted personalities with artistic inclinations. They charm us by their intellectual mobility, their versatility, their wealth of ideas, their ready accessibility and their delight for adventure, their artistic capability, their good nature, their cheery, sunny mood. But at the same time they put us in an uncomfortable state of surprise by a certain restlessness, talkativeness, desultoriness in conversation, excessive need for social life, capricious temper and suggestibility, lack of reliability, steadiness, and perseverance in work, a tendency to building castles in the air… periods of causeless depression and anxiety… (1921)Sounds rather like -- who guessed it? (My castles, though, are real, he he)
It is said that Ludwig Van Beethoven refused to move into a flat on a treeless street, declaring, "Sometimes I prefer a tree to a man." As long as men like Kraepelin remain in the ascendant, people like me are likely to prefer trees as well.