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Wilhelm von Amsteln Gastwirt (1847-1914)
Profile by E.W. Wilder

Another in our occasional series of profiles of leading theorists by our frequent contributors.

German-Dutch theorist and pre-Freudian psychologist Wilhelm von Amsteln Gastwirt is responsible for the “anal-declention” theory of personality development. Under anal-declention, there are two basic personality types: the smertz and the anti-smertz -- or those who have moved past the stage of anal-declention and those who have not. Vital to Gastwirt’s theory is that toilet training an infant is not merely traumatizing to that infant, but, if uncorrected later in life, can lead to dogmatism, narrow mindedness and hemorrhoidal flare-ups.

In his psycho-sociological masterwork The Clenched and the Damned, Gastwirt demonstrates the double-bind those who have colonic attitudes he felt were healthy (anti-smertz) faced in the Victorian age: “[it is] the problem of him that is free to be the exemplar of the unclenched bowel that, once he has achieved this state, he becomes a social pariah, not the least because of his newfound natural smell. And so he is fulfilled because of his declenched bowel, but can never be fulfilled because he is friendless” (404).

Gastwirt’s theories, aside from being obviously influential, are also the basis for contemporary declention theory, also known in some circles as neo-Gastwirtianism, a critical standpoint from which characters are judged by the perceived state of their sphincters. Larger ramifications about “proper movement” and “open” or “loose” images in literature have been explored by such noted contemporaries as the self-described arch-feminist Fanny Hertz, the moral social critic P.B. Wombat, post-Freudian Jacques Lickin, and, of course, queer-theorist Archibald Ramstien and others.

Gastwirt himself began to explore the extension of his theories into literature (see the author’s forthcoming “`No Ifs, Ands, Or . . .’: Wilhelm von Amsteln Gastwirt’s Theories of Faust.”), but by the end of his career was heavily ensconced in a cosmological exploration based on his earlier work: “[the] ultimate opening up, and the evolutionary goals of the theory so modestly squeezed out in this slim volume are none other than a `Cosmological-Longitudinal,’ or CoLon, theory that would be, to say the least, all-encompassing” (xxviii).

Gastwirt was never able to finish the “CoLon” theory (though preliminary assays remain extant) as his work and life were cut short by an unfortunate accident with a bidet in a New York hotel in late 1914. Freud is rumored to have said of him at the time that he was “the greatest theorist I’ve ever put out a cigar on,” though the meaning of this statement remains unclear.

Work Cited

Gastwirt, Wilhem von Amsteln. The Clenched and the Damned.