The first decade was scintillating. I tasted many forms of pleasure and once even wrote an article called 'Seven Types of LA Hedonism', which I never published. I thank UCLA for enabling me to engage in work I could not have completed elsewhere, especially the research done in the 1970s on the history of sexuality, some of which won national prizes, for example, the James L. Clifford Prize of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies for the best article of the year.
I had come a long way from Amherst's 'classical' mindset. At Princeton the pivot of my intellectual concern focused on the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. At Harvard it broadened to include medicine – especially medicine's importation into historical-cultural studies, and while still at Harvard I attended medical school with the idea of retraining to become a doctor, but soon recognized that the interface of the two – medicine and the humanities – constituted the specific site of my fascination. The one without the other would leave me hungry. So I began to write about the interface and continued during those first years at Harvard. My first book written in collaboration with Marjorie Hope Nicolson – This Long Disease, My Life: Alexander Pope and the Sciences (Princeton University Press, 1968) - had received encouraging reviews, and by 1970 I could see how direly the Enlightenment needed to be medicalized.
I extended these medical explorations that became the bread-and-butter of my research at UCLA, attending seminars at its Brain Research Institute, Neuropsychiatric Institute and other medical units, as well as developing interdisciplinary programmes to chart the interconnections. At that time interdisciplinary approaches were in their infancy and it required force majeur to broaden one's institutional research base along these lines. The medicalizing of the Enlightenment in the 1970s led me to its neurologizing and sexualizing; then further afield to collaborations with an international base of scholars taking similar steps in other countries: P. G. Boucé and Michel Foucault in France, Jean Starobinski in Switzerland, Roy Porter in Britain, John Neubauer in Holland, and others. We take these approaches for granted now but they had not yet developed in the 1970s.
Then California's mood altered in the 1980s: the state's fiscal picture declined, its governor Ronald Reagan was no friend of the University, and an ethic of PC – political correctness – began to overtake all else. I should have moved on but was too comfortable, owning a beautiful small villa high up in the Hollywood Hills, surrounded by gardens and land, where musicians could assemble at all hours around my Steinway concert grand. And I was still learning from frequent conversations with my local UCLA colleagues (Defoe scholar Max Novak and Romanticist Fred Burwick spring to mind, as do 'Johnsonians' Robert Folfkenflik down at Irvine and the late Gloria Gross), and continuing to play chamber music with some of California's best instrumentalists. These musicians earned several hundred dollars an hour playing in Hollywood studios but chamber music was their first love, and if summoned they'd come out like squirrels dropping from trees.
This decline in the 1980s touched me personally. Years of repression had found outlets in research and writing but in California's heat and sun, amidst its postmodern architecture and easy annihilation of the past, and especially in the inescapable predominance of Hollywood and 'Tinsel Town', I became nostalgic: for the past, for the life of learning, for the reality of history, even for trains and national borders and rain and snow.