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Sigmund Freud, the Never-Ending Storyteller

ISSUE:  Summer 2014

With Sigmund Freud, there are always two ways to begin. Here’s the first: Sigmund Freud was the genius of the twentieth century, without whom we would not know ourselves as intimately as we do. And here’s the second: Sigmund Freud was a colossal fraud who ruined innumerable lives. Freud long ago became a messiah to some and a pernicious phony to others. But no matter your stance, it’s difficult to deny the insistent reasons we’re still squabbling about this man, nor is it easy to dismiss the reality that Freud’s ideas had a torsional influence on nearly every element of twentieth-​century thought. Modernity just doesn’t seem possible without him.

Once you study Freud deeply, once you comprehend and internalize his severe storytelling, his literary antiscience of the mind, it’s impossible to see your own childhood, or your own children, the same way again. It’s because of Freud that millions who’ve never read a word of Sophocles feel perfectly at ease telling you all about Oedipus, and never mind if they usually don’t know what they’re saying, if they get the Theban King all wrong, as Freud himself seems to have done. Attic tragedy can’t be psychoanalytical or Freudian because it cares nothing for sexuality, because unlike our childhoods and our psyches, tragedy is a heroic collision of the accidental and the ordained. Freud fixed on the Oedipus myth because it’s a perfect detective story, and what’s psychoanalysis but two detectives—​the analyst and the analysand—​attempting to solve the baffling crimes of the unconscious?

Adam Phillips’s new study, Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst, is an effective breviary and defense of Sigmund Freud, and not because it dazzles with a tightrope act of theory, but because it simply and directly underscores Freud’s tremendous accomplishments of comprehension. It also sugarcoats or ignores altogether Freud’s immense flaws and the toxic harm he caused to actual lives, but we’ll come to that. Where many write about Freud as if he were either der Übermensch or its opposite, Phillips does a fine job of humanizing this cerebral behemoth, of spotlighting the importance of Freud’s wife and children. The Freuds had six children in eight years at just about the time Freud was beginning to formulate the catacomb credos that would become psychoanalysis. It’s unlikely that psychoanalysis would have come into being at all if the Freuds hadn’t been exposed daily to the wail and tumult of a diapers-​and-​bottles domesticity. 

Nor would psychoanalysis have happened if its founder hadn’t been a self-​conscious Jew ever vigilant of the role of Jewish history in Europe. Along with Christ, Karl Marx, and Albert Einstein, Freud is one-​fourth of the Jews of literal and intellectual revolution, the quartet who made the planet quake. Borrowing from a brigade of top scholars who have examined the nexus between psychoanalysis and Freud’s conception of his own Jewishness—​including Harold Bloom, Peter Gay, and Philip Rieff, each of whom goes unmentioned in this connection—​Phillips rightly believes that European Jewish history helped make Freud possible, because however else we’d like to describe psychoanalysis, it is foremost a Jewish reading of the psyche in the world, an outsider’s psycho-​emotional apprehension for other outsiders. Freud was nervous, though not unduly, about his theories being tagged “Jewish” because he understood that the tag was normally wielded in the snaky lisp of the anti-​Semite. 

Phillips writes that “the modern individual Sigmund Freud would eventually describe was a person under continuous threat with little knowledge of what was really happening to him”—​a Jew, in other words, as Freud himself admitted in The Resistances to Psychoanalysis. The paradoxes at the hub of Freud—​the heaving dichotomies of life/death, sex/death, past/present, present/future, sickness/health—​are human paradoxes, to be sure, but they are human paradoxes expertly manifest in Hebraic mythos. Phillips contends that “Freud’s work shows us … that nothing in our lives is self-​evident, that not even the facts of our lives speak for themselves.” Consider how that assertion applies both to the Torah and to the indispensible modern Jewish writers, from Bruno Schulz and Franz Kafka to Primo Levi and Isaac Bashevis Singer, and you’ll begin to see how psychoanalysis in general and the Freudian unconscious in particular—​that dark swamp of our minds—​was from the beginning a Jewish literary enterprise.

Here is one of Phillips’s many cogent encapsulations of Freud’s importance:

We spend our lives … not facing the facts, the facts of our history, in all their complication; and above all, the facts of our childhood… . [Freud] will show us how ingenious we are at not knowing ourselves, and how knowing ourselves—​or the ways in which we have been taught to know ourselves, not least through the conventions of biography and autobiography—​has become the problem rather than the solution. What we are suffering from, Freud will reveal, are all the ways we have of avoiding our suffering; and our pleasure, Freud will show us—​the pleasure we take in our sexuality, the pleasure we take in our violence—​is the suffering we are least able to bear.

If by that synopsis Freud sounds nothing like a medical man and rather like a mash-​up of novelist-​poet-​seer, well, that’s precisely what he was. Phillips shelves Freud with Marcel Proust, Robert Musil, and James Joyce because “psychoanalysis makes sense only as part of the larger cultural conversation in the arts that became known as modernism.” 

No important critic or intellectual has apprehended Freud through a literary lens more often or intensely than Harold Bloom. In Ruin the Sacred Truths, Bloom speaks of Freud in the same breath as William Shakespeare, William Blake, and William Wordsworth: “Our map or general theory of the mind may be Freud’s, but Freud, like all the rest of us, inherits the representation of mind, at its most subtle and excellent, from Shakespeare.” Both Freud and Wordsworth are, says Bloom, “responsible for writing the Law upon our inward parts, and thus completing the Enlightenment’s program of internalizing all values.” In Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?, Bloom dubs Freud “the Montaigne of his era, a superb moral essayist rather than a revolutionist who overturned our sense of humankind’s place in nature.” In The Anatomy of Influence, Freud becomes the “Emerson of the twentieth century,” and in The Western Canon he is “the master of all who know.”

In reference to every Freudian’s loving or bitter impulse to tackle the august founder, Bloom speaks of “the burden of the writing psychoanalyst, who is tempted to a battle he is doomed to lose,” meaning that Freud can be an oily, protean subject, whether approached from the logical, biographical, or pedagogical angle. The one angle not doomed to failure is the one that Peter Brooks takes in Psychoanalysis and Storytelling and that Adam Phillips emphasizes here (with no mention of Brooks): Freud the storyteller. Brooks calls psychoanalysis “not only narrative and linguistic but also oral, a praxis of narrative construction within a context of live storytelling.” Say what you will about the psycholinguistics of Jacques Lacan, but Freud and his theory have always been about language, the language of the self telling stories, “this new language for the heart and soul and conscience of modern people,” as Phillips phrases it. About the advent of psychoanalysis, Phillips offers this: 

We need a different way of listening to the stories of our lives, and a different way of telling them. And, indeed, a different story about pleasure and pain; a story about … the individual in his society; and a story with no religion in it… . Psycho-analysis, which started as an improvisation in medical treatment, became at once, if not a new language, a new story about these fundamental things, and a new story about stories.

In other words, Freud’s work is a way of telling ourselves fresh and much-​needed stories about the stories we tell of ourselves. As Phillips puts it: “We obscure ourselves from ourselves in our life stories.” Why? Because the truth at our core, those ghastly desires, are often too parlous to bear; because self-​deception is the human being’s default mode; because self-​preservation is our aim whether we realize it or not, and ensconcing the truth from ourselves is one way of preserving our frail sense of personhood. Freud’s real genius was not that he invented the conception of the human being as resolutely hidden from himself—​literature got there first—​but that he emphasized and systemized it in a storytelling we’d never be able to forget.

“It was,” writes Phillips, “precisely the stories we tell ourselves about our lives, and about other people’s lives, that Freud put into question, that Freud taught us to read differently.” And it was the “differently” that instigated the popularity of the Freudian revolution: different in its lurid apprehension of our dark inner spaces; different in its fantastical take on human unknowing; different in its literary promise of overcoming the ghouls who howl us down at midnight. Because civilization had lost its traditional wellsprings of meaning, because the First World War cut the jugular of the past and welcomed modernity with a bloody embrace, because God was simply nowhere, Freud was free to probe old spiritual problems with a system of psychology, and the intellectual tenor was attractive to those who knew that the dead gods of comprehension could never again be resurrected. 

The one-​time Freudian Frederick Crews, since the early 1980s Freud-​killer par excellence, suggests in his essay “Analysis Terminable” that Freud’s rabid popularity has a much simpler explanation: Most people are—​there’s no gentle way to say it—​incurably stupid, and so given to irrational fancies of every stripe.

Phillips believes that Freud’s program must be counted as part of the multifarious history of storytelling, yes, but also as part of the history of speaking, because psychoanalysis is, above all, not a “speaking cure” but a speaking exploration—​an exploration of speaking more honestly and efficiently about those niggling issues we have so much trouble speaking about. This is why Freud’s emphasis would be on lexicon and symbol and narrative, and why the architecture of psychoanalysis looks always like mythos and never like science. Science has its own language, to be sure, and it certainly has a story to tell, but that story doesn’t necessarily require the agency of narrative or character, and it isn’t contingent upon the stories that came before—​it’s contingent only upon observable facts.

“It would be in Freud’s lifetime,” writes Phillips, “that the extraordinary languages of socialism, of Zionism, of feminism, and of psychoanalysis would first become current.” One might get more specific here and add fascism/Nazism, communism/Stalinism to that mixed catalog, all of which forced us into a new glossary of hurt, and forced us to reevaluate the mythic foundation that feeds the stories we try to pass off as truths. Put more pointedly: We rely on propaganda to help situate ourselves in a chaotic world, and Freud’s mission was to dismantle the personal propaganda we devise about our own histories, our childhoods in particular. The bold lines he drew between childhood and adulthood remain Freud’s great innovation. As Phillips notes, “Childhood was a story adults made up about themselves. It was to be the story that caught on. And psychoanalysis would catch on as a story about why stories about childhood might matter.”

But is the story true? Isn’t that what really matters, why sensational memoirs are infinitely more popular than serious novels? Why the misnamed “reality television” continues to thrive among the sofa-​sunk and brain-​dead? Is Freud’s storytelling telling us the truth about the darkness we harbor? “We take refuge in plausible stories, Freud tells us in his own partly plausible story called psychoanalysis,” and that “partly” is an indication that Phillips won’t be cubicled with zealous votaries who deem Freud an infallible deity. But he also won’t hold Freud accountable for his harum-​scarum practices, his hasty rationalizations, his dearth of strict method, his ruthless business tactics and egomania, his reckless medical posturing, or his bullying of suggestible, mostly female patients, all of which have been meticulously documented since at least the early 1970s. 

Frederick Crews has pointed out that psychoanalysis can’t possibly be true because it was predicated and contingent on the clinical work carried out in Freud’s office, clinical work that wholly lacked scientific rigor and that was, from start to finish, an enormous failure. Sigmund Freud never “cured” anybody. His three former apostles—​Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, and Otto Rank—​came closer to helping patients than Freud ever did, and mostly because they weren’t mulishly wedded to the analytical point of view. 

At only one point does Phillips see fit to mention “the potential pitfalls of psycho-analysis … its potential for misogyny, dogmatism, and proselytizing: the analyst’s temptation to speak on the patient’s behalf, and to know what’s best for the patient: the cultism of the analyst and patient as a couple.” Misogyny, dogmatism, proselytizing, cultism: let’s please agree that those are much more pernicious than mere “pitfalls.” Phillips is normally careful to wear the mask of non-​partiality, of cool objectivity, but if you really want to know how he feels about Freud’s assassins, you can glimpse his face in this bit: “Psychoanalysis—​though this has been easy to forget amid the clamor of Freud’s perennial discrediting—​was originally about people being freed to speak for themselves.” The clamor? Would it not be more precise to say that the clamor is no such thing, no noisy disruption by a resentful mob, but rather a careful and sustained dismantling of entrenched pieties, undertaken by a phalanx of mostly commonsensical and qualified intellectuals? 

What’s more, the sophistry of Phillips’s contention is given away by that crucial term “originally”: Many a treacherous or phony revolution was “originally” about something benevolent and worthy. If it’s true that Freud’s incipient intention had been to liberate people “to speak for themselves,” that’s certainly not what happened in practice. One need only cite Freud’s infamous “Wolf Man” and “Dora” cases to demonstrate that not only did Freud not liberate patients to speak for themselves, he quite knowingly began speaking for them, and in the most fictional, farcical, fabulist ways—​ways that revealed much more about Freud and his own wackiness than it ever did about the poor Wolf Man and Dora. Phillips admits as much when he speedily refers to “Freud’s abiding fascination with the making and consuming of fictions.”

Entire swaths of Freud are dicta that morph into doctrine and before long start sounding a lot like dogma and then like doggerel. Take his two most ubiquitous fictions, the Oedipus complex and his “dream-​work.” Phillips quotes Freud writing to the batty physician Wilhelm Fliess that he had discovered in himself “the phenomena of being in love with my mother and jealous of my father, and I now consider it a universal event in early childhood,” which is a rather willful confusion of the state of his own stomach with the digestive health of humankind, and one of the comical flaws that his critics love to spotlight: the grand extrapolating and generalizing. Does any half-​serious person really believe that little boys unconsciously yearn to destroy their fathers and copulate with their mothers? It might hold some appeal as psycho-​erotic literary criticism if you were considering, say, the work of Sade, but it has zero application to actual human lives. Even if it did, how would you determine or begin to address that application? 

About Freud’s “dream-​work”: I’m sorry, but there’s nothing more tedious and downright uninteresting than someone else’s dreams. If you want to bore your date to eye rolling, begin by telling her about your dream from last night, that non-​narrative smorgasbord of images that can mean anything you want and so necessarily means nothing at all. Not incidentally, the use of dreams in a novel or short story to disclose some vital component of a character is an absolutely fatal calculation, and one that is also an unfailing sign of a neophyte. According to Freud, our dreams are puzzles that are supposed to be replete with essential data about our true selves, but do you really know any thinking, employable, unsentimental person who takes his dreams very seriously at all? “Dream-​work” for Freud was just one more way he skirted the obvious for the arcane. He preferred puzzles, not people. He didn’t care much about actual suffering lives, but only for excavating the clandestine—​or, let’s be honest, the mostly imaginary—​trauma of those lives.

So it’s negligent at best and duplicitous at worst, even in a brief study such as Phillips’s, to carry on as if for the past forty years seismic upheavals have not been occurring inside the legacy of Freud and his brainchild—​to carry on as if the wholesale validity of psychoanalysis has not been subjected to devastating full-​frontal assaults by scholars not easily duped. Phillips might respond that this introduction to Freud—​based on a series of lectures he delivered at Trinity College, which might account for this book’s epic punctuation problems and slapdash confection, so unlike his other work—​is not the proper locus for a promulgating or rehashing of the Freud Wars. And he might be right about that, except that as the most visible, respected, and sober apologist for psychoanalysis he should shoulder the responsibility of a semi-​even presentation. 

It’s clear from Phillips’s other work that he’s become bored with all the chatter debating whether or not psychoanalysis is a science, and if that’s the case, he should stop adding to the chatter by the frivolous employment of the term. Psychoanalysis, Phillips writes in Becoming Freud, “is neither a science in the usual sense, nor a religion in the traditional sense.” So if it’s not a science in the usual sense, it must be a science in the unusual sense, and there the term “unusual” must do the work for “pseudo” or “fraudulent.” It is indeed about time we stop having this discussion: Psychoanalysis is not, nor has it ever been, a science. But like many Freudians, Phillips can’t seem to make up his mind about the definition of “science.” A scholar of his deep learning is surely not conflicted over the fact that science must adhere to empirical, testable criteria, so why is he not averse to mobilizing the term in reference to Freud? For instance: “[Freud’s] most important principle of scientific explanation was the idea of overdetermination: that nothing psychically ever has only one cause.” How, pray tell, does speculation about what might or might not have molested one’s psychic health amount to “scientific explanation”? How is such speculation testable? It is not.

Freud’s combat to keep psychoanalysis scientifically viable faced certain defeat from moment one, as he seems to have known. Phillips quotes Freud in Studies on Hysteria: “It still strikes me as strange that the case-​histories I write should read like short stories and that, as one might say, they lack the serious stamp of science.” The melancholy and pessimism of his later years had an array of causes, and one of them was his realization that the supposedly scientific center of his work would not hold. There would be less wrangling over Freud if his texts remained only a way of reading literature and ourselves instead of attempting to be a scientific avenue to curing ourselves and others of a humanness that can never be expunged. He was a literary man, but you can’t apply literature clinically or use it as a corrective for broken lives. Literature is many beneficent things, but it isn’t medicine. It’s true, as Phillips writes, that “Freud would become the most literary of psychoanalysts,” just as Friedrich Nietzsche would become the most literary of philosophers. 

Freud was never completely honest about the degree to which he deliberately annexed the ideas of Arthur Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, but from a young age he understood intuitively that literature and philosophy contained the clues, the intimations of the truth he wanted to explore in the caves of the human psyche. “Psychoanalysis,” writes Phillips, “whatever else it is, is a dictionary of modern fears,” and it’s hard to disagree with that, especially since psychoanalysis helped to forge those modern fears. This is what the incomparable Karl Kraus meant when he famously quipped that “psychoanalysis is the disease of which it claims to be the cure.” 

But let’s forget about diseases and cures for a moment. In one of the truest observations in Becoming Freud, Phillips contends that “Freud is not showing us merely that we are unacceptable to ourselves, but that we are more complicated than we want to be. And more wishful. And more frustrated. And more or less divided against ourselves than we may need to be.” As well-​adjusted as you may be, those statements apply to you as much as they apply to all those blitzed by psychological unrest.

Saul Bellow’s narrator in More Die of Heartbreak has a punchy take on this issue: “I trust psychology less and less. I see it as one of the lower by-​products of the restlessness or oscillation of modern consciousness, a terrible agitation which we prize as ‘insight.’ ” Agitation is not insight, no, but Freud would have told Bellow that such restlessness and oscillation must be reckoned with, must be parsed if we are to have any hope of knowing ourselves. Ten years ago, in Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?, Harold Bloom wrote this: “We live more than ever in the Age of Freud, despite the relative decline that psychoanalysis has begun to suffer as a public institution and as a medical specialty. Freud’s universal and comprehensive theory of the mind probably will outlive the psychoanalytical therapy, and seems already to have placed him with Plato and Montaigne and Shakespeare rather than with the scientists he overtly aspired to emulate.” Freud might feel a ping of vindication to see the April 2014 cover story of Discover magazine, the title of which is “The Second Coming of Freud,” about the ways neuroscientists are merging their research of the brain with Freud’s theories of the mind. The improbable name of this new species of scientific insight? Neuropsychoanalysis. 

Listen carefully. Can you hear that? It’s Sigmund Freud, cackling from his Greek urn. 


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harderwijk's picture
harderwijk · 9 years ago

Well now. “Is the story true?” Speaking of “grand extrapolating and generalizing”. How is this not logically and morally equivalent to making the blithe assertion that “any half serious person” who believes “that little boys unconsciously yearn to destroy their fathers and copulate with their mothers … has zero application to actual human lives”?

How many “actual human lives” can one be privy to? Apart from your own? Who knows what “little boys unconsciously yearn for”? Much less whether whatever little boys yearn for could have any meaningful “application to actual human lives”. Surely, to so confidently claim what shall and what shall not “have application to actual human lives” is to take up permanent residence, rent-free, on the Moral High Ground. There to enjoy the breathtaking, grand assumptive view.

Besides which, the equally innocent statement, that “science … [is] contingent only upon observable facts”, would seem, notwithstanding our inconveniently well-documented sensory limitations, to be equally oblivious of its media-inspired currency as an article of implicit faith in our present infatuation with ‘scientism’.

About as fashionably relevant as “The New Black” ever was. Particularly in view of the on-going, persistently inconclusive, not to mention deeply ambiguous “Higgs boson” brouhaha. To fit our current theoretical model, ninety-five percent of “The Known Universe” is yet to be accounted for. Yet we keep insisting that science will set you free.

Science is not about establishing The Truth. Science has always only ever been about going and looking. With our human eyes and our human ears, what else. Aided by innumerable remarkable instruments of our own devising. To find what we are looking for. Never what we cannot know that we could know or ought to know. Never to discover the Holy Grail, the “formula for everything”.

The scientific enterprise is to propose hypotheses upon which shaky foundation to suggest temporarily useful explanations for whatever, always incomplete observational data we do manage to apprehend. Never to reach a consensus on what is and what isn’t “out there”. Let alone what ought to be … here, there or somewhere else. That’s pure, eminently marketable media hype.

Science is an eminently useful, though always inherently pathetically limited, work in progress. Never completed. The case is never closed. The science never settled.

harderwijk's picture
harderwijk · 9 years ago

Many of us grew up believing that science is all about The Universe as some kind of giant jigsaw puzzle, about patiently finding out where all the pieces fit. Except that, in this case, the box does not have a picture of the finished product. The Big Picture. That’s where religion comes in. That ancient, truly beguiling and much-vaunted idea that there must be “an overall scheme of things”. And that this book or that teaching represents the picture on the box, what it’s all really supposed to look like. Rather like the ants deciding what a picnic is really all about. Regardless of what the profligate gods think they might like to enjoy.


The more we look at “The Known Universe”, the more it’s beginning to look like the result of a typical playroom mishap. You know, when the myriad pieces of two or more jigsaw puzzles painstakingly spread all over the floor get inadvertently and hopelessly mixed together. Which, come suppertime, then all gets quickly scooped up in one bag. To be sorted out later. A truly herculean task. For which, as well we know, the requisite wet afternoon just never seems to materialise.


Science is too often misunderstood and unwittingly confined to finding only “the missing pieces”. Never the stuff that “obviously doesn’t fit”. Why bother? Indeed, the Higgs boson was thought to be the key, the last vital piece of the whole box and dice. Alas, we’re still far too little concerned with searching more perversely, paradoxically. For the entirely unexpected. The pieces that clearly do not fit at all. The inconvenient, most unwelcome and statistically incongruous data that nevertheless most often turn out to be the very, most unlikely bits that open up a whole new and exciting discipline of research. Our most significant discoveries are usually arrived at “completely by accident”.


The one most important achievement of all our scientific pursuits may well turn out to be a slowly dawning, increasingly disturbing but quite inescapable realisation, not of what else is most probably still possible. But, simply, what is most definitely and undeniably impossible. It’s beginning to dawn on us at last, like the ants at your regular picnic, just how preposterous the literally unimaginable dimensions of our inherent ignorance must be, due to our pathetic, inescapably innate limitations.

Blake's picture
Blake · 9 years ago

There a three lingering things about Freud that are bothersome to me:

(1) he was an enthnocentric Jew and personally screwed-up individual; (2) he had an abnormally and suspiciously close relationship with his daughter, Anna, and (3) he was a fraudulent scientist and is now identified as a philosopher, although a more accurate description would be propagandist.


Akilesh Ayyar's picture
Akilesh Ayyar · 9 years ago

This rather facile article falls prey to the very criticism it makes of the book: it carries on "as if for the past forty years seismic upheavals have not been occurring inside the legacy of Freud and his brainchild" -- and that Freud's ideas have in fact largely withstood the assault.

Psychoanalysis is very much a science and a therapy (in addition to its very strong literary virtues), and strong empirical evidence backs it.

Tenets of psychoanalytic and psychodynamic theory have been subjected to extensive empirical testing; most have held up, a few haven't. Numerous scholarly articles in the most prestigious scientific venues attest to this. For an overview, see Drew Westen, "The Scientific Legacy of Sigmund Freud."

For the curative value of therapies descended from Freud's ideas, see Jonathan Shedler, "The Efficacy of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy." Indeed there is good reason to believe that the effects of long-term psychodynamic treatment are better than those of other treatments (see in the Journal of the American Medical Association, "Effectiveness of Long-term Psychodynamic Psychotherapy," by Leichsenring and Rabung, 2008).

It's unfortunate that the author of this article chooses to propagate an ill-informed and unbalanced attack on psychoanalysis as if it were undisputed scientific gospel -- when in fact that is very far from the case.

Ted Schrey   Montreal's picture
Ted Schrey Mo... · 9 years ago

I enjoyed reading this.

ust wondered if anything is left of the Unconscious?

Michael Moser's picture
Michael Moser · 9 years ago

The thing that is common to both Marx and Freud - its all subject to very broad interpretation and everyone can read in his thing into it.
i think it is very unfortunate that it is now fashionable to dig up the racial Jewish component. Maybe its Hitler who is laughing here in his grave, not Freud.

i think that the preoccupation with Psychoanalysis in the first half of the twentieth century did have lasting positive - humanising effects:

- Prior to Freud childhood was regarded as a degraded stage of adulthood; Now we view childhood as the source and home of our psyche.
- Freud is viewing our behaviour as described by multiple layers; i think that this already happened in the works of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, but Freud somehow formulated this as a serious position
- There is less stigma associated with mental illness, sick persons are no longer locked up and viewed as outcasts.
- A new structural view of language;

Duarte Lima's picture
Duarte Lima · 9 years ago

Typical non- sense of someone that doesn´t know what Freud actually wrote.

A Jones's picture
A Jones · 9 years ago

One of my favorite lines of all time is: "I mock not your intelligence.  I mock your certainty."

The scent of certainty and overconfidence wafts over just about every paragraph in this essay (...and I say that while *agreeing* with the basic thrust of the author's analysis of Freud).

Let's just look at this one sentence: "Not incidentally, the use of dreams in a novel or short story to disclose some vital component of a character is an absolutely fatal calculation, and one that is also an unfailing sign of a neophyte."

*Absolutely*.  *Unfailing*.

I really shouldn't even have to comment further.  Obviously, this is not just unproven but is the classic Black Swan error that will be disproven by just one counterexample.  I've never seen a single "top-100 novel" list (as lame as they usually are) that doesn't have *multiple* examples of books with dreams in the text expressing vital components of character.  I'm sure there's a preposterous "no true Scotsman" defense for each, so I won't even bother to list them.  If you don't already see the problem, you never will.

But seriously, the idea that dreams cannot dramatically (as in conflict is present in the dream itself) convey desires and fears that are hidden from the character who experiences that dream?  Really?  Is that the hill you want to die on?

I guess it's more than the author's confidence I have problem with in this one instance.  The underlying idea is garbage as well.

Steve Sailer's picture
Steve Sailer · 9 years ago

By the standards of 20th Century cult leaders, Freud wasn't such a bad guy, more L. Ron Hubbard or Ayn Rand than Mao or Hitler.

Steve Sailer's picture
Steve Sailer · 9 years ago

The interesting question today is: why was Freud so hyped as a genius? The most plausible answer seems to be that by the beginning of the 20th Century there were an enormous number of talented Jewish intellectuals, but a shortage of Jewish intellectual heroes for them to celebrate of the magnitude of Newton or Shakespeare. The Jewish Enlightenment had only begun in the late 18th Century and the number of modern Jews was growing exponentially with each generation. In 1919, a genuine Jewish scientific genius, Einstein, became deservedly world famous, but before then who was there to idolize? There was Marx, and quite a few young Jewish intellectuals made a cult of his works, but Marx was, to say the least, controversial. So, there was a market niche open for a pro-bourgeois, non-radical Jewish genius, which Freud filled satisfactorily from the early 20th Century onward, despite the obvious flaws in his work.


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