Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Fables of Freud

Observing My Cast of Characters
I am instinctually a writer. OK. That should get your attention--Reeeeelax, lay back, close your eyes, picture yourself in a situation where you are extremely happy, like perhaps you are recalling a time in a spring and you were perhaps in a fresh meadow, you can hear larks singing in the wind-raptured waving of the long-stemmed grasses, some still glistening with morning dew, the source of life and recall that and reeeeeelax...think back, way back deeply back to that source of life.... Freud's first principle of psychoanalysis was to put the patient in a relaxed and extremely comfortable state of both body and mind, a coolly lit place, subdued light, mostly focused off the patient and onto the analyst who sits above the head of the patient out of the picture the relaxation is setting up in the patient's mind's theater--the place we are seeking to enter--the dark cavernous womblike theater on whose screen is being shown the 'memory' of the patient's being from the time of the IT until the time that IT developed its character...AHA!

People who hang around me long enough know that I carry around a character with me all the time who I identify as Herr Doktor, or at times when I'm more revealing, I actually go further and identify this character as Herr Doktor Freud. I pretend to be a Freudian male--and I really think I am though I actually find Freud too simple for me, too bound to the ancient, too bound to the literature of the collective imagination, including all the "good books" of the "believing" world. That's the world I entered upon birth--a traumatic birth? AHA, that got me, I didn't feel like I'd had a traumatic birth. My brother had one; I knew that; my brother had been born dead; my grandmother who was there assisting the doctor with the delivery said he came out of the womb black--yes, his body was black--the doc hit him on the back and nothing happened--so the doc pitched my brother's black lifeless (he thought) body on a pile of newspapers in a corner of the delivery room (I never questioned why there was a pile of newspapers in that corner of that delivery room--besides, I was taught my grandmother never "fibbed" so I trusted her)--so, there, yes, my brother did have a traumatic birth--and my brother had a traumatic life, too--and, me, I must not have had a traumatic birth because I have not had a traumatic life. I thinking Freudian? I was thinking that way before I knew who Freud was. I've always blamed my parents for all my faults--I even blame them for the place where I was born--hell, I blame them for giving me life! How Freudian is that? And I've felt this way since I was old enough to realize as much as I tried to get my parents's attention, show them my act, and then get a roaring applause from them, which I never got; everything I accomplished in this life I accomplished "going on my instincts"--my instincts led me to a typewriter (and a piano, too, which is the same as a typewriter--it has keys and you strike those keys to hit the right notes (words)--you get it, I'm sure)--and all of this before I ever knew who Freud was. I didn't know who Freud was until I took a high school psychology course taught by a cool dude who was also a jazz musician in secret and I still remember all this dude taught me--and he introduced me to Freud--he introduced me to Freud as a Gestalt character, not as a man named Sigmund Freud but as the "god" of what had become the empirical study of the human endeavor to live--to survive this mysterious window of existence we call LIFE--a god in the sense of a creative thinker, an inventor of a primitive science, yes, but an "intended" science just the same--that's what Freud was to this dude, he was the bible of a new science; Freud was the deliverer of the baby they called psychiatry--and psychology is not a science and a lot of people confuse psychology with psychiatry and psychoanalysis. The best a psychologist can do is counsel, like Doctor Phil, he's a psychologist, he's an educational psychologist and not even a clinical or theoretical psychologist; psychiatry is a whole other creature, a creature created by scientists, doctors who while treating their patients for neurological diseases stumbled across such weirdly fucked up patients--like Josef Breuer's famous Anna O, the patient who started it all--the patient who so fascinated young Sigmund Freud that it got him to thinking imaginatively--relating her self-evaluations (revelations) to Breuer and Freud--and Freud, who I think was also instinctually a writer--related these "discoveries" to characters in the vast literatures Freud was abundantly familiar with, especially Dante, Shakespeare, especially ancient writings like the Book of the Dead, down to the writings of Schliemann and Goethe. We tend to forget how influenced these young European geniuses, like Freud, were by their own hangups coming out of the history they came out of. Philip Wylie, not a defender of Freud--a firm Jungian in his essays on psychiatry and psychoanalysis--reminds us in his Essay on Morals that the doctors who discovered the unconscious mind were European and made their discoveries based on European conspicuous sexual conflicts. Wylie wrote, "Had the doctors been dealing with Native Americans or with Asians, then the total psyche of man might have come from another direction: conflicts arising from an inability to accept and assimilate the objective environment."

Recently nearly everyone of my friends has come down on me for my Freud character I use in a lot of my metaphorical leaps into the unknown--the WHY? of life, which is the question Freud was trying to awake us to--we are our own gods, Freud said, good and evil are concepts of our imagination--fear is the result of our fabulous imagination--the heavenward gods are defenders against the anthropomorphic characters who represent our fears in the fabulous reality of our minds, the autobiographies we write and store in our mind's memory. "My Babe" calls some of my Freudian revelations as "psycho-babble"--I'm a writer remember--as Hemingway said, everything I think or write is fiction--an alternative reality--a reality Freud was trying to give language reference to and which to me, an instinctual writer, he inspired me with what he thought up whether you find it babble or clear thinking and reasoning--in his essays on war and monotheism he certainly showed great reasoning, progressive reasoning as far as WWII and its reasons for happening are concerned--and Freud was caught smack dab in the middle of a whole mess of FEARS and suppressed bullshit caused by those times--and Freud was a Jew, too, and that has to be considered in his rather rabbinical approach to interpretations. Anyway, I apologize to my more evolutionarily developed friends for still hanging out with my Herr Doktor Freud as I linger in the shadows of my PAST.

One of the best pieces on Freud I've read in the last few years was by Sarah Boxer, a cool writer who used to write for the New York Times--I know not where she is today--but anyway, here's her piece on what Sarah calls "Freud bashing"--it's a pretty perceptive essay, I think--it's kind'a how I feel about Freud--I'm not a defender of Freud's principles but a defender of Freud's imaginative greatness as a unique thinker and I think a very interesting writer. I am a descendant of Gertrude Stein who if you recall was a student of America's Freud at Harvard--William James--pragmatism--very American--and it is really pragmatism that is the basis of my empirical sociological nature--and I've written about how psychiatrists don't know how to deal with sociopaths--from which we sociologists developed Social Psychiatry--ah, we sociologists are diarists--diary-like thinkers. Diurnal? How about di-urinal thinkers? Here's Sarah Boxer's essay on Freud bashing.

August 10, 1997
Flogging Freud ESSAY / By SARAH BOXER

Never mind whether Freud should be judged as a scientist or a therapist or a sexist or a social force. If nothing else, Freud has proved to be a great whipping boy for our time. He has been blamed for turning children against their parents (Frederick Crews) and for excusing parents who seduce their children (Jeffrey Masson), for being a crypto-biologist (Frank Sulloway) and a crypto-priest (Richard Webster), for believing patients too little (Jeffrey Masson) and too much (Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen), for hiding his faults (Henri Ellenberger) and flaunting them (John Farrell).

Freud may have been bad. But can he really have been bad in so many contradictory ways? A sampling of recent books suggests that after a century of Freud flogging, the critics still haven't finished with him.

In DISPATCHES FROM THE FREUD WARS: Psychoanalysis and Its Passions (Harvard University, $27.95), John Forrester, one of the few dispassionate writers to look at Freud, observes that his harshest critics have a ''heartfelt wish that Freud might never have been born or, failing to achieve that end, that all his works and influence be made as nothing.'' That means there's a lot of grunt work left to do.

Only 15 years ago, there was a relatively small group of people chipping away at Freud's reputation: Adolf Grunbaum and Frank Sulloway took on Freud's science, E. M. Thornton examined his medical oversights and his cocaine addiction, Jeffrey Masson assailed his abandonment of abused children, Paul Roazen considered his cavalier treatment of his followers, and Peter Swales attacked his personal morals. But now that generation of critics has its own followers, and they are turning out to be an unruly band of zealots who will happily hack at any fiber of Freud still twitching. They are a single-minded and humorless group.

What distinguishes the new critics from the old is the scope of their mission. The older ones questioned the merits of psychoanalysis and then turned on Freud himself. Now a more virulent strain of criticism is abroad, based on the belief that Freud's evil suffused everything he did, everything he inspired and everyone he treated. Forrester derides these new critics who try ''to show that psychoanalysis is deeply flawed . . . not only because it is a bad and outdated theory, but principally because Freud was untrustworthy, demented, mendacious.'' They think he contaminated everything he touched. So everything he touched must be burned to the ground.

The trouble for these nihilistic critics is that Freud's influence is everywhere -- or, as W. H. Auden once said in a more generous context, ''he is no more a person now but a whole climate of opinion.'' That means that critics who want to destroy Freud must toss out even irreplaceable concepts like repression and the Oedipus complex and prove that modern modes like irony and self-mockery, which Freud used so effectively, are in fact pernicious. It also means that the words of Freud's patients must be exposed as worthless, untrustworthy and fundamentally contaminated. This was not always so.

In the 1980's, many critics illustrated Freud's mistakes by championing his famous patients. Stanley Fish (in an essay called ''Withholding the Missing Portion: Psychoanalysis and Rhetoric'') applauded the Wolf Man for having had the good sense to observe, at the start of his analysis, that Freud was ''a Jewish swindler'' who wanted to use him ''from behind'' and defecate on his head. Feminists like Nina Auerbach hailed Dora for befuddling Freud the patriarch. And when Jeffrey Masson faulted Freud for abandoning his seduction theory (the idea that neurosis is caused by childhood sexual abuse), he portrayed Freud's early patients as honest and brave for reporting their childhood seductions. He lambasted Freud for not believing them, for declaring that their memories were in fact childhood fantasies.

Critics today are not such softies. They are inclined to think, Forrester says, that ''none of Freud's reports concerning what happened to his patients, or indeed of what they said, can be trusted . . . because the analyst made it all up.'' And that includes reports of childhood seductions. No use crying over these abused children. The abuses are little more than figments of Freud's fevered imagination.

''The memories of scenes of childhood seduction were not real memories at all,'' Richard Webster writes in WHY FREUD WAS WRONG: Sin, Science, and Psychoanalysis (Basic Books, $35). Nor were they the patients' real fantasies. ''They were . . . constructed, suggested or forced on patients by Freud himself,'' Webster writes. And Webster is by no means the only one to say this. Frederick Crews makes the same point in THE MEMORY WARS: Freud's Legacy in Dispute (New York Review, cloth, $22.95; paper, $12.95). Indeed, he blames Freud for the recent wave of false memories about childhood sexual abuse. The bottom line: Freud's patients are too tainted to be believed.

Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen takes the argument one step further. In REMEMBERING ANNA O.: A Century of Mystification (Routledge, paper, $14.95), a bizarre and nasty book about the seminal case of psychoanalysis, he argues that Anna O. (a k a Bertha Pappenheim), the first psychoanalytic patient, was as much of a faker as were her doctor, Josef Breuer, and his friend and colleague Freud. All three colluded, for separate reasons, in the creation of the crackpot science of psychoanalysis.

In 1881, Anna O. came to Breuer with a strange array of symptoms: hallucinations, lapses of consciousness, a cough, a squint, partial paralysis and an inability to speak her native language, German. Breuer discovered that when Anna O. could be cajoled, under hypnosis, into talking about her hallucinations, she felt relieved. She called it her ''talking cure,'' and its most impressive demonstration came after she developed an aversion to drinking water. Through free association, she traced her hydrophobia to a day when she visited an Englishwoman and saw, to her disgust, the woman's dog lapping water from a glass. After Anna O. recalled the event to Breuer, she asked for a glass of water and gulped it down.

Little by little, Breuer used the talking cure to get rid of most of Anna O.'s symptoms. And 10 years later, Freud persuaded Breuer to publish the case history as part of a Freud-Breuer collaboration, ''Studies on Hysteria,'' a book devoted to showing that hysterics are people who, as they poetically put it, ''suffer mainly from reminiscences.''

The old-line critics have already raked over this case. In 1970, Henri Ellenberger reported that Anna O. was far from cured when her treatment with Breuer ended in 1882. In fact, she checked into a Swiss sanitarium. And Freud knew this, the critics complain, when he pushed Breuer to publish the case. But while Borch-Jacobsen rails against Freud and Breuer, he reserves most of his bile for the patient herself. He calls Anna O. ''the archhysteric of psychoanalysis'' and insists that in order to get attention from Breuer, she ''faked her symptoms.''

In the critics' minds, then, there isn't a shred of credible material left in Freud's case histories. Even the patients are scheming. And the critics' paranoia doesn't stop there. According to Webster, all of Freud's basic concepts are tainted not only because he bent the facts but because he colored them with his secret Judeo-Christian predilections. Though Freud presented the idea of infantile sexuality as revolutionary, Webster believes it was nothing more than the idea of original sin, with the infant as fallen Adam. And though Freud presented psychoanalysis as a liberating cure, Webster says that in ''placing what was, in effect, a confessional ritual at the very heart of the psychoanalytic movement, Freud was . . . unconsciously institutionalizing his own profound religious traditionalism.''

Freud bashing has become so sweeping that while some critics are busy bashing Freud the closet traditionalist, others are after Freud the modernist. In ''The Interpretation of Dreams,'' Freud mocks himself as an ambitious, self-justifying man. You might think that the critics, who have complained about the very same character flaws in Freud, would embrace his comic and unsparing self-portrait.

Think again. In FREUD'S PARANOID QUEST: Psychoanalysis and Modern Suspicion (New York University, $34.95), John Farrell makes the case that even Freud's self-mockery is suspect, the work of a corrosive modernist outlook. Freud, Farrell declares, was paranoid -- just like Don Quixote, one of his favorite fictional characters, and Daniel Paul Schreber, a modern-day paranoiac whom Freud celebrated as ''wonderful.'' Like all paranoiacs, Freud had delusions of grandeur and persecution fantasies and was committed to a belief that nothing in the world is ever what it appears to be.

What made Freud more dangerous, Farrell thinks, was his infectiousness. He managed to pass his neurosis on to the whole modern world. By turning his satiric eye on himself to demonstrate his passion for merciless truth seeking, Freud taught us all to be paranoid. When he put himself on the examining table, he demanded something in return: an adherence to what Farrell, ever numb to whimsy, considers the cornerstone of psychoanalysis -- the paranoid outlook, a constellation of unattractive, typically modernist traits, ''suspicion both of individuals and of society, self-conscious intellectual excess, hostile and reductive logic and nihilating satiric irony.''

''Paranoia,'' he writes, ''is the one communicable mental disease.'' And Freud has passed it on to us all. Never mind that paranoia is not exactly the same as irony, suspicion or satire. The reader can only conclude that if anyone is to be blamed for the current wave of deep suspicion against Freud, it is Freud himself. Here the mad hound of Freud criticism, in hot pursuit of analytic prey, has finally bitten its own tail. Where can it go next?

Sarah Boxer is an editor at the Week in Review section of The New York Times.

Cheers and pleasant recalling,

for The Daily Growler

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