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Burying Freud
May 15, 2006 9:16 AM   Subscribe

Burying Freud. A collection of essays and responses by and about Freud's harshest critics, including "Confessions of a Freud-Basher" by anti-Freud point man Frederick Crews, interviewed at length here.
posted by mediareport (32 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
From the third page of the interview:

He was a charlatan. In 1896 he published three papers on the ideology of hysteria claiming that he had cured X number of patients. First it was thirteen and then it was eighteen. And he had cured them all by presenting them, or rather by obliging them to remember, that they had been sexually abused as children. In 1897 he lost faith in this theory, but he'd told his colleagues that this was the way to cure hysteria. So he had a scientific obligation to tell people about his change of mind. But he didn't. He didn't even hint at it until 1905, and even then he wasn't clear. Meanwhile, where were the thirteen patients? Where were the eighteen patients? You read the Freud - Fleiss letters and you find that Freud's patients were leaving at the time. By 1897 he didn't have any patients worth mentioning, and he hadn't cured any of them, and he knew it perfectly well. Well, if a scientist did that today, of course he would be stripped of his job. He would be stripped of his research funds. He would be disgraced for life. But Freud was so brilliant at controlling his own legend that people can hear charges like this, and even admit that they're true, and yet not have their faith in the system of thought affected in any way.
posted by mediareport at 9:17 AM on May 15, 2006


So far I am reading first link and It seems character assassination.
posted by elpapacito at 9:23 AM on May 15, 2006


Individual event != entire system.

Fascinating links though, will have to go through these when I have bit more time.
posted by slimepuppy at 9:29 AM on May 15, 2006


Would someone be willing to summarize the charges? Is the indictment of:

1. The talking cure? That is, it helps to talk about your problems.
2. The unconscious? I.e. we don't always know all of our intentions and reasons, and there is often repression or self-deception about our motivations for acting as we do.
3. The erotic subject? Our reasons are primarily related to pleasure and pain, and the strategies we develop for avoiding pain and achieving pleasure. Sex is very pleasurable, so many features of our subjectivity are related to sexual satisfaction.
4. The Oedipal complex? Our relationships with our parents and other intimate family members importantly determine our relationships with others.
5. Some specific cases, like the Wolf Man? Perhaps Freud misrepresented either symptoms or relief in case studies he presented in support of the four features above?

I'd really appreciate it, because I can't stand wading through the acrimony and sanctimony. Thanks!
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:58 AM on May 15, 2006


Sidenote worth mentioning: Crews is also the author of the 1963 satirical litcrit classic The Pooh Perplex.

elpapacito, try starting with the "Confessions" link; I probably should've put that first. anotherpanacea, try there, too, as well as the "anti-Freud" link. One of Crews' main points has always been the distortions and outright lies Freud told about his patients in his most famous case studies; that link offers a devastating summary:

Particularly outrageous was the "treatment" of one Emma Eckstein, one of Freud’s hysterical patients. Unfortunately for the hapless Miss Eckstein her diagnosis came during the period when Fliess’ influence on Freud was at its greatest; and since Fliess, a nose surgeon, was at the time pushing his nutty theory that neuroses were located in something he called the "nasal reflex" and not where they are in fact located, in the personality and its complex history, Freud allowed Fliess to "cure" Eckstein’s misery by removing the middle left concha of her nose. After an operation that Crews rightly calls entirely superfluous, this feckless nose surgeon immediately returned to his regular (mal)practice in Berlin, leaving Freud’s already hysterical patient on the verge of bleeding to death because, in his typically quack way, Fliess had left a half meter of iodo-form gauze in her nasal cavity at the conclusion of the operation. If that weren’t outrage enough, Freud gradually stopped blaming Fliess for this surgical butchery and soon told his correspondent, in perhaps the most startling letter in the collection, that Eckstein was bleeding not from an incompetent operation but from an unconscious love–call to Freud himself!

It is a sign of how much fauna there is for the anti–Freudian to hunt in this grotesque menagerie that the Eckstein case is only alluded to on a few occasions in this scholarly brief against Freud. More inviting targets of the book include such obvious game animals as: 1) Freud’s habit of using evidence gained in hypnosis and free association as confirmation of his theories despite his famous and flagrant habit of hectoring his patients to come up with just the response he was looking for; 2) his constant rewriting of the history of the psychoanalytic movement not just to favor his own innovations but to cover the tracks of his malpractice, exploitation, and duplicity; and 3) his lazy neurological assumption that infants have brains developed enough to sustain the emotional trauma he attributes to them, and that adults have brains built (to use Crews’ fine phrase) like "cortical dominoes" such that Freud can go directly from a stray remark in a free–association session to some hypothesized infantile trauma.


Those two pieces are as good a brief summary as you can absorb in just a few minutes. But I highly recommend digging deeper into the controversy if you care at all about psychology.
posted by mediareport at 10:07 AM on May 15, 2006


So, I'll just address this point, since it is so easily digestible. Thanks!

Doctors were ALL quacks in the nineteenth century. The hysteria hypothesis is not Freud's, and the state of medical science was mired in a number of psychosomatic accounts of illness, including somnambulism and eugenics. Freud was certainly not one to apologize for participating in what was then cutting-edge research. I'm not disagreeing: he was an arrogant prick.

However, the desire of many psychologists to bury this strange confluence of pseudo-science and genuine insight through character assasination and anachronism seems silly to me. It's not Freud's fault he didn't know how the brain worked; nobody else did, either. Nor it is his fault that his methods were weak and relatively unrigorous; the human sciences were in their infancy, and the models derived from the physical sciences did not yet have clear applications for human trials.

So when a historian of psychology goes after Freud with this sense of loathing and resentment, I've got to ask: what's the big deal? Why not spend your time being positive and experimental, rather than kicking a dead guy? American therapy is ruled by cognitive and pharmacological models. It's about efficient courses of treatment. We could stand some more good ol' fashioned talking cures. And at base, that's what makes Freud a model for therapy: precisely because he didn't yet know what made the brain work, he was actually curious about his patients, rather than simply forcing their conditions to conform to a handy diagnostic manual.

By the by, calling him a lazy neurologist is like calling Democritus lazy for not knowing about quarks. Heck, Newton was an alchemist. Does that mean that calculus doesn't work?
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:33 AM on May 15, 2006


I was a psychology major in college for a time... this was until I wrote a paper with the hypothesis that Freud was gay... The paper was not an attack on Freud or gays, it was just making some salient points about motivations...

The instructor in the class made a point of not agreeing with me, but liked the paper and gave me an A...

Well, the paper was passed around the faculty in the Psych dept and I was eventually called into the Dean's office... he told me that if I "...continued upon this course, I will refuse to allow you to graduate with a degree in this field."

At that point I went back to majoring in history...

Freud is such a polarizing subject in the field, but I never thought that a simple paper would lead to a threat to end my academic path...
posted by WhipSmart at 10:56 AM on May 15, 2006


anotherpanacea, I don't really understand your perspective here. You don't bother to actually read any of the links (because that would be "wading through the acrimony and sanctimony"); when mediareport suggests one link as a good place to start (a suggestion I heartily endorse), you limit yourself to reading the two paragraphs about one case presented as a teaser, and then say "what's the big deal?" Why don't you try working a little harder?

The big deal is that Freud single-handedly created an absurd farrago of mythology and hypothesis, based on almost no empirical evidence, and promoted it so effectively (nobody questions his skill as a writer) that it became first a respectable "science," then an orthodoxy, ruining the lives of many and emptying the pocketbooks of many more. If he had just been a quack on the level of the diet doctors and self-help gurus, getting a good living off the suckers, I'd be happy to laugh at him, but thinking of the dominance he achieved at the expense of more worthwhile approaches to the problems of the mind, the patients who might have been helped but spent years in endless babbling to their shrinks, makes me furious and it should have the same effect on you.

Crews is one of my heroes; I still vividly remember devouring that NYRB article from '93 and feeling vindicated in my suspicions of the whole project of Freudianism. Freud was a charlatan with few morals and no scientific credibility, and it's long since time that his theories were consigned to the junk heap along with phlogiston and epicycles.

Thanks for the post, mediareport!

On preview: WhipSmart's anecdote is an excellent summary of the Freudian attitude. You're either with us, wholeheartedly and subserviently, or we'll make sure you never have a career in the field. Good riddance to the lot of them.
posted by languagehat at 11:03 AM on May 15, 2006


Ridiculing Freud is easy-pickins in the same way as ridiculing astrology. Nonetheless, the modern science of astronomy owes a great deal to the careful observations made by astrologers, and Freud's observations paved the way for modern science's unfolding understanding of the mind. One might as well ridicule one's childhood self.
posted by slatternus at 11:04 AM on May 15, 2006


The reason why Freud's legacy is so hotly contested is because it hints at the ugly truth that the majority of psychology today is bunk. Pointing out that the father of the field was a quack thus becomes both necessary and unacceptable. But there's a strange code in academia which states that once you've made it past the gates you'll never be kicked out--hence these debates over Freud's "legacy." People fight hardest when there's nothing at stake.
posted by nixerman at 11:17 AM on May 15, 2006


Languagehat:
I've been reading the links, but chose to "address" the poster's quote. I'm certainly not the sort to make quick friend/enemy distinctions, as you suggest.

I like Crews too, by the way, though I think his criticism of Freud were aimed at a different time, when Freudians were more fundamentalist and entrenched in the clinical establishment. Then, he was speaking truth to power. These days, Freudians must be thoughtful and self-critical. They're Freud's best analysts and his harshest detractors.

Analysis Terminable was much better and more apropos than the NYROB article and its aftermath, but that dispute is twenty-five years old. We've got a different set of problems, and as a philosopher, I prefer to take what I can from Freud and move on. Psychologists can do their own thing with him, but it doesn't make sense to me.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:21 AM on May 15, 2006


OK, sorry for leaping to assumptions. I still think you're much too easy on him, but you clearly know what you're talking about.
posted by languagehat at 12:13 PM on May 15, 2006


These criticisms could just as easily be applied to most of modern medicine. When the nineteenth-century man of physic turns his nose up on the page at his lesser colleagues, "those shabby empirics," this twenty-first century physician feels the barb go home.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:17 PM on May 15, 2006


I resumed reading from mediareport suggested "confession" link and I still have troubles navigating through the "loaded language" ..it's either a ruin or a disgrace or a pity or a mess or whatever ! Yet for the shake of finding a point I'll disregard the style and look for substance.

So far the sensation is that of attacking the messenger instead of attacking the message : I personally happen to know a couple engineers friend of mine that are superficial, obnoxious, homophobic, sexist, but manage to put a good face on that and live somehow with people surrounding them ; expect that they are absolutely brilliant when it comes to their job, mathematics, physics ...they are knowledgable , practical, people that often teach me something interesting and unknown to me.

Quoting from the links
Instead of addressing my criticisms, they blended ad hominem argumentation with question begging by treating me personally as a Freudian mental case.
So far it's pot ,meet kettle. But I went further, it's still a ton of "people hate me so much for hating freud it's an hatefest of Ann Coulter proportions!"
When we get down to the details, however--for example, Freud's attribution of 'Dora's' asthmatic attacks to her once having witnessed an act of parental intercourse--we find that the symptomatic interpretations rest on nothing more substantial than vulgar thematic affinities (heavy breathing in coitus=asthma) residing in Freud's own prurient mind.
Interesting, one would like to read all of the text written by Freud on that episode.
On close inspection, the Freudian 'dynamic unconscious' turns out to be not only a tissue of contradictions between primitive and sophisticated functions but also an ontological maze peopled by absurd homunculi possessing their own inexplicable sets of warring motives.
My wild guess is that the guy has taken Freud -model- as a strict description, a PICTURE of reality, and he's mightly pissed that the model doesn't perfectly represent "reality" and that it has got shortcoming.
Step by step, we are learning that Freud has been the most overrated figure in the entire history of science and medicine--one who wrought immense harm through the propagation of false etiologies, mistaken diagnoses, and fruitless lines of inquiry. Still, the legend dies hard, and those who challenge it continue to be greeted like rabid skunks.
Thanks for telling us ! I would have preferred a detailed explanation of HOW and why he was wrong, instead of a mere declaration of the possible presence of shortcoming..but hey , I love my authorities skinned in every way. Certainly if we take _everything_ or _most_ of what Freud wrote and taught and experiment as valid or bible because it was written by Freud, we will remain stuck into a self serving appeal to authority that says " Freud is an authority, therefore he is right because he is an authority "

I'll try reading the other articles, but the attitude so far only pissed me.
posted by elpapacito at 12:41 PM on May 15, 2006


"Heck, Newton was an alchemist. Does that mean that calculus doesn't work?"

It's never worked for me, at least in recent memory. For the record, neither has alchemy. Or psychoanalysis.
posted by illovich at 1:29 PM on May 15, 2006


The Pooh Perplex and the Postmodern Pooh are such fabulous books. I love Crews.

But I'm still so very undecided about Freud. The talking cure and the systematic exploration of the unconscious were great additions to psychology. But the more mythological elements read like they come straight out of Homer, or Incan legends, and it's hard to see how to distill the good parts of Freud from the effluvia. I don't know quite enough about Freud to know how to do so -- but it seems reasonably clear that some parts of his theory are bang-on, and others are fictional sexist dreck.
posted by painquale at 1:42 PM on May 15, 2006


It's not Freud's fault he didn't know how the brain worked

That completely misses the point; the critique barely touches upon that.

elpapacito: I would have preferred a detailed explanation of HOW and why he was wrong

Lying about the case studies that provide the foundation for his theory doesn't count? That's weird. One of the main reasons Crews' critique got so much traction was the detailed way he presented the now-well-accepted conclusion that Freud himself knowingly lied about his own case studies, painting pictures of "cures" that simply never happened and heavily hyped results he knew to be fraudulent. This goes way beyond anotherpanacea's gloss of "weak methods." Crew's books and articles detail that process *very* carefully and clearly; for what it's worth, even Freud's defenders no longer argue that point. Which makes the end of the quote from Crew in the first comment even more important.

Also, you should know one of the reasons it's very difficult to attack Freudian theory without attacking the man is that Freud and his disciples - and the term is used very specifically here - 1) deliberately fanned a cult of personality around Freud's now-rather obvious flimsy science, and 2) aggressively went after any critics in very personal terms. And when Crews first began dissecting Freud publicly, the venom aimed his way from defenders was truly off the charts, so you may be getting a slightly skewed version of where the "loaded language" may have come from through this presentation.

And hell, knocking an idol off its pedestal is always going to be something of a "loaded" attack. anotherpanacea may not be following psychology closely, but the spate of 150-year appreciations we've been seeing have been full of the kind of overblown hagiography Crews and his fellow critics went after. This is hardly a debate that was settled 25 years ago; undoing the damage the diehard Freudians have caused is an ongoing process. The "anti-Freud" link I pointed you to does a great job of describing the links between crap Freudianism and the recent (and still very active) "recovered memory" movement, for instance.

slatternus: Freud's observations paved the way for modern science's unfolding understanding of the mind

Well, for what it's worth, the concept of the unconscious was present before Freud, and it's very arguable that psychology would have advanced much more quickly if Freudian doctrine hadn't solidified into a huge, highly defensive rock in the middle of the road. The furious infighting and splitting that characterized much of psychology during the 20th century wasted a lot of time and effort.

*tips hat to languagehat*
posted by mediareport at 1:59 PM on May 15, 2006


the concept of the unconscious was present before Freud

Could you say more about this? I'm not aware of pre-Freudian theories of the psyche that include a formation that deliberately undermines the Cartesian cogito in this fashion. Nietzsche maybe... but that's a stretch, and it was certainly undertheorized in his work. Hegel and Marx do some of this work, but not in relation to the individual psyche. In that specific sense, I have to give credit to Freud. (But I'm interested to hear more!)

undoing the damage the diehard Freudians have caused is an ongoing process

I'm sorry to say it, but the very notion of an originary trauma which must be constantly worked through but never healed is Freudianism par excellence. I should think Crews himself would reject this account of our unpayable debt to Freud. Let me apologize now for accusing an anti-Freudian of Freudianism. I think that sort of thing is unfair, too. But... well, it's sometimes very tempting when dealing with this subject matter.

Lying about the case studies that provide the foundation for his theory doesn't count?

I don't agree that the case studies that have been cited are foundational. That is, they are not necessary in order to accept the provisions I outline here.

As for lying, I'm never a fan. When I discovered MLK had plagiarized his dissertation, I became distraught... I wondered whether I could still teach his work without constantly pointing out that this man was a liar and a cheater. Ultimately, I decided that the 'cult of personality' surrounding him contributes too much to our understanding of ourselves to forego. Freud is no MLK, but I suspect the same is true. One can read his work on civilization, dreams, religion, and sexuality without worrying too much about how he spent his time or made his money or the lies he told. To ignore him would be to ignore precisely that trauma that you suggest remains with us. As Freud points out, the repressed has a tendency to pop up when least expected.

links between crap Freudianism and the recent (and still very active) "recovered memory" movement

I'm not sure what evidence you have against repressed memories, but the phenomenon has certainly been demonstrated in adult victims who have provably experienced rape. The popular instance is the Central Park jogger, though there was physical trauma involved there as well. (Trisha Meili)

The link describes the problem like this:

[Bad shrinks] ferret out "memories" of alleged instances of child abuse using methods that count the very absence of conscious memory of abuse as prima facie evidence that abuse occurred

This is obviously troublesome: it's a classic fallacy of reasoning. But the evidence of isolated therapists who use such absurd reasoning does not disprove the whole theory. Some recovered memories are false. Are all recovered memories false? If I suddenly remember that I left an important letter unmailed, sitting on my desk, did I invent this memory ex nihilo? Perhaps we should go check for the letter before we decide.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:48 PM on May 15, 2006


This is hardly a debate that was settled 25 years ago; undoing the damage the diehard Freudians have caused is an ongoing process.

Frankly, attacking Freud is a dead horse. In the practice of psychology there are very few hardcore Freudians left - most psychologists engage in great efforts to distance themselves from Freud (as a figurehead) as much as possible, even as they practice a highly evolved form of the 'talking cure' method that he championed.

The Crews article sums up the dilemma nicely: "So far as I am aware, no uniquely psychoanalytic notion has received independent experimental or epidemiological support--not repression, not the Oedipus or castration complex, not the theory of compromise formation, nor any other concept or hypothesis." (Emphasis mine.)

The components of psychoanalysis that have since been found to be useful have been greatly assimilated by schools of thought which are distinctly non-Freudian. In Freud's time, this was a controversial idea - it was widely believed that a sane person fully understood their own behavior, and that any deviation from that ideal of sanity was due to some biological aberration. It was controversial when Freud suggested that irrational behavior could be due to childhood trauma and that sometimes the actor in question does not fully understand their motivations. This idea is so deeply rooted in our understanding today that it's no longer considered "Freudian," simply "common sense." (I'll get this out of the way right now: I'm not talking about the hard-line notion that all irrational behavior, all the time is due to some kind of universal trauma that all children experience once they are ripped away from the objects of their primal incestuous desire.)

So instead we find the "uniquely psychoanalytic notions" that already have been thoroughly debunked and... debunk them again?

I submit that attacking Freud and Freudianism is a little like attacking Hubbard and Scientology, the only difference being that Freudianism is on its way out and Scientology is (inexplicably) growing. The majority of people who pay attention to the subject know it's hogwash, and the rest aren't going to be swayed no matter what you say. The vehement retaliation by a handful of atavistic true believers does not necessarily mean that the school of thought has a major role in the way psychology is taught today.

(One last note, regarding repressed memory syndrome: It's far more useful to attack this particular pseudoscientific bogeyman with current empirical evidence, rather than try to associate it with Freud and hope that it's condemned out of guilt by association.)
posted by Feral at 3:03 PM on May 15, 2006


I like Crews a lot, but as others have mentioned it's important to note that he came along as an enfant terrible in the heady days of literary psychoanalysis in the 1960's, and while some of it has been worthy, much of it has been very, very bad (e.g., any teacher who wants to discuss phallic imagery, how red=sex, etc. Of course, DH Lawrence didn't help in this regard. Or again I should say, the critics who followed in his wake.).

Hell, I like reading Freud too, in the H. Bloomian sense--he was a highly speculative, provocative theorist, but a pretty crappy scientist.
posted by bardic at 3:26 PM on May 15, 2006


Could you say more about this?

The argument is clearly summarized in "Confessions of a Freud-Basher," anotherpanacea; start with the 11th paragraph. Crews asserts that the notion of human minds working on multiple levels - and similar grand "discoveries" retroactively attributed to Freud - are fairly common ideas that can easily be attributed to many earlier thinkers:

[Freud defenders] simply knew, after all, that Freud, despite some occasional missteps and out-of-date assumptions, had made fundamental discoveries and permanently revolutionized our conception of the mind. As three of the unpublished New York Review correspondents put it, Freud proved once and for all that unconscious beliefs and emotions play a large role in our behavior; that the human mind is at once capable of the clearest distinctions and the most devious twists and that that mental illness stems in large part from an imbalance within the human being between real and ideal, between our rational and irrational selves, and between what we want to do and what we have to do.

These and similar formulations were noteworthy for their high quotient of generality and vagueness, approaching, in freedom from determinate content, the perfect vacuum achieved by the historian and Freud apologist Peter Gay, who has characterized Freud's "central idea" as the proposition that 'every human is continuously, inextricably, involved with others . . .'


Quite a shocker, that revelation. Crews goes on:

It is hard to dispute any of these statements about 'humans', but it is also hard to see why they couldn't be credited as easily to Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, or Nietzsche--if not indeed to Jesus or St. Paul--as to Freud. Was it really Freud who first disclosed such commonplaces? Or, rather, has the vast cultural sway of Freud's system caused us to lose focus on his more specific, highly idiosyncratic, assertions, to presume that a number of them must have been scientifically established by now, and to transform him retrospectively into the very personification of 'human' complexity and depth?

The abuses in the recovered memory debate are a side issue, yes, though still worth exploring. But I have to admit to shock that you could read the article and then take the critics to be attacking the notion that people sometimes forget things like mailing a letter.

Whew. You *are* a philosopher.

*backs away slowly*
posted by mediareport at 4:25 PM on May 15, 2006


The vehement retaliation by a handful of atavistic true believers does not necessarily mean that the school of thought has a major role in the way psychology is taught today.

Good to hear, Feral. Therefore, spreading the news to lay folks that Freud has been "thoroughly debunked" by modern psychology is also a good thing, then, right?
posted by mediareport at 4:28 PM on May 15, 2006


So by reading a little more I gather that Freud is accused of

a) altering data so that the data fits his hypothesis
b) disregarding disproving evidences

and that would be sufficient to undermine some of his conclusions , but also of

c) letting at least a quack experiment on at least one of his patients (Eckstein Case)
d) suggesting at least thirteen of his patients to remember sexual abuses
e) using sex because it was an otrageous, interesting subject expecially during victorian times
f) being supported by a secret cabal that existed to propagate Freud's idea and slash opponents/dissenters
g) using the concept of "unconscious" to suggest everybody has animalistic egocentric urges (ID) of which they
are not aware and that they can't explain (because they are unconscious) but he and his fellows can partially
explain them
h) sympathizing with the idea of authoritarian control over countries

Now that' some list ! One could infer from the accusations that Freud , maybe his followers or both were far more interested into maintaining the myth-brand-Freud than increasing their understanding of human nature ; as Freud realized some of his conclusions were faulty, he may have choosed to buy himself more time while he talked to patients, "just" helping them realize what they may have overlooked or not considered.

That's interesting, thanks mediareport. I still am somehow fascinated by the simplicity of id-ego-superego tripartition, which can just be remodeled into urges-tought-values/morals. Maybe one could follow a less confrontational way with Freud, rejecting his documented errors and exposing him as a human that lived in times in which one seeked plausible proofs to sustain conclusion, instead of trying to obtain conclusions from evidence ; which still is the current, today behavior of some intellectualy dishonest scientists.

I would borrow the simplistic model approach , recognize Freud the merit of introducing/popularizing ? some interesting and useful therapeutic approach , use him as example of how one can do a bad work and still do something good and/or be popularized into celebrity and then concentrate on the diffusion and study of more advanced models. I guess the returns of blaming Freud into oblivion are decreasing, I'd rather concentrate on producing a better model.
posted by elpapacito at 5:23 PM on May 15, 2006


Good to hear, Feral. Therefore, spreading the news to lay folks that Freud has been "thoroughly debunked" by modern psychology is also a good thing, then, right?

Sure. If that's what you're doing. There are a few fabulous books to that effect - personally, I think everybody who studies, practices, or is treated in psychotherapy should read Beware the Talking Cure by Terence Campbell.

From the first article in the post:

Webster shows how, despite his biological rhetoric, Freud belongs firmly within a gnostic and Manichean framework, and is imbued with a Judaeo-Christian asceticism that would puritanically dispose of the body.

From the Crews article:

Where, then, are Freud's authenticated contributions not to ethics or mores or hermeneutics but to actual knowledge of the mind? So far as I am aware, no uniquely psychoanalytic notion has received independent experimental or epidemiological support--not repression, not the Oedipus or castration complex, not the theory of compromise formation, nor any other concept or hypothesis. Nor is this negative result anomalous in view of the reckless, conquistadorial manner in which psychoanalytic theory was launched and maintained in the teeth of rational criticism.

Do these appear to be 'spreading the news' to laypeople?
posted by Feral at 5:37 PM on May 15, 2006


Well, I'll cop to having an inflated opinion of the average Mefite's intelligence. :)
posted by mediareport at 5:48 PM on May 15, 2006


Spengler prefers a stake through the heart
"It will take long and painful efforts to repair the damage, but putting a stake through the old reprobate's heart is not a bad way to begin."
posted by hortense at 5:55 PM on May 15, 2006


You *are* a philosopher. *backs away slowly*

Ack! I guess I've been a bit longwinded. Sorry!

However, you raise an interesting point: Freud was not a psychologist as we understand the term today. He was a doctor, and responsible for the growth of a discipline of medicine focused on the mind. His work is attractive to philosophers, especially historians of ideas, and literary critics (mostly Lacan-influenced ones) for reasons other than its scientific accuracy. In other words, Freud still plays an important role in the history of ideas, even if he was a lousy scientist. (As I've argued, however, he was pretty good for his time.)

The argument is clearly summarized

The references to Jesus and St. Paul, etc. go to explain the "human connectedness" claim made by Peter Gay. I was asking about the unconscious. I reject the notion that early Christians, or Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, et al were working with a theory of the unconscious. Since they weren't theorizing the psyche, they can't be said to have developed an 'iceberg' theory of the psyche. QED

The unconscious is entirely uninteresting except as it relates to Descartes' and Kant's theories of the subject. Kant, especially, developed a very strong, still very popular theory of ethical subjectivity that requires that the subject be fully present to herself. Freud shows why that's a bad idea. In the absence of that philosophical lineage, he's just some guy.

take the critics to be attacking the notion that people sometimes forget things like mailing a letter.

I was using an analogy. If we'd go look for the letter, shouldn't we also go look for the child abuse? The argument went like this: a. we know people repress traumatic memories b. sometimes they can remember them c. shouldn't we respect those memories and investigate?

Anyway, thanks for the discussion. I, too, will back away slowly. Apologies for bombast and wind eggs.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:10 PM on May 15, 2006


hortense: wow you have picked quite an article ! It seems to me the author is suggestively or directly blaming Freud of anything including pollution ! (not the nocturnal ones !)

No one did more than Freud to reduce women to sexual objects, a condition against which women rebel by seeking to destroy the objectified body. Epidemic self-destructiveness has reached proportions that are difficult to grasp. Eating disorders reportedly threaten the lives of 10 million American women.

I tought sex industry and models industry used ideal standards ? OK the author claims there's a contradiction in seeing a "skinny" body and starving oneself into an ugly larva, but where's the causal connection to Freud ?

Few psychiatrists today defend Freud's sexual derivation of neurosis, but the damage was done. Sexual liberation remains the core of the social agenda of the left.

Ohhhhh now you lost me ! It's a liberal cabal thang ! The Judeo-Christian-Freudian-Liberal cabal is back again ! The Horror !

Seeking a sexual outlet in the companionship of one's peers now is more common than the search for romantic attachments among American adolescents.

Sure, why not. Because you say so ?

Women enter adolescence with the expectation that they will be used but not loved.

Sweeeeeeping generalizations, all Mefites are communists, did you know ? Enough already with this article.
posted by elpapacito at 6:22 PM on May 15, 2006


For what it's worth, elpapacito, I didn't think much of the article hortense links either; it showed up in a Freud thread from last week. Skimming that thread was one of the sparks that got me to post this one (but the flood of Freud appraisals I've seen in the past few months was a much bigger spark).

anotherpanacea: The unconscious is entirely uninteresting except as it relates to Descartes' and Kant's theories of the subject.

Yeah, I think both of us backing away is best at this point. The above statement makes no sense to this former biology/anthropology student. In fact, it seems ridiculously overblown and miles off-target. See ya in another thread, another.
posted by mediareport at 7:04 PM on May 15, 2006


Btw, I can give more specific information on the unconscious as it was understood before Freud--He was taught by Jean-Martin Charcot
In his effort to explain hysteria and hypnotic phenomena, the otherwise positivistic Charcot became highly speculative. He noted that several of his hysteric patients had suffered a traumatic experience (such as an accident) prior to the onset of their symptoms. Often the accidents were not severe enough to cause neurological damage, but Charcot speculated that the accidents may have caused ideas which, in turn, cauased the symptoms associated with hysteria. Among the more dramatic symptoms associated with hysteria are paralysis of various parts of the body and insensitivity to pain. Specifically, Charcot assumed that trauma had caused certain ideas to become dissociated from consciousness and, thus, isolated from the restrictions of rational thought. In this way an idea caused by trauma "would be removed from every influence, be strengthened, and finall become powerful enough to realize itself objectively through paralysis" (quoted in Webster, 1995 p. 67). Contrary to the positivistic medicine that Charcot had previously accepted, he now speculated that hysterical symptoms (such as paralysis) had a psychological rather than an organic origin. Charcot referred to the paralyses he observed in his hysteric patients as "those remarkable paralyses depending on an idea, paralyses by imagination" (quoted in Webster, 1995, p 68).


and Pierre janet was another student of Charcot's.
and he agreed with his mentor that for some individuals aspects of the personality could become dissociated, or "split off," and these dissociated aspects of the personality could manifest themselves in hysteric symptoms or in hypnotic phenomena. Janet, like Charcot, speculated that both might result from teh "subconscious" influence of dissociated aspects of personality.

and
The ideas of Janet and Freud were so similar that there was a dispute between the two over priority. Freud argued that Janet's treatment of those ideas was superficial. Janet insisted that what Freud called psychoanalysis originated in his work and in that of Charcot (R. I. Watson, 1978)
aside from all the other reasons out there to dislike Freud, I hate that people immediately assume psychology is about analysis or therapy. Should I assume every physicist studies condensed matter? Every engineer drives railroads? geez, people.

quotes are from An Introduction to the History of Psychology, an old text book I have still around. I'm too lazy to dig around for more material. off the cuff, Aristotle and Avicenna had their theories of the soul or personality or what--Freud wasn't the only one who thought to split us into pieces.

(apologies for typos, I guess I should have typed in another window. my typing speed is *much* faster than the rendering speed of this input box.)
posted by bleary at 8:14 PM on May 15, 2006


Thanks for the Charcot info, bleary. Good stuff.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:08 PM on May 16, 2006


As usual, there are MetaFilter threads, like this one, that prompt me to do some studying and enjoy the learning curve.

First, I checked out the history of mental health timeline, an eye-opener. It makes sense to see Freud in an historical context.

Freud was at such an interesting crossroads of culture, at the turn of a repressive Victorian century, coming into an era of tremendous scientific, social and cultural discovery. He was a child of the times.

I never liked Freud from the get-go.
There is plenty not to like: He was a liar, he selfishly used his own daughter, Anna, to promote his ideas, he was sexist, a fabricator, a cocaine pusher, cocaine addict, a nicotine addict who smoked a box of cigars a day in spite of the mouth cancer he developed, leaving him to euthanise himself with a morphine overdose. He was a man who took the stories of his patients being sexually abused as children and turned it around, into the child wanting to have sex with their parents. His nephew, Bernays, was despicable in lots of ways too. All of which left a complex mess to sort out.

Terms associated with Freud are commonly used to to blame and shame. "Ooops, ha ha ha , Freudian slip!" Trauma and Recovery by Dr. J. L Herman, describes how "hysteria" was considered by Freud to be a female illness until soldiers returning from World War 1 came back from the trenches with the same symptoms and then began the study of what would now be labelled post-traumatic stress disorder.

Looking up pre-Freudian psychology, it's pretty scary what actions were taken when others' minds were not understood, for example, "The Ivory Leg in the Ebony Cabinet" by Thomas W. Cooley. There were forward thinkers like Pinel in the early 1800's. "His classification of mental diseases retained the old divisions of such illnesses as manic, melancholic, demented, and idiotic..." Before Freud, for people who were suffering mental, neurological or emotional illness, there weren't many fun options. There was Bedlam or the Institute of the Pennsylvania Hospital where the doc, Kirkbride, said for "the most influential causes of mental trouble in adults 'we would have to go back to a defective early education the want of proper parental discipline,' which in . . . (his) mind was always linked to deep parental affection."

When differences of the mind were not understood in the past, as recently as the 1940's, there were some awful things done to the 'different' people, like Joe Kennedy lobotomizing his daughter for being dyslexic. In 1957 the Royal Commission described patients as moral imbeciles and feebleminded.

And then there is also examining Freud's friendship-competition with Jung, which was also full of painful deceptions.

I feel conflicted. There are terms and concepts that came out of Freud's studies, like the unconscious, which enhance my understanding of the mind, people and the world. And there are other Freudian concepts that are incorrect. I think it's possible to take what is useful and also comprehend the inaccuracies and limitations of the rest.
posted by nickyskye at 12:14 PM on May 16, 2006


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