Psych class last place to look for Freud
November 25, 2007 3:47 PM   Subscribe

Freud Is Widely Taught at Universities, Except in the Psychology Department.
posted by AceRock (97 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Of course, it is different in other countries, where Freudian & Lacanian psychoanalysis still flourishes. And, every psych major that I've known who actually reads Freud says, "Wow, they gave us the COMPLETE wrong impression of this guy."
posted by papakwanz at 3:53 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's a mildly interesting article, but why is it here? American psychotheraputic practice has been dominated by CBT (and rightly so) for more than a generation. Freud's proper place in the canon is as literature and cultural history, not science.
posted by lodurr at 3:55 PM on November 25, 2007


Aren't psychoanalysts the only ones that are allowed to be MD's? Or has that changed?
posted by empath at 3:59 PM on November 25, 2007


Ahh, for a good book of Freudian yo mamma jokes.
posted by Pants! at 3:59 PM on November 25, 2007


American psychotheraputic practice has been dominated by CBTpsychopharmacology (and rightlysadly so) for more than a generation.
Fixed that for you.
posted by wendell at 4:01 PM on November 25, 2007 [6 favorites]


Get in line, psychologists. They are still teaching Aristotle instead of Newton in the philosophy department.
posted by DU at 4:01 PM on November 25, 2007


Asimov one time created a list of what he thought were the fifty most important scientists of all time. Freud was on the list even though, as Asimov said, most of what Freud thought he'd discovered turned out to be wrong.

Freud is important because he legitimized the idea that human psychology, and especially its pathologies, could be studied in a systematic and scientific manner. But nearly all of what he himself found has not stood the test of time.

So it makes sense that he's mentioned in, for example, history courses. It equally makes sense that he isn't studied in practical psychology courses.

It doesn't make sense that he's studied in the English department, but there you have it.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:03 PM on November 25, 2007 [4 favorites]


wendell: touche. Fair cop.
posted by lodurr at 4:06 PM on November 25, 2007


I remember when I was in grad school. I was in European history and I had an intellectual history professor who was well thought of in the field and had done some post-grad work in psychoanalysis at Columbia in the early 70's. He loved Freud and rambled on and on about how "scientific" Freud was.

After every class, I would bitch to a fellow grad student about how unscientific Freud appeared to be. My friend urged me to speak up. I argued I shouldn't because we were studying Freud's impact on the intellectual history of the time, not the validity of his theories. My friend said that if I did not bring it up, he would.

I raised my hand the next time the professor brought up Freud's scientific nature to the class. I stated that I wasn't sure he was very scientific because it seemed like he was working off of a self-selected sample of a hundred upper middle-class Viennese women to come up with his universal theory of personality. The professor corrected me. He said 3. I said "300 women? Well that is a much larger sample." The professor corrected me again, explaining that he meant three women total. I stated that I didn't think that was very scientific because there was no double-blind testing, that the sample was self-selected, that it only involved women, and didn't involve anyone outside of Vienna.

The professor paused for a moment and then insisted that because so many scientists, anthropologists, historians and other thinkers had used Freud, that it must be considered scientific. In other words, because all these other people said it must be true, we need not examine the actual scientific credentials that Freud presented. I desperately wanted to ask that if Freud had jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would all of those eminient people done so too, but I held my tounge.

I never spoke up in that class again.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:08 PM on November 25, 2007 [7 favorites]


Fixed that for you.

Where's my fixed version?
posted by stbalbach at 4:08 PM on November 25, 2007


No way, man. He fixed it for me. Get your own.
posted by lodurr at 4:12 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


lodurr: American psychotheraputic practice has been dominated by CBT (and rightly so) for more than a generation.

CBT? OK, I guess it might work, but how do they treat women? (Oh, wait a minute... women find that therapeutic???)
posted by Crabby Appleton at 4:20 PM on November 25, 2007 [4 favorites]


What papakwanz said.
posted by dreamsign at 4:20 PM on November 25, 2007


Aren't psychoanalysts the only ones that are allowed to be MD's? Or has that changed?

Do you mean psychiatrists?

Freud is important because he legitimized the idea that human psychology, and especially its pathologies, could be studied in a systematic and scientific manner. But nearly all of what he himself found has not stood the test of time.

Exactly.

I stated that I wasn't sure he was very scientific because it seemed like he was working off of a self-selected sample of a hundred upper middle-class Viennese women to come up with his universal theory of personality.

Of course, then we had the Skinnerians, who built a model of human personality out of a forced selection sample of white rats; followed by the post-War social psychologists who used a self-selected sample of American college students....all of which, to be fair, is well-recognised by psychologists.
posted by Infinite Jest at 4:25 PM on November 25, 2007


But nearly all of what he himself found has not stood the test of time.

If Freud had done nothing other than point out the unconscious motivations that subtend and occasionally reveal themselves in our daily doodads he'd have done enough to catapult himself into the pantheon right there.

Did he fake shit up? Yes, he did. Was he wrong? Quite often.

Was he a great writer, a great critic, and a peerless (and pitiless) observer of the human condition?

In my opinion he was.
posted by Wolof at 4:26 PM on November 25, 2007


Crabby: Isn't it obvious? They get to perform it.
posted by lodurr at 4:27 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


That's what the last clause of my comment was intended to imply.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 4:35 PM on November 25, 2007


Steven C. Den Beste writes "Freud is important because he legitimized the idea that human psychology, and especially its pathologies, could be studied in a systematic and scientific manner."

I think you misspelled "William James".
posted by orthogonality at 4:37 PM on November 25, 2007 [5 favorites]


>And, every psych major that I've known who actually reads Freud says, "Wow, they gave us the COMPLETE wrong impression of this guy."
And to follow up on your point, I've heard someone recommend that every psy student learn German and read Freud in the original because it gives a completely different impression.
posted by philfromhavelock at 4:38 PM on November 25, 2007


Wasn't Freud the one who came up with defense mechanisms?

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to kick my dog.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:54 PM on November 25, 2007


CBT? OK, I guess it might work, but how do they treat women?

Loudly flagged as offensive to women, because I'm gonna keep on paying back my domineering mother, every available chance I get.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:56 PM on November 25, 2007


True in my experience. I was a sociology major in my BA, and we had psych students sitting in on one of our sociology classes - Culture & Psychoanalytic Theory - because it was the only way that they were going to get to study any Freud at all.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:01 PM on November 25, 2007


What Freud Got Right, Newsweek.
posted by Brian B. at 5:01 PM on November 25, 2007


A more interesting question is how does the NYT get a hold of a "study" of this nature 7 months before its actual publication.

Why publish anything when you can just send a reporter a press release about your "amazing" findings, something that's been common knowledge amongst anyone studying psychology for, oh, I don't know, 20 or 30 years...

Freud is an interesting historical figure in psychology, just like Skinner was. A lot of Skinner's theories didn't quite pan out either, and so you don't find too many "true" behavorists practicing either. This should be surprising or interesting to whom exactly?

I mean, doctors aren't using many leeches these days either...
posted by docjohn at 5:03 PM on November 25, 2007


I don't think Freud's small, non-representative samples were the issue. I think the post-hoc explanations for everything were what made him fundamentally non-scientific. Systematic or not, a line of investigation is not scientific until it's predictive- being able to explain after the fact is not sufficient.
posted by Jpfed at 5:04 PM on November 25, 2007


This should be surprising or interesting to whom exactly?

Anyone that is interested in psychology but has never taken a college level psych class.
posted by shotgunbooty at 5:09 PM on November 25, 2007


Wow, PeterMcDermott, your mother was that domineering? You have my sympathy, dude.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 5:17 PM on November 25, 2007


This isn't exactly news. Freudian theory has been relegated to the history of psychology rather than psychology proper for a long time now.

Steven C. Den Beste: It doesn't make sense that he's studied in the English department, but there you have it.

Well, I'll bite: a lot of the methods of psychoanalysis helped set up much of what is now the field as we see it today, and not just in psychoanalytic literary theory. The Interpretation of Dreams is a very prototypical manual for literary interpretation—it's essentially a how-to guide for interpretation, treating dreams as texts. Much of that book is also devoted to actual literary analysis as well—where do you think the theory of the Oedipus Complex originated?

Many of Freud's analytical tools have been incorporated into the field of literary theory with much more success than in their intended field to the point where we don't even recognize them as contributions of Freud. To take one easy example, I'm not exactly convinced about wish-fulfillment as a legitimate way of interpreting dreams (Though I haven't studied psychology except in a cursory sense, so make a case if I'm wrongheaded), however, as a manner of interpretation, it's yielded prodigious results. I don't know how far you'd get in interpreting chick-lit without the notion of wish-fulfillment.

One of my professors, when talking about Freud, said that he "was shit as a scientist, but an incredible cultural theorist." I always thought that was apt and a particularly healthy way of approaching psychoanalytic theory. If you're playing spot-the-phallic-symbol, you're not really doing any substantive interpretation.

philfromhavelock: I've heard someone recommend that every psy student learn German and read Freud in the original because it gives a completely different impression.

Yep. The the translations of Freud did a huge disservice to, well, everyone by trying to make his prose sound much more clinical and scientific than it was. Neologisms and awkward vocabulary abound in those translations, like cathexis, which was something closer to "sexual energy" in the original text from what I hear. There have been some new translations of his works that have come out over the last five or so years that have tried to rectify this.
posted by Weebot at 5:25 PM on November 25, 2007 [6 favorites]


There was lots of Freud in the psych department at Chicago, thanks primarily to ultra-popular professor Bertram Cohler, a psychoanalyst who co-chairs the department. Cohler's a very persuasive debater and master of the Socratic method. He was a great teacher but mostly taught Freud within the larger context of the Great Books type curriculum rather than from a perspective of clinical practice.

In his clinical practice Cohler claims to have great success with psychoanalysis treating children who have suffered sexual abuse and incest, which makes a lot of sense to me. Cohler always argued that if Freud was alive today he would be in a neuroscience lab somewhere and that his curiousity and fascination with the brain was scientific if not always his methods, especially considering the limited technology of his time.

In social work school at Columbia I found that they relied primarily on Freudian analysis in their clinical practice classes, which I thought was cause for concern and frankly was a little disappointing.
posted by The Straightener at 5:32 PM on November 25, 2007


Er, well, yes docjohn, they are.

(They were used very successfully to treat bloodflow issues after my mother's radical mastectomy. She named each of them.)
posted by abulafa at 5:33 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


"If Freud had done nothing other than point out the unconscious motivations that subtend and occasionally reveal themselves in our daily doodads he'd have done enough to catapult himself into the pantheon right there."

Of course, there were other theorists writing about the unconscious around the same time as Freud, in terms that were far closer to the modern scientifically-based conception of the unconscious. The ideas of William Carpenter, William Hamilton, and Thomas Laycock regarding the unconscious might possibly have gotten wider play if the Freudian version hadn't been so widespread.

I actually give Freud credit for being an avid promulgator of thought-provoking ideas, but he was in no way scientific.
posted by tdismukes at 5:45 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Weebot, I suspect you don't want to hear what I think of "the field of literary theory" (sic).

Besides, I try not to use that degree of vulgarity and profanity online. (Or in person, for that matter.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:01 PM on November 25, 2007


I'll bite, SCDB: What do you think should actually be studied in English departments? Literature, perhaps?
posted by ssg at 6:14 PM on November 25, 2007


Steven C. Den Beste: I'm not talking about the validity of literary theory as a whole—if you want to make a grand indictment of the discipline, go ahead. I probably have heard it before. I just wanted to explain why Freud is relevant to the field. It gets so annoying when I mention something about psychoanalytic interpretation and someone gives me a quizzical look, saying, "You know all of his theories were disproven, right?"

And geez, why so hostile?
posted by Weebot at 6:31 PM on November 25, 2007


Steven, I want to hear what you think of "the field of literary theory"! *grabs popcorn*
posted by kaspen at 6:33 PM on November 25, 2007


As a Literature major who was driven off by the major's hostility to, well, literature, I'll defend Steven CDB's point here.

You can argue, probably fairly, that I should have taken different courses and maybe majored in English instead. But I was pretty shocked at how dominated by theory the upper level classes were. Very little actual literature, loads of Derrida and Freud talking about, well, whatever. Every single point in every essay I wrote was considered to be valid. It was maddening; I switched to Econ.
posted by ibmcginty at 7:15 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


What do you think should actually be studied in English departments? Literature, perhaps?

That would be novel.

Steven, I want to hear what you think of "the field of literary theory"!

Chip Morningstar has done a far better job of deconstructing "deconstruction" than I ever could. I'll just point you to him and say, "Yeah, what he said."
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:00 PM on November 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


For the record, we do, in fact, study Newton in philosophy classes (and Poincare and Einstein).
posted by oddman at 8:20 PM on November 25, 2007


I took classes from both a Freudian and a Skinnerian in College, but I guess my school was just weird. Seeing as how all experimental psychology and behavioral neuroscience experiments are based off Skinner's methodology, I would argue he had a larger influence in the long run.
posted by afu at 8:26 PM on November 25, 2007


What do you think should actually be studied in English departments? Literature, perhaps?

That would be novel.


*rolls eyes* UGH!
posted by CitizenD at 8:42 PM on November 25, 2007


Freud's influence on everyday life is astonishing, if you consider how often people ponder in the manner of "did I subconsciously mean to do x", or other statements incorporating a Freudian worldview. The average Joe on the street constructs their own theory of their mind and that of others n a way that is explicitly (if mistakenly or simplistically) Freudian. So yeah, I'd say he is still worth studying, good science or not. I mean, half the relationship questions in AskMe have a Freudian subtext.
posted by Rumple at 9:06 PM on November 25, 2007


"Yeah, what he said."

O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beautious mankind is!
O brave new world
That has such people in't!
posted by Wolof at 9:08 PM on November 25, 2007


CitizenD, tip your waitress!
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:11 PM on November 25, 2007


Wow, that Chip Morningstar is a moron.
posted by papakwanz at 9:16 PM on November 25, 2007


Hey, I thought I was the failed stand-up comic here.

And "tip your waitress"... hmmm... I wonder what he means by that.

I deny everything.
posted by wendell at 9:45 PM on November 25, 2007


Wow, that Chip Morningstar is a moron.

Nah, just an engineer. Engineering sometimes gives people a disorder in which the subject believe he perfectly understands things beyond his specialization. That's why, I think, so many engineers are creationists.
posted by fleetmouse at 9:55 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Moron or no, is that really his name? Chip Morningstar? It sounds like what would happen if you were writing an epic fantasy novel about a television game show host.

Get in line, psychologists. They are still teaching Aristotle instead of Newton in the philosophy department.
That's a bad analogy. Newton certainly did influence philosophy with his concepts of Natural Law and the "great clock" view of the universe, especially the Enlightenment thinkers. I doubt that there is any reputable philosophy program that wouldn't at least mention him.
But you seem to be trying to imply that Aristotle's ideas, like Freud's, are outdated and discredited, which is not true at all. Aristotle's specific ideas about physics or biology might be wrong, but his views on things like ethics, politics, and a host of other topics are still very valuable and useful, not to mention that his thinking basically formed the foundation of Western thought for a thousand years.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:10 PM on November 25, 2007


This is exactly the kind of conversation I wish mefi could have more of! But I cannot continue it at this hour, and can only guffaw. Aristotle, Chip Morninstar, Freud. This is the bullshit of which our lives are based. Steven, as always, what a bunch of rhetorical diarrhea , but I'd love to see you spout it and maybe knock some down. The rest of you, toot didldle oot doot... ..!!..!!
posted by kaspen at 12:16 AM on November 26, 2007


Drew Western's lecture series "Is Anyone Really Normal? Perspectives on Abnormal Psychology" has some insights on this.

Basically, even while academic psychologists regard Freudian therapy largely as obsolete; it's still very popular amongst practicing therapists.

You would hope that the practitioners and the theorists were on the same page: I think it's notable that it isn't.

Also, I get the impression that it's not quite the case that the academics think they have disproved Freudian psychotherapy, but that they don't regard it as having established sufficient proof.

One big problem is the timescales. Cognitive Behavior Therapy can achieve measurable results in a handful of sessions: Freudian psychotherapy takes years to achieve results. It's therefore a lot easier to study CBT.

However, the criticism of CBT by Freudians is that because it doesn't address what they see as the root causes of the problems; it's likely to achieve short-term fixes but the problems will return later, possibly in different forms.

So they would argue that CBT produces more measurable results not because it's better, but because it's easier to measure.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:19 AM on November 26, 2007


So they would argue that CBT produces more measurable results not because it's better, but because it's easier to measure.

The funny thing about elusive measurable results is that they also have elusive noticeable impact on people's lives.

Psychoanalysis defenders sound disturbingly like ESP proponents.
posted by srboisvert at 3:07 AM on November 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Rumple: Freud's influence on everyday life is astonishing, if you consider how often people ponder in the manner of "did I subconsciously mean to do x", or other statements incorporating a Freudian worldview.

Which are all ideas that existed previously. They just didn't have scientistic language wrapped around them. (I'm actually not snarking at Freud -- I have respect for what he was trying to do -- I'm just saying that I really do think this is one of those cases where the specific formulation gets in the way of recognizing that the idea was already out there and would have been couched in Jungian or Jamesian or X-ian terms if not for Freud.)
posted by lodurr at 4:01 AM on November 26, 2007


srboisvert, you've put it better than I would have.

Freudian-style therapy has strong appeal for people who love to tell stories to themselves, about themselves. Some people think mostly in stories, in narratives, and for people who like that kind of thinking, psychoanalysis is a very potent idea.
posted by lodurr at 4:05 AM on November 26, 2007


I totally read that as "Fraud Is Widely Taught at Universities, Except in the Psychology Department".

And I wondered, why no fraud for the poor psychologists yet?
posted by ersatz at 4:15 AM on November 26, 2007


The what? Think about how pervasive narrative is in everyday life. What ain't narrativised? Lists?

Lists are easier to remember if they tell a little story.

Narration is a human thing. It chunks raw data and saves it in a minimised form.
posted by Wolof at 4:20 AM on November 26, 2007


The funny thing about elusive measurable results is that they also have elusive noticeable impact on people's lives.

And they can do more harm than good. For example, the psychodynamic theory on autism, which was based on Freudian grounds, was really nasty, basically blaming the mother for not loving her kid enough.
posted by afu at 4:26 AM on November 26, 2007


Wolof, I'd never argue that we don't all do narrative reasoning all the time. (In fact I could launch into a rant about how we're not taught to do it well and how that causes us immeasureable problems.) I'm just saying that some people love that mode more than others do, and that AFAICS those are the people who find psychoanalysis to be such a compelling idea.

From what I can see, CBT just about always produces more results with regard to the stated goal. But it also seems to leave a lot of people wanting more. I think that "more" is often a narrative, and it seems to me a lot of therapists know that and that's why hardly anybody does CBT on its own.
posted by lodurr at 4:44 AM on November 26, 2007


I was in counseling when I was growing up and for years I did not ask too many questions about the assumptions of the mental health field. Then I read a book about Freud. If Freud; cocaine addict, cigar fiend, liar, adulturer, and possible promoter of perversion and promiscuity; were to rise from the dead and show up at a community mental health center, he would be (quite rightly) treated as a walking pathology. Yet the modern mental health field bases a lot of its practices on things that Freud used to do regardless of the fact that some of them actually do not make a lot of sense, such as the fact that psychiatrists, who go to medical school for the sole reason that Freud did it that way, which is largely irrelevant to actually doing therapy, are at the top of the mental health system's hierarchy while those who are more likely to see the patients day-to-day and therefore know them best, such as counselors and psychologists, aren't allowed to prescribe medications, and may in fact have reletively limited education: check out the wide variety of counseling seminars, courses, and qualifications that are out there from both legitimate schools and iffy "institutes". And the patients are the ones who are supposed to be crazy.
posted by bunky at 5:48 AM on November 26, 2007


"Seeing as how all experimental psychology and behavioral neuroscience experiments are based off Skinner's methodology, ..."

This is not even close to true.
posted by tdismukes at 5:48 AM on November 26, 2007


... who go to medical school for the sole reason that Freud did it that way ...

Couldn't possibly also have anything to do with the fact that many psychopathologies are somatic.

I'll agree wholeheartedly that an MD is not required to do therapy. But it would be foolish to say that you shouldn't have an MD with a detailed specialization in mental disorders involved when you're treating, say, a schizophrenic, an obsessive-compulsive, or someone with profound BP or depressive manifestations.
posted by lodurr at 6:08 AM on November 26, 2007


... or, put more simply: 'Psychiatrist' <> 'Freudian Psychoanalyst'
posted by lodurr at 6:13 AM on November 26, 2007


cocaine addict, cigar fiend, liar, adulturer, and possible promoter of perversion and promiscuity

Only one of those things has any POSSIBLE impact on the validity of the man's theories.
posted by papakwanz at 6:27 AM on November 26, 2007


Adam Curtis' Century of the Self offers a fairly cogent argument for the impact Freud and his later followers had on commodity capitalism and how it's sold to us. He was certainly taken very seriously by a number of key figures in the shaping of the world as most of us now live in it. The focus is particularly on Freud's nephew Edward Bernays, who is seen as the "father of public relations." Found this response to a viewing on a quick web search, which if nothing else gives you a sense of what a thought-provoking thesis Curtis offers.
posted by Abiezer at 6:40 AM on November 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


The funny thing about elusive measurable results is that they also have elusive noticeable impact on people's lives.

Psychoanalysis defenders sound disturbingly like ESP proponents.


The most interesting thing about psychotherapy is that it's been proven, many times over, to be an effective treatment for mental illness. The effect sizes range from 0.7-1, and can reasonably be estimated at 0.8. This is a very large effect size. Google around for effect size for SSRIs, the best I can find is 0.6. (See the work of Bruce Wampold and Michael Lambert for citations on these figures.)

The second most interesting thing about psychotherapy is that there is a negligible difference in improvement according to treatment modality. CBT does no better than SSRIs does not better than psychoanalytic psychotherapy. They all work about as well, as long as the therapist and the patient are both invested in the treatment. A part of this is undoubtedly due to placebo effects, but since those effects can only be achieved through investment in a form of treatment (in other words, no one gets better from a placebo unless they take a placebo), and are also part of the efficacy of medications, this is no reason to dismiss therapy. What it boils down to is that psychotherapy works, and all legitimate types work about as well as all others. (Again, both Wampold and Lambert write cogently on this lack of difference, and will point the way to even more citations.)

Dismissing Freud, in this context, and in the face of this evidence, makes as much sense as dismissing Aaron Beck's contributions. (The converse is also true, suggesting that psychoanalysis is the only way to produce results with psychotherapy is ridiculous.) Freud's thought is incredibly relevant to therapeutic practice: not only are his naturalistic observations borne out in many cases, and not only is his general model of the mind the one from which many many people draw their personal understandings of their lives, but his patients got better, he created a structure that took patient concerns seriously, and he helped to form a training formula that foregrounds the single most important therapist contribution to successful therapy: the relationship between patient and therapist. Cognitive psychology has confirmed Freud's general structure of the mind (small conscious and large unconscious structures) as well as the concrete existence of mental illnesses like hysteria. There have been gross misreadings of Freud in America since the introduction of psychoanalysis, which should be dismissed, but one of the reasons Freudian thought has stayed relevant in the rest of the world is because those misreadings (for instance about the need for great length in psychotherapeutic treatment) have not been made.

It's also worth pointing out that while many of the explanations that Freud advanced don't seem convincing to us today, the support for our currently favored explanations are also not convincing on the evidence, no matter how well they accord with our current cultural preoccupations. There is disturbingly little evidence, for instance, for the "serotonin hypothesis" as a cause for depression, and SSRIs are not dramatically more efficacious than placebos, and yet the dispensing of SSRIs appears to accord with many of our current views of humanity (and it certainly works to help some people some of the time). Ian Hacking has written extensively about the history of psychiatric diagnosis and treatment (his books on Mad Traveller's disease and Multiple Personality Disorder are particularly good), and what seems clear from his work and others is that far from being directly related to brain structure or deficit in some sort of one-to-one relationship, many mental illnesses are contextual and expressed in society in ways that are deeply contingent on the social and cultural concerns most prevalent at the time the patient gets ill. Surely the responses to mental illnesses are similarly bound, and Freud can only be understood in that light.
posted by OmieWise at 9:00 AM on November 26, 2007 [8 favorites]


Steven C. Den Beste said: It doesn't make sense that he's studied in the English department, but there you have it.

I'll bite at this one, too.

I think it was in my final year of completing my English degree, reading Hamlet for the umpteenth time, that a professor mentioned that the whole oedipal-complex view of the character did not happen until Freud. (duh!) The Wikipedia entry on critical approaches to Hamlet describes this well.

I think Freudian psychology had the same effect on literature as movies: once introduced to the ideas, it is hard to escape from that way of thinking of things. Stephen King in Time this week said that he saw movies before he started writing, so of course his work reads in a very visual style. The popularity of Freud's ideas invaded not just literary criticism, but writing as well.
posted by frecklefaerie at 9:53 AM on November 26, 2007


Re. King and movies: Maybe. But one of the things that really struck me in his early short stories was how much they resembled the horror-fantasy of Fritz Leiber and Avram Davidson. Right down to the language. So yeh, maybe -- but maybe not as much as he thinks, or in ways that aren't as obvious as all that.
posted by lodurr at 10:01 AM on November 26, 2007


SCDB, how do you propose that we study literature? Should we we just read it and say which parts we liked best, like in grade school? Tell everyone which characters we identify with? It is pretty pointless to study anything without some kind of theory.

Also, you may be interested to learn that deconstruction is in fact a subset of literary theory. So if you want to indict literary theory, you'll have to do better than linking someone's attack on a particular part of it (after all, arguing for and against particular theories is what literary theorists do). In particular, you should note that Freud didn't have much to do with deconstruction (and still doesn't).

All snark aside, I can understand the frustration some people feel with this kind of theory (I even switched departments at university when I decided I'd had too much of it), but that doesn't mean we can just dismiss it with the wave of a hand. And yes, there is a lot of bullshit out there, but there is some good stuff too. I understand the science/math geek desire to throw out everything that is at all tainted by the terrible spectres of untestability or unprovability, but I think we'd be worse off for having done so.
posted by ssg at 10:02 AM on November 26, 2007


For my money, Freud (and Jung) made brave, if quite wrong, guesses in an area where we still need a theory. Psychiatry is a mess, without any meaningful connection to neuroscience, cognitive science or psychology. CBT is based on grossly outdated information processing models of cognition. I'd also posit that Jung's archetypes will fare better as an approximation to something tangible as the debate continues. But dismissing Freud does not do anything at all to plug this enormous gap in our theoretical armor. 2 cents.
posted by fcummins at 11:42 AM on November 26, 2007


"Freud is important because he legitimized the idea that human psychology, and especially its pathologies, could be studied in a systematic and scientific manner."

I think this may be a real misunderstanding of Freud, actually. The idea of "science" that we're looking at here is not what Ironmouth above thinks was missing, when he was looking for more double blind trials - that's not what Freud was trying to study, because he was actually invested in studying the psyche itself, not the results of repeated behaviors or statistical tendencies of groups or whatever. He was really trying to engage with individual psyches and really trying to understand what they do and how they might work. He apparently says in some of his later writing that a lot of his earlier stuff is erronious - but we should also remember just how much Freudian language has been adopted into our everyday use (stop being anal / tight-assed?).

"Science" in german is a broader word, and may get sort of confusing when we start thinking it's just a question of chemistry or physics. Freud was trying to understand how the subconscious mind works, and he specifically didn't try to study it like a machine because he didn't think it worked like a machine (which is not to say it can't work like a machine, but that something like CBT is going to be for specific delineated tasks, not for one's overarching sense of self -)
posted by mdn at 11:45 AM on November 26, 2007


because he was actually invested in studying the psyche itself, not the results of repeated behaviors or statistical tendencies of groups or whatever. He was really trying to engage with individual psyches and really trying to understand what they do and how they might work.

That's exactly correct. For a long time, too, we have considered naturalistic observation to be a part of science. That's precisely what Freud was doing, and it would be a shame to allow positivism to so bleed the color from thought that there is no place left for describing actual humans in their actual lives.

CBT is based on grossly outdated information processing models of cognition.

I agree with your point, to an extent, but my point is that when ~79% of patient engaging in CBT (or in psychoanalysis, or in EMDR, or etc) are getting better, we may have to re-evaluate whether or not psychotherapies with a better understanding of neuroscience are really going to make much of a difference.
posted by OmieWise at 12:18 PM on November 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


"my point is that when ~79% of patient engaging in CBT (or in psychoanalysis, or in EMDR, or etc) are getting better, we may have to re-evaluate whether or not psychotherapies with a better understanding of neuroscience are really going to make much of a difference."

It might be true that almost 80% of patients engaging in some form of psychotherapy show some degree of significant improvement compared to those who receive no treatment. This does not mean that anything close to that percentage of patients are completely or even mostly "cured" of their problems. There is still a lot of room for improvement in our knowledge of effective treatment for mental illness.
posted by tdismukes at 12:44 PM on November 26, 2007


This does not mean that anything close to that percentage of patients are completely or even mostly "cured" of their problems. There is still a lot of room for improvement in our knowledge of effective treatment for mental illness.

Good point, that was overstatement on my part.
posted by OmieWise at 1:04 PM on November 26, 2007


SCDB, how do you propose that we study literature?

It's an interesting question, but slightly off target. There's "Literature", and there's "Linguistics", and somewhere in between those two there's an "English" department. My real question is, why does the "English" department exist at all?

It isn't ESL; that's taught elsewhere. What does "English" study, and teach? The syntax and structure of the language, and its etymology? That's linguistics. The works written in it? That's literature.

The only real thing I can see the English department teaching is, in essence, how to be an editor. It's an advanced study of "English as a First Language" and the goal is to learn its rules on a conscious level, instead of only knowing them subconsciously. So it would lean more towards the linguistic side, but go much deeper into it in terms of applied knowledge knowledge than linguistics, which is more observational and academic.

Or to put it differently, the English department would be the engineering department spawned by the English language segment of the Linguistics science. Linguistics would study, "What is English?" and the English department would teach competent usage of English.

Having gotten that out of the way, then what should we do to study literature? Seems like there are two possible goals. Either we're studying literature in hopes of gaining enjoyment from it, in which case what we mainly discuss is things like character motivation, and cultural context in which the story is told, in order to understand it better. Or we're studying literature in order to learn how to be writers of literature -- in which case we primarily study story structure, sentence formation, how and where to use descriptive language, and things like that.

Now perhaps when you start getting into character motivation you might occasionally delve a bit into character psychology, and maybe specific flavors of psychological theory. But I can't see that happening very much, nor it being a significant focus. The focus is the story and the way the story is told, either because we want to enjoy the story, or because we want to learn how to write stories.

Or at least that's how it appears to this Neanderthal engineer, for which all things are what they do.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:45 PM on November 26, 2007


There's "Literature", and there's "Linguistics", and somewhere in between those two there's an "English" department. My real question is, why does the "English" department exist at all?

Or, you know, you could just study English literature. Because that's obviously the only kind that matters.

It isn't ESL

Brilliant insight.

and the English department would teach competent usage of English

Utopia! We are here at last! Everybody off the bus!
posted by Wolof at 2:55 PM on November 26, 2007


Two quick bits that I've seen repeated a couple times throughout the thread that I want to address. I'll try to keep it short as to not derail the thread even further than this conversation already has.

Firstly, literature ≠ novels. That's an awful fallacy that high school English curricula tacitly spread (sometimes to the point where even poetry is considered separate from literature. Ugh.) So, yeah, when you're reading Freud, Marx, Foucault, and Derrida, you're still reading literature, much to many people's understandable dismay.

Secondly, deconstruction ≠ literary theory. It's a school of thought—even if Derrida would have said otherwise—and not one that has been received without controversy. While not to say that it hasn't been influential, the idea that people in the discipline just nod and accept whatever theory comes in front of them is absurd, and glosses over the many fights within the field. A lot of what's in that Chip Morningstar link falls under this point.
posted by Weebot at 5:06 PM on November 26, 2007


It's an interesting question, but slightly off target. There's "Literature", and there's "Linguistics", and somewhere in between those two there's an "English" department. My real question is, why does the "English" department exist at all?

Academic demarcation. You'll generally not be able to study (much less write a dissertation on) say, Cervantes unless you're in the Spanish department, nor, say, Mann unless you're in German. I guess the theory is that you can only ever come up with a dilettantish analysis of a work unless you read it in the original language.

So, an overarching "literature" department doesn't make a heap of sense, organisationally.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:24 PM on November 26, 2007


I guess the theory is that you can only ever come up with a dilettantish analysis of a work unless you read it in the original language.

Seriously? Man, I love this kind of gratuitous anti-intellectualism.
posted by OmieWise at 5:44 PM on November 26, 2007


You'll generally not be able to study (much less write a dissertation on) say, Cervantes unless you're in the Spanish department, nor, say, Mann unless you're in German.

Well, there is always comparative literature.
posted by Weebot at 5:48 PM on November 26, 2007


I love this kind of gratuitous anti-intellectualism.

Might want to read what he said again.
posted by Wolof at 6:00 PM on November 26, 2007


Seriously? Man, I love this kind of gratuitous anti-intellectualism.

Hey, if my perception is factually incorrect, please say so without resorting to ad hominems. It's based on a couple of friends who have done English Lit PhDs, who, when I asked "why don't you incorporate [foreign language author x or y] in your thesis?" responded with "um, they wrote in French" (or whatever) & suggested that it was not regarded as academically proper, or rigorous enough, for them to have studied those writers.

Well, there is always comparative literature.

Yes.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:01 PM on November 26, 2007


Hey, if my perception is factually incorrect, please say so without resorting to ad hominems.

When you spare me the snarky equations of graduate study of literature with dilletantism, I'll avoid pointing out that such reductionism is anti-intellectual. You're right about the restrictions on serious (graduate level) literary analysis being confined to working with primary sources, rather than with translation. This is unremarkable, most graduate level disciplines that I know of, from economics to physics to history to literature, assume that primary material is the basis for any sustained analysis.
posted by OmieWise at 6:38 PM on November 26, 2007


That's not what he said, Omie. He said if you hadn't read the work in the original the best you could hope for is a dilletantish evaluation of same.
posted by Wolof at 6:42 PM on November 26, 2007


Someday I'll participate in a Metafilter thread that doesn't descend into gratuitous ad hominem.

Someday.... sigh, it'll be so nice...
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:44 PM on November 26, 2007


if you hadn't read the work in the original the best you could hope for is a dilletantish evaluation of same.

and for that precise reason, most schools would discourage (grad) students from studying literature in translation.

therefore, you end up with english, spanish, german etc departments, instead of a "literature" department.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:07 PM on November 26, 2007


Steven C. Den Beste: There's "Literature", and there's "Linguistics", and somewhere in between those two there's an "English" department. My real question is, why does the "English" department exist at all?

As UbuRobias suggested, the existence of English departments that study English literature is a logistical decision. Sure, the platonic Literature department would study literature regardless of language, but that's largely unworkable, with the exception of comparative literature studies. Since we can't have a "pure" Literature Department, we are going to have to make do with an English Department.

Of course, if this is a question about department nomenclature, um...well, my studies were explicitly in "English-Language Literature." Does that make it better?

Having gotten that out of the way, then what should we do to study literature? Seems like there are two possible goals. Either we're studying literature in hopes of gaining enjoyment from it, in which case what we mainly discuss is things like character motivation, and cultural context in which the story is told, in order to understand it better. Or we're studying literature in order to learn how to be writers of literature -- in which case we primarily study story structure, sentence formation, how and where to use descriptive language, and things like that.

Well, I already alluded to the fact that literature is not just "stories" or "characters", so I won't mention it again, nor will I go on about how your personal pleasure should be one of the last things that you should be focusing on when studying literature (these aren't appreciation courses), and I'll leave the utilitarian streak running through your comments for some other time.

Anyway, if you are trying to build a study of literature, and more specifically English literature without literary theory, which I'm guessing is your aim, you really can't do it. You've admitted yourself that you need to talk about character motivation, cultural context, and formalism (if you want to learn the structures of writing), which you can't do without theory. Without theories of how to write, of human psychology, or of culture (and for the last two, how those things manifest themselves in texts, theories about the relationship between meaning and those fields, and so forth), where exactly are you going to go? That's not even getting into other issues in literature that demand theoretical foundations.

Without theories, what you're left with is what ssg said: telling each other what we like about this story and who we identified with.

Hell, even those two things bait theoretical questions.
posted by Weebot at 9:18 PM on November 26, 2007


SCDB: Or at least that's how it appears to this Neanderthal engineer, for which all things are what they do.

No one is calling you a Neanderthal.

The obvious approach to literature (and the broader category of, shall we say, cultural texts, even though the term positively reeks of deconstruction) in this context is to ask what it does. Why do we want to read literature, watch film, listen to stories, etc.? Sure, part of it is just entertainment and escapism, but for a lot of, if not all, people literature actually does something. In a broader sense, literature does something for our society as a whole.

Maybe comparing literature and its study to money and the study of economics would help. Money is something that we use to ease the transfer of goods and services from one person to another and economics is the study of how and why this takes place. Literature is something that we use to ease the transfer of ideas, emotions, etc. from one person to another and the study of literature is the study of how and why this takes place. Of course, when you throw deconstruction into the mix, things would be a little more complicated.
posted by ssg at 10:14 PM on November 26, 2007


Anyway, if you are trying to build a study of literature, and more specifically English literature without literary theory, which I'm guessing is your aim, you really can't do it. You've admitted yourself that you need to talk about character motivation, cultural context, and formalism (if you want to learn the structures of writing), which you can't do without theory. Without theories of how to write, of human psychology, or of culture (and for the last two, how those things manifest themselves in texts, theories about the relationship between meaning and those fields, and so forth), where exactly are you going to go?

You can talk about those things without using words like "hermeneutic". You can talk about those things without using language which is opaque. You can talk about character motivation, cultural context, and that stuff without "theory". I do it all the time. (That makes up a considerable percentage of my blogging, in fact.)

But as someone who learned to write through technical documentation, for whom the goal was to illuminate and communicate effectively, with as little ambiguity and confusion and misunderstanding as possible, my writing style is just about as different as it can be from people who are marinated in "theory".

There's a strong suspicion that they are opaque for opaqueness' sake, and that not even they understand what it is they're writing, if indeed it means anything at all.

Sokal's classic hoax is a beautiful example of this. It was accepted, and printed, in what was then considered one of the more reputable print publications in the field. However, as a result of Sokal's hoax, it was entirely discredited, and now it's gone. Small loss.

Sokal came clean in another article, one which is far more lucid.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:53 AM on November 27, 2007


Weebot, if you'd care to see an example of what I write about "literature", and how I talk about character motivation and cultural context without "theory", how about this? It's a retcon for the Matrix movie trilogy, and it's gotten loaded about a hundred thousand times since I first posted it.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:11 AM on November 27, 2007


I wish I had looked more carefully at the Wikipedia entry for "retcon" before I linked to it, because they're using the term differently than I'm used to doing.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:12 AM on November 27, 2007


Apart from the word "film", that critique could as easily have been written about a book, an 8-track cartridge, a TV serial or a chicken dance. Is there a difference? What is the specificity of the medium? What is the use of criticism that can't come to grips with this?

How do the means of production shape the product? How does it slot into cinematic history? What antecedents inform it? Is it in any way cinematically innovative? Digital? Analogue? Black and white or colour? Colour codes? Use of sound, music, voice? Stereo? Mono? Aspect ratio? Photography? Who are its putative spectators? Who are its actual spectators? Acting style? Set design? Documentary? Mockumentary? Who directed it? Where does it sit in their body of work?

How, in short, is the story — which is the only layer you have dealt with at all here — articulated through colour, movement, speech and music, and projected (psychological $5 word!) into the wider world?
posted by Wolof at 3:40 AM on November 27, 2007


Oh, whoa, my apologies, UbuRoivas. I read your comment as quite the opposite, as an extension of SCDB's "literature is too ordinary to need serious consideration and any attempt at it is deliberate obfuscation." The egg on my face is deeper for me having maintained the pretense over several comments. My only excuse is that the position I thought you were advocating gets my blood up so much that I see a bit red. Sorry.

(Thanks, Wolof, for trying to point out my error. It took your second, more direct comment, before I actually read his with fresh eyes.)
posted by OmieWise at 4:06 AM on November 27, 2007


Sokal's classic hoax is a beautiful example of this. It was accepted, and printed, in what was then considered one of the more reputable print publications in the field.

A non-peer reviewed journal is one of the more reputable print publications in the field? Methinks that you have fallen victim to Sokal's self-promotion.
posted by papakwanz at 6:42 AM on November 27, 2007


Oh, and SCDB's post about the Matrix is essentially a plot summary. Yeah, great literary criticism there. So SCDB's model for proper literary scholarship is Cliff's Notes.
posted by papakwanz at 6:46 AM on November 27, 2007


Did someone mention the Sokal affair? He declared his own significance, so his hoax is ongoing. That's why postmodernism exists, in order to reject authority of meaning. The author has no final say over the significance or interpretation of their own work. That's why Freud was essentially a postmodern critic, who arrived from primitive psychology. Others pointed out that Sokal actually agreed with postmodernism in his submission.

The editor that accepted Sokal's paper was condescending to him as a convert, just as they will publish grad student papers that show promise, because the humanities nurture their critical talent in different ways than science, much like artists. Sokal seemed to understand that he would be given the benefit of the doubt, and seemed to have angrily targeted the journal specifically because of the editor's coinage of the term "science wars" which really bothered him. The other journal he submitted to turned him down.

This conception of debate as combat is, in fact, probably the main reason why the Social Text editors fell for my parody. Acting not as intellectuals seeking the truth, but as self-appointed generals in the ``Science Wars'', they apparently leapt at the chance to get a ``real'' scientist on their ``side''. Now, ruing their blunder, they must surely feel a kinship with the Trojans.

posted by Brian B. at 6:49 AM on November 27, 2007


... what was then considered one of the more reputable print publications in the field. However, as a result of Sokal's hoax, it was entirely discredited, and now it's gone. Small loss.

Social Text is ceasing publication? Someone should tell the editors – they've been soldiering on this whole time, little knowing that their "discredit" had been declared by the august intellectuals of the Internet.

(I don't know what "the field" is supposed to mean there, either, but let's not extend the Sokal derail. This thread was supposed to be an anti-intellectual pissing match on an entirely different topic.)
posted by RogerB at 7:50 AM on November 27, 2007


Papa Kwantz, I didn't say that what I wrote was "literary criticism". I said it was a discussion of things like character motivation, which didn't include "theory". I don't claim that I wrote anything profound.

RogerB, I thought I had heard that Social Text was shutting down. It would seem I heard wrongly.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:05 AM on November 27, 2007


Steven C. Den Beste: You can talk about those things without using words like "hermeneutic". You can talk about those things without using language which is opaque. You can talk about character motivation, cultural context, and that stuff without "theory".

Yes. Yes. No.

Yes and Yes: Because if you couldn't say it clearly, you probably didn't have a clear understanding of what you're trying to say.

But No, because: All the things you say about character, motivatgion, cultural context and That Stuff is based on one or more theories that you have about those things. If you're not aware of having those theories -- if you think that you're talking about them "without theory" -- then that, arguably, is a bad thing, not good.
posted by lodurr at 10:05 AM on November 27, 2007


Steven C. Den Beste: I didn't say that you can't write about literature without theory. I said that you can't build a study of literature without it. What you linked to is a transcription of the plot points from the film which qualifies as writing about it, yes, but I'm not sure how it would qualify as a study of that film (beyond the question "What happened?"). If you're going to study something, you're going to have to answer questions about the Hows and Whys, and you're going to have to come up with theories in order to do that.

And what I get from the whole Sokal Affair is that literary theorists can't read science—they're not trained to!—not that they can't read their own literary theory. Wouldn't that bolster the argument that specialists in one field usually can't read specialized language in another?
posted by Weebot at 6:43 PM on November 27, 2007


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