Questions for Freud : the secret history of psychoanalysis
Why is it, we ask, that in Freudian psychoanalysis extraordinary vistas of comprehension are at once opened and closed? We have discovered fundamental theoretical, clinical, and institutional paradoxes at the very core of psychoanalysis. The aim of our Questions for Freud is to pinpoint the internal contradictions that undermine the potential effectiveness of key aspects of Freudian thought (concerning, for example, dream interpretation, the origins of neurosis, reality, trauma, fantasy, sexual repression, and the psychoanalytic study of literature)—in the hope of finding the source of those contradictions.
Showing that Freudian psychoanalysis is inherently paradoxical, wc also call for new insight into Freud the man. Using partially unpublished documents and Freud’s own dreams, wc isolate a major upheaval that shook Freud and his family in 1865. In the final section of the book wc address the question of the genesis of psychoanalysis. What role have hidden family traumas played in shaping Freud’s psychological investigations, both promoting and impeding them by turns?
We began research on this book (first published in French in 1995) twenty years ago under vastly different political circumstances for psychoanalysis from today’s. At that time, the Freudian establishment was still enjoying its heyday of orthodoxy—and we were fighting for the right to criticize, for the freedom to open Freudian psychoanalysis to internal scrutiny. By the time we published the book, the world, at least around Freud, had changed. The pendulum had swung. As in Charles Laughton’s film The Night of the Hunter; in which one of the characters rouses the townsfolk to lynch the very preacher she has until then adored, some of Freud’s staunchest admirers had all but turned on him. Suddenly it appeared as if we had become his defenders—because we were upholding the value of psychoanalysis despite our diagnosis of its fundamental contradictions.
In any case, attackers or defenders, we are bent on transforming the premise of psychoanalytic inquiry because we have come to realize that Freud was just as often working against as for his creation. We have felt for yrears that psychoanalysis as a theory and as a therapeutic discipline needs to be made aware of its own internal destructive power before it can hope to answer any criticism from without. Today even the ranks of formerly confident psychoanalysts seem to be in disarray’.
The solution is not to cast about for new ways of presenting the merits or the inevitability’ of psychoanalysis in our culture and everyday language, but to allow psychoanalysis to engage in a process of maturation. Instead of indulging in self-pity about the ruthless incomprehension of the outside world, all those interested in a future for psychoanalysis need to sift through the recent assaults against it, asking what is valid in them.
If psychoanalysis is ever to have another lease on life, the first point to consider is that Freudianism in its classical form is indeed indefensible. Second, any proposition that psychoanalysis can be a viable field of psychological exploration and therapy must include an explanation (and not merely a justification) of the impostures, the lies and deceits, the dissimulation and secrets, the exclusions and ostracism that have punctuated the rise of Freudianism and the entire history of the psychoanalytic movement.
We are certain that if the recently intensified attacks against psychoanalysis have a real foundation, it is not grounded first and foremost on the charges brought thus far: Freud’s alleged dishonesty’ or misconduct with his patients; his self-serving and propagandists explanations; his willful misrepresentations and doctored evidence; the lack of independent empirical corroboration of his theories; the absence of safeguards in his system against unexamined dogma or arbitrary interpretations; his failure to produce lasting therapeutic results, let alone cures; the tendency to mistake his own obsessions and fantasies for scientific observation and clinical fact.
Though serious, none of these charges would be sufficient to annihilate psychoanalysis as some of its opponents may long have wished. Still, psychoanalysis may as well disappear if it is incapable of escaping from oppressive dogma and if, for its survival, it must rely on an organization whose business it is to prevent the revelation of embarrassing clinical, personal, and historical facts or to deny their relevance.
Whether the disappearance of psychoanalysis is a necessary next step is not for us to predict. We argue that Freudian psychoanalysis is at an impasse today not because, deluding itself, it is the means of deluding others, but because its inherent contradictions have effectively prevented it from determining its own aims ever since its inception. Therefore, in our opinion, even the most trenchant attacks on Freudian psychoanalysis have value as the external manifestations of its own internal disharmony. We will let our readers draw their own conclusions. Our aim here is to spark a new debate with and about Freud’s texts, to propose an exchange of opposite views from within the body of Freudian psychoanalytic theory and practice.
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