Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Freud Files

From Wikipedia

I’m tempted to buy a book called The Freud Files. It claims that Sigmund Freud promoted his own reputation, deliberately placing himself at the centre of a "lone genius" myth at the expense of others in his field. Furthermore, the book claims Freud’s acolytes have promoted and nurtured the myth for decades.

How did psychoanalysis attain its prominent cultural position? How did it eclipse rival psychologies and psychotherapies, such that it became natural to bracket Freud with Copernicus and Darwin? Why did Freud 'triumph' to such a degree that we hardly remember his rivals? This book reconstructs the early controversies around psychoanalysis and shows that rather than demonstrating its superiority, Freud and his followers rescripted history.

I suppose many of us have encountered significant cracks in Freud’s faded reputation during the course of our general reading. Doesn’t necessarily mean the issue is worth pursuing though. The field of Freudian scholarship is so vast that a dabbler is almost obliged to begin from a potentially biased starting position. Otherwise how does one select sources? Even neutrality doesn’t work if one side of this debate is substantially correct.

So as a taster I downloaded a free sample of The Freud Files onto my Kindle. You may or may not know, but this is a standard Kindle feature – browse before you buy. The book appears to be clear, concise, well-written and meticulously researched.

So if I buy it, this may be my biased starting point or it may not. Reviews suggest the book is certainly controversial and I am in no position to resolve the controversy.

However I already have a suspicion that Freud was dodgy. For example, some years ago I came across an essay in Speculum Spinozanum which claimed that he acknowledged an intellectual debt to Baruch Spinoza, the seventeenth century philosopher but only in three private letters. He never acknowledged it publicly.

This is not necessarily a big deal because Freud could not have owed a huge debt to Spinoza in the first place. Why not acknowledge it more publicly though? It would have attached an interesting thread to Freud’s thinking, locating it in the wider sphere of human thought.

Inevitably his failure to acknowledge Spinoza, however trivial his debt might have been, raises a suspicion that Freud had no wish to extend the public perception of his ideas beyond his own person. Only a suspicion, but there have been others and they add up.

Freud's reputation probably isn't particularly important to the modern world, but I was brought up in a time where he was still a towering intellectual figure, at least in popular culture. A paradigm of the "lone genius" myth. So maybe I’ll buy the book and perhaps bury the myth.


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Paddington said...

The studies I have read indicate that psychotherapy doesn't actually work. I have a strong feeling that marketing doesn't either. Both just take advantage of peer pressure. It's like the 'shoe ray' in the original "Hitchhiker's Guide" radio show.

As for Freud, my mother told me that her uncle studied child psychology under him, and had the worst-behaved German children she had ever seen.

A K Haart said...

Paddington - I have come across many negative references to psychotherapy but haven't studied it in any depth.

Paddington said...

As I said, the studies show that it does not do anything at all for depression, for example.

It's like quitting drinking for alcoholics. The 5-year success rate for Alcoholics Anonymous (very touted here) is about 7%. The 5-year success rate for those who quit by themselves? 7%

Sackerson said...

P: but that could be - perhaps by definition is - a different 7%.

Paddington said...

That is true. The point is that the success rate is the same. The null hypothesis is that AA is nothing special.