Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fathoming Freud 2

Blake Allusions

Edmundson allows his literary predilections to surface at least twice in his book. Firstly he tells us that Hitler and Freud would have been what Blake would have termed “spiritual enemies.” (Op.cit., 3) Then he proceeds to argue that Blake’s poetry prefigured Freud’s thinking in certain aspects as regards the strength of the inner person as it were. He quotes Blake thus as referring to himself as “very weak & an Old Man feeble & tottering, but not in Spirit & Life not in the Real Man The Imagination which Liveth for Ever. In that I am stronger & stronger as this Foolish Body decays.” Our author maintains that Freud was similar to the great pre-Romantic poet, William Blake in this strength of soul, this power of the Real Man. (See ibid., 20)

Freud thrived on Opposition

Our author is most especially right in this contention – the great founder of psychoanalysis did thrive on opposition. In this one can only admire, and indeed praise, Freud for his courage, obstinacy and determination. Perhaps this was the real Jew in him? Perhaps, but I feel it was more – it was his sheer integrity and honesty. He never sought to make his findings sweet and palatable for his hearers. Oh no! The great father of psychoanalysis sought to disturb the comfortable as well as comfort the disturbed.

Freud, then, had major difficulties – firstly because he was a Jew in a city which had long been anti-Semitic, and secondly because of his controversial ideas which in most cases he would never modify despite open hostility. (There was one important exception to this statement here – I will return to this at a later time.) The founder of psychoanalysis was gravely embarrassed at his father’s servility and lack of courage when he told the young boy how he was assaulted one day by a Christian and did not retaliate at all. The young Freud was mortified and outraged and these feelings stayed with him all his life.

It is interesting that the author also points to an important insight, namely that our founder “did his best work when he had opposition in front of him… He once remarked that for all to go well, he needed to have a close friend to confide in and a spirited enemy to oppose…” (Ibid., 25)

Freud and the World of Shadows and the Dark:

Another point on which I am indebted to Edmundson is his reference to Auden’s beautiful elegy for Freud, the existence of which I never ever knew. A quick perusal of this poem which can be read here -Auden on Freud - leads me to quote the following stanzas by way of reference to the shadowy world of our unconscious, to the dark world of our animal instincts, lest we spiritualise our basic nature out of existence:

For about him till the very end were still// those he had studied, the fauna of the night,//and shades that still waited to enter//the bright circle of his recognition. (Stanza 5)

Of course they called on God, but he went his way// down among the lost people like Dante, down// to the stinking fosse where the injured// lead the ugly life of the rejected,// (Stanza 14)

and showed us what evil is, not, as we thought,// deeds that must be punished, but our lack of faith,//our dishonest mood of denial,//the concupiscence of the oppressor. (Stanza 15)

but he would have us remember most of all// to be enthusiastic over the night,//not only for the sense of wonder// it alone has to offer, but also// (Stanza 25)

because it needs our love. With large sad eyes//its delectable creatures look up and beg// us dumbly to ask them to follow:// they are exiles who long for the future// (Stanza 26)

that lives in our power, they too would rejoice//if allowed to serve enlightenment like him,//even to bear our cry of 'Judas',//as he did and all must bear who serve it.//(Stanza 27)

One rational voice is dumb. Over his grave//the household of Impulse mourns one dearly loved://sad is Eros, builder of cities,//and weeping anarchic Aphrodite.//(Stanza 28)

In the above stanzas the highlighted words are, of course, my doing. I have highlighted them to show Freud’s great discovery of the unconscious, of its shadows and darkness, of its many repressed areas and those aspects of our personalities that we openly deny and yet are there unbeknownst to us. All these neglected, ignored, rejected or denied areas of our psyche must needs be attended to. It was his great discovery to proclaim and advance a working method of psychotherapy called psychoanalysis, which worked its healing magic through making the unconscious conscious. That was essentially Freud’s gift to the human animal, and a great, if painful, gift it is, which brings in its wake much enlightenment.

Because Freud was so aware of the human animal’s instinctual side, one could rightly say that in this he was frighteningly correct. He was not surprised at the rise of National Socialism or Nazism as he really understood the human animal with all its suppressed desires and motives. From looking deep inside his own mind – after all he did do his own analysis as he informs us and did a fairly full analysis of his own dreams – and into those of his patients Freud was well acquainted with the night and the shadows in humankind’s heart. That it should come out in hate and murder and mayhem, the great man was in no way surprised. As the Nazis came into his apartment the sick old man got up from his famous couch, on which he had now in recent days lain because he was so ill, left his study and watched as the fascists left his apartment with all his wealth and the passports of his family. He merely remarked dryly that he had never ever got such a large payment for any one visit. Edmundson remarks that the old man said succinctly: “Something like this (the Anschluss and the rise of Nazism in Austria) was inevitable, I am not sure that from my standpoint I can blame them.” (Ibid., quoted 53)

Above I have uploaded a picture of Freud and two of his sons. Sigmund Freud (1856 - 1939) with his sons, Ernst (1892 - 1970) and Martin (1889 - 1967), both of whom are wearing military uniforms. Jan 01, 1915

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