Sunday, April 26, 2009

Freud and Hitler 2

In 1909, the year with which Edmundson opens his modern classic on psychoanalysis and the rise of fundamentalism, Freud had not long returned from a major conference in America where he was hailed as a giant intellect and major mover in the world of psychology and psychotherapy. He had been accompanied there by his closest disciples: the triumvirate Jung, Ferenczi and Jones. America’s leading philosopher and psychologist, William James, turned up to hear the great man speak. This was the Freud, renewed, reaffirmed and strengthened, who would have walked the streets of the Vienna where Adolf Hitler walked as an unknown and unemployed reject of society.

Edmundson points out that prior to 1909 Freud’s work was mostly concerned with “the dynamics of desire,” (op.cit., 7) while after this watershed date he was to become ever more preoccupied with the issue of authority. In other words, our author sees Freud as beginning to become obsessed with the type of person this unknown Hitler would later become. This is the strength and unique insight of our American author, that he sees this interesting parallel between the lives of two very different men: one a famous genius and the other an infamous mass-murderer. That the former street rat would become the Chancellor of Germany and one of the most powerful men in the world by 1938 would have surprised and frightened most individuals, but not Freud. Through his profound exploration of the human psyche he could see this evil coming.

After the first twenty or so pages our author brings the action forward to the fateful year of 1938 and recounts the first five months of that year rather painstakingly before Freud escaped to freedom on June 4th on the Orient Express.

Freud’s Character:

Freud was a particularly complex man full of contradictions. Who isn’t, one might ask? Well, let’s say he was particularly so. One central contradiction was that he was very much a therapist who loved to deconstruct authority and authority figures for his patients and in his writings in general on the one hand, yet on the other he liked to rule his Psychoanalytical Society with an iron fist. His was an iron fist in a silk glove, to use a rather overworked and trite metaphor. He was also a man who liked to be a person of standing in society. One can see his ego writ large in these contentions argued by Edmundson:

Freud was interested in conventional success, in money, in fame, in having a sterling reputation, in maintaining an impeccable bourgeois household. (Ibid.,16)

His egotism is also self-evident in his seeking of the rank of Professor, mainly because it provided him with more respectability. He also sought prizes and honours though he often claimed that he did not do so. Then as our author rightly says, we can get a good insight into his ego-driven vanity in the following account:

Though Freud declared time and again that he hated to be photographed, it sometimes seems that there were times in his life when he did little but.. In his photos, Freud seems to be trying to look ever more wise, stable, authoritative, and commanding. (ibid.,19)

He was also a man, at least when younger, to throw himself blindly into passion and love. For instance, when he first fell in love with Martha Bernays, he fell furiously in love. Our author points out that he would write her many wildly adoring letters in which he often fumed with jealousy. Freud could be equally passionate about his male friendships. There is some evidence, though it is quite slight that Freud was bisexual and the same has been said of Carl Gustave Jung, though once again the evidence, while there, is not thoroughly convincing. Edmundson instances relationships of passionate intensity with his close disciples Wilhelm Fliess and Carl Jung and with his older mentor Dr Josef Breuer. (See ibid., 16-17)

Likewise Freud, our author avers, was a very passionate thinker who stuck by his strongly held views through thick and thin. Freud never liked to be contradicted by anyone, especially his disciples whom he felt should follow the gospel of psychoanalysis without demur.

Above a picture of Freud with his mother Amalia.

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