Saturday, May 02, 2009

Fathoming Freud 3

The Old and the New in Freud:

What separates Freud from many fellow psychiatrists and scientists, and, indeed, he considered himself very much a scientist, was the fact that he was so widely read.  Our man was a voracious reader and read much from many branches of knowledge: history, mythology, psychiatry, physiology, philosophy, literature in German and English, the Latin classics and from his own special interest archaeology as well. (It is interesting to note that one of his first great disciples and later greatest critic, Carl Jung, was an equally broad reader.  Few other psychiatrists had and have such a broad range of knowledge and wisdom at their disposal.) I probably have left some areas of his reading out even when I give this wide list of his interests.  I enumerate these interests purposely to show that Freud was no mere speculative genius writing in a vacuum.  He was such a marvellous genius, but he had much wisdom, knowledge and indeed science to draw upon.  From such wide reading in the classics and in literature he would have been well aware of the dream world and the world of the unconscious.  Of course, it is a common and gross error to say that Freud discovered the unconscious – no, that was there in all of life and literature already.  However, Freud was the first to study it systematically and clinically.  He himself would have said scientifically.  I will allow that he did so if we take a broad definition of what science is.  This is the way our author Mark Edmundson puts it:

Freud was both old and new.  What he said about the psyche was shockingly novel, and, as such, a part of the Viennese cultural revolution.  Yet, what he said also drew on old wisdom.  Freud compounded his work not only from clinical observation, but from reading Sophocles, Shakespeare and Milton.  He also drew on fairy tales and folk wisdom as well as that fund of information – to him often closer to the truth than the educated believe – everyday common sense.  (Op.cit., 42)

Psychoanalysis, the Jewish Science

Needless to say, the Nazis immediately hit upon the new science of psychoanalysis as being of Jewish origin.  Obviously anything that questioned the instincts of the human animal in all their murkiness was more than suspect.  That the Nazis were unconsciously living out their unconscious instincts and desires in such an orgy of violence and hate was something they would have suppressed and repressed.  I suppose when it comes to repression, the Nazis were extremely good at this, and unknowingly so which is part of the very definition of the word.  Likewise, I believe that the population in general, who denied what might have been going on before their very own eyes, were more than likely victims of their own repressions.  After all we do grow in self-knowledge as we age as human animals and also society grows to some extent in such awareness also.  Admittedly, these latter points are somewhat contentious.  Every single human being has to learn everything anew for him or herself as they grow older – we learn by repeating the mistakes of our forebears.  Perhaps to say that wisdom is cumulative is wishful thinking.  In this regard, that’s why we are constantly being mired again and again in wars and disputes and violence.  Anyway, the Nazis sought to sanitize psychoanalysis and came up with a Nazi or Aryan variant of the same.

Interestingly, the Nazis did not close the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute.  Rather, they took it over and put it under the leadership of Dr. M.H. Goring, a first cousin of Reichsmarshall Hermann Goring.  Again, given their propensity for repression, they declared that the Jews were a people particularly beset by the Oedipal Complex and possessed a violent, sexually charged unconscious.  Also they were prone to infantile sexuality.  Once again, it is somewhat disturbing to read as to how far Jung colluded with the new Nazi or Aryan variant of Psychoanalysis.  I believe that Jung was quite ego-driven during this stage of his life and certainly did not want to rock the boat or call any bad publicity to his Analytical Psychology Movement as he called his approach after splitting with Freud more than twenty years previously.  Indeed, Jung gave a series of lectures in Dr Goring’s new Institute in Berlin and they are heavily laden with Aryan propaganda and Nazi bias, e.g.,

The Aryan unconscious has a higher potential than the Jewish; that is the advantage and disadvantage of a youthfulness not yet fully estranged from barbarism  (Quoted ibid., 44)

One can say, without the slightest doubt, that this statement from Jung is highly racist.  Given the power of the Nazis, it is hard to say that anyone of us would do differently ourselves.  We all like to protect our own backsides if we are to be really honest.

Freud not Shocked:

I have stated this already in previous posts and written quite widely on it.  However, I attribute such importance to this point that I shall repeat it in different words, and hopefully from a different angle, here.  Our man was so accustomed to the dark depths of the human psyche that he was not shocked at all by the rise to power of the Nazis nor by their racism, violence and their sheer hate of the Jews.  Ego, reason and Civilisation, and indeed the Superego (our conscience as formed by being socialised by our particular culture or society) are indeed very strong, but only just.  Once the lid has been lifted off the Pandora’s Box of the Unconscious Id, then all hell will break loose.  Freud’s therapy was essentially one of coming to terms with these hidden and repressed and suppressed desires and instincts; that we must learn to make the unconscious conscious; that we must befriend, as it were our demons, and in so doing tame them.  This for him was real analysis.  It was the opposite to denial and all about a radical acceptance of our very animal nature.  In this painstaking way we would become freer and more whole.  Not that we would become ebulliently happy or have found some elixir of life.  Far from it.  Rather, we would be somewhat more content and possess a greater stoic equanimity.  That was the most we could expect from life.

As Peter Gay has astutely observed, what Freud essentially did was that he taught us all that there was more to understand and less to judge about people than most of us had previously imagined.  This has always impressed me about Freud – that is, how he was one of the first modern scholars and psychiatrists who simply did not judge others.  Rather, as a true clinician and scientist, he observed and learnt, and in so doing could help us in unravelling the very mystery at the heart of humanity.

Above I have uploaded an illustration of Freud surrounded by his statuettes, symbols and ornaments.

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