Sunday, June 07, 2009

Fathoming Freud 16

Freud on Authority

If anything Freud made an excellent analysis of authority and what makes those in authority tick, to use a cliché. he detested authoritarianism and all who practised such – fascism of the right or the left for that matter. He was interested in autocrats like Hitler and Stalin because they made interesting subjects to study. As Hitler and his minions dominated the streets of Vienna those fateful months of early to mid-year 1938, Freud laboured away for an hour a day – he was sickly and dying slowly of cancer – on his Moses book to which I referred at some length in the last post before this. Freud hoped that this book would stand the test of time because it represented the fruit of his twenty-year analysis of debased authority – that type of authority that Hitler and Stalin represented.

Now, the founding father of psychoanalysis was a complex being – and, indeed, who isn’t? This is the way Edmundson puts Freud’s complexity or contradictory nature:

The fact is, of course, that in the middle of his career, Freud arrived at a strong view about the kind of authority that commands obedience: masterful, patriarchal authority. At various times in his life and work, Freud, was willing to imitate exactly such authority: his temperament leaned more than a little that way to begin with, and he saw how effective it could be to play the primal father’s role. Freud, in short, was tempted by the kind of power that he spent a major phase of his career demystifying. Freud, one might say, was a patriarch who worked with incomparable skill to deconstruct patriarchy. he wrote and lived to put an end to the kind of authority that he himself quite often embodied and exploited. (The Death of Freud, 129-130)

Freud in London:

Early on the morning of Monday, June 6, 1938, Sigmund Freud stepped down from a train at Victoria Station in London. The old man realised all too clearly that he had come to London so that he might die in freedom and so that his family might live thus also. The likes of Socrates, Cicero and the great Montaigne had all averred that to learn to philosophize meant essentially learning how to die. Freud would not go to his death easily – he would persist with writing his contentious book on Moses and rattle a few more cages. His approach to life was never to take the easy road – after all, he was no people-pleaser or yes-man. He was a trouble-maker and he loved to be contentious – not for the point of being contentious, but rather to tell forth the truth in all its ugliness as well as its beauty. That was always his modus operandi and modus vivendi. He thrived on opposition and loved debate – provided, that is, that he’d get the last word on the matter.

Freud on Human Misery:

There are not too many happy moments to be enjoyed in reading either Freud’s works or indeed reading about his life. He was a serious sort of person, but certainly not a depressive. He was, however, somewhat negative about humankind. He has little to say about human beings at their best. That said, we owe him a lot. Well, he awakened us from our dogmatic slumbers and from our unawareness of the unconscious. Freud is good at describing humankind at their low points: failing erotic love, jealousy, repression, suppression, miserliness, hypochondria, ingratitude, lust, greed, gluttony, vanity etc. Again, this is what Edmundson has to say:

The hunger for Hitler, or someone like him, never goes away. The urge to be cruel, be destructive, be brutal, is perpetually there. By describing people at their worst, one is nonetheless getting close to something like their essence. Some people have seen Freud as a reductionist; perhaps it is better to see him as someone with brilliant insights into human beings at their most reduced. (Ibid., 146)

One of Michelangelo's famous "prisoners of stone" sculptures. These were his "unfinished masterpieces." In a way the represent the human condition - we are essentially an unfinished work in many ways!

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