Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fathoming Freud 18



 The Moses Book

If Freud was not writing he did not feel alive.  For the year or so he spent in London he finished his final great book Moses and Monotheism.  He was also to write another during these final months – this was called An Outline of Psychoanalysis, and it was his attempt to impose orthodoxy after he was gone.  As I have mentioned many times before in these posts Fr4eud was a complex and somewhat conflicted man – though probably much less so than the rest of us.  I say this because he had himself been most unorthodox in his own thoughts and had thought nothing of dismissing the views of others if he considered them wrong.  In other words, while he did much, and certainly far more than others, by way of attempting to deconstruct the phenomena of power and authority, he was singularly authoritarian with respect to his own theories which he expounded as dogma.  Remember, too, that Freud was anything but religious and the fact that he was doctrinaire as regards his own theories is somewhat perplexing.

Outside Abraham Shalom Yehuda there were many other voices imploring Freud not to publish the final chapter of Moses.  One such voice was that of Charles Singer, a distinguished historian of science, who also pleaded with him to suppress the manuscript.  However, the old man replied by letter to Singer thus:

I have spent my whole life standing up for what I have considered to be the scientific truth, even when it was uncomfortable and unpleasant for my fellow men.  I cannot end with an act of disavowal.  (The Death of Sigmund Freud, 198)

On Thursday, February 2, 1939 the book was published and printed in German in Amsterdam, Holland.  A month or so later the old man received two copies from Holland.  He kept one copy for himself and the other he sent on to his great friend Princess Marie Bonaparte. On May 19 of that same year he saw an English version published in his new country of residence.

The Contents of The Book:

Peter Gay, one of Freud’s greatest biographers wrote of this book, entitled in English Moses and Monotheism that its author “had conceived it in defiance, written it in defiance, published it in defiance.”  So what did that great and infamous book say?  The most scandalous point in the book, from the standpoint of orthodox Jewry was that it questioned the very identity of Moses himself and maintained that he had in fact been an Egyptian.  Let me return here to the words of Edmundson with respect to the invention of monotheism itself:

Then there is the matter of the origins of monotheism.  Drawing on his anthropological and archaeological researches, Freud speculates that monotheism was not a Jewish, but rather an Egyptian invention.  (Ibid., 200)

Then he contended that the Chosen People actually murdered their greatest prophet.  But all these contentions, thought by some to be the most profane and hostile were in fact the least important points that the book had to make – in fact, they were pretty insignificant points with respect to its overall far-reaching and deep insights.  Of this book, Freud said in a letter to Hans Sachs that it was “quite a worthy exit.” (Ibid., 204) 

The Moses book unleashed much criticism in the UK at the time of its publication: Martin Buber, the great Jewish theologian sneered at it; needless to say, Abraham Yahuda rebuffed it as worthy of a Christian fanatic who had set out to vilify the Jews.  Even a Catholic scholar, one Father McNabb deemed it a scandalous work.  However, the book sold like wild fire.  Freud probably felt young once more, even though he was a suffering and dying old man.  He was getting reactions on all sides – like, when he was young, he was as an old man, stirring up a hornets nest.

In summary, the goal of therapy for Freud was the making conscious of the unconscious; unmasking the unconscious motives and analysing “the transference,” that is, where the patient transfers their love/hate for significant others in their lives onto the therapist, and the therapist in turn disarms all counter-transference by sheer awareness of the process. Then, added to that mix, Eros is somewhere interwoven in the whole lot, but once again disarmed by awareness.  Through this painstaking process the patient begins to deconstruct all figures of absolute authority, including the therapist.  Let me return once again here to Edmundson’s words:

What Freud did almost every morning and afternoon was to allow people to cultivate and inflated image of who and what he was, and then guide them in the process of dismantling that image.  Over and over again Freud showed his patients how to draw the gigantic figures in their own past down to size, and they learned this in no other way than by learning to draw Freud himself in more modest, human contours.  Freud the sometimes patriarch didn’t just develop theories about the destructive effects of patriarchy; he developed a form of teaching that gave people the chance to undo oppressive authority.  [Ibid., 212-213]

Now raise the above quotation to the nth power, as it were, that is to the power of the nation.  In other words, begin now to deconstruct authority as it is encultured in any specific race or culture.  What does one get then?  Think of it.  Perhaps what’s lacking in the age-old Arab-Israeli argument, or any other international dispute for that matter, is the psychoanalysis of each race.  When one begins to deconstruct the God of the Old Testament and the Allah of the Koran, one begins to dismantle the sacred idols of power and oppression, not alone of the nation itself, but also those of the enemy.  Often these sacred idols are masks for hatreds that seek to express their power in the oppression and perhaps even extirpation of the enemy nation.  To deconstruct all these transferred images – as all gods really are, according to Freud – or these powerful and vengeful beings in the “sky” as it were, is no more than deconstructing those national projections, or more correctly transferences, of our collective and individual needs for a father who can be equally so destructive as well as caring.  All of this, needless to say, was and is anathema to all religions because it was and is unmasking their beliefs as mere wishful thinking at its most benign or sheer hatred at its more powerful expression.  Freud left us with much food for thought.  No wonder his Moses book provoked such a strong reaction from the religious sectors of society.  His proposals were not so much striking at the heart of all religions, but rather at the very heart or centre of power within human beings individually and collectively as nations.  In short, life is all about wielding power.  The brilliance of Freud was that he saw through the sham and the masks and called a spade a spade.  We owe him much.



Above Michelangelo's depiction in stone of The Battle of Cascina. For Freud life is a struggle or conflict.

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