Freud's Seduction Theory - Allen Esterson

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Unconscious phantasies

by Allen Esterson

Freud claimed that his clinical experiences in the seduction theory period enabled him to 'stumble' on the existence of unconscious phantasies (S.E.: XX, 34). Now if his accounts of that episode had been veracious, one would have expected his reports of the number of patients whose putative unconscious memories of molestations were actually phantasies of seduction to be roughly consistent, but the contrary is the case. In Three Essays he wrote: 'I cannot admit that in my paper on 'The Aetiology of Hysteria' (1896) I exaggerated the frequency or importance of [childhood seductions], though I did not then know that persons who remain normal may have had the same experiences in their childhoods, and though I consequently overrated the importance of seduction in comparison with the factors of sexual constitution and development' (S.E.: VII, 190). In this 1905 report there is no mention of 'phantasies of seduction', and the first part of the sentence implies that he is still maintaining that the 'sexual scenes' were authentic. Taken literally, this means (though he refrains from saying so) that he is still maintaining that one hundred percent of his patients on which he reported in 1896 had been sexually molested in infancy. In contrast, in 'My Views on the Part Played by Sexuality in the Aetiology of the Neuroses', written in the same year, he asserted that his material 'happened by chance [sic] to include a disproportionately large number of cases in which sexual seduction by an adult or by older children played the chief part in the history of the patient's childhood...' (1906, S.E.: VII, 274); so his position at this stage is that a 'large number' of the 'seductions' were genuine. In his History (1914), he wrote in relation to the seduction theory patients in general that they had confabulated the 'seductions', and there is no mention of genuine cases of molestations (S.E.: XIV, 17-18). Then in his Autobiographical Study (1925) he initially wrote of the 'childhood scenes' that they were phantasies, but at the end of his account he adds, almost as an afterthought, that 'seduction during childhood retained a certain share, though a humbler one, in the aetiology of the neuroses. But the seducers turned out as a rule to have been older children' (S.E.: XX, 34-5; cf. 1896, S.E.: III, 152, 164). Finally, in his New Introductory Lectures account he generalises that he came to recognise that the 'reports' of 'seductions' by their fathers from 'almost all [his] women patients' were 'untrue', so understanding that 'hysterical symptoms are derived from phantasies and not from real occurrences' (S.E.: XXII, 120).

The inconsistencies in Freud's accounts of the seduction theory episode is not the only extraordinary aspect of this story. Equally remarkable is the way he came to explain his 'error' (S.E.: XX, 33). His first explanation (published in 1906) of the occurrence of the putative phantasies of 'seduction' (ie, sexual molestation) was that they were 'attempts at fending off memories of the subjects own sexual activity (infantile masturbation)' - which implies that around the age of puberty (S.E.: VII, 274) those patients who were not in fact abused found the belief they had been sexually molested in infancy less distressing than the knowledge that they had engaged in infantile masturbation. Freud clearly had strange ideas about this, because he went further in 1914 and described the process by which unconscious phantasies of 'seduction' are produced as 'intended to cover-up the auto-erotic activity of the first years of childhood, to embellish it and raise it to a higher plane' (S.E.: XIV, 17-18, emphasis added). So it seems that in Freud's view the belief that one has been sexual molested in infancy is a higher plane of experience than the recollection of infantile masturbation. (At this stage he had not gone beyond his 1906 statement that the putative abusers were some unspecified adult or older child.) It is difficult to take this explanation seriously, but if we do attempt to examine the logic of these ideas of Freud's, we find even deeper mysteries. For it seems that these processes (the replacement of memories of auto-erotic activities in infancy by sexual molestation phantasies) occur in the unconscious; certainly it is hard to imagine anyone consciously experiencing these processes around puberty. But in that case, as Cioffi points out (1974: 173), why the necessity for the 'cover-up' process in the first place? One is left wondering if Freud himself had thought through what he was positing. But he had to come up with some explanation for his 'error', and the primary role he attributed to infantile masturbation in his childhood developmental theories in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905) provided him with one - of sorts. It is interesting that Freud retained this explanation in his 1914 account, in spite of his having given a proto-Oedipal explanation of female 'seduction phantasies' at a meeting of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society on 24 January 1912: 'The grain of truth contained in this [paternal seduction] phantasy lies in the fact that the father, by way of his innocent caresses in earliest childhood, has actually awakened the little girl's sexuality...' (Nunberg, H. and Federn, E., Minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, Vol. IV, New York: International Universities Press, 1962-75: 24). In a passage in his general discussion of infantile phantasies in the 1917 Introductory Lecture 23, he gives both explanations (see below); but in his explicit references to the seduction theory patients, it is as if he kept his Oedipal explanation on the back burner until his 'researches' into the psychosexual development of female children (commencing in 1924-5) brought it to the fore so that, in 1925 and 1933, in the case of young girls he replaced the notion of the 'cover-up' of infantile masturbation with that of the self-concealing of Oedipal yearnings for the father (S.E.: XX, 34; XXII, 120). (In the aforementioned 1912 minutes Freud is reported as saying that the term 'autoerotic' applies only to the first two years of infancy: the masturbation of the subsequent period, with its phantasies about other persons, constitutes an intermediate stage between autoerotism and object love [ibid.: 25]. How he could possibly verify his conjectural notions about infantile phantasies relating to this remains a mystery.)

The above allusion to a passage in Introductory Lecture 23 leads us to the subject of Freud's general discussion of unconscious phantasies. Commentators have almost invariably taken the passage in question, relating to apparent reports of sexual molestations from his patients, as Freud's presenting his clinical experience over the years, but there are good reasons for arguing this is not so. But before we examine this passage it is important to appreciate the context in which it occurs. As the introductory words of the relevant section immediately make plain to the informed reader, Freud is basing his ideas here on the foundation of his 'discovery' of infantile unconscious phantasies arising from his seduction theory 'error':

I have warned you that we still have something new to learn; it is indeed surprising and perplexing. By means of analysis, as you know, starting from the symptoms, we arrive at a knowledge of the infantile experiences to which the libido is fixated and out of which the symptoms are made. Well, the surprise lies in the fact that these scenes from infancy are not always true. Indeed, they are not true in the majority of cases, and in a few of them they are the direct opposite of the historical truth. As you will see, this discovery is calculated more than any other to discredit either analysis, which has led to this result, or the patients, on whose statements [sic] the analysis and our whole understanding of the neuroses are founded. But there is something else remarkably perpelxing about it. If the infantile experiences brought to light by analysis were invariably real, we should feel that we were standing on firm ground; if they were regularly falsified and revealed as inventions, as phantasies of the patient, we should be obliged to abandon this shaky ground and look for salvation elsewhere. But neither of these things is the case: the position can be shown to be that the childhood experiences constructed or remembered in analysis are sometimes indisputably false and sometimes equally certainly correct, and in most cases compounded of truth and falsehood. Sometimes, then, symptoms represent events which really took place and to which we may attribute an influence on the fixation of the libido, and sometimes they represent phantasies of the patient's which are not, of course, suited to playing an aetiological role. (S.E.: XVI, 367, emphasis added.)

There are a number of questions begged in the above passage, but the first thing to note is that the argument depends entirely on Freud's retrospective interpretation of the seduction theory episode: the 'discovery' he alludes to is the retrospective claim that the purported 'memories' of infantile molestation of the patients were actually unconscious phantasies. But, as several scholars have now shown, Freud's later reports of the episode are false: the patients' 'memories' were preconceived notions foisted on them by an overzealous physician (Cioffi, 1972, 1974; Schimek, 1987; IsraNls and Schatzman, 1993; Esterson, 1993: 11-31; 1998). This being so, the whole foundation of the above explication collapses; little wonder that Freud was so anxious, in his misleading accounts of the events of 1895-7, to conceal that the supposed sexual scenes originated in his own mind, not those of his patients.

Leaving aside (for the present) the fact that the foundation for the ideas explicated in the above passage (and in what follows, see below) rests on false clinical claims, the presentation is so masterful that it is easy to overlook some questionable features, even if we view the passage in Freud's own terms. With characteristic glibness, he states that 'the position can be shown that the childhood experiences constructed or remembered in analysis are sometimes indisputably [sic] false and sometimes equally certainly [sic] correct...'. Like a conjurer for whom the quickness of the hand deceives the eye, Freud casually tells the reader that the position he is asserting 'can be shown', and, more than that, 'indisputably' shown, to be so. Again like a conjurer, he moves on quickly to some more interesting ideas before the reader can appreciate that this is nothing but an assertion which needs to be justified if what follows is to have any validity. But is it in fact true that such a claim can be shown to be true? He nowhere explains how he could have achieved what he asserts, in spite of his twice implying he had discovered how to distinguish (apparently retrospectively!) between those 'memories' of his seduction theory patients which were authentic and those which were phantasies (S.E.: VII, 274; 1924, S.E.: III, 168 n.1: 'At that time I was not yet able to distinguish between my patients' phantasies...and their real recollections [sic]' [emphasis added]). Moreover, not long before he wrote Introductory Lectures he admitted that in point of fact he could not so distinguish. In the Wolf Man case history (written in 1914), in the context of a discussion of the status of the 'primal scene', he acknowledged that he was unable to distinguish whether this reconstructed infantile scene was an authentic event from the patient's infancy or an unconscious phantasy (S.E.: XVII, 52). Further, more generally, he acknowledged that 'so far as my experience hitherto goes, these scenes from infancy are not reproduced during the treatment as recollections, they are the products of construction' (ibid.: 51). But, of course, this is something we already know about the 1896 'seductions' which Freud foisted on his patients and which he is implicitly using as the foundation of his infantile phantasy theses in Introductory Lectures. So when he writes that he is has in mind 'the childhood experiences constructed or remembered in analysis' he is again misleading his readers, for the prototypic 'experiences' to which he alludes at the beginning of the quoted passage were entirely reconstructed, not remembered. That he is indeed misleading his readers in this way is evident from the specific examples of childhood 'experiences' which he gives in the passages that follow (S.E.: XVI, 368-70): (i) seduction by an adult. Such an 'occurrence', although occasionally a reality, is mentioned here in the context of 'phantasies' and is essentially a reference to his spurious seduction theory claims and their retrospective interpretation. (ii) threats of castration. This is an imaginative conjecture to provide an explanation for the repression of an infant boy's Oedipal yearnings (see Esterson, 1993: 149-50). (iii) the observation of sexual intercourse beween one's parents. This is a reference to the wolf-dream interpretation (reconstruction of the 'primal scene') from the Wolf Man case history (S.E.: XVII, 29-37). (iv) the observation of sexual intercourse from behind. This is an alternative interpretation of the wolf-dream in terms of the observation of intercourse between dogs (ibid.: 59). (v) the observation of parental sexual intercourse while one is still an unborn baby in the womb. This far-fetched notion refers to Freud's equally far-fetched interpretations of certain dreams (S.E.: V, 399-400; S.E.: XXII, 25; see Esterson, 1993: 183, 202).

In regard to item (iv), Freud's words are so breathtakingly misleading that they are worth looking at more closely: 'If, however, the intercourse is described in the most minute details, which would be difficult to observe, or if, as happens most frequently, it turns out to have been intercourse from behind, more ferarum [in the manner of animals], there can be no remaining doubt that the phantasy is based on an observation of intercourse between animals (such as dogs)...' (emphasis added). This notion, as noted above, comes from an alternative interpretation of the wolf-dream in the contemporary Wolf Man paper. Freud acknowledges that such early 'scenes' are not recalled by patients (S.E.: VII, 51), so (as we also know from the relevant passages in the case history) when he writes that the intercourse 'is described [sic] in the most minute details' he is actually referring to details he himself has reconstructed! It would be difficult to give a clearer example of the grossly misleading nature of Freud's explications of unconscious phantasies in relation to his clinical experiences. And almost as remarkable is the fact that (characteristically) Freud makes a sweeping generalisation on the basis of a single highly dubious interpretation, and that he writes that there can be 'no doubt' as to its validity!

Freud describes the examples of his analytic reconstructions enumerated above as being 'among the occurrences [sic] which recur again and again in the youthful history of neurotics'. His use of the word 'occurrences' in this context is a characteristic example of the way that, in his expositions, he habitually conflates patients' authentic memories with analytically reconstructed (unconscious) phantasies, thereby concealing that what he is generally dealing with is the latter. As with his similarly misleading accounts of the seduction theory episode, the obfuscation serves the purpose of concealing that the bulk of Freud's clinical 'findings' emanated from himself and not from the patients. Another example of his obfuscation occurs in the above passage from Introductory Lecture 23, where he writes of 'the infantile experiences brought to light by analysis' (emphasis added), as if these were validated experiences. But to what is he referring? Nothing other than 'these scenes from infancy' which he himself reconstructs! Moreover he compounds the deception by writing of the 'statements [of patients]' upon which 'the analysis and our whole understanding of the neuroses are founded'. This ploy is identical with the deception Freud perpetrated with regard to the seduction theory episode: he is presenting the situation as if it were statements of his patients which lead to the foundation of his 'understanding of the neuroses', whereas that foundation comes entirely from Freud himself, in the form of his own preconceived reconstructions of purported unconscious phantasies of the patients. But these instances of tendentious explication pale beside the passage immediately following the one quoted above:

After a little reflection we shall easily understand what it is about this state of things which perplexes us so much. It is the low evaluation of reality, the neglect of the distinction between it and phantasy. We are tempted to feel offended at the patient's having taken up our time with invented stories. Reality seems to us something worlds apart from invention, and we set a very different value on it. Moreover the patient, too, looks at things in this light in his normal thinking. When he brings up the material which leads from behind his symptoms to the wishful situations modelled on his infantile experiences, we are in doubt to begin with whether we are dealing with reality or phantasies. (S.E.: XVI, 367-8)

This little masterpiece of disinformation can scarcely fail to mislead the reader. Note that he is talking about his patients' 'infantile experiences'; as he himself acknowledges, these have to be analytically reconstructed by himself (S.E.: XVII, 51). So what are the 'invented stories' to which he alludes? Nothing other than Freud's own reconstructions which he decides are not authentic! When he writes of the patient's 'bring[ing] up the material which leads from behind his symptoms to the [infantile] wishful situations' leaving Freud in doubt as to whether he is dealing with reality or phantasy, it would be an understatement to say he is obfuscating. His words create the impression that the patient provides the material which leads Freud to the infantile 'scenes', and that (again) the patient is misleading him with 'invented stories'. But, as we have seen from the seduction theory episode which provided the prototype for the infantile phantasy theory (and for the specific examples he gives, enumerated above), it is Freud from whom the essential material emanates. By making it seem as if the patient is culpable for his doubts about whether his reconstructions represent authentic events or unconscious phantasies, he conveys to the unsuspecting reader the impression that the patient plays the main role in providing the analytic material, thereby concealing that virtually all of it comes out of his own imagination. (See Esterson, 1993: 133-4; 166-8)

Seduction phantasies

We are now in position to make sense of some otherwise inexplicable aspects of the passage (in the same section) in which Freud is apparently referring to his clinical experiences in relation to patients' reports of sexual abuse in early childhood:

Phantasies of being seduced are of particular interest, because so often they are not phantasies but real memories. Fortunately, however, they are nevertheless not real as often as seemed at first to be shown by the findings of analysis. Seduction by an older child or by one of the same age is even more frequent than by an adult; and if in the case of girls who produce [sic] such an event in the story [sic] of their childhood their father figures regularly as the seducer, there can be no doubt either of the imaginary nature of the accusation [sic] or the motive that has led to it. A phantasy of being seduced when no seduction has occurred is usually employed by a child to screen the autoerotic period of his sexual activity. He spares himself shame about masturbation by retrospectively phantasying a desired object into these earliest times. You must not suppose, however, that the sexual abuse of a child by its nearest male relatives belongs entirely to the realm of phantasy. Most analysts will have treated cases in which such events were real and could be unimpeachably established; but even so they related to the later years of childhood and had been transposed into earlier times. (S.E.: XVI, 370)

There are a number of indications that the above passage is not quite what it purports to be. Consider the apparent contradiction in the first sentence, where he writes that 'phantasies of being seduced' are often 'not phantasies'! This contradiction betrays the fact that by the term 'phantasies' Freud has in mind his own reconstructions which he presents as if they were unquestionably phantasies of the patients, and then conflates these with authentic reports. In fact most of this paragraph consists of his conjectures about reconstructed unconscious phantasies, rather than reports of the genuine experiences of his patients. That is why he can write on the one hand that 'so often' phantasies of being seduced are 'real memories', and on the other hand make the effectively contradictory claim that in the case of women who regularly 'produce' a paternal 'seduction' from their childhood, there can be 'no doubt' that the 'accusation' is imaginary. How could there be 'no doubt' in the latter case if he were referring to cases of women who had genuinely accused their father of sexual molestation? In such cases, each one would have to be examined individually; there is no way a decision could be made in any individual case on the basis of a general thesis. Freud writes that there is 'no doubt' because he is referring not to cases where there are genuine accusations, but to instances where he analytically infers the 'seduction' and presumes he is uncovering an unconscious phantasy induced by Oedipal yearnings. (His use of the word 'accusation' here is as tendentiously misleading as his earlier reference to the patients' 'invented stories' [see above] and his claim in 1933 that almost all his female seduction theory patients 'told' him they had been 'seduced' by their fathers. See below for an even more blatantly misleading use of the word 'accusation'.) Again, what are we to make of the unlikely claim that seduction by an older child or by one of the same age is more frequent than by an adult? Where in his writings prior to this has he ever given any indication that this is what he has found clinically? The answer is that such a clinical claim is to be found previously in one context only - the seduction theory period. In the first two seduction theory papers Freud claimed that for seven of his thirteen cases of hysteria he had discovered that a boy (usually a brother) slightly older than the victim was the culprit. But the sexual molestations at that time were nothing but Freud's preconceived reconstructions which he foisted on the patients, so the statistic of the considerable number of prepubertal boy culprits is nothing but an inference of Freud's, based on preconceived notions (see Esterson, 1998: 17 n.6). Nevertheless it turns up in Freud's later accounts (for example, in this passage in Introductory Lectures) as if it were a genuine clinical finding!

Is there anything authentic in this purported report of his clinical findings? There is no doubt that occasionally he heard reports from patients of childhood sexual abuse by fathers and other culprits, but information concerning this kind of occurrence is effectively lost in his conflation of such reports with putative unconscious phantasies which he himself reconstructs. By using words such as 'produce such an event in the story of their childhood' and 'accusation' in the context of the latter, Freud is perpetrating a deception of exactly the same kind as in his late retrospective accounts of the seduction theory - or, more accurately, he is compounding that very same deception.

Having examined these major aspects of the paragraph quoted above, I shall turn to another, more obscure, example of a questionable assertion. In the last part of the last sentence Freud writes that in cases of authentic reports of early childhood sexual abuse, 'they related to the later years of childhood and had been transposed into earlier times'. Characteristically, he states this glibly as if it were an established fact, though it is nothing but his own uncorroborated conjecture. The notion was put forward in the 1906 paper in which Freud indicated his change of view concerning the seduction theory: '[Hysterical symptoms] were no longer to be regarded as direct derivatives of the repressed memories of childhood experiences; but between the symptoms and the childish impressions there were inserted the patient's phantasies (or imaginary memories), mostly produced during the years of puberty [sic], which on the one side were built out of and over the childhood memories and on the other side were transformed directly into the symptoms' (S.E.: VII, 274, Freud's emphasis). Leaving aside the misleading reference to 'memories' when (i) he is alluding to his own conjectural reconstructions, and (ii) he actually means putative unconscious memories, Freud's mode of presentation obscures the fact that this is pure conjecture of a kind it is impossible to verify (because the supposed phantasies are unconscious and can only be uncovered by Freud's analytic technique of reconstruction.) It is this conjectural notion which turns up (in the form of the statement quoted at the beginning of this paragraph) in Introductory Lectures as if it were a clinical finding! Moreover, he makes the assertion so confidently in the latter publication that its improbable nature may pass unnoticed. He is claiming that when patients report having been sexually abused around the age of puberty, they are in fact reporting phantasies produced in later childhood to conceal (from the patients themselves) that they had been sexually molested in infancy. But he provides not one iota of evidence to support this unequivocal assertion! It is extraordinary that unsupported claims such as this and, more importantly, the others in the paragraph in question, have so often been taken to be unproblematic reports of Freud's clinical experience when for the most part they are uncorroborated conjectures resting on the foundation of a theory of unconscious phantasies which was based on erroneous claims at its inception. Only the brilliance of Freud's persuasive rhetoric, in which the confident assertion of what are actually dubious clinical claims plays an important role, can account for the fact that the passages examined above have not been recognised as the masterful sleights-of-hand that they are.

Occasionally Freud is so deeply immersed his own world of deception and self-deception that he inadvertently gives the game away, as in a passage in his paper Female Sexuality (1931). Although it had not been mentioned in his pioneering essay on female sexuality, 'Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction Between the Sexes' (1925), he now reports 'the very common [sic] phantasy which makes the mother or nurse into a seducer', a consequence of the latter's attending to the infant's 'nursery hygiene' (S.E.: XXI, 232). A few pages later he writes that 'it is noteworthy that girls regularly accuse their mother of seducing them' (ibid.: 238, emphasis added). Revealingly, in a corresponding passage in New Introductory Lectures (1933), following his unveraciously reporting his female seduction theory patients had 'told' him they had been seduced by their fathers, he writes: 'And now [sic] we find the phantasy of seduction once more in the pre-Oedipal history of girls; but the seducer is regularly the mother' (S.E.: XX, 120). Clearly, what Freud means when he says 'now we find the phantasy of seduction once more' is that he has analytically inferred its occurrence. That is why it only appeared in 1931, after some thirty-five years of his practising psychoanalysis! The reason for its late emergence is that he has only quite recently postulated the pre-Oedipal libidinal attachment of female infants to their mothers (S.E.: XIX, 251), and the newly discovered phantasies of maternal seduction are the counterpart to the phantasies of paternal seduction arising from the female infants' Oedipal yearnings towards their fathers. But note how the story changes in the telling. Within the same essay the phantasies of maternal seduction (inferred by himself) suddenly metamorphose into accusations from the patients! (Cf. similar 'accusations' in succeeding pages, ibid.: 123, 124.) It would be misleading (and charitable) to say that these supposed occurrences in a female's infancy are analytic reconstructions. One has only to read Freud's belated essays on female psychosexual development (especially the pioneering 1925 paper, S.E.: XIX, 241-58) with a mind free of preconceptions to see that these 'findings of analytic research' are, for the most part, imaginative inventions made up as he goes along to 'corroborate' his newly postulated pre-Oedipal notions. (See Esterson, 1993: 141-9.) Yet one reads, incredulously, that Freud 'recommends' his final (New Introductory Lectures) essay on female sexuality as 'bring[ing] forth nothing but observed facts, almost without any speculative additions' (S.E.: XXII, 113)!1

It is revealing that at the beginning of his 'researches' into female sexuality Freud stated that hitherto 'we had been in the habit of taking as the subject of our investigations the male child, the little boy' (1925, S.E.: XIX, 249; cf. also S.E.: XX, 36n). This has always, it seems, been accepted uncritically on the ground that for Freud, women were a 'dark continent' (S.E.: XX, 212). But there is in fact something rather odd about his statement. First, his patients in the early period of psychoanalysis (when he was arriving at his original 'findings' on infantile psychosexual development) were predominantly women. Second, his analytic technique for accessing the unconscious mind is gender-neutral, and there seems no reason why it should be any less successful when applied to women than to men. However, the enigma disappears once one has appreciated the reality of Freud's 'findings of analytic research' (S.E.: XIX, 248): what he generally gives us as his 'findings' are either (as in the case histories) conjectural interpretations and reconstructions, or (as in certain of his theoretical expositions such as Three Essays and the female sexuality essays) imaginative stories, in each case tailored so as to be consistent with his preconceived theses. This is why his 'findings' almost invariably confirm his theories, and why, as in the female sexuality essays, new findings suddenly appear which corroborate innovations in his theories. And, finally, that is why for most of his analytic career he had 'been in the habit of taking as the subject of our investigations the male child'; for the psychosexual developmental theories were essentially subjective notions from his own mind, not genuine clinical findings - and hence it is entirely explicable that he would theorise in terms of the gender he knew best, his own.


That the foundation on which the whole section on phantasies in Introductory Lecture 23 rests (and, consequently, his theories of childhood psychosexual development) is Freud's dubious reinterpretation of the seduction theory episode on the basis of his false retrospective accounts is evident from his words in the 1914 report in History, where, following the account of his 'discovery' of infantile phantasies, he writes: 'And now, from behind the phantasies, the whole range of a child's sexual life came to light' (S.E.: XIV, 18). He expands on this in the succeeding paragraphs: 'In the beginning, my statements about infantile sexuality were founded almost exclusively on the findings of analysis in adults which led back into the past' (ibid.: 18).2 What the above analysis of Freud's expositions relating to infantile unconscious phantasies demonstrates is the perspicacity of Cioffi's observation, with reference to the seduction theory episode, that 'the [erroneous] reasoning by which [Freud] had persuaded himself of the authenticity of the seductions...was the same sort of reasoning which, for the rest of his career, he was to employ in his reconstruction of infantile fantasy life and of the content of the unconscious in general' (Cioffi, 1974: 173-4).


1. An example of the occasional remark by which Freud betrays what he is actually doing occurs in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, where he writes of his 'researches into the early years of normal [non-neurotic] people' (1905, S.E.: VII, 192). Since this was before the days of training analyses, it is evident that what he means here by research is the process of introspective cogitation, and that his subsequent 'findings' are nothing more than his own highly imaginative ideas. He disingenuously contrives to create the impression that his conjectures are genuine clinical findings by occasionally expressing his 'astonishment' at his 'surprising' discoveries concerning purported infantile sexual experiences (eg, S.E.: VII, 185; XIX, 208; XX, 39; XXI, 237; XXII, 120, 158). He also contrives to make his narratives compelling by the use of coercive rhetoric such as 'confirmed with a certainty beyond all doubt' (eg, S.E.:IV, 257; VII, 190; XVI, 363; XIX, 249; XXII, 87), when what he is reporting are nothing more than his analytic inferences.

2. One should not be misled by the implication carried by the words 'in the beginning'. Although Freud later claimed that 'direct observations' of children corroborated his psychosexual developmental theories (S.E.: XX, 39; Esterson, 1993: 135-6), the only evidence for this comes from his 'Little Hans' case history, in which the purported 'corroborations' consist almost entirely of tendentious interpretations (Esterson, 1993: 56-62).

The bibliographical citations can be found in the Bibliography of my History of the Human Sciences article (February 1998).

Allen Esterson
25th February, 1998.

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