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Burying Freud

[ Burying Freud Homepage | Freud's Seduction Theory Homepage ]

Unconscious Deeps and Empirical Shallows

Panel presentation at the symposium "Whose Freud? The Place of Psychoanalysis in Contemporary Culture," Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University, April 3, 1998 1

Frederick Crews

[Note: This paper has been revised to reflect the experience of the symposium itself. No words have been changed, but added passages, all of which can be found in the endnotes, are indicated by brackets.]

To the question posed in our conference title, "Whose Freud?", I can offer a simple reply: he's all yours. Take my Freud-please! But do you really want him-the fanatical, self-inflated, ruthless, myopic, yet intricately devious Freud who has been unearthed by the independent scholarship of the past generation-or would you prefer the Freud of self-created legend, whose name can still conjure the illusion that "psychoanalytic truth" is authenticated by the sheer genius of its discoverer?

Let me put this issue concretely by reminding you of the evocative passage in Freud's History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement in which he describes the hostility of his Viennese colleagues when he first lectured them on May 2, 1896, about "the part played by sexuality in the aetiology of the neuroses." Who among us hasn't been moved by the story of Freud's sudden realization on that day that he was "one of those who had 'disturbed the sleep of the world'"? It dawned on him, he recalls, that he would never be able to expect "objectivity and tolerance" from straw authorities who lacked his own "moral courage"; thenceforth he would have to pursue the hard path of scientific discovery in "splendid isolation." 2

That persecuted but dauntless figure is the Promethean hero commended to us not only by Freud himself but also by the house mythographer of psychoanalysis, Ernest Jones, and by subsequent partisans to this day. And it is just the Freud whose borrowed glory can improve the likelihood that one's own broadly psychoanalytic speculations will be deemed valiant and canny rather than, say, politically and academically conformist. If, however, we approach Freud not as our great forebear and patron but as a historical agent like any other, we cannot avoid noticing that the thesis he proposed to that doubting audience in 1896 was the very "seduction theory" that he would privately repudiate sixteen months later. Privately but not publicly, for in that case he would have had to own up not only to his mistake about the causation of hysteria but also to the nonexistence of his boasted cures and, still more damagingly, to the unreliability of both the investigative method and the psychodynamic premises that he would continue to employ for the remainder of his career.

Mental inertia and a reluctance to admit error may help to explain why academic humanists give no heed to such deflationary facts. 3 But by shielding Freud's "insight" from normal skepticism, they also grant themselves the luxury of playing the knowledge game with the net down. The most fundamental rule of that game is that a given theory or hypothesis cannot be validated by invoking "evidence" manufactured by that same supposition. 4 The question-begging traits of psychoanalysis-the treatment of tendentious interpretations as raw data; the reflex negation of appearances in favor of reduction to the selfish, the sexual, and the infantile; the ample menus of symbolic meanings and "defense mechanisms" upon which the interpreter can draw to adorn prearranged conclusions; the ever handy wild cards of "the unconscious" and "overdetermination"-all of these constitute a scandal for anyone who subscribes to community standards of rational and empirical inquiry. Yet the very liberties that mark Freudianism as a pseudoscience render it irresistibly charming to humanists in search of instant "depth." (I ought to know; I used to be one of them!) And if, emulating Freud's tactic of pathologizing his critics, Freudian humanists can brand dissenters as suffering from resistance, repression, and denial-in short, from the obsessive-compulsive disorder of "Freud bashing"-then their hermeneutic freedom would appear to be absolute.

Of course, academic Freudians would prefer not to think of themselves as having resigned from the wider intellectual enterprise. More typically, they invoke psychoanalytic notions to address cultural and historical problems and then infer from the very ingenuity of their handiwork, just as Freud did, that the doctrine has thereby proved its fruitfulness. 5 Or, if they have an activist bent, they recast Freudianism to purge it of its patriarchal and conservative implications and then "discover" psychoanalytically that society needs to be realigned in accordance with their ideology. 6

A bright high school senior could easily detect the fallaciousness of such maneuvers. Unfortunately, however, a bright graduate student in literature, imbued with what now passes for theoretical sophistication, would find nothing to complain about. Such is the intellectually corrupting effect of a self-validating and parochial system of thought. But it is not the antiquated doctrine per se that deserves reproach; the fault lies with professors who not only refrain from teaching standards of empirical adequacy but actively or implicitly denigrate them.

As the first scheduled panelist in this conference and, I gather, the only one who shares the wholly negative view of psychoanalytic theory that is now all but consensual in American psychology departments, I am poorly situated to rebut the more sanguine judgments that will be voiced by others. But at least I can ask uncommitted members of this audience to keep some questions in mind. I will close by briefly commenting on three lines of argument that cannot fail to be broached before our adjournment tomorrow. 7

1. You will be told that evidence-based objections to Freudianism are beside the point, since psychoanalysis isn't a body of propositions but merely a subtle dialogue that weaves a fictive story, thus honoring the sheer ambiguity of experience while enhancing self-awareness of an ineffable but precious kind. This would have come as a surprise to the author of the Oedipus and castration complexes, the ego, id, and superego, penis envy, the vaginal orgasm, the death instinct, the primal scene and the primal crime, and on and on. Psychoanalysis does traffic in subtly guided and indoctrinating dialogue, but its theory has been, and remains, largely a causal account of mental functioning and development. As such, it cannot dodge the criteria of assessment that apply to every such theory. And, of course, it doesn't begin to satisfy those criteria; hence the retreat of latter-day Freudians into the absurd pretense of nonpropositionality.

2. Subsequent panelists will assure you that while Freud made some mistakes, modern psychoanalysis has long since corrected them. When you hear this, please raise your hand and ask which of the ever-proliferating schools of analysis the speaker has in mind and why those schools cannot agree on a single point of doctrine or interpretation. The answer is that the epistemic circularity of Freud's tradition, guaranteeing abundant "confirmation" of every proposed idea, has not been remedied in any degree. Analysts of every stripe still adhere to Freud's illusion that reliable knowledge of a patient's repressed complexes can be gleaned from studying free associations and the transference-even though such study is well known to produce only those revelations favored by the therapist's sect or local institute. 8

3. You will doubtless hear that objections to psychoanalytic theory stem from a shallow and outmoded positivism that insists on impossible standards of proof. Wrong again. No philosophy of science, positivist or antipositivist, is entailed in the elementary demand that a theory refrain from justifying itself by appeal to its own contested postulates. That is just everyday rational sense, intuitively grasped by fair-minded researchers in every field though not by the pundits of postmodernism.

It is precisely because such rationality continues to be exercised with vigor that Freud's ideas, as Edward Shorter observes in his recent History of Psychiatry, "are now vanishing like the last snows of winter." 9 How ironic it is that well-traveled academics, like bunkered troops on a remote island who haven't heard that the war is over, should be the last to get the news! And now that the point is finally sinking in, how sad it is-and how symptomatic of all that is feeble and dismissible about the humanities today-that humanists can look upon the collapse of a would-be science within its proper domain as a fine opportunity to turn that same doctrine to their own hermeneutic ends!

NOTES

1 [The panelists and session chairs were, in order of presentation, Peter Brooks, Frederick Crews, Robert Michels, Judith Butler, Juliet Mitchell, Esther da Costa Meyer, Toril Moi, Hubert Damisch, Peter Lowenberg, Mary Jacobus, Katherine Kearns, Paul Robinson, Kaja Silverman, Leo Bersani, Kevis Goodman, Dominick LaCapra, Eric Santner, Meredith Skura, Robert J. Lifton, Elise Snyder, Morton Reiser, David Forrest, Robert Shulman, Arnold Cooper, Peter Gay, Richard Wollheim, Jonathan Lear, Donald Davidson, and John Forrester.]

2 Standard Edition, 14: 21-22.

3 [As if to illustrate this point, our conference members overlooked it, making confident occasional reference to the great breakthrough of Freud's etiological shift from sexual abuse to oedipal fantasy.]

4 [No one who spoke at our symposium, from either the podium or the floor, conceded this basic point. When it was mentioned at all, it was dismissed as naive; and it was repeatedly flouted in our panel presentations, most of which took for granted Freud's maxim that "applications of analysis are always confirmations of it as well" (SE, 22: 146). Richard Wollheim finally declared that my point had been immediately "refuted" by Robert Michels; but Wollheim proved unable even to state it correctly. According to him, what I had said was that ideas derived from a theory's postulates cannot be tested at all.

Only in Wollheim's presentation was any attempt made to address the problem of validation; other speakers evidently considered psychoanalytic propositions (their favorite ones, anyway) too self-evidently justified to require defending. Wollheim began by criticizing those Freudians who hold back from strong truth claims; in his view, it is quite possible to demonstrate the cogency of theoretical tenets within a clinical context. As an example, he cited the recalcitrant behavior of a training analyst's patient-behavior that the analyst's colleagues successfully traced to the patient's early relations with her mother. For Wollheim, the emergence of that interpretation from careful discussion vouched for its plausibility; and since, in this case, "a small piece of psychoanalytic thinking helps us to comprehend the situation," the theory behind that thinking has received strong support.

To evaluate this claim, we must first sort out the point being supported from the evidence that favors it. (We are on our own here, as Wollheim provided no further enlightenment.) In Wollheim's eyes, I gather, the group of analytic discussants had succeeded in locating the source of the patient's present conduct in her early relations with her mother; this success then validated the Freudian idea that noncooperation with an analyst is always transferential, i.e., rooted in a childhood attitude that is being reenacted in the consulting room. Obviously, however, the "evidence" here is itself a Freudian interpretation, and one that preempts a more plausible explanation that never occurs to psychoanalysts: that the patient was reacting negatively to here-and-now irritants supplied by the therapist. The theory of transference regularly acts to exculpate therapists in just this manner.]

5 [Meredith Skura's presentation deserves notice in this connection. She told us that in her historical studies she generally eschews theory, preferring instead to conceive of psychoanalysis simply as a way of thinking and an attitude toward life. Theory enters her work, she said, only in the form of hypotheses that are to be tested by the "so what?" criterion. If, for example, a particular Freudian tenet helps to "pull details together" in an illuminating way, she knows that she was on the right track.

Alas, any theory whatsoever-astrological, phrenological, ufological-will "confirm" itself in just this specious manner. One must also ask whether the global psychoanalytic "attitude toward life" doesn't amount to a partiality toward Freudian theory. To eschew explicit theory while applying such an attitude is simply to disguise one's premises from oneself, a retrogressive move in any field.]

6 [Judith Butler and Leo Bersani both implied that, for them, the uppermost consideration in assessing a theoretical tenet should be its bearing on gay liberation. In commenting on my own reference to community standards of empiricism, Butler indicated that "community standards" sounded homophobic to her. Bersani, for his part, distanced himself from the literary critic's typical ideal of "fidelity to the text," since that fidelity, like Butler's "community," struck him as sexually normative. Neither of these remarks precisely illustrated my point above, yet both showed how an ideological imperative can override empirical concern, even covering the very idea of evidence with suspicion of being socially oppressive.]

7 [In making this prediction, which was only partly fulfilled, I overestimated the extent to which symposium participants would care about justifying their claims. As the lone dissenter, I failed to attract more than momentary and dismissive attention (as explained in note 4 above) to the issue of validation.]

8 [Arnold Cooper, a past president of the American Psychoanalytic Association, assured us that the hypothesis of a dynamic unconscious is "now evidentially well founded" and that Freud's basic method of "free association and analytic listening" has amply proven its worth. Using those tools, he added, "we have moved very far" from Freud's single model of the mind. Yes: we now have an ever-expanding number of conflicting models and no agreed-upon way of choosing among them. Is that progress, or does it constitute an indictment of the very tools that Cooper regards as having been vindicated?]

9 Edward Shorter, A History of Psychiatry: From the Era of the Asylum to the Age of Prozac (New York: John Wiley, 1996), p. vii.


Crews, F. C. (1998). Unauthorized Freud : doubters confront a legend. New York: Viking. ISBN: 0670872210 $24.95 - published AUGUST 1998


Unauthorized FreudOver the past thirty years, a revolution has occurred in the study of  Sigmund Freud and his brainchild, psychoanalysis. The Freud of  legend - the lonely scientific pioneer who steeled himself to place importance on his patients' unbidden sexual revelations, cured their neuroses, and discovered the universal Oedipus complex lurking within their memories - has been exposed as a fiction, a joint concoction of Freud himself and his official biographer, Ernest Jones.

In Unauthorized Freud: Doubters Confront a Legend,  Frederick Crews has collected essays and exerpts from a wide range of scholars, biographers, and critics that brilliantly make the revisionist case against Freud. According to Crews, the most trenchant (and most frequently attacked) of Freud's critics, the emerging truth is that Freud was a dogmatist who browbeat his patients and consistently failed to mark the crucial difference between his patients' fantasies and his own. And while the heroic Freud has thus been shrinking to human size, philosophers and psychologists have been finding that psychoanalytic clinical evidence offers no credible support to the top-heavy, tottering Freudian system of mental laws and powers.

It is still widely assumed, however, that only disturbed "Freud bashers" would want to question Freud's achievement. That assumption cannot survive acquaintance with Unauthorized Freud. Here we see, in the work of authors such as Frank J. Sulloway, Peter Swales, Stanley Fish, and Ernest Gellner, the mistakes and deceptions leading to the "discovery" of psychoanalysis proper; the logical considerations that undermine Freudian assumptions about the meaning of dreams, symptoms, and slips; the missteps that doomed Freud's case histories both as therapeutic interventions and as illustrations of his theory; and finally, the personal costs incurred by disciples and patients who were sacrificed to the master's monomaniacal ambition. According to Crews, the conclusion is inescapable: the founder of psychoanalysis is the most overrated figure in the history of medicine and science.


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Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

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Burying Freud

[ Burying Freud Homepage | Freud's Seduction Theory Homepage ]

Unconscious Deeps and Empirical Shallows

Panel presentation at the symposium "Whose Freud? The Place of Psychoanalysis in Contemporary Culture," Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University, April 3, 1998 1

Frederick Crews

[Note: This paper has been revised to reflect the experience of the symposium itself. No words have been changed, but added passages, all of which can be found in the endnotes, are indicated by brackets.]

To the question posed in our conference title, "Whose Freud?", I can offer a simple reply: he's all yours. Take my Freud-please! But do you really want him-the fanatical, self-inflated, ruthless, myopic, yet intricately devious Freud who has been unearthed by the independent scholarship of the past generation-or would you prefer the Freud of self-created legend, whose name can still conjure the illusion that "psychoanalytic truth" is authenticated by the sheer genius of its discoverer?

Let me put this issue concretely by reminding you of the evocative passage in Freud's History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement in which he describes the hostility of his Viennese colleagues when he first lectured them on May 2, 1896, about "the part played by sexuality in the aetiology of the neuroses." Who among us hasn't been moved by the story of Freud's sudden realization on that day that he was "one of those who had 'disturbed the sleep of the world'"? It dawned on him, he recalls, that he would never be able to expect "objectivity and tolerance" from straw authorities who lacked his own "moral courage"; thenceforth he would have to pursue the hard path of scientific discovery in "splendid isolation." 2

That persecuted but dauntless figure is the Promethean hero commended to us not only by Freud himself but also by the house mythographer of psychoanalysis, Ernest Jones, and by subsequent partisans to this day. And it is just the Freud whose borrowed glory can improve the likelihood that one's own broadly psychoanalytic speculations will be deemed valiant and canny rather than, say, politically and academically conformist. If, however, we approach Freud not as our great forebear and patron but as a historical agent like any other, we cannot avoid noticing that the thesis he proposed to that doubting audience in 1896 was the very "seduction theory" that he would privately repudiate sixteen months later. Privately but not publicly, for in that case he would have had to own up not only to his mistake about the causation of hysteria but also to the nonexistence of his boasted cures and, still more damagingly, to the unreliability of both the investigative method and the psychodynamic premises that he would continue to employ for the remainder of his career.

Mental inertia and a reluctance to admit error may help to explain why academic humanists give no heed to such deflationary facts. 3 But by shielding Freud's "insight" from normal skepticism, they also grant themselves the luxury of playing the knowledge game with the net down. The most fundamental rule of that game is that a given theory or hypothesis cannot be validated by invoking "evidence" manufactured by that same supposition. 4 The question-begging traits of psychoanalysis-the treatment of tendentious interpretations as raw data; the reflex negation of appearances in favor of reduction to the selfish, the sexual, and the infantile; the ample menus of symbolic meanings and "defense mechanisms" upon which the interpreter can draw to adorn prearranged conclusions; the ever handy wild cards of "the unconscious" and "overdetermination"-all of these constitute a scandal for anyone who subscribes to community standards of rational and empirical inquiry. Yet the very liberties that mark Freudianism as a pseudoscience render it irresistibly charming to humanists in search of instant "depth." (I ought to know; I used to be one of them!) And if, emulating Freud's tactic of pathologizing his critics, Freudian humanists can brand dissenters as suffering from resistance, repression, and denial-in short, from the obsessive-compulsive disorder of "Freud bashing"-then their hermeneutic freedom would appear to be absolute.

Of course, academic Freudians would prefer not to think of themselves as having resigned from the wider intellectual enterprise. More typically, they invoke psychoanalytic notions to address cultural and historical problems and then infer from the very ingenuity of their handiwork, just as Freud did, that the doctrine has thereby proved its fruitfulness. 5 Or, if they have an activist bent, they recast Freudianism to purge it of its patriarchal and conservative implications and then "discover" psychoanalytically that society needs to be realigned in accordance with their ideology. 6

A bright high school senior could easily detect the fallaciousness of such maneuvers. Unfortunately, however, a bright graduate student in literature, imbued with what now passes for theoretical sophistication, would find nothing to complain about. Such is the intellectually corrupting effect of a self-validating and parochial system of thought. But it is not the antiquated doctrine per se that deserves reproach; the fault lies with professors who not only refrain from teaching standards of empirical adequacy but actively or implicitly denigrate them.

As the first scheduled panelist in this conference and, I gather, the only one who shares the wholly negative view of psychoanalytic theory that is now all but consensual in American psychology departments, I am poorly situated to rebut the more sanguine judgments that will be voiced by others. But at least I can ask uncommitted members of this audience to keep some questions in mind. I will close by briefly commenting on three lines of argument that cannot fail to be broached before our adjournment tomorrow. 7

1. You will be told that evidence-based objections to Freudianism are beside the point, since psychoanalysis isn't a body of propositions but merely a subtle dialogue that weaves a fictive story, thus honoring the sheer ambiguity of experience while enhancing self-awareness of an ineffable but precious kind. This would have come as a surprise to the author of the Oedipus and castration complexes, the ego, id, and superego, penis envy, the vaginal orgasm, the death instinct, the primal scene and the primal crime, and on and on. Psychoanalysis does traffic in subtly guided and indoctrinating dialogue, but its theory has been, and remains, largely a causal account of mental functioning and development. As such, it cannot dodge the criteria of assessment that apply to every such theory. And, of course, it doesn't begin to satisfy those criteria; hence the retreat of latter-day Freudians into the absurd pretense of nonpropositionality.

2. Subsequent panelists will assure you that while Freud made some mistakes, modern psychoanalysis has long since corrected them. When you hear this, please raise your hand and ask which of the ever-proliferating schools of analysis the speaker has in mind and why those schools cannot agree on a single point of doctrine or interpretation. The answer is that the epistemic circularity of Freud's tradition, guaranteeing abundant "confirmation" of every proposed idea, has not been remedied in any degree. Analysts of every stripe still adhere to Freud's illusion that reliable knowledge of a patient's repressed complexes can be gleaned from studying free associations and the transference-even though such study is well known to produce only those revelations favored by the therapist's sect or local institute. 8

3. You will doubtless hear that objections to psychoanalytic theory stem from a shallow and outmoded positivism that insists on impossible standards of proof. Wrong again. No philosophy of science, positivist or antipositivist, is entailed in the elementary demand that a theory refrain from justifying itself by appeal to its own contested postulates. That is just everyday rational sense, intuitively grasped by fair-minded researchers in every field though not by the pundits of postmodernism.

It is precisely because such rationality continues to be exercised with vigor that Freud's ideas, as Edward Shorter observes in his recent History of Psychiatry, "are now vanishing like the last snows of winter." 9 How ironic it is that well-traveled academics, like bunkered troops on a remote island who haven't heard that the war is over, should be the last to get the news! And now that the point is finally sinking in, how sad it is-and how symptomatic of all that is feeble and dismissible about the humanities today-that humanists can look upon the collapse of a would-be science within its proper domain as a fine opportunity to turn that same doctrine to their own hermeneutic ends!

NOTES

1 [The panelists and session chairs were, in order of presentation, Peter Brooks, Frederick Crews, Robert Michels, Judith Butler, Juliet Mitchell, Esther da Costa Meyer, Toril Moi, Hubert Damisch, Peter Lowenberg, Mary Jacobus, Katherine Kearns, Paul Robinson, Kaja Silverman, Leo Bersani, Kevis Goodman, Dominick LaCapra, Eric Santner, Meredith Skura, Robert J. Lifton, Elise Snyder, Morton Reiser, David Forrest, Robert Shulman, Arnold Cooper, Peter Gay, Richard Wollheim, Jonathan Lear, Donald Davidson, and John Forrester.]

2 Standard Edition, 14: 21-22.

3 [As if to illustrate this point, our conference members overlooked it, making confident occasional reference to the great breakthrough of Freud's etiological shift from sexual abuse to oedipal fantasy.]

4 [No one who spoke at our symposium, from either the podium or the floor, conceded this basic point. When it was mentioned at all, it was dismissed as naive; and it was repeatedly flouted in our panel presentations, most of which took for granted Freud's maxim that "applications of analysis are always confirmations of it as well" (SE, 22: 146). Richard Wollheim finally declared that my point had been immediately "refuted" by Robert Michels; but Wollheim proved unable even to state it correctly. According to him, what I had said was that ideas derived from a theory's postulates cannot be tested at all.

Only in Wollheim's presentation was any attempt made to address the problem of validation; other speakers evidently considered psychoanalytic propositions (their favorite ones, anyway) too self-evidently justified to require defending. Wollheim began by criticizing those Freudians who hold back from strong truth claims; in his view, it is quite possible to demonstrate the cogency of theoretical tenets within a clinical context. As an example, he cited the recalcitrant behavior of a training analyst's patient-behavior that the analyst's colleagues successfully traced to the patient's early relations with her mother. For Wollheim, the emergence of that interpretation from careful discussion vouched for its plausibility; and since, in this case, "a small piece of psychoanalytic thinking helps us to comprehend the situation," the theory behind that thinking has received strong support.

To evaluate this claim, we must first sort out the point being supported from the evidence that favors it. (We are on our own here, as Wollheim provided no further enlightenment.) In Wollheim's eyes, I gather, the group of analytic discussants had succeeded in locating the source of the patient's present conduct in her early relations with her mother; this success then validated the Freudian idea that noncooperation with an analyst is always transferential, i.e., rooted in a childhood attitude that is being reenacted in the consulting room. Obviously, however, the "evidence" here is itself a Freudian interpretation, and one that preempts a more plausible explanation that never occurs to psychoanalysts: that the patient was reacting negatively to here-and-now irritants supplied by the therapist. The theory of transference regularly acts to exculpate therapists in just this manner.]

5 [Meredith Skura's presentation deserves notice in this connection. She told us that in her historical studies she generally eschews theory, preferring instead to conceive of psychoanalysis simply as a way of thinking and an attitude toward life. Theory enters her work, she said, only in the form of hypotheses that are to be tested by the "so what?" criterion. If, for example, a particular Freudian tenet helps to "pull details together" in an illuminating way, she knows that she was on the right track.

Alas, any theory whatsoever-astrological, phrenological, ufological-will "confirm" itself in just this specious manner. One must also ask whether the global psychoanalytic "attitude toward life" doesn't amount to a partiality toward Freudian theory. To eschew explicit theory while applying such an attitude is simply to disguise one's premises from oneself, a retrogressive move in any field.]

6 [Judith Butler and Leo Bersani both implied that, for them, the uppermost consideration in assessing a theoretical tenet should be its bearing on gay liberation. In commenting on my own reference to community standards of empiricism, Butler indicated that "community standards" sounded homophobic to her. Bersani, for his part, distanced himself from the literary critic's typical ideal of "fidelity to the text," since that fidelity, like Butler's "community," struck him as sexually normative. Neither of these remarks precisely illustrated my point above, yet both showed how an ideological imperative can override empirical concern, even covering the very idea of evidence with suspicion of being socially oppressive.]

7 [In making this prediction, which was only partly fulfilled, I overestimated the extent to which symposium participants would care about justifying their claims. As the lone dissenter, I failed to attract more than momentary and dismissive attention (as explained in note 4 above) to the issue of validation.]

8 [Arnold Cooper, a past president of the American Psychoanalytic Association, assured us that the hypothesis of a dynamic unconscious is "now evidentially well founded" and that Freud's basic method of "free association and analytic listening" has amply proven its worth. Using those tools, he added, "we have moved very far" from Freud's single model of the mind. Yes: we now have an ever-expanding number of conflicting models and no agreed-upon way of choosing among them. Is that progress, or does it constitute an indictment of the very tools that Cooper regards as having been vindicated?]

9 Edward Shorter, A History of Psychiatry: From the Era of the Asylum to the Age of Prozac (New York: John Wiley, 1996), p. vii.


Crews, F. C. (1998). Unauthorized Freud : doubters confront a legend. New York: Viking. ISBN: 0670872210 $24.95 - published AUGUST 1998


Unauthorized FreudOver the past thirty years, a revolution has occurred in the study of  Sigmund Freud and his brainchild, psychoanalysis. The Freud of  legend - the lonely scientific pioneer who steeled himself to place importance on his patients' unbidden sexual revelations, cured their neuroses, and discovered the universal Oedipus complex lurking within their memories - has been exposed as a fiction, a joint concoction of Freud himself and his official biographer, Ernest Jones.

In Unauthorized Freud: Doubters Confront a Legend,  Frederick Crews has collected essays and exerpts from a wide range of scholars, biographers, and critics that brilliantly make the revisionist case against Freud. According to Crews, the most trenchant (and most frequently attacked) of Freud's critics, the emerging truth is that Freud was a dogmatist who browbeat his patients and consistently failed to mark the crucial difference between his patients' fantasies and his own. And while the heroic Freud has thus been shrinking to human size, philosophers and psychologists have been finding that psychoanalytic clinical evidence offers no credible support to the top-heavy, tottering Freudian system of mental laws and powers.

It is still widely assumed, however, that only disturbed "Freud bashers" would want to question Freud's achievement. That assumption cannot survive acquaintance with Unauthorized Freud. Here we see, in the work of authors such as Frank J. Sulloway, Peter Swales, Stanley Fish, and Ernest Gellner, the mistakes and deceptions leading to the "discovery" of psychoanalysis proper; the logical considerations that undermine Freudian assumptions about the meaning of dreams, symptoms, and slips; the missteps that doomed Freud's case histories both as therapeutic interventions and as illustrations of his theory; and finally, the personal costs incurred by disciples and patients who were sacrificed to the master's monomaniacal ambition. According to Crews, the conclusion is inescapable: the founder of psychoanalysis is the most overrated figure in the history of medicine and science.


human-nature.com
Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

US -
 Search:
Keywords:  

Amazon.com logo

UK -
 Search:
Keywords:  

Amazon.co.uk logo

 | Human Nature | The Human Nature Daily Review | Psychiatry Research Online |