Freud, fam­ily-life and pol­i­tics

Stephen Frosh con­sid­ers two at­tempts at defin­ing Freud. Stod­dard Martin is in­trigued by a Jew ad­mired by Nazis

The Jewish Chronicle - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Stephen Frosh Stephen Frosh is Pro­fes­sor of Psy­choso­cial Stud­ies at Birk­beck, Univer­sity of Lon­don

JUST A short while after the pub­li­ca­tion of a ma­jor new bi­og­ra­phy of Freud, by Elis­a­beth Roudi­nesco (re­viewed in the JC of Novem­ber 25, 2016), an­other has come along in the form of an “in­tel­lec­tual bi­og­ra­phy” by the well-known Amer­i­can psy­cho­an­a­lyst, Joel White­book. Like Roudi­nesco’s book, White­book’s is strongly ar­gued, well-in­formed, sym­pa­thetic to Freud, and en­er­get­i­cally opin­ion­ated.

Un­like Roudi­nesco, how­ever, White­book presents lit­tle new ma­te­rial and does not seem to have used the most re­cently re­leased ar­chives. In­stead, he re­lies on a rel­a­tively lim­ited range of sec­ondary sources as well as Freud’s own ma­jor writ­ings. De­spite this, he presents a sen­si­tive ac­count of Freud that, among other things, gives a re­al­is­tic por­trait of the Jewish­ness that ran as a par­tially sub­merged but cru­cial theme through­out his life.

But this Freud is not a com­pre­hen­sive “life”, and it skates quite quickly over many as­pects of Freud’s bi­og­ra­phy as well as omit­ting most of the con­text for the emer­gence of psy­cho­anal­y­sis as a pow­er­ful prac­tice and or­gan­ised pro­fes­sion. What it does of­fer is a lively and chrono­log­i­cally well-grounded ac­count of Freud’s ma­jor the­o­ret­i­cal de­vel­op­ments and, in par­tic­u­lar, of two of Freud’s for­ma­tive in­tel­lec­tual re­la­tion­ships, those with Wil­helm Fleiss in the 1890s and Carl Jung in the early 1900s.

White­book ad­dresses all this from the per­spec­tive of a con­tem­po­rary psy­cho­an­a­lyst who is alert to what he sees as Freud’s in­abil­ity to deal with his very dif­fi­cult mother — an is­sue that he le­git­i­mately claims has been un­der­val­ued in the lit­er­a­ture. This is why, he thinks, Freud con­sis­tently ne­glected the role of the mother in psy­chic life, and in­stead over­val­ued those as­pects of the European “en­light­en­ment” that priv­i­leged “mas­cu­line” rea­son.

Dag­mar Her­zog’s fine new book, Cold War Freud, takes up a dif­fer­ent as­pect of the story of psy­cho­anal­y­sis, deal­ing with the his­tory of its po­lit­i­cal in­volve­ments in the pe­riod from the Sec­ond World War un­til the 1990s.

In six in­ter­lock­ing es­says exploring the sen­si­tiv­i­ties of post-war psy­cho­anal­y­sis, Her­zog por­trays the dis­ci­pline as locked in a long-run­ning con­flict be­tween those who would make it a “nor­mal­is­ing” pro­fes­sion, and those who see its crit­i­cal edge as un­abated and sharp. The book has two main ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tions, Amer­ica and Ger­many, though it also trav­els away from them, es­pe­cially in the fi­nal chap­ter on “ethno-psy­cho­anal­y­sis”. The ma­te­rial on Amer­ica re­veals an un­ex­pected and rel­a­tively un­ex­am­ined link be­tween the “de­sex­u­al­i­sa­tion” of psy­cho­anal­y­sis, the rise of cold-war pol­i­tics, and the con­sol­i­da­tion of con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian­ity.

For Jewish read­ers, the most alarm­ing and star­tling chap­ters of Cold War Freud are those ded­i­cated to “The As­cent of PSD [Post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der]” and “The Strug­gle be­tween Eros and Death.”

Both these chap­ters re­veal the long and painful strug­gle with the residue of Nazism, es­pe­cially in post-war Ger­many.

In the for­mer, the main is­sue is the lengths that Ger­man psy­chi­a­trists and psy­cho­an­a­lysts went to in or­der to pre­vent vic­tims of Nazism gain­ing any fi­nan­cial repa­ra­tion. The vic­tims were por­trayed as neu­rotic and money-grab­bing, and it was the role of the Ger­man doctors to deny them.

The lat­ter chap­ter looks at the im­pact of Konrad Lorenz’s work in sug­gest­ing that vi­o­lence was in­born and so not the pre­rog­a­tive of the Nazis. Her­zog re­veals a nasty strain of con­tin­ued de­nial and an­ti­semitism that is only partly worked through to this day, and cer­tainly lin­gered in Ger­many after the war to a far greater ex­tent than is of­ten ad­mit­ted.

White­book is alert to Freud’s prob­lems with his mother


Freud board­ing for his first flight, Tem­pel­hof Air­port, Ber­lin, Novem­ber 1928

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