Tuesday, August 14, 2007

On Freud 2

Responding to my post On Freud, Recusant draws my attention to this by Mick Hartley. I'll leave aside the ad hominem stuff and this silliness, 'It's a piece of chutzpah worthy of the man himself to now proclaim him as our only bulwark against the rising tide of fundamentalism and totalitarianism'. 'Only bulwark'? Nobody, as far as I know, has ever said anything like that. No, the heart of the matter is that Hartley's view is that Freud is 'wrong' and psychoanalysis, like phlogiston, should be consigned to the dustbin of history and bad science. This is, I suspect, the current majority view, but I still find it startling. Personally, I never once believed that Freud was 'right' in Hartley's terms. Yet I never doubted his importance and, indeed, greatness. I don't see any contradiction in this. Plato, Aquinas, Descartes, Hume, Newton and Kant might all be said to be 'wrong', but blithely to deny their importance for that reason would be madness. Right or wrong, they define certain ways of thinking, certain moments. Indeed, Marx - evoked by Hartley - was plainly very 'wrong', but his analysis of capitalism in the face of nineteenth century industrialisation endures. The moment, the way of thinking, of Freud was post-Darwinian. He was attempting to describe the relationship between society, civilisation and our animal natures. He did so with an astounding grandeur and percipience. The depth and scope of his thought are breathtaking. But he was not, as he believed, Copernicus or Darwin. They produced single insights - heliocentrism and evolution through natural selection - to which their names will always be attached. Freud produced no such insight. Rather, he defined our predicament. He may have used terms that now seem exotic, quaint or just crazy, but so did Plato and Aquinas. The idea that he can be dismissed just because he was 'wrong' is a product of contemporary literalism and the inability to step out of the simple-minded world of opinion and scientific efficacy. Bind your imagination with those ropes, Mick, and, trust me, you'll miss everything worth knowing

10 comments:

  1. Yes and it's amazing how well the old bastard still reads, even in translation - and how resonant (and useful) some of his phrases are. The 'family romance' for example - perfect.

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  2. Great thinkers are interesting and worth reading even if you disagree with them. This whole idea of 'the truth' is primitive. There are truths, suggestions, myths.

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  3. Sometimes, we don't give people enough credit for their mistakes.

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  4. He proved very useful to the worlds of mass-manipulation, in fairness to him. His nephew Edward Bernays was a rarely mentioned offspring of his in intellectual terms who had some interestin gthings to say such as:
    "If we understand the mechanisms and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it ... The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country ... In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons ... who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind."

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  7. It might admittedly be unfair to sum up Sigmund in those terms. My knowledge of him is vague at best but my feeling about him is it all seems grubby- poking around in other people's personalities & the investigator seeing a reflection of his own mindset & the investigations arising from this mindset. There's a line in Dostoevsky's Demons, "It's very easy for Pyotr Stepanovich to live in the world, because he imagnies a man & then lives with him in the way he imagines him." On top of that, it seems his findings are a mere re-utterance of ancient thoughts about the self within eastern religious philosophy, except through a glass darkly. And perhaps here Blake's line amounts to something like an analogue for the history of Western civiliazation:
    "If a fool persisted in his folly, he would become wise."

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