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so why does anyone still read Freud anyway?


Graham Barnett
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Ok, so I thought I'd ask everyone here this quesion since I am reading his essay on creative writing and daydreaming.  Why does anyone still read Freud?  There seem to be lots of people who say psychoanalysis is dead and has been completely disproven and yet he seems to be one ofthe most quoted thinkers in the world...

'That's why they call it the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.'  - George Carlin

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As far as I can recollect Freud is one of the top 10 most cited thinkers of the 20th century...but maybe that sort of thing is always changing.

I would assume that theoretically speaking even a broken clock is right twice a day - so some people today have real Oedipal complexes but it isn't as universal as Freud assumed.

But can you "disprove" psychoanalysis?  Is it science or an art?

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I really really want to get in on this issue but I'm just finishing up a work project that's eating up a lot of my time...so I will post something with more detail later.  But for now I want to suggest that there are several "Freud"s...Freud the "scientist," Freud the "literary theorist," Freud the "philosopher" etc.  And depending on which one you're interested in, maybe you'll judge psychoanalysis accordingly.

When a book and a head collide and a hollow sound is heard, must it always have come from the book? -- Lichtenberg

 

 

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On 5/2/2016 at 5:59 PM, Gord Barentsen said:

But for now I want to suggest that there are several "Freud"s...Freud the "scientist," Freud the "literary theorist," Freud the "philosopher" etc.  And depending on which one you're interested in, maybe you'll judge psychoanalysis accordingly.

But Freud was fundamentally a neuroscientist and was biologically inclined, wasn't he?

'That's why they call it the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.'  - George Carlin

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Whoops...I meant to add that because of this, and because his science, while valid for his day, has been evolved past, doesn't that diminish his relevance to the 21st century?

'That's why they call it the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.'  - George Carlin

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On 4/27/2016 at 0:58 PM, Marjorie Pfennig said:

But can you "disprove" psychoanalysis?  Is it science or an art?

Well this site has a lot to say about the science of psychoanalysis

http://io9.gizmodo.com/why-freud-still-matters-when-he-was-wrong-about-almost-1055800815

'That's why they call it the American Dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.'  - George Carlin

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On 5/11/2016 at 6:32 PM, Graham Barnett said:

Well this site has a lot to say about the science of psychoanalysis

http://io9.gizmodo.com/why-freud-still-matters-when-he-was-wrong-about-almost-1055800815

I know but what about psychoaanlsis as an art?  i mean even taht essay you're reading on creative writing shows he wrote about more than just science topics?  i haven't read that essay for a long time but isn't it a theory of art? artists as neurotics like savages and children if i remember correctly

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On 4/21/2016 at 9:09 AM, Graham Barnett said:

Ok, so I thought I'd ask everyone here this quesion since I am reading his essay on creative writing and daydreaming.  Why does anyone still read Freud?  There seem to be lots of people who say psychoanalysis is dead and has been completely disproven and yet he seems to be one ofthe most quoted thinkers in the world...

I read the article you linked to, and here are my offhand thoughts on this (finally!).

Upon re-reading my reply I probably sound a bit cranky at points >:(, but it's only because I've encountered many people who criticize and dismiss abstract thinkers based on perspectives that don't do justice to the complexity of someone like Freud.  I'm no Freudian and don't defend Freud (or anyone else) at all costs, but I guess that's what happens when someone whose work you know well is mentioned by someone who possibly isn't as familiar as you are with what they wrote.

First, a few general thoughts, then I figured I would tackle point-by-point some of the arguments the author makes.

In short, I think George Dvorsky's view of Freud is at times flawed, and he isn't always consistent with the parameters of his own critique.  That is: he readily admits that "Freud’s legacy has transcended science, with his ideas permeating deep into Western culture," but his criticisms are woefully limited to disproving the scientific side of psychoanalysis and doesn't really touch on the other ways in which Freud's ideas have "permeated Western culture."  This is painfully apparent in his statement that "Freud has, for the most part, fallen completely out of favor in academia. Virtually no institution in any discipline would dare use him as a credible source," which he shores up with a quote from Psychological Science.  "Academia" isn't just science faculties and classrooms, and if Dvorsky walked into a literature, theory or philosophy class this would be quite apparent - Freud is alive and well, but it doesn't mean students take his ideas at face value.

This goes back to what I was saying before: I think there are many Freuds - Freud the scientist, Freud the philosopher, Freud the mythologist - and they are entwined in a complicated relationship which, I believe, is actually part of why Freud endures in the 21st century.  Depth psychology (which is a blanket term for Freudian, Jungian and other theories of the unconscious) has a huge debt to philosophy and mythology, so once you realize that the boundaries between these disciplines (psychology, philosophy, literature) aren't nearly as solid as most people think, things get a lot more interesting in terms of looking at the relevance of someone like Freud.

A lot of the points Dvorsky makes are the garden-variety slams of Freud which are not always without truth, but which are very often based on misunderstandings of psychoanalytic theory, which (I'll be the crusty academic here!) point to the fact that Dvorsky hasn't read Freud, or hasn't read him closely, relying on a potted, pop-cultural interpretation.

Ok, so on to some of the specific points Dvorsky makes:

 

His perspectives on female sexuality and homosexuality are reviled, causing many feminists to refer to him by a different kind of ‘F’ word.

This might be true - I'm not up on feminist critiques of Freud, and almost completely disinterested in gender theory (although I certainly respect its right to exist!).  As a statement of bias my interest in Freud is much more philosophical.  But this said, if you read the early Three Essays on Sexuality you'll find that Freud readily acknowledges that homosexuals (I think he calls them "inverts" in the parlance of his time, which always makes me laugh) have been very valuable contributors to culture and learning (which Dvorsky turns around and acknowledges, frustratingly, only much further down in the article).  Now of course this is only one source; one would want to mine Freud's work for how his perspective changes at different periods in his thinking.  But these kinds of blanket statements are never very helpful in a detailed look at someone like Freud whose work went through some very significant changes through the course of his life.  This said, I do agree with Dvorsky's later comments on Freud's more myopic statements about female sexuality.

 

there’s no scientific evidence in support of the idea that boys lust after their mothers and hate their fathers. He was totally, utterly wrong about gender. And his notion of “penis envy” is now both laughable and tragic.

As for the whole of this response, I can only offer my personal interpretation based on my own reading of Freud.  But when Dvorsky says there's no "scientific evidence," well, what does that mean?  Does Dvorsky want DNA data?  There are plenty of case studies that illustate the Oedipus Complex in full force (which does not mean that boys hate their fathers - the key point is that desire for the mother engenders profound emotional ambivalence about the father: the boy hates the father because he possesses the mother/object of desire, but also loves the father for being exactly that - the Father, icon of power, possessor of the mother) .  Now if Dvorsky is slamming Freud's desire to see the Oedipus Complex as universal, well, in that case I agree with him.  But theoretically speaking, even a broken clock is right twice a day - the Oedipus Complex does have documented evidence, although as I just said I would contest its universality.  In fact Dvorsky seems to admit this further down in the article, but he keeps going back to science as if it's the only way to evaluate Freud.

 

Today, very few would argue against the idea of the unconscious mind. 

Ok...I admire Dvorsky's willingness to endorse the "unconscious" - I absolutely agree with him on this.  But I also think there's a tricky wordplay (in Western culture at least) which makes me disbelieve his statement that the majority of people subscribe to an unconscious mind.  That wordplay involves the spread of the idea of the subconscious, which you hear used much more than "unconscious."  My (unexplored) theory is that the subconscious makes our not-conscious thoughts, insights, wishes etc. sound "closer" to consciousness - nearer to the surface, if you will - while not quite being controllable by consciousness.  For example, in some of the best-known TV series that feature psychoanalysis in any meaningful way (The Sopranos, Dexter) you do not hear the term "unconscious" at all.  You do, however, hear "subconscious," and my hunch is that that's because people can relate better to that than they can to the idea that there is a substrate of their psyche that is absolutely beyond consciousness.  In this age of ego psychology and the relative unwillingness to be introspective, perhaps it's disquieting to think of something that intangible.

Another astounding revelation offered by Freud is the idea that the braincan be compartmentalized. [. . .] His take on this, of course, was incredibly primitive. Freud spoke of the ego, id, and superego — ideas we don’t really accept any more.

Again - it sounds like he is demanding empirical proof of the id, ego and superego, which were hypotheses.  It's a classic move to dismiss Freud to demand empirical proof for something that was only ever forwarded as a hypothesis.  In fact, in some of Freud's foundational writing on the ego, id and superego (for example, his essay The Ego and the Id) he admits that it is almost impossible at times to differentiate them!  There is also this side to Freud that often gets kicked to the curb - the adventurous, speculative side of Freud which is fearless in its investigations, even as he admits that they could be all wrong and of no value to future generations of psychoanalysis.  It's part of the fun of reading such works as Beyond the Pleasure Principle, which is Freud at his most speculative and philosophical.

 

I guess that's about it for an off-the-cuff response.  In short, I think Dvorsky's view of Freud is often pretty narrow, confined to a simplistic reading in terms of empirical science that Freud himself didn't stick to throughout his career.  Although near the end Dvorsky does run through a catalogue of Freud's contributions (and makes some valuable points here), it seems to me more like a cold comfort, an afterthought thrown to someone who has been thoroughly trashed in the name of "science."  Science, in this article, is like Maslow's Hammer; it's used as the only tool, and as a result everything looks like a nail.

Once one considers the contributions psychoanalysis has made to semiotics, epistemology, literary criticism and philosophy, I think it's easier to see how interest in psychoanalysis - with all its flaws - persists.

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When a book and a head collide and a hollow sound is heard, must it always have come from the book? -- Lichtenberg

 

 

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On 05/16/2016 at 6:23 PM, Gord Barentsen said:

in some of the best-known TV series that feature psychoanalysis in any meaningful way (The Sopranos, Dexter) you do not hear the term "unconscious" at all.  You do, however, hear "subconscious," and my hunch is that that's because people can relate better to that than they can to the idea that there is a substrate of their psyche that is absolutely beyond consciousness.

I am pretty sure that they discuss the unconscious in Dexter which was one of my favourite series of all time!! But I don't think I know what the difference between unconscious and subconscious is anyway..:$

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On 5/6/2016 at 9:22 AM, Graham Barnett said:

But Freud was fundamentally a neuroscientist and was biologically inclined, wasn't he?

yes and he did a lot to disprove religion as well

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On 2016-05-16 at 6:23 PM, Gord Barentsen said:

Once one considers the contributions psychoanalysis has made to semiotics, epistemology, literary criticism and philosophy, I think it's easier to see how interest in psychoanalysis - with all its flaws - persists.

What are those contributions though? I always thought Freud was pretty much an crusty old fart ¬¬

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