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Friday, December 29, 2017

Freud in the scanner

M. M. Owen
Originally published December 7, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

This is why Freud is less important to the field than what Freud represents. Researching this piece, I kept wondering: why hang on to Freud? He is an intensely polarising figure, so polarising that through the 1980s and ’90s there raged the so-called Freud Wars, fighting on one side of which were a whole team of authors driven (as the historian of science John Forrester put it in 1997) by the ‘heartfelt wish that Freud might never have been born or, failing to achieve that end, that all his works and influence be made as nothing’. Indeed, a basic inability to track down anyone with a dispassionate take on psychoanalysis was a frustration of researching this essay. The certitude that whatever I write here will enrage some readers hovers at the back of my mind as I think ahead to skimming the comments section. Preserve subjectivity, I thought, fine, I’m onboard. But why not eschew the heavily contested Freudianism for the psychotherapy of Irvin D Yalom, which takes an existentialist view of the basic challenges of life? Why not embrace Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy, which prioritises our fundamental desire to give life meaning, or the philosophical tradition of phenomenology, whose first principle is that subjectivity precedes all else?

Within neuropsychoanalysis, though, Freud symbolises the fact that, to quote the neuroscientist Ramachandran’s Phantoms in the Brain (1998), you can ‘look for laws of mental life in much the same way that a cardiologist might study the heart or an astronomer study planetary motion’. And on the clinical side, it is simply a fact that before Freud there was really no such thing as therapy, as we understand that word today. In Yalom’s novel When Nietzsche Wept (1992), Josef Breuer, Freud’s mentor, is at a loss for how to counsel the titular German philosopher out of his despair: ‘There is no medicine for despair, no doctor for the soul,’ he says. All Breuer can recommend are therapeutic spas, ‘or perhaps a talk with a priest’.

The article is here.
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