Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Back to Freud - Gasp!

Decided to give a final push to my dissertation, which I want to have pre-finished by the end of the year, which means I have essentially to finish  Part II (of III), dealing with the influence on the dominant reason (of his time, and to some extent even more of ours) of the father of psychoanalysis. To be able to do that I have to finish reading the part of his works I still hadn't processed that I considered important: "Group Psyschology and the Ego", "Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality", The published letters (mostly to Fliess, including the "Project for a Scientific Psychology") and the main Case Stories (Dora, Rat man, Wolf man and Little Hans). A truly dreadful prospect, as I feel more and more repelled by the man and his thoughts, and I have come to believe that in his system, as another psychologist said of Von Hartman's The Philosophy of the Unconscious, "in it what is new is not true, and what (little) is true is not new".

So just to let of a little steam already in the middle of such Psychoanalytic smorgasbord, I'm going to briefly list some things that tick me off in the illustrious doctor's ramblings, in no particular order:

  • the "homunculism", and explanatory vacuousness of his theory of mind. Identifyng a "preconscious" and "unconscious" instances of the mind (first topology) that act as repositories of desires and drives that ultimately explain our actions doesn't explain that much. Even less do identifying more abstruse (or outrageous, depending on point of view) instances, like ego, superego and id (second topology). Each one of those instances act for all practical purposes like a little person (the homunculus) which remains as unexplained as the big one that they reside? in. Take hysterical symptoms (forgetting for a moment that hysteria is a make believe nervous illness that has disappeared from the DSM -if it ever was there- making one wonder what it is that was wrong with the poor souls that visited the good doctor in search of treatment). According to Freud, the superego's cruelty towards the Id (where impulses originate, regardless of how sociably acceptable they may be) causes repression (blocks most of the desires it harbors from consciousness, so they can not freely bind to their objects. or "cathect" and so they create an increase of libidinal energy that is darkly perceived as a source of displeasure. But that repression is not always fully successful, and the violence done towards the Id in repressing its wishes and impulses may manifest itself as the aforementioned symptoms (seizures, constipation, compulsive behavior, nervous coughing, fever, almost anything could be a neurotic or hysterical symptom for Freud). But what causes the superego to be cruel, or more or less cruel, or what causes the Id to harbor its desires more or less violently is not just left unexplained, but is conceptually unexplainable using that contorted framework (should we assume the superego has its own internal organization, formed by a super-superego, a super-Id and a super-ego? ooops, infinite regression, as homunculus based explanations are wont to cause) 
  • The ubiquity of homosexual tendencies (or as he termed them, inversions). Freud would have us believe that homosexual behavior is caused by childhood trauma that aborted the normal development of sexuality beyond the anal stage, or by a too loving mother that fed the child narcissistic impulses making him substitute her image for his own in his ego ideal, so future love objects would be copied for the ones the ego assumed she would choose (men). As almost anything could cause a trauma, specially give the tumultuous view of the child's psyche he believed in (see next point), it is no wonder he identified homosexuality as pervasively surrounding him, from friends to patients (and partly in himself, as freely attested in his letters to Fliess)...
  • The entirely delirious belief in an "adult" form of infantile sexuality. Where to start with this one? according to the good doctor, children from age two to five have a "polimorphously perverse" sexual life, full of masturbation, exploration of other children genitalia and (admitttedly in some more infrequent cases) full blown sexual intercourse with other children their age. The simple and affectionate act of brestfeeding was undoubtedly sexual (he describes it twice, in the New introductory lectures and in the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, in those terms, stating that "anybody who sees a child a few months old falling asleep, his cheeks flush and beatifically smiling, after suckling can recognize the pradigmatic attitude of post coital satisfaction"). He was so sure of having witnessed those unmistakably sexual behaviors himself (and he believed to such an extent the descriptions of similar behaviour in his friends' and patients' children) that he accused everybody who questioned them of bad faith, insufficient scientific spirit, being overtaken by the weight of unfounded tradition and outdated morals and other vitriolic niceties. Of coure, everybody knows full well when they first actually masturbated, already in puberty, but the doctor theorized that there is a (so convenient) veil of forgetfulness that shields of our memories previous to the onet of the latency period at age five... well, I have had three sons myself, and seen the development of a few more boys and girls (sons of friends, nieces and nephews) and I can pretty confidently state that Freud's observations are the biggest load of crap I've ever read. Regarding breastfeeding, he either never actually witnessed it (quite the most propable option in the prudish Vienna of late XIX Century, where women of some class never breastfed themselves, hiring a wet nurse for that), or he projected his own sick attitude towards the feminine bosom, as the attitude fo the little ones is as different from a horny adult as can be imagined... It is interesting to note that one of Freud's pupils, confidante, late nurse (and I can not avoid the suspicion that eventual lover), her own daughter Anna, specialized and gained recognition in child psychology. I can not but wonder (and have to research) if she kept her father's totally crazy and empirically unsupportable ideas, or if she quietly rejected them after seeing first hand (she started her career as a techer) how off base they were
  • The continuous, self-serving disqualification of anybody critical of his ideas. This is all too human, but the tone resorts systematically to the ad hominem attack. Whoever disagrees with him is unintelligent, hasn't bothered to read his arguments, is uninformed, is in the grip of oudated ideas and received opinions, is an enemy of the enlightenment, an unthinking traditionalist, unscientific, an enemy of progress... it is funny to read in parallel the works of Freud and another great polemicist and master of the invective against his critics, Karl Marx, to find the many parallels and common expressions they both use to denigrate and belittle any non-sycophantic acolyte. Marx has a few additional tropes we do not find in reud (tellingly, bourgeois, with or without being prefixed by "petty", as I have found Freud was a prototypical one, and most likely proud of being so). Closer to our own times, it also reminds me of Cosmides and Toobey attacking anybody (but specially Butler, in such a venomous and merciless way one can only assume they would have made Freud proud) that does not accept the perspicuity and validity of evolutionary psychology...
  • The tireless appellation to the (supposedly) scientific nature of psychoanalysis, and the endless circularity of the ideas associated with the movement. It is difficult to find a page in some of his writings without reading "psychoanalysis has proven that..." or "psychoanalysis clearly tells us that..." but of course, psychoanalysis is a sondly scientific theory because all of those things that it proves and tells us rotundly and without a hint of doubt correspond with reality. Only no, they don´t... the list of unprovable and unfalsifiable items would be too long to enumerate (Oedipues complex? please!), and the only reason I can see it has not been done earlier is because of the circular nature of most of its constructions. Take the example of dreams: Dreams are wish fulfillments. If what happens in a dream in under no guise or circumstance desired by the dreamer it is because a) it is a repressed desire (pretty circular, uh? if everything in a dream is a wish just by the fact of being there, no shit sherlock that all the content of dreams turns out to be the fulfillment of wishes) b) it is prooof that the dreamer is a masochist, and thus really desires what she apparently dreads or c) is caused by a deeper desire to prove the anlyst wrong (which of course has the effect of making him never wrong).  Its the same with infantile sexuality, with the reappearance of the suppressed in neurotic behavior, with the reduction of any impulse to the love or the death instincts (eros and thanatos)...
So, given I found the style of Freud's writings stilted adn pretentious, and its content highly unpalatable, why on earth am I writing my dissertation on them?

A darn tough question, that will most likely require a separate post, as this one is already too long

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