Why Freud Survives – The New Yorker

“As Crews is right to believe, this Freud has long outlived psychoanalysis. For many years, even as writers were discarding the more patently absurd elements of his theory—penis envy, or the death drive—they continued to pay homage to Freud’s unblinking insight into the human condition. That persona helped Freud to evolve, in the popular imagination, from a scientist into a kind of poet of the mind. And the thing about poets is that they cannot be refuted. No one asks of ‘Paradise Lost’: But is it true? Freud and his concepts, now converted into metaphors, joined the legion of the undead.


For readers with less skin in the Freud wars, the question is: What is at stake? And the answer has to be Freudianism—the theory itself and its post-clinical afterlife. Although Freud renounced his early work on cocaine, Crews examines it carefully, and he shows that, from the beginning, Freud was a lousy scientist. He fudged data; he made unsubstantiated claims; he took credit for other people’s ideas. Sometimes he lied. A lot of people in the late nineteenth century believed that cocaine might be a miracle drug, and Crews may be a little unfair when he tries to pin much of the blame for the later epidemic of cocaine abuse on Freud. Still, even starting out, Freud showed himself to be a man who did not have much in the way of professional scruples. The fundamental claim of the revisionists is that Freud never changed. It was bogus science all the way. And the central issue for most of them is what is known as the seduction theory.”

I’ve always found it surprising that Freudianism remains a thing. As this article points out, he has been debunked, and his ideas are about as useful today as phrenology. My guess is that there are a lot of people with investments in maintaining his ideas, but even then, why have others kept on swallowing these ideas?

Source: Why Freud Survives | The New Yorker

4 thoughts on “Why Freud Survives – The New Yorker

  1. We have an opinion until we get a new opinion and perhaps the time is in for a new opinion about psychoanalysis and/or about Freud. Look at it this way: Freud talked to a lot of patients who were quite strange and who from session to session could surprise with their mental gymnastics. He tried to understand what was going on and came up with a lot of ideas. If you, Kirk, talked to people about unusual things day after day, you would also try to understand what was going on – and would also come up with your own unusual ideas. Perhaps they would be quite different from Freuds but it is more than possible, that you would be trying to grasp some of the same strange behaviours – though in an another language and with moderne metaphors (computers or photo-editing?) for help. I would hope that you didn’t go all “universal” and authoritarian as Freud did (but that and science were the currency of his age).
    My point is that the man was perpetually confused by the tricks people play – as anyone becomes when you observe the “slips” and turns people make. You like reading, Kirk, so let me suggest an author: Adam Philips. Almost any of his books would do (Adam likes Proust too :-) ).

    • I read his book Missing Out. It was mostly quite interesting; less so when he talks more specifically about therapy (as a therapist).

  2. Fair enough, Kirk. I think you are right, that thoughts about therapy are only interesting for so-called therapists. And that is as it should be. Behind the scenes-stuff as it were. But then non-therapists shouldn’t really be so sure about their opinions on for example Freud. If it isn’t interesting just leave it alone – but don’t call it bunk.
    And of course this would also apply to hifi-cables and such things. Leave it to the audiophiles. Because “debunking” things from a language you don’t master is uninteresting for those who talk the talk and just plainly wrong in their lingo. It is just another version of throwing the baby out with the bathwater – speaking as an audiophile, therapist but non-parent :-)
    Try Adam Philips’ biography of Freud: Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst (Jewish Lives). It takes time to dabble, acquaint and appropriate a new author. The Rational Audiophile is also an interesting blog.

    • The problem is that Freudianism has made very big inroads into criticism. This is why I have a (albeit limited) opinion on the matter.

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