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Trade Paperback
74 pages
Jul 2006
Ross House

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The Man

In view of this fact, it is not surprising that Freud had an essentially passive nature, as Jones has noted. One who holds to biological predestination will not have an activist perspective. Freud was clearly a stoic. “A favorite expression was ‘it is no use quarreling with fate.’” He took no credit for the “transformation” in Sandor Ferenczi, writing him in 1933, “Some psychological fate has brought it about in you.”1 He disliked, on his trips to Rome which he loved, to see evidences of “the lie of salvation” — Christian Rome.2 For the same reason — his dislike of panaceas and salvation — he was an indifferent voter, and, while a Liberal of socialist leanings, indifferent to political attempts to attain a good society.

Freud, as we have noted, from his youth was indoctrinated into the messianic faith in science by Enlightenment philosophy, and, in his early years as a scientist, hoped to gain fame through the discovery of a scientific panacea. His early research in and enthusiasm for the medical and psychological potentialities of cocaine very nearly cost him his reputation, and his subsequent enthusiasm for Jean Martin Charcot’s ideas on hysteria and hypnotism did not add to his stature. It is easy, from these episodes and some of Freud’s blunders with reference to cocaine, to charge him with scientific incompetence and even quackery, but the imputation is manifestly unjust. Freud’s passion was science. Ernest Jones gives the impression, at several points, that Freud was a man of the strictest sexual morality. Freud himself made no such claim, writing to James J. Putnam, July 8, 1915, “Sexual morality as defined by society, in its most extreme form that of America, strikes me as very contemptible. I stand for an infinitely freer sexual life, although I myself have made very little use of such freedom. Only so far as I considered myself entitled to.”3 It is a little absurd for Jones to ask us to think of Freud as he impressed Jones, as “an unusually chaste person” and “puritanical.”4 On the other hand, if we distinguish between love and sex, Jones was no doubt correct in saying, “His wife was assuredly the only woman in Freud’s love life, and she always came first before all other mortals.”5 Before their marriage, Freud wrote of his passion for science to Martha Bernays on May 17, 1885, stating, “I am at the moment tempted by the desire to solve the riddle of the structure of the brain; I think brain anatomy is the only legitimate rival you have or ever will have.”6But sex was exceedingly important to Freud, for it represented the essence of man and his energy, so that to combine the liberating power of science with sex was for him a consummation most devoutly to be wished for. Even after his messianic hopes had been set at nought by his own conclusions, they could flare up, in flagrant contradiction to his own ideas. Thus, believing as he did in the harmful effects of all known contraceptives, we are told by Jones that “he dreamed of a satisfactory one that would free sexual enjoyment from all complications.” When Fliess began to develop his periodic law with the ostensible assurance of safe days in the menstrual cycle, Freud, in a letter of July 10, 1893, “set his hopes on Fliess’ solving the problem as on the Messiah.’” When two years later it seemed as though success were nigh, Freud wrote on May 25, 1895, “I could have shouted with joy at your news. If you have really solved the problem of conception I will ask you what sort of marble would best please you.”7 Freud’s messianic hopes thus were always real and close to the surface. His stated negation of them was thus governed not by his heart but by hard-headed conclusions.

His quest, Freud believed, was in large measure governed by his nature, his Jewishness. He was “deeply moved” by an “old Jew,” he wrote to Martha, July 23, 1882, who asserted that “The the finest flower of mankind, and is made for enjoyment. Jews despise anyone who lacks the ability to enjoy. The law commands the Jew to appreciate every pleasure, however small, to say grace over every fruit which makes him aware of the beautiful world in which it is grown. The Jew is made for joy and joy for the Jew.”8For Freud, to be a Jew meant to be a seeker after joy in the maturest and fullest sense, which meant in part being a Columbus, a discoverer, one who pushed out further the boundaries of the world and the potentialities of life. Marriage prospects tempted him briefly (September 4, 1883) to “renounce my ambition,” and he resolved to “try and live more like the Gentiles — modestly, learning and practicing the usual things and not striving after discoveries and delving too deep.”9 It is thus apparent that Freud’s harsh conclusions did not come easily to him; they were first of all bitter personal conclusions. Long previously, Catullus had written:

I hate and love. And if you ask me why, I have no answer, but I discern, can feel, my senses rooted in eternal torture.10

Freud agreed that this “eternal torture” was all too real; he asked the “why” of it, and answered the question, but his answer was not a cure but only stoical understanding.

Freud did not come happily to his conclusions. They were born out of his own inner experiences, and he accepted their validity with stoicism. And basic to all stoicism is a certain reserve, so that, while Freud was more firmly wedded to his system of thought than any of his followers, his reserve and detachment, usually in evidence, preserved him from many of their follies and left him, in many respects, a pre-Freudian man. We have seen the romantic hope flare up at the prospect of Fliess’ discovery. As a young man, Freud had been the proper and romantic lover. His letters to Martha Bernays are full of simple, romantic love, written “With 100,000 kisses, all of which are to be cashed.” He saw her as “innocent” and needing protection from harsh realities. Although he urged her to finish reading Don Quixote, he admitted it had “shocking qualities.” He longed for her picture, to give it “a place among my household gods.”11 Freud, in his late twenties, wrote Martha of his reactions to the mob in Carmen:

The mob gives vent to its appetites, and we deprive ourselves. We deprive ourselves in order to maintain our integrity, we economize in our health, our capacity for enjoyment, our emotions: we save ourselves for something, not knowing what. And this habit of constant suppression of natural instincts gives us the quality of refinement.12

Romantically, he wrote, “I am quite prepared to be completely ruled by my princess. One willingly lets oneself be dominated by the person one loves.”13 On the other hand, even in the midst of all of his romancing, Freud’s stern realism could assert itself. He could write, “Don’t forget that ‘beauty’ only stays a few years, and that we have to spend a long life together. Once the smoothness and freshness of youth is gone then the only beauty lies where goodness and understanding transfigure the features, and that is where you excel.”14 Freud, on the whole, was a romantic lover. When disturbed about Martha, he could write, “I lost at once all sense of values, and at moments a frightful dread comes over me lest you fall ill. I am so wild that I can’t write more.” When she proved to be well, he wrote, “So I was quite wrong in imagining you to be ill. I was very crazy. One is very crazy when one is in love.”15

Freud was plagued with “bowel trouble” which he prudishly referred to as his “Konrad”. He was a very superstitious man, holding for a time to a numerical periodicity which would doom him to an early death. He disliked aging and anything which reminded him of it. He was given to migraine headaches, psychosomatic ailments, and fainting fits, fainting twice in arguments with Carl Gustav Jung, and he was much given to provoking trouble and creating crises in his circle of followers.16 In his later years, Freud, with heavy and poor humor, could blame his absorption with Martha before marriage for the fact “that I was not already famous at that early age.” A visit with her gave someone else the time to make certain “decisive experiments” with cocaine and become the “discover” of its use in local anaesthesia, “but I bore my fiancee no grudge for her interruption of my work.”17 On his golden wedding anniversary he could comment to Marie Bonaparte concerning Martha, “It was really not a bad solution of the marriage problem, and she is still today tender, healthy and active.”18 When Freud was asked in 1907 to write on the sexual enlightenment of children, he wrote of its urgent necessity and of the dire consequences his work continually revealed to him of the failure by parents to instruct their children.19 Not too long before that, however, as his son Martin was later to write, a family discussion concerning cattle revealed the ignorance of all the Freud children. “‘You must be told these things,’ father had exclaimed; but, like the majority of fathers, he had done nothing whatever about it.”20

Freud’s perversity regarding Vienna and the United States is noteworthy. Vienna rejected him, but, while he “always expressed extreme dislike of Vienna,” he actually loved it deeply and hated finally to leave it for England.21 Nowhere else did he receive the acceptance, following, and outright veneration which arose in many quarters in the United States, and so he chose to despise the United States and indulge in various absurd opinions concerning it.22

For a man who warred against innocence and held to the radical tension and taint of civilized life, Freud was again singularly blind to many aspects of his own nature. From a Christian perspective, he was seriously guilty of phariseeism. He could write of himself:

I believe that when it comes to a sense of justice and consideration for others, to the dislike of making others suffer or taking advantage of them, I can measure myself with the best people I have known. I have never done anything mean or malicious, nor have I felt any temptation to do so, with the result that I am not in the least proud of it. I am taking the notion of morality in its social, not its sexual, sense.23

For one who pointed to the sado-masochistic roots and elements in all men, this was a strange assertion of innocence! He was naive in reporting praise, even from sick patients.

“Does the Professor talk to God,” Hans asked his father on the way home, “as he can tell all that beforehand?” I should be extraordinarily proud of this recognition out of the mouth of a child, if I had not myself provoked it by my joking boastfulness.24

Another aspect of Freud is usually by-passed but needs attention. There is no better, and no more amusing, example of pre-Freudian prudery concerning sex than Freud himself, and many of his attitudes are rooted in his strange and ambivalent attitude towards sex, a mingling of worship and dread, so that it was almost both god and devil to him. It is quite possible that a future age may choose to see Freud as the classic example of a strange and fantastic prudery. Note, for example, this passage, which is so basic to his perspective:

Probably no male human being is spared the terrifying shock of threatened castration at the sight of the female genitals. We cannot explain why it is that some of them become homosexuals in consequence of this experience, others ward it off by creating a fetish, and the great majority overcome it.25

To the cynical post-Freudians, Freud himself has become ludicrous.

This pre-Freudian romanticism is in evidence, however, among the devout Freudians in their assessment of their master. Ernest Jones’ three-volume biography reads often like a work from another era in its uncritical dedication and devotion to the master. “One feels that no one could ever have lied to him. Not only that it would have been useless, but any wish to do so would have melted in his presence.” Jones could write this after his long catalogues of Freud’s naive illusions concerning his followers, and his readiness to believe his favorites in strange ways. But Jones concludes, “And so we take leave of a man whose like we shall not know again. From our hearts we thank him for having lived; for having done; and for having loved.”26

Even more telling, in this context, is the fact that the Freudian circle, romantically united to one another by rings bestowed on the members by Freud himself, was plagued not only by very serious bitterness and fighting but by serious mental, emotional, and other psychological disorders. Even the devout Jones recorded “the failing mental integration on the part of Otto Rank and Sandor Ferenczi” in the immediate circle, and the scandals associated with followers like H. W. Frink,27 and this was only the most flagrant aspect of the situation. This fact is important, and, much as the piety of Jones and others would seek to veil it, is necessary to an understanding of Freud, a sympathetic understanding. Freud shunned biography and autobiography, while basing his theory on it. He held to a classical reserve and dignity in all matters personal. But Freud never denied that the sources of his theory were autobiographical, nor that his followers had insight precisely as he did, out of bitter inner conflict which had ripped off the hypocritical mask of social conformity and repression. They were veterans of a basic warfare, and they had been made both weaker and stronger by that warfare. They were weaker in that they could not live in terms of the illusions of other men and in hope through the “lie” of salvation, stronger because they had, out of their own exhausting battle, gained not cure, which was an impossibility, but understanding. It is thus possible to go far more deeply into the mental and moral aberrations of Freudians then and now than we have any intention of doing, and it would accomplish nothing, except perhaps to confirm the Freudians. They have, after all, faced the “reality” concerning themselves. The basic issue then lies elsewhere: Is the Freudian diagnosis and prognosis true?