During the course of the twenty-eight extremely accessible essays, we discover that he came by the idea that there could be unconscious desires from the practice of hypnosis, in which wish suggestions are rooted in the brain and some time after the patient has awakened actuates upon those suggestions without knowing why.
The existence of the phenomenon of hypnosis is already enough to make us wonder uncomfortably how much our 'normal' state resembles that of the hypnotic subject.
However we go about answering that question, we should recognise that Freud is an innovator. There is not a human thought, action, utterance, disposition, glance, occupation, that does not reveal some ulterior motive or meaning. The error becomes trickery, the pursuit of wealth finds its homology in a fascination with one's excrement, the joke is revenge, love is concealed narcissism, illness is discussed in terms of the subject's gain and manipulation.
And the utterances of a psychoanalyst become ...?
Like Husserl, Freud argues that humans are immensely complex organisms with many levels of consciousness. Unfortunately, like the car's top-gear, the 'weakest' level, most humans only concentrate, or are aware of this top-gear performance. It is not an exaggeration to say that one of Freud's aims is to make us aware of the other levels of gearing, of consciousness, and the significant role they play in our behaviour, thought, and development throughout life.
It is also not an exaggeration to say that another of Freud's aims was to gain power by founding a secular religion in which only the priesthood has access to The Truth.
After a brief introduction, the first section opens with parapraxes which although innocently introduced as faulty acts, such as memory or speech errors, mishearing, chance actions, forgetting, losing or mislaying something, misreadings and misprints, blunders and slips of the tongue, they turn out to be everyday displays of pathologies: actions assumed to have not been planned but upon inspection the opposite is often the case.
If Freud did indeed use the word 'pathology' in this way (it is decades since I read the book under review, and I'm afraid I don't have time to refer to it now, so I'll take your word for it), then already we see a misuse of medical terminology, coupled with a false appeal to medical authority.
After dismissing the theory of attention's withdrawal to account for these events, Freud argues that they have purpose and meaning and serve the subject's psychical intentions.
Here I think he is often right.
He suggests, in part, that the growth of our civilisation has been so thoroughly pressured by the exigencies of life that it has too often concealed or sacrificed an understanding of our own average mental intentions and these types of neurotic symptoms which in other times were often interpreted as omens, indications and auguries.
I don't understand that sentence.
Freud believes that the phenomenon of parapraxes arise from the interference between the intentions of the conscious and unconscious mental states. For Freud, a disturbing unconscious desire is forced back by the disturbed consciousness and in consequence the unconscious desire manifests itself in a more innocent, socially acceptable manner.
I don't know if Freud did actually maintain that the intention behind a "Freudian slip" was always deeply buried in the unconscious mind. And surely, as a matter of fact, regardless of Freud's opinion, we often let slip something of which we are quite conscious as going on in our minds, but which is unacceptable in its social or interpersonal context?
The disturbance is a result of internal contradiction, writes Freud [...]
I don't remember him using the word "contradiction" in this way, but perhaps I am just repressing the memory ...
[...] for the psychoanalyst nothing is left to chance or indifference; there is not a single psychical phenomenon which does not have some meaning or intention [...]
Although that is probably an overstatement (and it depends upon what is categorised as a "psychical phenomenon"), it is perhaps Freud's single most valuable insight. He makes us all into detectives.
Freud believes that his dream theory is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious and essentially we may sum his theory along these lines: unconscious desires are so disturbing that our conscious element censors those wishes. To prevent us from being disturbed whilst asleep, the censoring element of our brain transforms the distasteful desires into harmless symbols, images and sounds, but there are times when the censor fails and the result is dream anxiety or the nightmare itself. The task for the psychoanalyst is to help the patient via a process of free-association to disclose the unconscious content of their dreams which will uncover the source of their own type of neuroses which is always traced back to childhood and the origin of the Odedipus complex.
I don't know about that "always", i.e. I don't know if even Freud believed that the interpretation of every single dream leads back to the Oedipus complex (but I rather doubt that he did). For what it's worth, my own belief is that not every dream is susceptible to a Freudian interpretation (never mind whether the latter leads back to the Oedipus complex or not). But I am convinced that some
dreams can be analysed in more or less the way that Freud describes, and I wish I could bring myself to do more of such analysis. I only did it really thoroughly on one occasion, and the dream in question proved to have an extremely insightful meaning of which I had been entirely unaware. I ignored what I had so painstakingly learned from the dream, and the result was disastrous.
In Freud's dream analysis, the interpretation of dream-symbolism plays an essential role and there is no better introduction to psychoanalytic symbolism than contained in this book. We learn that anything dreamt that is stick-like, be this an umbrella, tree, or pencil is a penis whilst anything with a hollow space is the female genitalia; houses with smooth walls are males and the ones with balconies to hold onto are women; likewise fruit dreams are all about women's breasts; the innocent looking number 3 is a penis with two testicles; dreams of playing are desires of masturbation, dreams of flying and flying ships are dreams about erections; dancing, climbing, sporting and violent dreams are all about the sex act itself, and so on.
This is a caricature. For one thing, it confuses the method
of dream interpretation with a set of foregone conclusions
(and apparently ridiculous conclusions, at that) as to what the results of the interpretation will be. What is true, I think, is that experience of interpreting many dreams leads psychoanalysts to expect that certain hackneyed symbols will occur. But this is only one aspect of dream interpretation, and the method can be described without mentioning anything resembling such a recipe book of standard "Freudian interpretations".
[...] contrary to popular opinion they are not all related to sexuality per se.
Indeed; and therefore, not all related to the Oedipus complex. I thought not.
Nevertheless, Freud's interpretations are obviously contingent in nature and ultimately one feels they reveal more about Freud the individual male than anything about dreams or the patients themselves. We too may construct an equally viable symbolism, initiate our free-association investigations and be adequately equipped to interpret dreams to fit our criteria and conjectures. To suggests that Freud's own royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious is absurd is not entirely uncharitable.
Surely this is just a rather muddled, and indeed uncharitable, way of saying that what Freud has actually provided us with is an instrument which we can take into our own hands and use in our own investigations, and that the results we get may not always be those which he obtained?
Essentially, the unconscious component is composed of three levels: the id is the passions and possibly all inherited human knowledge, the ego is the socially conditioned and aware reason which tries to repress the id and from this state of affairs the superego manifests itself as a moral and critical conscience. Because all individuals enter a society, it follows that all individuals are in a permanent state of conflict.
This has always seemed to me to be a terribly confused theory, impossible to relate to actual human experience.
That I take its seriously at all, and do not dismiss it as the confused ramblings of a lunatic, is only because of Freud's prestige (such as it is), and in particular, my mystified, muddled, and cowed belief that Freud must be right about the unconscious, whereas I by definition know nothing even about my own unconscious mind, and therefore my own sense of confusion and disbelief must be put down to repression and self-deception, and it cannot be trusted as an indication that there is something obviously wrong with his theories, which are therefore absolutely correct.
I won't bother to try to pull the theory apart right now, but it would be interesting to have a go at doing so in another thread.
Freud also hints at the idea of the human mind motivated by two conflicting drives: instincts of a sexual and self-preserving nature and the desire towards absolute rest and silence, the death-instinct. From this inference, we can then understand why humans have imagined heavens and peceful oblivion as well as actuating in wars, violence, drug taking and suicide.
I think it is important to point out that Freud changed his view markedly throughout his career; this idea comes from quite late on (and was taken up enthusiastically by Melanie Klein and some others).
Although it looks absurd (to me, at least), and it can't be accepted at face value ("death instinct
"? - come on!), I suspect that there is some profound truth lurking in it (as in nearly everything Freud wrote - as I said in another thread, I admire him tremendously, I just think he made tremendous mistakes).
As can be observed, the standard paradigm for Freud is between conflict and oppression, most notably between the id and ego and the individual and society, and whether we consider this is true or not, if we are attentive enough, we can also observe this dichotomous paradigm occurring in many other types of discourses, not only in that of Freud's but also in Marx's antagonism and oppression between the bourgeois and proletariat, political dispute and oppression between the right and left, the Christian conception of conflict and oppression between God and the Devil and even Popper's collision and oppression between the scientific and non-scientific theory. Whether any of these ideas are true or not is beside the point, for what becomes apparent is that the brain in language formation mode often finds it difficult to escape the confines of intellectual systems defined within these dichotomous terms.
I think that is just why we have to philosophise about Freud, instead of swallowing his words whole as if he were a philosopher who really knew what he was saying. The poor guy was confused; let's give him some help!
The final section of lectures draws the reader into the realm of the neurosis and once again, as with the parapraxes, dreams, the structure of the unconscious mind, these type of mental disorders need to be understood as the result of conflict and repression, and hence the neurosis, dream, parapraxes, and unconscious mind are solutions arising from the inherent and universal animosity either between unconscious and conscious mental states, or society and the individual.
That is all but incomprehensible. I'm not blaming you, I'm blaming Freud, whom you seem to represent quite accurately here. But let's leave detailed criticism of this for another time.
From this perspective we may draw a rather illuminating Freudian conclusion: all humans are suffering from mental disorders and it is only the potency or debilitation of that disorder which distinguishes the healthy individual from the neurotic or psychopath.
Never mind the confused conception of a "mental disorder". Never mind the assumption that Freud and his disciples were not themselves suffering from a "mental disorder" (being magically cleansed of this secular equivalent of sin). Never mind the whole confused basis of this conclusion; I think the conclusion itself is right on the button, and this is another of Freud's major contributions to our understanding of ourselves. Never mind that so much of what he did, and his followers have done, seems designed to obscure that very understanding ...
According to Freud, there is no such thing as a well-balanced individual, for all humans display their own dark and secret desires and instinctual drives through dreams, parapraxes, interests, pursuits, and so on. In fact the universal validity of the law of determinism is an unquestion given. Freud announces that psychical freedom is an illusion and that the phenomenon of birth is not so much the delivery of a child but instead the return of the repressed.
I don't get that last connection at all.
Also, I think that Freud's belief in "the universal validity of the law of determinism" is a confused, scientistic way of expressing a very important idea (which was mentioned above in the section where you were dealing with Freudian slips).
To conclude this review, we can now ask ourselves, so is this Freudian stuff true or not? Common-sense informs us that Freud is a polemist and controversial and if there is any evidence for his assertions then surely that evidence can also arrive from fields outside the discipline of psychoanalysis, and on inspection, they do, and many contradict Freud's hypotheses.
For example, pathologists assert that no connection can be drawn between childhood events and adult neuroses or psychopathologies, or even the sexual orientation of the adult.
Baloney! Again, it's too big a subject (and it's far too close to home, for me) to debate in detail here. I'll merely point out that Freud has been criticised from exactly the opposite direction, for instance by Jeffrey Masson and Alice Miller.
In consequence, much of Freud's discourse loses its explanatory meaning.
You wish. :-)
Neurologists, such as Edelman, inform their readers that the human memory should be understood in terms of plasticity and thus what Freud considers as the repressing mind is more an observed brain reorganising its functions and memories.
That's an important point, and I've often wondered how the plasticity of the young brain relates to Freud's ideas.
Philosophically speaking, however, we move into different territory.
When one human being tries to understand another, the understanding, analysis and result can never be objective. Try as one might, one is always retreating into one's own subjectivity. In this way, we can only understand Freud as true to the extent to which people find [that he] makes sense of their inner life (Vesey & Foulkes).
That's a complete cop-out. Either Freud was talking sense, or he wasn't. (Of course that is only a crude way of saying that he talked some sense and some nonsense, and we have to work out which is which.)
I think Freud should be understood as a revolutionary, radical thinker, raising suspicions about the mind and following on from many of the issues raised by Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, and not a physician or scientist.
I agree absolutely with that statement.
But note that it doesn't imply that the questions Freud raises are not, in some sense, objective. Only the ideology of scientism (which Freud himself embraced wholeheartedly, so it's his own damn fault) makes it seem as if either he was doing good science (he wasn't, in my opinion) or else he was talking total crap (which he also wasn't, in my opinion).
His fame is not deserved in fields of scientific verification but instead as the individual who sabotaged Descartes' idea of a comprehending I, the self-sufficient res cogitans which knows how it feels and why it feels so.
Again, I agree completely.
But I think it is very important for the Cartesian subject to fight back against Freud.
After all, Freud and his disciples regarded themselves as still being rational, ethical, free beings, capable of comprehending reality; we just need to democratise that belief.
Of his influence on much twentieth century art, literature and film and the way people think and talk about themselves. And finally, and perhaps just as importantly, the manner in which he went about casting suspicion on all those quaint human traits that had been forgotten about or ignored for centuries. In his own peculiar manner, Freud is a pioneer of the same rank as Copernicus or Darwin and like Marx and Nietzsche themselves, was a master of suspicion.
So how do you fight back against a master of suspicion? Is there is master of trust?