by Ted Welch
Sat Sep 25th, 2010 at 08:09:31 AM EST
Update: I've now corrected an error pointed out by a Freud fan from Paris; it is Serge Tisseron, not Tesseron - clearly I was unconsciously injecting testosterone into the fray :-) I have also now included in the main text my comment in which I outlined some of Onfray's main criticisms of Freud.
Recently my favourite French philosopher, Michel Onfray, wrote a very critical book on Freud, "The Twilight of an Idol: The Freudian Plot" (a reference to Nietzsche's Twilight of the idols, and Onfray adopts Nietzsche's idea that a philosopher's ideas reflect his own life). Such strong criticism of Freud is a bit of a rarity in France, where Freud is still widely respected - taught in the philosophy BAC, and apparently Freudians dominate about 70% of academic psychiatry departments. Even someone as independent and critical as Onfray had decided not to read an earlier collection of articles critical of Freud - "The Black book of Psychoanalysis" - on the basis of early comments about it. Subsequently one of its authors, Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, helped open Onfray's eyes to the less than edifying truth about Freud.
Predictably there were very critical responses from the Freudians, but the level was lamentable (well, if you still respect Freud ...), including that from celeb intello Bernard Henri Lévy:
front-paged by afew
"Members of the still powerful corporation guild of psychoanalysts in France have come out in full force to launch concerted attacks against Michel Onfray. Some members of this corporation have accused this brilliant subversive philosopher to be in cahoots with "neoliberalism" or "savage capitalism" of the era globalization. A preposterous accusation (Onfray is very left-wing).
BHL started his attacks against Michel Onfray in the media way before he read even one single sentence of the book. But Onfray counterattacked by brushing aside baseless attacks not grounded in the actual reading of the book and mocked in the media this novel method of "reading" without actually reading--thus refreshing the memory of the literary public about the "botulism" debacle. (BHL fell for a hoax about a supposed philosopher called Botul).
Similarly, Roudinesco, a Freudian and, it seems, a high level academic (!), also had a reading problem, accusing Onfray of only reading Freud in 5 months and including no references or bibliography. As Onfray pointed out, there was a 20 page bibliography and about 50,000 references and he'd made it clear he'd started reading Freud in 1973 and had taught Freud for the BAC for years before reading the latest collected edition of Freud's works, as well as many other related books.
Now Le Monde publishes a critical article by Serge Tisseron, a psychoanalyst.
His arguments are as poor as those of Roudinesco. He says that Onfray doesn't acknowledge that criticism came from within the Freudian movement. However he omits the inconvenient fact (a Freudian slip?) that such criticism was strongly resisted by Freud and his most subservient (and so acceptable) disciples:
"One tip off to the pseudoscientific nature of psychoanalysis is to describe its institutional structure ... As Crews notes, psychoanalysis 'conducted itself less like a scientific-medical enterprise than like a politburo bent upon snuffing out deviationism' (Crews, 1995, p. 110).
Perhaps the first person to notice and be repelled by this aspect of psychoanalysis was the famous Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler. Bleuler briefly flirted with psychoanalysis. But when he left the psychoanalytic movement in 1911, he said to Freud "this `who is not for us is against us,' this `all or nothing,' is necessary for religious communities and useful for political parties. I can therefore understand the principle as such, but for science I consider it harmful." (in Gay 1987, pp. 144-145). The quotation is telling. To become a psychoanalyst was like joining a religious or political movement and not at all like becoming a scientist.
The apex of the authoritarian, anti-scientific institutional structure of psychoanalysis was the Secret Committee of hand-picked loyalists sworn to uphold psychoanalytic orthodoxy, described by Phyllis Grosskurth in The Secret Ring: Freud's Inner Circle and the Politics of Psychoanalysis: By insisting the Committee must be absolutely secret, Freud enshrined the principle of confidentiality.
Jung was expelled for disagreeing with Freud.
Tisseron refers to Ferenczi as an example of the supposed healthy tradition of criticism within Freudianism, however cf.:
"... Regarding Ferenczi, Grosskurth (1991) notes that "(t)he thought of a disagreement with Freud was unbearable ..." (p. 141); "There were occasions when he rebelled against his dependency, but always he returned repentant and submissive" (pp. 54-55).
... Besides Rank, other deviators, Fleiss, Adler, Jung, and Ferenczi, were diagnosed as suffering from a variety of psychiatric disorders and therefore needing further psychoanalysis to bring them back to the true faith."
Tisseron's more recent example is Masson, NOT a good choice for an example of the openness of the Freudians:
"...There is a long line of such expelled dissenters in the history of psychoanalysis, and the list continues to lengthen with the recent expulsion of Jeffrey Masson.
The entire enterprise begins to appear more and more like an authoritarian religious cult than a scientific movement.
The whole article is well worth reading.
Freudians criticise Onfray for supposedly being mistaken AND (fallback position) anyway what he says is nothing new. Oh really ? While this may be true of some academic circles and some psychoanalysts, like Tisseron, the criticisms will seem shocking to people with a general idea of who Freud was and what he did. Freudians prefer to keep quiet about all this information; hence the hostile tone from leading Freudians Like Roudinesco. Onfray does not claim that his main criticisms are original, but, having had his eyes opened by people like Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, Onfray decided to write his own settling of accounts with Freud, with typical thoroughness and success.
His criticisms include:
Freud lied about his success with his now famous cases - later research has shown that they were not cured and some were ill for years afterwards.
Sergei Pakejeff ... (the poor "Wolf Man", had) "analysis for six decades, despite Freud's pronouncement of his being "cured"), making him one of the longest-running famous patients in the history of psychoanalysis.
A few years after finishing psychoanalysis with Freud, Pankejeff developed a psychotic delusion. He was observed walking the streets staring at his reflection in a mirror, convinced that some sort of doctor had drilled a hole in his nose. Ruth Mack Brunswick, a Freudian, explained the delusion as displaced castration anxiety.
Freud was absurdly credulous, taking seriously things like numerology, etc., including his friend Fliess's theory about curing females' menstruation problems by operating on the nose. Fliess bungled the operation on Emma Eckstein, left some gauze in which caused dangerous bleeding - one of the "well-known" things that is strangely absent from Ernest Jones 1,500 page hagiography (Onfray p.343). As Masson says:
"I think Freud at that point had the choice of telling Fliess, 'Look, you have been guilty of improper conduct and I too by sending this woman to you, and we owe her a sincere apology.' Or Freud could say, 'The woman really has done the damage herself. You are not responsible for this, Wilhelm, nor am I. This woman is an hysterical bleeder.' And Freud chose the latter. That is, he blamed the bleeding on Emma Eckstein, not on the operation by Fliess. So, in other words, he felt it so important to protect the reputation of Fliess and his own friendship with Fliess that he was willing to distort a piece of reality."
Onfray also points out that Freud was not the great pioneer that he and his disciples claimed, he did not "discover" the unconscious (see "The Unconscious Before Freud." L.L. Whyte) nor was he the first to write about it at length, e.g. Hartmann wrote a "Philosophy of the Unconscious" when Freud was just 12. Freud borrowed from others but concealed his borrowings in order to satisfy his vanity in wanting to be regarded as on a level with Copernicus and Darwin. He then established the group of loyal followers to propagate the myth of the great pioneer and the tradition that analysts must themselves undergo analysis according to the Freudian tenets:
Frank Sulloway (1979b) describes the indoctrination characteristic of training analyses in which any objection by the analysand is viewed as a resistance to be overcome. And even Shelly Orgel (1990), who remains a defender of the psychoanalytic faith, writes of the feelings of many contemporary analysands that their analysts had behaved aggressively toward them, turning them into devoted and passive followers of their highly idealized analyst, a role that was facilitated by the `unquestioned authority' (p. 14) of the analyst.
Jeffrey Masson (1990) provides fascinating insight into psychoanalysis as thought control and aggression. Masson's training analysis involved a completely one-sided relationship in which the analyst had all of the power and in which the trainee was expected to put up with any and all indignities.
He shows that Freud's ideas changed often and are not very coherent and that he destroyed evidence of earlier ideas, which would have undermined his image, including letters from Fliess. He tried to acquire and destroy his letters to Fliess, which Freudians kept secret, but they were made public by Masson.
It's rather disappointing that, while I quite admire the respect for intellectuals in France, it can lead to credulity where a more healthy scepticism would be appropriate. But at least Onfray deserves such respect and I'm happy to see that his book, like his many others, has sold very well. He uses the profits from them to help fund his Universitairé Populaire:
The Université Populaire, which is open to all who cannot access the state university system, and on principle does not accept any money from the State - Onfray uses the profits from his books to help finance it - has had enormous success. Based on Onfray's book La Communauté Philosophique: Manifeste pour l'Université Populaire (2004), the original UP now has imitators in Picardie, Arras, Lyon, Narbonne, and at Mans in Belgium, with five more in preparation." "The national public radio network France Culture annually broadcasts his course of lectures to the Universite Populaire on philosophical themes.
The spirit of which is reflected in Eurotrib itself, so too does the diversity of his subjects, a strength of Eurotrib, even if it does confuse those expecting a site with an obvious USP :-)