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Books, Part XXVII
In The Freud Archives
At no time during our acquaintance did Masson answer my question about
what had brought on his sudden virulent anti-Freudianism. As I came
to realize, it was not the right question--as is probably the case
with all unanswered (unanswerable) questions. Like the apostasy of
Jung and Adler and the other "half-analysts" (as Freud called
them), the apostasy of Masson was an inevitability, and the question
should be not why Adler and Jung and Masson strayed from the fold
but what, given their characters, temperaments, and views of life,
could have induced them to stray into the fold ? (What it was
about their characters, temperaments, and views of life that made
them so attractive to precisely the people--Freud, Anna Freud, Eissler--who
should have been most wary of them is another matter.) But if Masson
was silent about--and possibly ignorant of--the motive for his psychoanalytic
volte-face, he was anything but reticent about the reversal of his
fortunes that the Blumenthal articles brought about.
"When the Times articles
appeared, in August of 1981, I was in Europe on one of my periodic
trips for the Archives," he told me. "After I returned to
Berkeley, I immediately called Eissler, as I always did, to report
on what I had done on my trip. I had found a lot of things in Anna
Freud's house that I knew would interest him. I called his apartment,
and his wife, Ruth Eissler, who is another eminent psychoanalyst,
answered, and she was very cold. This had never happened before. Usually,
there was a great commotion--`Jeff, you're back! When will we see
you?' This time, it was `Kurt is busy now; he can't speak to you.'
I said, `It's Jeff, Jeff Masson!' `Yes, I'm aware of that. Phone tomorrow.'
Well, I thought, maybe she has a patient in the room with her and
can't talk. I phoned the next day. `No, he's still busy. Call tomorrow.'
I thought, What is going on? This continues for four or five days--he's
out, he's sick, his throat is sore, he has no voice left. Finally,
at the end of five days, Eissler calls me, and he is in a rage. He
starts shouting at me. `Those articles--are you out of your mind?
Do you know what this means?' And on and on and on. I said, `Look,
I'm sorry you didn't like the articles,' and Eissler said, `You must
write a letter immediately to the Times dissociating yourself
from those views,' and I said, `No, why should I ? I don't think those
articles are so had. There are some things that got distorted, and
I suppose I could write a letter about that. But, by and large, I
don't think they're bad articles, and I believe the things I said.
You've heard them from me many times before, and I don't see what
the big deal is.' Well, Eissler continued to rant and rant, and finally
I said, 'O.K., next time I'll be more careful,' and he said, `There
will be no next time!' And I said, `What do you mean?' He said,
`You were to be named my successor in November. Now I'm going to recommend
to the Board that you be terminated.'
"I was in a state of shock. I had
not expected that. I had given up my post at the University of Toronto
a few months earlier-it's true that Eissler had urged me to hang on
to it, but I saw no reason not to give it up. In November, I was to
take over Eissler's position, and then, when Anna Freud died, I was
to move to London and live in Anna Freud's house. Now, Eissler told
me, I was finished. At the annual meeting of the Board, he would ask
that my contract not be renewed. I said, `I want to be present at
that meeting. I want to hear what you will say.' Eissler said, `No,
no, it will be very humiliating and embarrassing. I don't want you
to be humiliated and embarrassed.' I said, `That's O.K. I can take
care of myself.' Then Eissler said, `What are you going to do now?'
And I said, `I'm going to sue you, probably.' He said, `What?' And
I said, `Well, of course. What did you
think I was going to do--thank you for firing me? Why shouldn't I
fight? You have no business getting rid of me. I haven't done anything
wrong.' Then he said, `I want my tapes back'--I had his tape-recorded
interviews with hundreds of friends and colleagues and patients of
Freud-and I said, `That's too bad; I'm not going to give them back.'
`And I want all the letters back.' And I said, `I'm not going to give
them back, either.'
"After we hung up, I called Anna
Freud. `I have been fired from the Archives,' I told her, and she
said, `Well, I don't understand,' and I said, `I have also been fired
from the museum,' and she said, `What museum?' I said, `You know,
I was going to live in your house.' She said, `I never heard that.'
I said, `Come on, Eissler must have discussed it with you.' She said,
`No, he never discussed it with me. All he told me was that you were
to be in charge of my father's library after my death. And, frankly,
I would never have allowed you to live in my house, because my father
would not have wanted someone like you living here. He would have
wanted someone who was quiet and discreet.' She was quite honest about
it, and I believed her. I knew she had complained endlessly to Muriel
Gardiner about me. `You don't know what it's like having Masson in
my house,' she'd said. `He's like my dogs.' She had these totally
unmanageable chows--she'd inherited her father's chows, and these
were their descendants--and she adored them. `They race around the
garden, they tear up everything, they get into everything. Masson
is just like them.' "
During the five-day period when Masson
was unable to get through to Eissler, he wrote Anna Freud a long letter
Anna Freud replied on September 10 with a letter of characteristic
calm, brevity, and intellectual incisiveness:
Dear Miss Freud,
I have returned to a mountain of letters and innumerable messages.
All because of the New York Times articles. Most of the response
has been positive. But there have been some negative comments. Dr.
Eissler, whom I have called several times but have not yet been able
to reach (though I spoke to Ruth), is, I understand, very angry. Not
at the first article, which he, like you, found harmless, but at the
second. I must confess, I am puzzled. I realize that he (like most
analysts) does not share my views about seduction. I continue to think
that seduction, especially in its wholly negative aspect (i.e., rape
and physical hurt), plays an important role in neurosegenesis. And
I fully believe that trauma is at the very heart of illness. And,
it is true, I do not believe that traumas, by and large, are invented.
But I don't believe that this position is so very far removed from
that held by your father. And I certainly do not draw any therapeutic
conclusions from it. In any event, I do not practice analysis. I am
merely a historian. It is true that I do not feel any particular obligation
to the analytic community. My obligation, it seems to me, is entirely
to historical truth. I have an enormous admiration for your father,
and I think it shows in everything I write, and in the seriousness
and zeal with which I pursue my research. But I do not feel the same
admiration for the analytic movement and the analytic community. Perhaps
for this reason, my research is almost exclusively devoted to the
early history of Freud's progress. Surely that is my privilege. But
I have never said anything, in print, to harm psychoanalysis as far
as I can see. The fact that it does not interest me very much is of
no concern to anybody except me. I certainly owe no loyalty to any
other group, and I have, as everybody knows, nothing but contempt
for the various movements that deviated from Freud's teachings.
I suppose I am writing to you now because
we seem to have got on so well the last few times we met, and especially
this last time. You have allowed me, in a show of great confidence,
to go through your cupboard and, as you have seen, I found valuable
and interesting material. I do not feel that I have or am likely to
misuse this material in any way. Clearly, this has also been your
feeling. But I know, too, that you do not expect me to hold to the
standard view simply because it is the standard view when I find material
that does not corroborate it. I am convinced that Freud did not abandon
the seduction hypothesis in 189, as has been commonly assumed.
Dear Jeff Masson,
Your letter came today, and I answer quickly, since I may have to
go to hospital in a few days, and that may mean an interruption.
I am sorry, though, that my answer will be disappointing to you.
I have to tell you that I was also
put off very much by the second article in the New York Times, only
my reaction to it was different from Dr. Eissler's. I felt almost
certain that the writer of the article had misunderstood you and
that the interpretation concerning the seduction theory was his
and not yours. I just could not imagine that it could be yours.
Of course, I have not read the lecture
you gave in New Haven, but to me it seems out of the question that
there is valid proof for the abandonment of the seduction theory
for reasons of external rejection, nor can there be any valid sign
that in spite of this abandonment it was kept up secretly. In fact,
there is abundant proof to the contrary, not only in all the later
case histories, but in the whole of the analytic theory altogether.
Keeping up the seduction theory would mean to abandon the Oedipus
complex, and with it the whole importance of fantasy life, conscious
or unconscious fantasy. In fact, I think there would have been no
psychoanalysis afterwards [italics added]... .
I know the Fliess letters so well,
but I just cannot imagine what in them led you to this conclusion
to which you have come.
I look forward to hearing more from
"The Board meeting--or should
I say the witch trial?--was set for October fourteenth, at Eissler's
apartment," Masson said, continuing the chronicle of his expulsion
from the Archives. "In the weeks before the meeting, there were
many telephone calls from Eissler. Some were very unpleasant, and
others were warm and friendly. I couldn't figure out what was going
on in his mind, except that he was in great conflict. He invited me
to sleep at his apartment the night of the meeting, but I said no-I
was going there to be fired, so I was not going to live in his house.
He said, `Well, let me pay for the expenses of the hotel.' I arrived
at the meeting at eight, and Eissler took me aside and said, `Do I
have your word of honor that nothing we say here will ever go beyond
these walls?' And I said, `Of course you don't have my word.' `In
that case, I will have to ask you to leave,' he said. `I have instructed
the Board members not to speak unless you make that promise--that
you give your word not to repeat anything that's said here to a lawyer,
to the press, or to anyone.' He looked so unhappy, and it was such
a deeply felt appeal, that I said, `Well, let me think about it.'
Then he was called away to the telephone, and when he came back he
said, `It's Muriel Gardiner. Before I speak to her, do I have your
promise?' Muriel could not be at the meeting, because she was in the
middle of the Atlantic on the Queen Elizabeth. She was clearly
calling on my behalf--she had
been very sympathetic to me--and I figured that this was Eissler's
way of saying that once I agreed not to talk to the press, the Board
members would say all is forgiven. So I said, `All right, you have
"The meeting began, and one of
the first things said was 'Masson claims that psychoanalysis is sterile,'
and everybody leaped up and was starting to jump on me when Eissler
silenced them with a look and said, `Fools, of course psychoanalysis
is sterile,' and everybody sat down and said, `Yes, yes, it's sterile,
sir.' 'What I'm so enraged about,' Eissler went on, 'is that Masson
should blame Freud for it,' and everybody leaped up again and said,
'Yes, yes, Freud.' Then Eissler lost his cool and started shouting
for forty-five minutes. He was in a rage, he was trembling. Everybody
was afraid he would collapse. He talked about my crazy theories, and
how could I say what I said, and how could I do what I did, and how
could anybody ever love me the way he had loved me, and had anyone
ever done for me what he had done for me, and this is how I repay
him. He went on and on, in a bizarre combination of personal confession,
reproach, and ideological disagreement.
"Then I said, 'May I speak?' And Eissler said, 'Yes, yes,' and
I defended myself for forty-five minutes, and then I said, 'I want
to hear what the rest of you have to say. I want to know why I am
being fired. What are the actual grounds?' And then everybody spoke
in turn and voiced his objections to me, and they really had nothing
to say, in effect, beyond trying to remember what Eissler had said.
They all repeated something he had said. One analyst said, `You showed
poor judgment in giving that interview,' and I said, `All right, suppose
that's true--suppose I showed poor judgment. Is that any reason I
shouldn't continue my work?' 'Yes, it's a very strong reason.' Another
analyst said, 'Your picture appeared in the Times. No decent
analyst would let his picture appear in the Times.'
"There was one very nice moment
when Eissler was raging at me for having worn jeans when I went to
see an old Swiss psychiatrist named Bleuler, from whom I was supposed
to get some letters from Freud for the Archives. `Look at your judgment,
look at what you do!' Eissler said. `You go see a distinguished member
of an old family--the son of the great Bleuler who was the head of
the Burgholzli--wearing bluejeans and a T-shirt. He is expecting to
see a distinguished American professor, and you arrive looking like
some hippie from California. How embarrassing! Of course you never
got those letters.' And I said, 'I have news for you, Dr. Eissler.
I did get them. Bleuler wrote to me last week that lie will donate
the letters.' And Eissler said bitterly, 'I am not surprised. You
can charm anybody.' But, frankly, I was frightened. They kept hinting
at 'the things we have against you.' It's frightening when thirteen
serious men and women have decided that you're a real little shit,
and they're going to tell you why. Eissler had said, 'It's going to
be very embarrassing and humiliating for you,' and I was waiting for
the axe to fall. What are they going to say about me? What have they
found out? This is serious. They're going to fire me. But they never
said anything--they never pointed to one thing I did that I could
feel ashamed of.
"True, I acted stupidly from a
political point of view. Last month, I saw Mark Paterson at the Frankfurt
book fair, and he said to me, `You dummy. You see what happened. Today,
you and I would be driving back to London together. You would be moving
into Anna Freud's house. Do you realize that all you had to do was
keep your goddam mouth shut for another six months? Then you would
have been in the Freud house, and you could have said anything you
wanted to say, and no one could have touched you.' And no one could
have. But I'm not sure I would have acted any differently even if
I had known what the consequences would be. Because sooner or later
the same thing would have happened. There would have been a rising
tide of anger and resentment against me, with people demanding my
resignation. True, it would have been very hard for them to get rid
of me, and I wouldn't be under the financial stress I'm under now.
But even if they had not tried to get me out I would have resigned
and left the house within two or three years. Anyone who knows the
things I know and believes the things I believe has no business being
an analyst and describing himself as part of the profession.
"At one point in the meeting, I
got really upset. Eissler said, `I have always had to defend you against
everyone who has ever met you. You are accused of being overzealous,
overenthusiastic, tactless, indiscreet, and dishonest.' And
I said, `Just a minute. I resent that very much. I am not a dishonest
person.' And Eissler said, `No, I didn't say you were. I said that
somebody accused you of it.' I said, `I want to know who that is.'
He said, `All right, I'll tell you. It was Peter Swales.' Peter Swales
is this completely off-the-wall young guy who writes these sensationalist
papers about Freud. Then Eissler turned to the Board members and said,
`Of course, Peter Swales is paranoid. I said, 'Fine-so now you're
willing to tell the Board that the person who accuses me of dishonesty
"The day after the meeting, I spoke
to the Times, Time, and Newsweek. I said, `Dr. Eissler
forced me to promise him that I would not reveal anything that happened
at the meeting. I'm sorry, gentlemen, that I have to go back on my
word, but I will not be bound by such a promise.' Eissler had no business
extracting that promise from me. He was always putting moral pressure
on me. `Do you want to poison Anna Freud's last days? Have you no
heart? You're going to kill the poor old woman.' I said to him, `What
have I done? You're doing it. You're firing me. What am I supposed
to do--be grateful to you?' `You could be silent about it. You could
swallow it. I know it is painful for you. But you could just live
with it in silence.' `Why should I do that?' 'Because it is the honorable
thing to do.' Well, he had the wrong man."
Masson paused, and I said, "Tell
me about Peter Swales." In the first Blumenthal article, Swales
had been characterized as "a dogged Freud sleuth" who had
unearthed an assertion by Fliess that Freud had plotted to murder
Fliess by pushing him off a mountain during a walk, and who had come
up with "controversial speculations . . . concerning, among other
things, a possible love affair between Freud and his wife's unmarried
sister, Minna Bernays." In a long article by David Gelman that
appeared in the November 30, 1981, issue of Newsweek, entitled
"Finding the Hidden
Freud," which covered some of the ground of the Blumenthal articles,
pictures of Masson and Swales appeared side by side, under the caption
"Masson, Swales: Impetuous Dissenters or Oedipal Ingrates?"
Masson replied indifferently, "Swales used to work for me. He
was very poor--his wife sold cookies in a bakery--so I gave him a
few research projects to do. I'm a little sorry now I had anything
to do with him. I don't like to see his name linked with mine. The
difference between me and all the other Freud detractors is that they
pick on some personal quirk--they're trivial. Who cares whether Freud
slept with his sister-in-law? My point--that Freud sold out--is not
trivial. To hear that Freud was a moral coward--that's more serious."
On August 26, 1981, the day after the second of the Blumenthal articles
appeared in the Times, Eissler, at his summer place in Maine, wrote
an angry and bitter letter to Masson, which, however, he did not mail.
It reads, in part:
I am very curious how the Archives Board will respond to your behavior.
Your style is totally different from the Archives tradition, which
is averse to publicity. was never used for personal aggrandizement
of any participant, and was kept out of the reach of those who would
have liked to use it for their particular brand of theory. You are
always able to quiet me down when I try to show you how you provoke
people and hurt them, how indiscreet you are at times. I fear the
members of the Board will be soberer than I am. I heard so often in
the past that I am no good as a Menschenkenner, and I foresee the
necessity of admitting this weakness to the Board in our October meeting.
I know you will give me again loo reasons why and how you had to act,
and how things are distorted by others, and that the New York Times
article would have been far worse if you had not interfered. I usually
give in after 1 hr. telephone talk and your promise that you will
be careful and discreet. I fear I am too old for that happy moment
when you stop blowing your horn....
Let's wait and see whether the Board
will be eager to continue the contract with you.
At the previous year's meeting of the Board, Masson had been appointed
Projects Director of the Archives for one year. According to the minutes
(kept by the Secretary),
Dr. Eissler stated that in connection with the proposed publication
of the Silberstein letters and the new edition of the complete Fliess
letters there should be a person who could devote his time to these
and perhaps other forthcoming Archives projects. He suggested the
appointment for this purpose of Prof. J. M. Masson, a 41-year-old
professor of Sanskrit, who is willing to give up his professorship
at the University of Toronto and spend his time fully on Freud research.
. . . He is a charming person, knows analytical literature, and is
absolutely enthusiastic about the prospect of working on projects
related to Freud's biography. Prof. Masson's salary ($30,000 per annum)
would be covered by a contribution from a friend of the Archives.
In the discussion that followed, Dr.
[Sidney] Furst expressed his reservations concerning Prof. Masson's
discretion: he likes to talk and gossip, and may he indiscreet....
Dr. [Peter] Neubauer interspersed at
this point a cautionary note, saying that since it seems that Prof.
Masson will play a significant role in the future of the Archives
(especially if he moves to London to supervise the Freud Museum),
it might be best to start him on a trial basis, and that the contract
to employ him he made for one year, for a specific task, without further
obligation. This course of action was agreed upon by the Board....
Dr. Furst once again cautioned the Board
members regarding Masson by saying that he writes well and is scholarly,
but he is extreme in his positions.
On October 17, 1980, Eissler formally
offered Masson the job of Projects Director. In his letter, he was
a little untruthful. He wrote, "At its meeting on October 15th,
the Board of Directors of the Sigmund Freud Archives instructed me
to inquire whether you would be willing to serve for at least one
year as Projects Director of the Archives." As the minutes of
the meeting reveal, Eissler was instructed to offer Masson the job
for at most one year. We are all perpetually smoothing and rearranging
reality to conform to our wishes; we lie to others and to ourselves
constantly, unthinkingly. When, occasionally--and not by dint of our
own efforts but under the pressure of external events--we are forced
to see things as they are, we are like naked people in a storm. There
are a few among us--psychoanalysts have encountered them--who are
blessed or cursed with a strange imperviousness to the unpleasantness
of self-knowledge. Their lies to themselves are so convincing that
they are never unmasked. These are the people who never feel in the
wrong, who are always able to justify their conduct, and who in the
end-human nature being what it is-cause their fallible fellow-men
to turn away from them. Eissler is not such a person. His "lie"
to Masson--the expression of his wish that his colleagues should like
and trust his protege more than they did-was too transparent to convince
anyone, least of all Eissler himself. For Eissler admits to error
so frequently, and with such almost childlike eagerness, that the
admissions have become a sort of personal signature. His books and
papers are filled with confessions of mistakes he believes he made
and feels compelled to own up to. In Medical Orthodoxy, he
berates himself for having supported (through the Archives) the research
of a Professor Gicklhorn, who immediately turned around and, with
his wife, wrote a book attacking Freud's character. "I deeply
regret having contributed indirectly to this work," Eissler writes,
"and wish to apologize, therefore, not only to members of the
Board of the Sigmund Freud Archives, but also to any other colleagues
who are interested in historical truth." In a 1963 paper entitled
"Notes on the Psychoanalytic Concept of Cure," Eissler is
critical of himself for having told an analytic patient that she must
let him know before going on vacation whether she intended to come
back for treatment in the fall--a not unreasonable demand, which most
other analysts would feel justified in making. But in Eissler's considered
opinion, "I'm not certain that my refusal to wait through the
vacation for the young patient's decision was altogether wise."
In a 1978 paper entitled "Creativity and Adolescence: The Effect
of Trauma in Freud's Adolescence," he blames a chance remark
he made to an adolescent patient for the boy's inability to pursue
a career as a pianist. "At the end of the final interview, he
asked me what he owed me. I told him, nothing, but that I should like
to have `two tickets, third row center' for his first concert at Carnegie
Hall. Later, I heard that he had given up the instrument, not least
because he had had the feeling that he would not be able to live up
to the expectations I had expressed at our farewell." Eissler
allows that the boy might have dropped out of music in any case, but
he writes, "I doubt, however, that I can free myself completely
from guilt for his abandoning a promising career. It is quite possible
that my words burdened him with a great responsibility and he was
crushed by an expectation he felt to be too great for him." Even
Paul Roazen has not been exempt from Eissler's irrepressible urge
to say he's sorry. During one of the polemical exchanges between Eissler
and Roazen that have taken place in various journals since the publication
of Talent and Genius--this one in the July 1977 issue of Contemporary
Psychoanalysis--Eissler apologizes to Roazen for, among other
things, doubting Roazen's good faith because he would not answer a
letter in which Eissler proposed that their controversy be put before
a panel of scholars appointed by the president of Harvard. Roazen
had written in the January issue of Contemporary Psychoanalysis,
"I ignored Eissler's letter I about the panel], since I regarded
his request as an expression of embarrassing grandiosity. I cannot
imagine the President of Harvard caring less about myself or the issues
Eissler chooses to cook up." In his rejoinder, Eissler eagerly
owns up to Roazen's charge of "embarrassing grandiosity."
"Looking back, it is clear to me that this part of my proposal
was not suitable, to say the least," he writes.
A final example of Eissler's remarkable
freedom from self-justification comes from one of the case histories
in his 1955 book The Psychiatrist and the Dying Patient. He
treated a wealthy older woman during the years before her death, and
was so helpful to her that, in gratitude, she changed her will and
left him a huge amount of money. Eissler was totally unprepared for
and "painfully surprised" by this development. "It
was evident that the acceptance of any benefit derived from a patient's
will would be unethical, and I informed the attorney that my legacy
had to be distributed among the other legatees or given to charitable
institutions, whatever might be the proper procedure," he writes.
However, a Mr. X, the husband of a relative of the deceased whose
legacy had been diminished because of the change in the will, formally
objected to the probation of the will. He happened to be an analyst,
and his argument was that Eissler had exercised "undue influence"
on the patient through "the unconscious utilization of a transference."
Eissler laconically mentions that "the matter was settled"
but then, over many pages, ponders Mr. X's charge from the legal,
moral, and psychoanalytic points of view, and finally concludes that
it had merit. "The austerity which the therapist must impose
on the patient must be equally valid for himself, and he cannot enjoy
some of the benefits which other professions are permitted to enjoy,"
he writes. "Therefore, I made a mistake when I initially thought
my bequest could be used for charitable purposes. Even if this could
be done in strict anonymity, without any benefit to the therapist's
prestige, it still would have been against a self-evident and therefore
unwritten basic principle." The case history ends with a wonderful
twist. Eissler gradually comes to believe that the patient's apparently
loving gesture was in fact an expression of her hatred of him--an
expression of the negative transference that had never been allowed
to emerge during the treatment. "She was a woman of the world,
quite aware of the ill repute in which some people hold psychiatry
and psychoanalysis, precisely because of the allegation that monetary
interests play a prominent role in these specialties. Not only must
she have known that I would never accept her legacy, but she must
also have been aware of the danger and suspicion to which she exposed
me. With particular finesse, under the guise of a special favor, she
made me the victim of an ambivalence which must have dated far back
in our relationship."
Eissler has subjected his relationship
with Jeffrey Masson to the same self-unsparing scrutiny. When, a few
weeks after returning from Berkeley, I spoke with him in his office,
he said, "I search myself for my ambivalence toward Freud. To
have put someone like Masson in a position where he might become Secretary
of the Archives! To have made such a blunder at the end of the game!
I wouldn't listen to anybody. Even my own secretary warned me about
him." Eissler sat behind his huge, unbelievably disorderly desk--on
which papers, books, journals, newspapers, letters were strewn like
an adolescent's clothing--and I sat facing him. His back was to a
window through which the dark, bare trees of Central Park swayed and
the lights of the East Side glowed faintly.
"But isn't there another explanation?"
I said. "That you were fond of him and wouldn't hear ill spoken
"The homosexual explanation,"
Eissler said. "Yes, he had great homosexual appeal, strong appeal.
Not that I ever had any homosexual fantasies about him. But I find
the homosexual explanation even worse. I prefer the other explanation."
"He still can't accept being fired,"
I said. "His narcissism was wounded when you withdrew your approval."
"Well, my narcissism was wounded
when I was proved to be a fool! You know how my colleagues feel about
me after this."
"You had no doubts about him before
the Times articles?" I asked.
"I am guilty," Eissler said.
"I was taken in. I thought he was a godsend. I had long wanted
to retire from the Archives, and here was just the right man. He was
young and idealistic, he had trained as an analyst for ten years,
he was dedicated to psychoanalysis, he knew German, he was fulltime.
What a plum, I thought. So he had some faults. I saw them. I wasn't
that big a fool. But everybody has faults. I made excuses for him.
He was young. There was an incident when he offered to give material
to another young scholar, Peter Swales, which he had no business offering
him. But I gave him another chance. I have been accused of being too
rigid; I thought, I will not behave rigidly in this. He talked too
much. I would always know his itinerary when he travelled, because
I would get telephone calls wherever he went from people complaining
about him. I continued to make excuses. But finally, when those newspaper
articles came out, it gradually dawned on me that this was an impossible
situation. Don't you agree with me? Am I really crazy when I have
the impression that someone who says that the sterility of psychoanalysis
was caused by Freud isn't the right person to be Secretary of the
Freud Archives?" Eissler paused, then added, "He was always
pleasant and nice to me. He would give me presents. He was mean to
others. Then, finally, he was mean to me. He wouldn't give me back
the tapes I had made over thirty years, which I had given him to transcribe.
I had to sue to get them back."
Freud: Biologist of the Mind
Frank J. Sulloway
Chapter 13: The Myth of the Hero in the Psychoanalytic Movement (pp.
Few scientific figures, if any, are as shrouded by legend as is
Freud. How and why has this legend become so well developed? And what
does the Freud legend tell us about the man and his psychoanalytic
Above all, the traditional account of
Freud's achievements has acquired its mythological proportions at
the expense of historical context. Indeed, historical "decontextualization"
is a prerequisite for good myths, which invariably seek to deny history.
This denial process has followed two main tendencies in psychoanalytic
history--namely, the extreme reluctance of Freud and his loyal followers
to acknowledge the biological roots of psychoanalysis, thus transforming
Freud into a crypto-biologist (Chapter 12); and the creation and elaboration
of the "myth of the hero" in the psychoanalytic movement.
Virtually all the major legends and misconceptions of traditional
Freud scholarship have sprung from one or the other of these tendencies.
In this chapter I shall explore the
second of these sources of distortion in psychoanalytic history--the
myth of the hero. I shall also attempt to show how the two great myths
of Freud as hero and Freud as pure psychologist have achieved their
elaborate development by serving highly strategic functions in the
psychoanalytic movement as counteractions to the external forces that
have long opposed it. In short, it is my contention that the expedient
denial and refashioning of history has been an indispensable part
of the psychoanalytic revolution. Perhaps more remarkable still is
the degree to which this whole process of historical censorship, distortion,
embellishment, and propaganda has been effected with the cooperation
of psychoanalysts who would instantly proclaim such phenomena as "neurotic"
if they spotted them in anyone else.
THE MYTH OF THE HERO IN PSYCHOANALYTIC HISTORY
As Henri Ellenberger has pointed out, two main features characterize
the myth of the hero in psychoanalytic history. The first of these
features emphasizes Freud's intellectual isolation during his crucial
years of discovery and exaggerates the hostile reception given to
his theories by an "unprepared" world. The second feature
of the hero legend depicts Freud's "absolute originality"
as a man of science and credits him with the discoveries of his predecessors,
contemporaries, rivals, and followers (Ellenberger 1970:547).
Such myths about Freud the psychoanalytic
hero are far from being just a casual by-product of his highly charismatic
personality or eventful life. Nor are these myths merely random distortions
of the biographical facts. Rather, Freud's life history has lent itself
to an archetypal pattern shared by almost all hero myths, and his
biography has often been remolded to fit this archetypal pattern whenever
suggestive biographical details have first pointed the way.
Joseph Campbell, who has surveyed hundreds
of examples of hero myths in The Hero with a Thousand Faces
(1968), has described the archetypal hero in detail. Although Campbell
does not discuss the Freud case, his model of the classical hero's
life-path can fruitfully be applied to the Freud legend. What is significant
historically in the heroic parallels that follow is not so much the
events themselves-which might easily seem fortuitous to an outsider-but
rather that precisely these coincidental points were eagerly seized
upon by Freud's biographers and made central to the Freud legend.
Nor does the aura of heroic myth about Freud invalidate its frequent
kernel of biographical truth; for it is the bona fide heroes, of which
Freud was certainly one, who inspire the best hero myths. It is in
this general sense that the classical myth of the hero seems so suggestive
to the thoughtful student of Freud's life.
According to Campbell's survey, symbolic
"rites of passage" and the theme of a "perilous journey"
are typical in such stories. The dangerous journey itself has three
common motifs: isolation, initiation, and return, all of which appear
prominently in the Freud legend.' Take the theme of the perilous journey.
The initial call to adventure, Campbell notes, is usually precipitated
by a "chance" circumstance (cf. the remarkable case of Anna
O., which antihero Josef Breuer, "intimidated" by his own
momentous discovery, would not publish but happened to discuss with
the more persistent Freud). A temporary refusal of the call (in Freud's
case for some six years) may then occur; if so, its later acceptance
may be assisted by another protective figure or guide (cf. Charcot,
who subsequently convinced Freud of the lawlike nature of hysterical
phenomena and thus led him to return to the whole subject). The hero
must now survive a succession of difficult trials, and he may be misled
in the process by women who act as temptresses (cf. the blunder of
Freud's seduction theory, which temporarily diverted him from discovering
infantile sexuality and the Oedipus complex). But a secret helper
continues to aid the hero (viz., Fliess in his supposedly invaluable
role as a "transference" figure during Freud's courageous
self-analysis). At this stage along the "heropath," atonement
with the father is another frequent theme (cf. Freud's coming to terms
with his own Oedipus complex following his father's death in 1896).
The most dangerous part of the journey
may be overland or on water, but, as Campbell emphasizes, "fundamentally
it is inward--into the depths where obscure resistances are overcome,
and long lost, forgotten powers are revivified, to be made available
for the transformation of the world" (1968:29). The story of
Freud's heroic self-analysis follows this last archetypal subpattern
in many essential respects and may be compared with such equally heroic
episodes as Aeneas' descent into the underworld to learn his destiny
or Moses' leadership of the Hebrews during the Exodus from Egypt.
Of this "first" self-analysis, Eissler writes, for example:
"The heroism--one is inclined to describe it so--that was necessary
to carry out such an undertaking has not yet been sufficiently appreciated.
But anyone who has ever undergone a personal analysis will know how
strong the impulse is to take flight from insight into the unconscious
and the repressed.... Freud's self-analysis will one day take a place
of eminence in the history of ideas, just as the fact that it took
place at all will remain, possibly for ever, a problem that is baffling
to the psychologist" (1971 : 279-80). Similarly, another biographer
calls the self-analysis "the boldest measure a man has ever tried
on himself" (Robert 1966:91). It is said to have been truly "herculean,"
Freud's "most heroic feat," and so forth (Jones 1953:319;
1955:4). Joseph Campbell, himself a Jung devotee, compares the journey
of the archetypal hero to a temporary loss of "ego control"
upon entering the forbidding world of the personal unconscious--a
journey whose return, he adds, culminates with the victory of the
ego over the forces of the unconscious (1968: 217).
Having undergone his superhuman ordeal,
the archetypal hero now emerges as a person transformed, possessing
the power to bestow great benefits upon his fellow man (Campbell 1968:30).
Upon his return home, however, the hero usually finds himself faced
by nonunderstanding opposition to his new vision of the world. Finally,
after a long struggle, the hero's teachings are accepted, and he receives
his due reward and fame (cf. Freud's "emergence from isolation"
into international recognition [Jones 1955:31 )
Certain aspects of the archetypal hero
myth are more developed than others in Freud's life. But the general
motif of a journey, with its substages of adventure, isolation, initiation,
and return, followed by hostile rejection and then fame, is unmistakable.-
The analogy of a heroic journey was not lost upon Freud himself, who
chose as his motto for The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a)
the following line from Vergil's Aeneid : "Flectere si nequeo
superos, Acheronta movebo [If Heaven I can not bend, then Hell
I will arouse!]"-an allusion to the underworld, that is, the
unconscious and its dark forces (Aeneid 7. 312; Virgil, Loeb Classical
Library). Similarly, the theme of a journey is aptly captured by Freud's
famous statement that "The interpretation of dreams is the
royal road to a knowledge o f the unconscious activities of the mind"
(1900a, S.E., 5:608).
The two subthemes of isolation and rejection
have been embellished perhaps more than any other aspects of the Freud
legend. I shall therefore discuss these themes in detail, comparing
them with the historical reality behind them.
THE RECEPTION OF FREUD'S THEORIES: MYTH AND ACTUALITY
One of the most well-entrenched legends associated with the traditional
account of Freud's life concerns the "hostile" and even
"outraged" manner in which the publication of his psychoanalytic
ideas was supposedly received. At first, so goes this traditional
story, Freud's more creative discoveries, such as his theory of dreams,
were "simply ignored." We are told by Ernest Jones (1953:360-61),
for instance, that The Interpretation of Dreams had yet to
be reviewed by a scientific periodical as late as eighteen months
after its publication. Jones adds that only five reviews of The
Interpretation of Dreams ever appeared, and three of them were
definitely unfavorable. "Seldom," Jones (1953:361) remarks,
"has [such] an important book produced no echo whatever."
But this initial conspiracy of silence
did not last long, Jones goes on to assert. When Three Essays on
the Theory of Sexuality appeared in 1905, Freud's questioning
of the sexual innocence of childhood set off a storm of Victorian
protest against his "indecent" theories. "The Interpretation
of Dreams had been hailed as fantastic and ridiculous," Jones
comments, "but the Three Essays were shockingly wicked.
Freud was a man with an evil and obscene mind. . . . This assault
on the pristine innocence of childhood was unforgivable" (1955:12).
Freud has provided a similar impression
of the "vacuum" that surrounded him as a result of his novel
and increasingly unwelcome theories. "For more than ten years
after my separation from Breuer," he wrote in his Autobiography,
"I had no followers. I was completely isolated. In Vienna I was
shunned; abroad no notice was taken of me. My Interpretation of
Dreams, published in 1900, was scarcely reviewed in the technical
journals" (1925d, S.E., 20:48). Freud soon came to recognize,
as he tells us in "On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement,"
that "I was one of those who have `disturbed the sleep of the
world,' . . . and that I could not reckon upon objectivity and tolerance."
These were the days of Freud's "splendid isolation," as
he nostalgically recalled these early years while describing the gloomy
prospects that he had then envisioned:
I pictured the future as follows:--I should probably succeed
in maintaining myself by means of the therapeutic success of the new
procedure, but science would ignore me entirely during my lifetime;
some decades later, someone else would infallibly come upon the same
things--for which the time was not now ripe-would achieve recognition
for them and bring me honour as a forerunner whose failure had been
inevitable. Meanwhile, like Robinson Crusoe, I settled down as comfortably
as possible on my desert island. When I look back to those lonely
years, away from the pressures and confusions of today, it seems like
a glorious heroic age. My "splendid isolation" was not without
its advantages and charms.... My publications, which I was able to
place with a little trouble, could always lag far behind my knowledge,
and could be postponed as long as I pleased, since there was no doubtful
"priority" to be defended. (1914d S.E., 14:22
This traditional historical scenario of isolation and rejection has
served as a congenial model for most subsequent Freud biographers.
If we turn to the actual historical record,
following the systematic researches of Bry and Rifkin (1962), Ellenberger
(1970), and Decker (1971, 1975, 1977), we find that the initial reception
of Freud's theories was quite different indeed from this traditional
account. According to Bry and Rifkin, Freud's book on dreams was by
no means ignored:
... The Interpretation of Dreams was initially reviewed
in at least eleven general magazines and subject journals, including
seven in the fields of philosophy and theology, psychology, neuropsychiatry,
psychic research, and criminal anthropology. The reviews are individualized
presentations, not just routine notices, and together amount to more
than 7,500 words.
Thus in contrast to the picture painted by Freud, Jones, and Freud's
biographers more generally, Freud's two books on dreams received at
least thirty separate reviews totaling some seventeen thousand words
(an average of 570 words per review).
The interval between publication and
review averages about a year, which was not bad at all. For the essay,
On Dreams [1901a], we have found nineteen reviews, all of which
appeared in medical and psychiatric journals, with a total of some
9,500 words and an average time interval of eight months. It appears
that Freud's books on dreams were widely and promptly reviewed in
recognized journals which included the outstanding ones in their respective
Furthermore, the editors of international
annual bibliographies in psychology and philosophy selected Freud's
books on dreams for inclusion. In this country [America], The Psychological
Index listed The Interpretation of Dreams within four months
of publication. Roughly by the end of 1901, Freud's contribution had
been brought to the attention of medical, psychiatric, psychological,
and generally educated circles on an international scale.
... Some of the reviews are thorough
and highly competent, several are written by authors of major research
on the subject, all are respectful. Criticism appears after a fair
summary of the book's main contents.
Nor were these reviews predominantly hostile
to Freud's new theory of dreams. The very first notice to appear--three
thousand words in the December 1899 issue of Die Gegenwart (Berlin)--described
The Interpretation of Dreams as an "epoch-making" (epochalen)
work (Metzentin 1899:389). The psychologist William Stern, whose review
Jones (1953:361) characterized along with several others as "almost
as annihilating as complete silence would have been," offered the
following words of praise for Freud's researches:
What appears to me valuable above all is [the author's] endeavor not
to confine himself, in the explanation of the dream life, to the sphere
of imagination, the play of associations, phantasy activity, [and]
somatic relationships, but to point out the manifold, so little known
threads that lead down to the more nuclear world of the affects and
that will perhaps indeed make understandable the formation and selection
of the material of the imagination. In other respects, too, the book
contains many details of high stimulative value, fine observations
and theoretical vistas; but above all [it contains] extraordinarily
rich material of very exactly recorded dreams, which must be highly
welcome to every worker in this field. (1901:131)
Similarly, Paul Nacke, a psychiatrist of international reputation
and a veteran reviewer in the German-speaking medical world, proclaimed
of Interpretation that "the book is psychologically the
most profound that dream psychology has produced thus far"
(1901a:168; Nacke's italics).
Although Nacke, like many other reviewers, disagreed with certain of
Freud's specific dream interpretations, he concluded that "in its
entirety the work is forged as a unified whole and thought through with
genius [genial durchdacht]" (p. 168).
Other reviewers were equally impressed
by Freud's masterwork. Wilhelm Weygandt, who was later to oppose psychoanalysis
after its emergence as an organized movement, declared that "the
book offers well-observed, rich material and goes further in effort
toward the analysis of . . . [dreams] than anyone has yet tried"
(1901:548-49) In Geneva, Theodore Flournoy praised Freud's "sagacious
penetration and subtle ingenuity" in laying bare the psychology
of the dream life 0903:73). Additional laudatory opinions could be cited
from other reviews. In short, the general reception of Freud's researches
on dreams may be characterized as favorable and repeatedly offering
the judgment that they were quite remarkable.
As for Three Essays on the Theory of
Sexuality (1905d)--that "shockingly wicked" work from
which Freud's contemporaries supposedly recoiled--it, too, was well
received by the scientific world. "In the ten reviews we have been
able to examine," Bry and Rifkin (1962 27) report, "certain
of Freud's views were questioned, but the more eminent reviewers welcomed
his contribution." The remarks of Albert Eulenburg, the well-known
Berlin neuropathologist, were typical:
The insightful [geistvolle]
Viennese neuropathologist, whose psychoanalytic researches have
proven to be so significant for the understanding of hysteria, dream
life, and . . . the theory of wit, has recently again presented
us with a ripe fruit of his studies. . . . [The work] throws a wealth
of new ideas and often arresting and dazzling apercus into the still
unilluminated, nocturnal darkness of sexual life--[views] which
one cannot cursorily pass over regardless of how one takes a stand
on them in detail.... (1906:740)
Paul Nacke, who had earlier praised Freud's Interpretation of
Dreams, reaffirmed his admiration for the author of Three Essays:
The reviewer would know of
no other work that treats important sexual problems in so brief, so
ingenious, and so brilliant a manner. To the reader and even to the
expert, entirely new horizons are opened up, and teachers and parents
receive new doctrines for the understanding of sexuality of children....
Admittedly, the author certainly generalizes his theses too much....
Just as everyone especially loves his own children, so does the author
love his theories. If we are not able to follow him here and in so
many other matters, this detracts very little from the value of the
whole.... The reader alone can form a correct idea of the enormous
richness of the contents. Few publications might be so worth their
money as this one! (19o6: 166; Nacke's italics)
Echoing Nacke's words, Numa Praetorius concluded in his annual review
of the sexology literature for Magnus Hirschfeld's prestigious Jahrbuch
fur sexuelle Zwischenstufen that no work published in 1905 had
equaled Freud's for its insight into the problems of human sexuality
Of particular historical significance
is that not one reviewer criticized Freud for his discussion of' infantile
sexual life, although some did question in this connection his more
specific assertions about oral and anal erotogenic zones. "Nothing
is more remote from the truth," Ellenberger reminds us, "than
the usual assumption that Freud was the first to introduce novel sexual
theories at a time when anything sexual was 'taboo' " (1970:
545). And as Johnston cogently sums up the growing historical consensus:
"Whatever else may have isolated Freud in Vienna, it was not
his scrutiny of sex. In a city where SacherMasoch, Krafft-Ebing, and
Weininger were read with nonchalance, Freud's pansexualism hardly
shocked anyone" (1972:249).
Origins of the "Hostile-Reception" Myth
In the light of such blatant contradictions between the actual historical
facts and the traditional account of Freud's reception, one is naturally
curious to understand what could have initiated such a myth. Although
Freud indeed complained genuinely in his letters to Fliess, bemoaning
the unappreciative and inadequate reception given to his book on dreams,
he was both incompletely aware of' the actual attention given it (especially
outside Vienna) and peculiarly jaundiced toward even the most favorable
reviews that came to his attention. 5 Thus he considered that first
review in Die Gegenwart to be "empty" and "inadequate,"
although he still managed to "forgive it" on account of
"the one word 'epoch-making'" (Origins, p. 306; Metzentin
1899). Several months later, Freud reported to Fliess that the Umschau
had carried "a short, friendly and uncomprehending review.- That
was the notice by Oppenheimer concluding that Freud's theories were
"very ingenious and the whole book very much worth reading"
(1900:219; Origins, p. 320). Similarly, Freud was "astonished
to find a really friendly feuilleton article in a newspaper,
the Wiener Fremdenblatt," a statement that follows Freud's
despondent claim that "not a leaf has stirred to show that the
interpretation of dreams meant anything to anyone" (Origins,
p. 311; H. K. 1900).
What Freud evidently wanted--and had
fully expected--was a series of lengthy articles in the more technical
medical weeklies in Vienna, Berlin, and other major European cities.
When these were not forthcoming (for reasons that I shall treat in
a moment), he despaired of receiving scientific recognition even within
his own lifetime and became more than ever convinced that he was "isolated,"
and that his theories were "shunned" (Origins, p.
307, 318; Decker 1975:140).
Freud's disillusionment was apparently
compounded by a series of misapprehensions on his part. In addition
to his incomplete picture of the actual reception of his book, he
failed to appreciate that his work had fallen between normal disciplinary
divisions as they then existed in the fields of psychology and medicine.
The study of dreams, being part of psychology, was then considered
to fall under the formal auspices of philosophy, not medicine. "The
Interpretation of Dreams was reviewed in nonmedical journals,"
Bry and Rifkin (1962:23) explain, "because the topic was not
suitable for the medical review literature. The essay On Dreams,
however, was reviewed in medical and psychiatric journals because
it appeared in a series [Leopold Lowenfeld's Grenzfragen des Nerven-
and Seelenlebens] with the word `nervous' in its title."
As for the favorable impression that Interpretation made in
the popular and literary press, this apparently meant little to Freud.
"It seems clear that Freud's ability to convince people with
literary interests," Decker (1975:134 ) observes, "was never
in doubt. But for a number of years Freud was not particularly interested
in the lay reaction; it was medical acceptance that he at first craved."
All of this is not to say that Freud
and his theories met with no significant opposition whatsoever, for
they did indeed, especially as the psychoanalytic movement gained
organized momentum. The point I wish to make here is that strong opposition
was not the initial reaction to Freud's theories; nor was any opposition
premised upon the purported triumvirate of sexual prudery, hostility
to innovation, and anti-Semitism that dominates the traditional historical
scenario on this subject. Furthermore, it is important to distinguish
Freud's theories of dreams and sexual development, which were both
well received at first, from his theories of the neuroses, which provoked
increasingly lively opposition owing to his predominantly single-factor
(sexual) explanation. Opposition to Freud's etiological theories dates
from the mid-1890s, but even here the objections raised by Freud's
contemporaries were far more rational--and justified--than psychoanalyst-historians
have been willing to admit (Chapter 3).
Sources of Opposition to Freud's Theories
If we look at the scientific opposition to Freud's psychoanalytic
theories in specific terms, we see that there were four principal
foci of criticism that characterized such debate during the first
decade of the twentieth century: (1) Freud's controversial views on
etiology; (2) Freud's innovative psychoanalytic methodology, which
was seen by some as unscientific; (3) the revolutionary boldness and
frank language with which Freud championed his various theories; and
(4) the rise of psychoanalysis as an organized movement. To show just
how far removed the controversies over psychoanalysis actually were
from a simple clash between "the hero" and his "tradition-bound"
opposition, I shall briefly review each of these sources of contention.
Freud's controversial views on sexual
etiology. As previously mentioned, perhaps the major source of
medical opposition to Freud was neither his conception of the dream
process nor his doctrine of sexuality, but rather his etiological
interpretation of the neuroses. What is more, Freud's opponents saw
him not so much as a "depraved revolutionary" on this subject
as they did a misguided reactionary who was harking back to the superstitions
of the past. The psychiatrist Konrad Rieger (1896) was apparently
the first to object to Freud's theories on such grounds. After reading
Freud's (1896b) exposition on the seduction theory, Rieger concluded
that Freud's attempt to unite hysteria with paranoia under the common
rubric of sexual etiology threatened to destroy one of the most important
distinctions in all of psychiatry. Such a confusion of etiologies,
Rieger insisted, "can lead to nothing else but to a simply horrible
old wives' psychiatry" (1896: 196).
To appreciate Rieger's criticisms, it
must be understood that hysteria, as an often sporadic and curable
disorder, was thought to have little in common with the predominantly
organic and incurable affliction of paranoia. Rieger's apprehensions
become even more understandable when one turns to his autobiography
(1929 ), where he explains that he and his contemporaries had been
trained in a period when mystical tendencies, including attempted
exorcisms of sexual demons from the body of the hysteric, were still
remembered in psychiatric circles. Rieger and his generation had effected
a break from such superstitions, especially in connection with organically
classified diseases like paranoia. It is for this reason that the
derogatory phrase "old wives' psychiatry" became such a
common epithet among psychiatrists in referring to Freud's seemingly
antiquated theories. As Bry and Rifkin have summed up this whole episode:
The trend of the time was to try to establish a scientific,
somatically oriented psychiatry in place of the older theory, which
related mental and nervous disorders to disturbances of the affects
and emotions, often to sexual disturbances, A theory of the sexual
etiology of neuroses could only appear to be, as Mobius put it, `a
regrettable backsliding into the popular superstition." Freud
[I 926e] himself became aware of this background and later called
it an excessive reaction to a conquered phase in medicine. The phrase
"old wives' psychiatry" implied that Freud was opposed by
some of his contemporaries not as a revolutionary, but as a reactionary,
who threatened to undermine a hard-won and precarious discipline in
the still young fields of psychiatry and psychology. (1962:14; see
also Decker 1971:479-80)
The fact that Freud's medical colleagues
remained in the dark until 1905 concerning his important decision, reached
eight years earlier, to abandon his seduction theory of psychoneurosis,
only added to the reactionary image Freud had already acquired around
the turn of the century. In contrast to him, sexologists Havelock Ellis
and Albert Moll were conspicuously active at this time in arguing that
sexual feelings are normal in childhood, and that they should not, per
se, be considered a cause of later sexual pathology (see Chapter 8).
When one also recalls that it was precisely such information (along
with Ellis's publication of 1903) that Freud later cited in his Three
Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d) to justify his abandonment
of the seduction theory, then one must also respect Freud's infamous
Viennese opponent Emil Raimann for having published the same counterargument
a year earlier than Freud (Raimann 1904: 216 ). Thus, unlike the myth,
certain of Freud's opponents, even prior to 19o5, were using the existence
of childhood sexuality to refute Freud's own reactionary theories of
The findings of the sexologists had likewise
been influential in turning the tide against the predominantly environmentalist
explanation of sexual pathology that had temporarily gained vogue during
the 1890s (Chapter 8 ). Although Freud (1906a ), too, later conceded
the need for a more hereditary viewpoint in his work, he still encountered
continued opposition from those neuropathologists and psychiatrists
who held to the even more organic and hereditary theories of the day
Freud's psychoanalytic methodology.
Freud's innovative method of free association elicited criticism on
two principal levels. After reading The Interpretation of Dreams
(I900a), many reviewers judged certain of Freud's specific dream interpretations
as arbitrary, unconvincing, and even far-fetched. Several reviewers
were also dubious about his new methodology as a whole, considering
it unscientific and mentioning their concern over proper disciplinary
standards in the young science of psychology. Once again Freud seemed
like a reactionary, not a revolutionary, to some of his medical colleagues
owing to his retreat into self'-observation, symbolic interpretations,
and the sometimes dubious proofs afforded by an overly "free"
association of ideas. Thus, William Stern, who had otherwise found many
good things to say about Freud's dream researches, commented: "The
inadmissibility of this game of dream interpretation [Traumdeuterei]
as a scientific method had to be emphasized with all trenchancy; because
the danger is great that uncritical minds might like this interesting
play of ideas and that we would thereby pass into a complete mysticism
and chaotic arbitrariness. One can then prove everything with anything"
(1901:133). Another reviewer, Hugo Liepmann, reiterated this same general
criticism when he stated that "the ingenious artist of thoughts
triumphs over the scientific investigator" (1901:239).
Symbolic interpretations were a further
source of skepticism about Freud's methodology. Wilhelm Weygandt, who
had praised Freud for going deeper into the analysis of dreams than
anyone had done before, singled out the special dangers of symbolic
interpretations "But there is often too much of a good thing, and
the false paths of an unfruitful symbolism are not avoided" (1901:549)
The same sorts of criticism recurred in
psychiatric circles when it came to assessing the reliability of Freud's
clinical interpretations. And here the previous doubts about his method
of dream interpretation, which Freud was also using to substantiate
his clinical theories, only compounded the misgivings of fellow psychotherapists.
"I detect the principal source of fallacy," Albert Moll contended
of Freud's etiological theories, "in this arbitrary interpretation
of alleged [dream] symbols" (1909; 1912a trans.: 191).
Still, in spite of such objections it
is surprising to learn how many of Freud's later opponents initially
accepted and even employed his new clinical methods (Decker 1971). As
late as 1905, Hermann Oppenheim called Freud's clinical work "original,"
"significant," and "ingenious" before changing his
tune on psychoanalysis a few years later. Freud's study of obsessional
neurosis, Oppenheim acknowledged in this earlier period, was "a
very interesting attempt by a gifted physician to grasp a stubborn disease
by its roots." Oppenheim also accepted Freud's childhood sexual
etiology for the phobias of adult neurotics as being "valid for
a large number of cases" (1905:1152, 1158, 1161). Another influential
psychiatrist who initially supported Freud's new methods, together with
the frequent diagnosis of sexual neurosis, was Theodor Ziehen (1902b:499,
505-7). Between 1898 and '907, Ziehen accepted eleven different psychoanalytic
papers for publication in his journal, Monatsschrift fur Psychiatrie
und Neurologie, including four by Freud. "In remembering Ziehen
only as an enemy of psychoanalysis," Decker points out, "one
leaves out almost ten years of his professional career during which
he occasionally practiced psychoanalysis himself, never condemned it,
and reported its efficacy in certain situations" (1971:466). Finally,
Ziehen's early attitude toward Freud, which showed admiration for Freud's
works while reserving judgment on certain issues, was typical of the
medical profession more generally in the period from 1895 to 1907.
Freud's revolutionary style. Freud's
style as a thinker and writer could not have failed to strike his readers
as that of a revolutionary personality in science. On the subject of
sex, this circumstance attached a stigma to Freud's name, especially
after his views had begun to circulate outside professional circles.
Freud was definitely not one to retreat into veiled allusions or, like
Krafft-Ebing, to employ the Latin language when discussing sexual matters.
Havelock Ellis later testified to the novelty of Freud's written approach,
emphasizing that "in the matter of expression and speech his attitude
was completely revolutionary. . . . In a simple, precise, and detailed
manner he described the sexual phenomena presented by his patients,
without attenuation or apology, but as a matter of course. This had
never been done before in medical literature" (1939a: 310 ). It
was especially in his discussions of infantile sexuality, Ellis further
remarks, that Freud exhibited the unmistakable stamp of his revolutionary
boldness by using such deliberately startling terms as "incest"
and "Oedipus complex":
Various medical authorities before Freud had recognized
the importance of sex as well as its aptitude to appear in childhood.
But they had been careful to make their statements with moderation
and to express them temperately, so that they might be accepted without
arousing either enthusiasm or hostility. Freud's outspoken and even
extravagant presentation of the subject, fortified by a literary skill
which has not always been recognized, was, on the one hand, warmly
welcomed by those who had never dared to reveal a secret sense of
the importance of sexual phenomena, and, on the other hand, indignantly
rejected by those who cherished all the ancient traditions of the
mingled sacredness and obscenity of sex. (1939a:310-11)
Seen in these terms, it was not only
what Freud said but how he said it that alienated many of his professional
colleagues. (Still, the specialists in sexual pathology were generally
unfazed by Freud's publications in this sphere and welcomed his outspokenness
in contrast to the often dry nature of such publications.) In lay
circles the situation was especially divisive; and when Freud's reputation
began to achieve notoriety in this domain, his matter-of-fact attitude
toward sexuality only served to further polarize the reception of
his ideas. In Vienna this polarization occurred earlier than elsewhere,
since Freud's unorthodox theories soon became widely known through
the reports of patients and fellow physicians (cf. Raimann 1904: 217).
One incident in 1901 along these lines
illustrates the sort of atmosphere in Vienna that led Freud to consider
himself isolated from his contemporaries. At Breuer's urging, Freud
was invited to give a lecture on his theories before the Philosophical
Society. Freud explained to his hosts that all sorts of intimate and
sexual matters would have to be mentioned, and that the lecture would
not therefore be suitable for a "mixed" audience. Thereupon
two members of the society came to hear the lecture at Freud's home
and, having done so, called it "wonderful" and told Freud
that "their audience would take no exception to it." A date
for the lecture was accordingly set, but at the last minute Freud
received an express letter from the society telling him that "some
members had objected after all" and asking him, as Freud recounted
to Fliess, "to be kind enough to start by illustrating my theory
with inoffensive examples and then announce that I was coming to objectionable
matter and make a pause, during which the ladies could leave the hall....
Such is scientific life in Vienna!" (Origins, p. 329).
Naturally Freud was not one to go along with such a scheme, so the
lecture had to be canceled.
G. Stanley Hall encountered much the
same problem in America owing to his own unrestrained manner of writing
about sex. "To realize the material presented," Edward Thorndike
wrote in a review of Hall's Adolescence (1904), "one must
combine his memories of medical textbooks, erotic poetry and inspirational
preaching" (1904:144). Thorndike had nothing but praise, however,
for the staid and dignified treatment of the sexual life of the child
by Albert Moll (1909; trans. 1912a). In an Introduction to the English-language
edition of Moll's book, Thorndike later contrasted Moll with certain
other unnamed sensationalists (Hall and Freud?) writing on the subject
of childhood sex:
In the case of any exciting movement in advance of traditional
custom, the forerunners are likely to combine a certain one-sidedness
and lack of balance with their really valuable progressive ideas.
The greater sagacity and critical power are more often found amongst
the men of science who avoid public discussion of exciting social
or moral reforms, and are suspicious of startling and revolutionary
doctrines or practices. It is therefore fortunate that a book on the
sexual life during childhood should have been written by a man of
critical, matter-of-fact mind, of long experience as a medical specialist,
and of wide scholarship, who has no private interest in any exciting
psychological doctrine [like Freud] or educational panacea [like Hall].
In short, once it appeared to sober scientists such as Thorndike
that Sigmund Freud--like Hall (but unlike their German analogue Albert
Moll)--was a fanatic leading a medical crusade, and that he was unfortunately
supported in his endeavors by a growing number of zealous followers,
opposition to Freud's doctrines inevitably increased. Thus we come
to the fourth and last basic source of opposition to psychoanalysis.
The rise of psychoanalysis as a movement.
After Jung, Bleuler, and their Zurich group established contact
with Freud in 1906, psychoanalysis reached a certain critical mass
as a movement. By the end of that year, Freud's Psychological Wednesday
Society boasted some twenty members, including Adler, Stekel, Sadger,
Federn, Hitschmann, and Rank. These early followers were a proud and
arrogant lot. They idolized Freud as the first person to have done
truly scientific work on each of the major subjects upon which psychoanalysis
had made its mark--on dreams, the unconscious, child development,
and sexual theory, not to mention the more traditional medical topics
of hysteria, paranoia, neurosis, and the like (Bry and Rifkin 1962:28).
Freud himself frequently encouraged this attitude, as when he wrote
Jung on 1 January 1907, in the early stages of their relationship
: "The `leading lights' of psychiatry really don't amount to
much; the future belongs to us and our views, and the younger men--everywhere
most likely--side actively with us" (Freud Jung Letters,
p. 18). Other prominent members of the medical profession naturally
took offense at such blatant disregard for their own work.
Furthermore, since Freud had little
time or inclination to answer all the critiques of psychoanalysis
that increasingly began to appear in the medical literature, he left
this task to his eager and highly combative disciples. These followers
resented that psychoanalysis was not better received in medical circles,
and in their polemical writings and public statements a spiteful attitude
was generally evident. The effect of their pronouncements was to alienate
many of those medical men who had at first supported Freud's work.
As Shakow and Rapaport observe, many neuropathologists, such as Janet
in France and Prince and Sidis in America, "had initially partially
accepted Freud's ideas, but this recognition was withdrawn when they
later encountered the disregard and acrimony of Freud's pupils. Priority
issues came to the fore, disregard was matched by disregard, and argument
took the place of any earlier wish for understanding" (1964:107).
Some idea of the polemical atmosphere surrounding the rise of the
psychoanalytic movement can be gathered from the discussions at the
International Congress of Medical Psychology held in Brussels during
August 1910. Ellenberger provides a summary of the lively exchanges
that took place at this Brussels Congress:
At times it was as though the young [Freudians] would reply with a
massive attack to anything the old would say. An example was Ernst
Tromner's paper on "The Process of Falling Asleep" and hypnagogic
phenomena. Foremost in the discussion of this paper was Seif, who
took exception with the author because he had not quoted Freud and
Silberer, adding that "the material was ripe for a psychoanalytic
working-through." Forel rose to protest, whereupon Muthmann,
Jones, and Graeter energetically supported Seif. De Montet undertook
to contradict Freud's theory, and then Tromner reminded the audience
that his paper had been on the subject of falling asleep, rather than
on dreams. In the discussion of one of the next papers, Vogt protested
against Seif's pretention in forbidding him to speak of dreams and
the unconscious: "I object that a man like myself who has collected
his own dreams since the age of sixteen and has investigated the problems
under discussion here since 1894, that is, almost as long as Freud
has done and longer than any of his disciples, should be refused the
right to discuss these questions by any Freudian!" (Ellenberger
The rise of psychoanalysis as a movement
thus served to embroil the reception of Freud's ideas even further.
Neuropathologists like Oppenheim, Ziehen, Weygandt, Eulenburg, and others,
who had originally held a respectful and even friendly attitude toward
psychoanalysis, now felt compelled to take a negative public stance
In addition to the criticisms that had
already been raised before Freud acquired a substantial following, common
objections against psychoanalysis now began to include : (1) that psychoanalysts
were continually introducing their assertions with the statement, "We
know from psychoanalytic experience that ... ," and then leaving
the burden of proof to others; (2) that Freud's disciples refused to
listen to opinions that did not coincide with their own; (3) that they
never published statistics on the success of their method; (4) that
they persisted in claiming that only those who had used the psychoanalytic
method had the right to challenge Freud; (5) that they saw all criticism
as a form of "neurotic resistance"; (6) that psychoanalysts
tended to ignore all work that had been done before them and then proceeded
to make unwarranted claims about their own originality; (7) that they
frequently addressed themselves to the wider lay audience as if their
theories were already a proven fact, thus making their opponents seem
narrowminded and ignorant; (8) that so-called wild analysts, or individuals
without proper training, were analyzing patients in irresponsible ways;
and (g) that Freud's followers were becoming a sect, with all of the
prominent features of one, including a fanatical degree of faith, a
special jargon, a sense of moral superiority, and a predilection for
marked intolerance of opponents. In their contemporary context, such
criticisms were considerably more rational and had far more merit than
traditional psychoanalytic historians have been willing to admit.