Sunday, March 12, 2017

Too Much Freud?

Almost 80 years after his death, Freud seems (to me) to remain a controversial character.  Entire careers still revolve around championing him (or at least a portion of his theories) or debunking him.  I'm not qualified to say whether Freudian analysis or the theories it rests upon makes any sense, though I would generally go along with the idea that we do have subconscious desires (not everyone would go this far or would say that Freud got them entirely wrong).  I also feel that therapy that involves talking things out and some elements of self-discovery is probably more useful than the pharmaceutical approach, which seems to be dominating the profession now (if for no other reason that it is seen as faster than the analysis approach and we all know that time=money now).

I'm generally more interested in how Freudian ideas have permeated Western culture.  Lawrence's Sons and Lovers and Roth's Portnoy's Complaint focus on one of the more notable and/or notorious aspects of Freud's theories -- the Oedipus complex.  One could certainly argue that the shift towards stream-of-consciousness writing that permeates many Modernist masterpieces (Ulysses and Mrs. Dalloway in particular) was somewhat launched by Freud, allowing writers to try to tackle what lies somewhat below the surface thoughts.  I don't want this to become an essay on Freud's influence, however, as I don't have all day to write.  I will note that in the middle of Moacyr Scliar's Max and the Cats, Max has fled Nazi Germany and added up in rural Brazil where he encounters a priest who has carved three wooden statues -- Id, Ego and Superego -- which he uses to tell stories to the natives while trying to convert them to Christianity.  Quite a tangle!

Anyway, I was about to launch into D.M. Thomas's The White Hotel, when his introduction said that the novel was deeply immersed in Freudian thought and that a reader might potentially be interested in first reading volumes 3, 8 and 9 from the Pelican Freud Library.  I went and looked up the sequence here:

O 1     Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis
O 2     New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis
   3     Studies on Hysteria
O 4     The Interpretation of Dreams
RO 5     The Psychopathology of Everyday Life
   6     Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious
   7     On Sexuality
RO 8     Case Histories I (Dora and Little Hans)
RO 9     Case Histories II (Wolf Man, Rat Man and Doctor Schreber)
  10     On Psychopathology
  11     Metapsychology
  12     Civilisation, Society and Religion
  13     The Origins of Religion (including Totem and Taboo)
  14     Art and Literature
  15     Historical and Expository Works on Psychoanalysis

I decided at the very least I should read the case studies (though I'll have to check Little Hans out of the library, since I only have a copy of Dora, rather than Case Histories I).

In addition, I have Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (Norton), though I don't know exactly where it fits in the above scheme.  I'm pretty sure I read Five Lectures and The Psychopathology of Everyday Life.  At one point I owned and definitely read Civilization and Its Discontents (which is included in #12 above) but I can't turn it up at the moment.  It is also possible I have read The Interpretation of Dreams (during university) and simply don't remember it (I'm not repressing it, I swear). 

Regardless, over the next couple of months, I'll read the case studies and possibly #3 Studies on Hysteria, and then I'll finally read The White Hotel.  I think I'll catch up on a lot of other reading, but maybe in a couple of years I'll tackle #1, 2 and 4 (and supplement with "On Dreams").  I might further supplement this with Beyond the Pleasure Principle and The Ego and the Id.  I suppose I should read Art and Literature (#14) one of these days, and I'd probably end with the two works on religion (#12 and 13), though Totem and Taboo is much shorter, so I'd probably read that as a stand-alone work first.  That's probably enough Freud for one life time... 

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