Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) reveals himself in this autobiography, which is simultaneously an account of the early history of psychoanalysis, to have been an outsider from the start.
This fascinating account describes the journey of a young, Jewish doctor setting out to find his way in the world of professional medicine, his relationships and collaborations, friendships made and lost and his investigations into cocaine, hypnosis and the cathartic method which contributed to the evolution of his conceptual framework and practices. He acknowledges his debts to Josef Breuer, Jean Martin Charcot and others, who provided him with the seeds of his theory of sexual repression, which in turn led him to investigate the sex lives of neurasthenics and the symptoms of anxiety neurosis.
All of these were key elements in the creation of the scientific discipline of psychoanalysis. He highlights the importance of patient observation and describes in detail the processes by which he identified the aetiological factors pertaining to different kinds of disorder. His account of the discoveries that made the genesis of psychoanalysis possible and the difficulties that had to be overcome to truly internationalise it and thereby consolidate his legacy is a remarkable reflection on his life’s work. He describes his time in the United States and the results of meeting with Harvard neurologist James J. Putnam and the philosopher William James.
He outlines how the transition from catharsis to psychoanalysis was far more than a mere name change or a cosmetic exercise but was informed by his studies in infantile sexuality and the biphasic onset of human sexual life, as well as the conceptualisation of the existence of the ego, id and superego. He charts his life’s path, outlining how he came to integrate insights deriving from the Oedipus complex postulate, the free association method and the transference hypothesis, into his work; and he mentions most of the major figures in the field in passing, including Carl Gustav Jung and Alfred Adler, who split from his approach to develop their own methods.
In The Future of an Illusion he considers the role of religion in culture and critically assesses the nature of the sacred experience and religious thinking. In order to avoid the dangers of producing a science biased monologue, he carries out a kind of dialectic discussion between science and religion, expounding his own rational beliefs but juxtaposing them with those of a hypothetical defender of the religious position, both of which voices are skilfully brought to life in Derek Le Page’s reading.
He argues logically and systematically in the rational humanistic tradition that the scientific approach leads to an awakening of the mind and an awareness that religion is essentially a kind of wish fulfilment, an illusion, albeit one that makes life more bearable and satisfying for millions of believers. Science, he concludes, is not an illusion, but it would be illusory to imagine that the truths it offers could be obtained in any other way.
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- W. Stokeley
Average - Freud, Fraud and Flawed
Freud is an interesting guy and, certainly, a significant intellect.
However that didn’t prevent him from the future of his illusion. In An autobiographical study, we hear freuds biography of his professional career. Few personal details can be gleaned here. He goes on to enlighten the listener how he came to study hysteria through hypnosis (caution!) and eventually ‘discovered’ a ‘science’ of psychoanalysis through observation (extreme caution); a science by his own admission which is an ‘art’ and leads patients to project their issues on to the therapist - often falling in love with, hating, or most probably both - the unlucky analyst.
If this seems highly unscientific, it’s because it is - psychoanalysis (sorry Freud) seems likely to be consigned to the garbage bin of history. Indeed he’s been much deried - Nabokov thought it was a fraud; Richard Fyneman was excoriating on the topic.
What is impressive about Freud despite his ecenticities was the fact that he “brought the unconscious to the public consciousness” (I claim to have invented that phrase, although it might be a borrowing).
What is lamentable about this study is how weird it seems. Asserting that children are sexual beings goes greatly against the grain of modern thought, and possibly takes it into some disturbing territory. The obsession with sexual impulse does seem more like Queen Gertrudes’ assertion in Hamlet that “the lady doth protest too much.” As to looking to the Greek classics for the Oedipal and Electra complexes - again to modern ears sounds very strange, and more than a little contrived.
What surprised me most about the autobiography was how much time Freud spent defending himself from his critics. He was certainly aware of all I have raised during his lifetime (other than his later detractors) - and spends much of the book going on about how wrong they are.
As to the “future of an illusion.” This is a considered treatise in favour the scientific method, and religious skepticism. It’s the best bit of the book. But weighing in at the end, as it does, it had already lost me.
The narration isn’t bad, the German pronunciations sound solid. But the drudge through the autobiography had extinguished the desire to continue. I think you would be far better in just reading the essay (it’s not long).
Overall this was a disappointment - the fault being the material, not the rendition - and I’m afraid it’s another one I will be returning.