Secrets of the Soul

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Eli Zaretsky’s Secrets of the Soul: A Social and Cultural History of Psychoanalysis presents a unique and well-researched history of psychoanalysis from Victorian times to present day society. In Victorian times family and societal position determined how individuals defined themselves. With the Enlightenment came the belief that individuals could have a personal, private identification. Psychoanalysis was a powerful tool for self-discovery, which had significant implications. Gender roles, race, and sexuality were no longer socially decided, as men and woman began to determine their own personal beliefs around social roles and sexual partners. Because of its encouragement of individual expression, psychoanalysis went against accepted psychological thought.

Freud constructed his theory of sexual development in part to gain acceptance from the scientific community. After World War I, men who were shell-shocked and woman who worked reinforced the psychoanalytical goal of exploring social roles. The consumerism that flourished after the war also linked well with psychoanalysis; individuals were encouraged to buy what they, not society, desired. Some of Freud’s followers expanded and disagreed with some of its constructs, most notably Carl Jung and Karen Horney.

After World War II, Western society was focused on the family, especially on a woman’s role of wife, mother, and keeper of the home. Because of this societal change, psychoanalysis began to shift its emphasis to the individual’s relationship with the mother. The popularity of psychoanalysis soared during this time and continued until the 1960’s.

The 1960’s saw an end of the dominance of the family, and the rise of feminism, sexual freedom, and social recognition of racism. Freud, although in some respects supporting difference and individual freedom, was seen as old-fashioned for the modern era as individuals who did not fit social mores might be diagnosed with a neurosis or complex. However, psychoanalysis became deeply woven into Western society.

Words and phrases such as “collective unconscious,” “ego,” and “Freudian slip” have remained in language and metaphoric usage. Additionally, today’s problems and challenges will require individuals to look deeply within themselves to discover their own motives, biases, and solutions. Psychoanalysis will continue to be an important tool to enable humanity to become its best collectively through individual introspection.

Review Sources

Booklist 100, no. 17 (May 1, 2004): 1526-1527.

Library Journal 129, no. 10 (June 1, 2004): 162.

The New York Times Book Review 153 (September 5, 2004): 9-10.

Publishers Weekly 251, no. 21 (May 24, 2004): 52.

The Wilson Quarterly 28, no. 3 (Summer, 2004): 125.

Secrets of the Soul

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Psychoanalysis has been one of the most influential intellectual movements of modern times. From its beginnings in the late nineteenth century, it has also been one of the most controversial. Many academic psychologists today reject psychoanalysis as a pseudoscience, and today practicing psychiatrists generally rely more on other therapeutic approaches. At the same time, though, scholars and intellectuals in a wide variety of fields maintain that psychoanalytic ideas offer useful insights into human behavior and literature. In Secrets of the Soul, Eli Zaretsky avoids passing judgment on his subject. Instead, he tries to understand the history of psychoanalysis by placing the movement in a larger cultural and economic setting.

Zaretsky argues that the origins of psychoanalytic thinking and its changes can be traced to a society being shaped by economic developments. He divides the book into three parts, intended to reflect the forms of the economy and their resulting social styles. The first part, “Charismatic Origins: The Crumbling of the Victorian Family System,” considers Sigmund Freud's founding of psychoanalysis during the years from 1890 to 1914. Zaretksy argues that these were also the early years of “the second industrial revolution.” During the first Industrial Revolution, beginning a little more than a century earlier, Western economies had moved from a basis in agriculture to a basis in factory production. The second industrial revolution involved the development of mass-produced goods and, later, a consumer culture.

The early years of the second industrial revolution saw the freeing of individuals from the controls of family-centered life, according to the author. Zaretsky describes late nineteenth and early twentieth century Vienna as a new center of cultural life focused on the private self. The idea of the personal unconscious and a new fascination with individual sexuality emerged in response to such concern with the private self. Freud's theories expressed these concerns, and Freud became the charismatic founder of a new movement. It was unknown whether, as a new movement, psychoanalysis would become absorbed into the mainstream of medical practice or remain on the margins of intellectual life as a sect following Freud. By 1910, with Freud's split from Carl Jung and Alfred Adler, psychoanalysis was largely excluded from official acceptance and became a mostly Jewish sect.

The second part, “Fordism, Freudianism, and the Threefold Promise of Modernity,” considers psychoanalysis from the years of World War I to World War II. Cases of shell shock (post-traumatic stress disorder among soldiers) and battlefield neuroses of World War I further inspired the attempts to understand psychological problems. Such cases also moved Freud to adapt his theories by developing his ideas on the death drive or death instinct in human behavior. The spread of Freudian approaches accompanied a new era in industrial history.

The term “Fordism” refers to Henry Ford, whose factories mass-produced automobiles, transforming these machines from luxury items for the wealthy to widely marketed goods for general consumers. Ford-type mass production had two contradictory aspects. On one hand, it required standardization; people had to show up at jobs and function as efficient workers. On the other hand, the consumer economy encouraged individualism. Freudian analysis promised to meet both requirements, as it seemed to be a means of curing inconvenient forms of nonconformity through therapy, and it also catered to the self-examination of individual patients.

While Freudian psychoanalysis responded to the market economy, it also flirted with the major industrial competitor of the market system. Several of Freud's associates were socialists, and for a time the psychoanalytic movement had loose ties to the Bolsheviks in Russia. Leon Trotsky, one of the major figures of the Russian Revolution who was forced into exile by Joseph Stalin in the late 1920's, was interested in psychoanalytic theory. Apparently, Freudian ideas appealed to Trotsky for the same reason they appealed to his capitalist rivals: Psychoanalysis seemed a promising means of social control. In 1918, during the brief...

(The entire section is 1733 words.)