Unauthorized Freud Additional Biography

Frederick C. Crews

Unauthorized Freud

Frederick Crews is a literary critic and former chair of the English department of the University of California at Berkeley. In the 1960’s, he accepted the validity of Freudian theories and methods as a useful tool in literary criticism, but he gradually became convinced that these approaches were fundamentally false and pernicious. An emotional man, Crews became angry about the excesses of the recovered-memory movement of the 1980’s, and he concluded that the movement was a legacy of classical Freudian techniques. He published several of his anti-Freudian essays in Skeptical Essays (1986), and the appearance of his polemical writings in The Memory Wars: Freud’s Legacy in Dispute (1995) made him a bête noire to the psychoanalytic establishment. Even Crews’s strongest opponents, nevertheless, admit that his writings are cogently argued and that he is extremely knowledgeable about the relevant literature. The selections in Unauthorized Freud are taken from both books and scholarly articles by seventeen established experts. Averaging about ten pages each, the selections have already appeared in print, and a few are well known as minor classics. Some readers who are interested in locating quotations will become irritated to learn that Crews has not included the footnotes that accompanied the original publications; in the selections from books, moreover, he does not indicate the page numbers where the selections are located. Although Crews does not include any of his own essays, he does write an interesting introduction to the book, and he also includes introductory statements explaining the significance of each of the chosen readings.

Crews’s polemical introduction makes it clear that he has not attempted to choose a group of readings that give a balanced assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of Freudian psychoanalysis. Rather, he selects readings that “take the full measure of Freud’s well-documented conceptual errors, relentless apriorism, disregard for counterexamples, bullying investigative manner, shortcuts of reasoning, rhetorical dodges, and all-around chronic untruthfulness.” Freud scholars, both friend and foe, have recognized that the father of psychoanalysis was most vulnerable to criticism when he actually applied his theories to explain the presumed pathology of particular individuals, including the especially infamous examples of “Dora,” “Little Hans,” Leonardo da Vinci, and Fyodor Dostoevski. Not surprisingly, Crews includes many readings that critically examine such case studies.

The selections in Unauthorized Freud do not examine the methods and theories of post-Freudian psychoanalysis to any significant extent, and this constitutes the main limitation of the book. Several readings, however, approach this problem by challenging the epistemological validity of any conclusions drawn from the two psychoanalytic concepts of free association and transference.

The book is organized around four themes, with each containing from four to six selections. Part 1, which is devoted to the theme “Wrong from the Start,” deals with the “legend” of Freud’s founding of psychoanalysis. One of the most revealing selections is taken from Mikkel Borch- Jacobsen’s Remembering Anna O.: A Century of Mystification (1996), presenting a scholarly summary of what is known about the famous case study of Bertha Pappenheim, which was conducted by Josef Breuer with Freud’s assistance. Although the Pappenheim case is commonly considered to mark the beginning of psychoanalytic therapy, Borch-Jacobsen demonstrates a lack of evidence that Pappenheim received any therapeutic benefits from the so-called talking cure. Even more, Borch-Jacobsen shows how Freud later modified Breuer’s original report of 1882 in order to argue that repressed memories were the cause of hysteria.

Frank Cioffi’s influential radio talk of 1973, “Was Freud a Liar?,” deals with the crucial transition from Freud’s early “seduction theory” to his focus on “repressed fantasy” as the foundation of his Oedipal “discovery.” Cioffi argues that when evidence indicated that many reported seductions were fictitious, Freud faced the choice of either rejecting or defending his method for reconstructing the infantile past of his patients. With so much of his pride and career invested, Freud could hardly abandon his method. Cioffi makes a good case for concluding that Freud had originally related the seduction stories to his patients, many of whom had been skeptical, and that he later changed the early seduction stories so that they would support his Oedipal theory. Cioffi was perhaps the first observer to note that Freud’s shifting of focus from actual victimization to fantasy had the great advantage of making psychoanalyis immune from empirical refutation. Rather than charging conscious deception, however, Cioffi suggests that the man who exposed repression in others was himself a victim of unconscious “self-deception.”

Part 2 contains six readings devoted to the knowledge claims of...

(The entire section is 2080 words.)