DISPATCHES FROM THE FREUD WARS
Psychoanalysis and Its Passions
By John Forrester
Harvard University Press. 309 pp. $27.95

Go to the first chapter of "Dispatches From the Freud Wars"

Go to Chapter One




It's All in Their Minds

By Claire Douglas
Sunday, August 10, 1997; Page X01
The Washington Post

The six essays that make up these "dispatches" all, in one way or another, revolve around the question of why the various controversies in Freudian psychoanalysis -- "the Freud wars" -- matter to the general reader. John Forrester views the combat sometimes as a reporter, sometimes as an interested bystander. He comes by this pose justifiably as a member of the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University and as a person who has avidly followed the history and philosophy of psychoanalysis for the past 25 years.

The first, and perhaps the densest but most interesting essay, uses Freud's interpretation of the judgment of Solomon as a starting place for a discussion of morality and emotions. Freud's idea of justice rested on the transformation of envy; after Forrester explores this concept, he proceeds to examine the place of envy in contemporary life and in political theory. Two jewels are buried here: first, Forrester's linkage of the Freudian struggles among the id, ego and superego with 18th-century ethics and the tradition of morality plays; second, Forrester's witty and astute analysis of penis envy in relation to morality and ethics.

Chapter Two reads partly like a detective story and partly like a labyrinthian cryptogram encoding Freudian incest theory. Forrester decodes part of it by exploring some of Freud's multiple entanglements and then keying this to the elaboration of Freud's theory. He highlights Freud's relationship with Sandor Ferenczi, Gizella Palos and her daughter, Elma -- all three of whom were, at one time or another, Freud's patients while the two women were also Ferenczi's patients and his lovers.

The complications make a dizzying Mozartian comedy of errors in which triangle builds upon triangle. Ferenczi and Freud write heated letters to each other about love, marriage, the family romance, transference, countertransference and all the ways of acting out in analysis. Entangled as they were in multiple dual relationships, it's very clear that in this case at least, the male analysts put their own needs over those of their analysands. Forrester, in spite of his clear sympathy for the two men, cannot conceal that Freud's and Ferenczi's breaking of boundaries seemed preferable to them -- perhaps more manly, honest and liberating -- than did repression. Having played with fire, the several fathers of psychoanalysis also taught their followers some of its delights, sometimes at the cost of the people in their care. This is the subtext of Forrester's story, with Forrester concluding that Freud's exploration of subsequent guilt feelings may have been fundamental to his writing of Totem and Taboo.

My choice for the first chapter would have been the third essay, which is the clearest, best written and most accessible. Forrester immediately draws the reader into Freud's consulting room, describing what the reader, as analysand, would see. He points out the relationship between psychoanalysis and Freud's large collection of antiquities, seeing both (as well as Freud's collection of slips of the tongue and of dreams) as multilayered material that needs to be deciphered and redeciphered. Forrester, through this linkage, places Freudian theory and practice in an age-old cultural tradition. Since Freud started his collection only upon the death of his father, Forrester concludes that each piece served Freud both as a father substitute and in loco parentis; as such, the antiquities stand guard over the disorderly and anarchic power of the feminine (and the unconscious) that Freud's method unleashed in his consulting room.

The final chapters cover much the same ground but focus on Freud's critics, then on his followers. Forrester records the way Freud created theory through autobiography and wary self-revelation; he also notes the deep, almost Romantic, alliance this created and still creates in many of his readers and his disciples.

I wish that Forrester had not hidden so much that is valuable in the dry trappings of the lecture hall, where most of the essays were originally delivered. However, and in spite of the book's marvelous title, this donnish position sometimes strands the reader in the musty groves of academe and mutes the passions of the subtitle. Forrester erroneously brushes aside feminist studies on Freud as "vilification," concluding that all feminists view psychoanalysis as "deeply suspect for having highlighted fantasy and desire, rather than brute reality and sexual exploitation." He ignores the enormously rich and fertile psychoanalytic discourse by such feminist scholars as, for example, Julia Kristeva, Helene Cixous and Luce Irigary, who are masters of the study of fantasy and desire, who acknowledge Freud as their intellectual father and are revivifying his art and science.

Where Forrester hits the mark is his insight on the passionate intensity of the battles between Freud and his critics, and the analogy he makes between this struggle and the one between analyst and his or her patient. It may be possible, in fact, to read the entire commentary on Freud as that between analysand and analyst, all projecting part of their shadow onto Freud and struggling in the trenches of transference and countertransference. It is to Forrester's credit that he sees this and shows it to us in this provocative book.

Claire Douglas is a Jungian analyst, clinical psychologist, author of "Translate This Darkness," and editor of the forthcoming "Visions Seminar" by C.G. Jung.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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