Analyze this: Freud on coke.
COLUMN: Albert B. Southwick
Fifty years ago, if anyone had suggested that Sigmund Freud had worked out his revolutionary ideas while under the influence of cocaine, there would have been a huge reaction. Freud loyalists, led by his daughter, Anna Freud, would have manned the ramparts in defending the memory of their iconic prophet.
Frederick Crews' recent deconstruction of Freud in The New York Review of Books probably will not trigger that kind of loyalist rage. Freud is no longer the dominating figure he used to be. Last year when Clark University and the Freud Institute of Vienna celebrated Freud's visit to Clark in 1910, there was little public interest. It was quite a contrast to the 50th anniversary, when more than 1,000 psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and therapists of various kinds from all over the country gathered in the Worcester Auditorium to hear a lecture by Anna Freud.
It seems there are no Freudians left in the Clark University psychology department, which probably is the case across the field. Freud is generally regarded as a figure of the past whose ideas are largely quaint and outdated.
Mr. Crews, a fellow of the Institute for Science in Medicine, has for years been digging out the details of Sigmund Freud's extraordinary life and career. It is not in general a pretty picture. The concept long nurtured by Freud's disciples of a benign paterfamilias presiding serenely and objectively over a revolution in human philosophy no longer holds. The Freud seen by Mr. Crews is a man beset by ambition, driven by subjective and unproved ideas, petty, vindictive, paranoid, and sometimes dishonest.
Crews deals objectively with Freud's long and deep entanglement with cocaine. Like many others, I had heard about his cocaine use but accepted the explanation that it was short and purely experimental. It was anything but.
He began using cocaine in the 1880s, and was a habitual user in times of stress for the next 12 or 15 years. According to Crews, Freud felt that it enhanced his virility. He had recently become engaged to his future wife. Furthermore, he zealously promoted the "miracle drug" as an anesthetic and feel-good medicine. He got one good friend, Ernst von Fleischl-Marxow, so addicted to cocaine that he had a psychotic breakdown leading to his premature death at 45. Even that disaster did not convince Freud of the drug's danger.
In Crews' phrase: "In the 1884-87 period, Freud had been the world's most influential cocaine evangelist until he was silenced, but never convinced, by outraged protest from other physicians." Despite that, he continued to use and prescribe cocaine until 1899, when he went off the stuff for good. That fact convinces Crews that Freud was not a true addict, despite his heavy use of cocaine, particularly in times of stress. Addicts usually have enormous difficulties in dropping the habit.
All that is bad enough. But Crews goes further in his demolition of the Freud myth. He thinks that Freud's cocaine experience led directly to his theory of psychoanalysis. Both showed the same intellectual, dogmatic arrogance that ignored facts and relied on hunches and intuition. "Psychoanalysis ... emerged from what we might call Freud's cocaine self - the side of his personality for which `everything became transparent' in bursts of illumination ... and intuitive rightness replaced the customs of scientific testing."
Crews wonders: "Did cocaine facilitate the launching of a therapeutic pseudoscience?"
Psychiatry and psychoanalysis have always been bedeviled by the charge that they are not real sciences. The "hard" scientists insist that psychiatric propositions cannot be tested rigorously as other disciplines are.
Crews' summary of the Freudian enterprise is devastating: "Psychoanalysis was a quilt whose patches were assembled from such diverse sources as animal magnetism, Victorian sexology, materialist determinism, Romantic vitalism, reflex neurology, the Lamarckian doctrine of heredity ... theories of trauma-induced hysteria and Freud's own curiosity about the origin of his psychological troubles."
Yet, whether charlatan or not, Freud's impact on the 20th century cannot be denied. Crews acknowledges that Freud early on became "the Columbus of the conscious."
"Freud's triumph in reaching that pinnacle without the aid of any confirmed discoveries or cures may be the most amazing chapter in the history of self promotion. Neither Rousseau nor Nietzsche enjoyed such success in reconstituting the intellectual world to match his idiosyncracies ... Cocaine, along with nicotine, was Freud's drug of choice - but in the century to come, the opiate of the educated classes would be psychoanalysis," Crews wrote.
Albert B. Southwick's column appears regularly in the Telegram & Gazette.
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|Publication:||Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)|
|Date:||Nov 3, 2011|
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