The Arts: The A-Z of Sigmund Freud ; Though Doubts Increase about Freud's Clinical Work, 100 Years after the Publication of the Interpretation of Dreams, His Influence Still Pervades Modern Culture from Dali to Hollywood
Jackson, Kevin, The Independent (London, England)
A is for the Analysis of Art "Before the problem of the creative artist analysis must, alas, lay down its arms," wrote Freud in his essay "Dostoevsky and Parricide" (1927-8), meaning that he could only account for the themes and symbols of art, or for the neuroses of particular artists, and not for the qualities which made them great. That concession did not, however, deter him from writing copiously on the likes of Leonardo, Michelangelo's "Moses", Richard III, Ibsen and dozens of similar topics. Like other wings of the rambling Freudian mansion, these works of artistic commentary have in recent decades been the objects of criticism, refutation, derision and abuse. And yet, if the letter of Freud's teachings has come under heavy fire, no one could dispute the pervasive influence of his spirit in the century since The Interpretation of Dreams was first published.
Whether in pure, vulgarised or downright caricatured forms - from deconstruction to dirty jokes, from biography to Hollywood blockbusters - his work has permeated almost every aspect of modern culture. One consequence of this infiltration is that, much as the prospect would have dismayed him, it has become increasingly acceptable to speak of Freud not as a (reputedly discredited) figure in the history of psychology but as a major imaginative artist in his own right: a novelist in his case histories, a dramatist in his view of the forces contending within and between personalities, a poet in his epic conception of the histories of individuals and cultures. In short, as a writer whose work can no more be obliterated by allegations of fudging clinical evidence than, say, the work of Milton or Goethe (to name two other writers he admired). The 25 entries which follow suggest just a few of the ways, both profound and trifling, in which Freud's presence has told in the world of art.
B is for Burgess Anthony Burgess, like other writers of his generation, admired Freud deeply both as a heroic liberator and as a student of language and literature: Burgess noted with pleasure the trans-linguistic pun - Freude being the German for "joy" - which linked Freud with his fiction mentor, James Joyce. (Joyce made a slightly more equivocal pun, about children being "jung and easily freudened", in Finnegans Wake). Burgess seems never to have completed his proposed opera about Freud, but Freud is summoned up respectively in his multi-layered novel The End of the World News.
C is for Clift Montgomery Clift, that is, who played the lead role in John Huston's Freud: The Secret Passion (1962), one of the director's less successful offerings. But the story of Freud and Freudians on screen is another article; actually, it's a whole book.
D is for Dali Freud usually had sound, if conventional, taste in painting. Sad to note, then, that he was favourably impressed by his brief meeting with Salvador Dali, the most meretricious of the Surrealists: "That young Spaniard, with his candid fanatical eyes and his undeniable technical mastery", had changed his mind about the movement. (See "S is for Surrealism"). For his part, Dali, who made several sketches of Freud, pronounced that his cranium was the surrealistic equivalent of a snail.
E is for Empson That is, Sir William Empson, poet, critic and philosopher; one of the earliest and subtlest English thinkers to read and apply the lessons of the master to literature. See, for example, his wonderful essay on Alice in Wonderland in Some Versions of Pastoral; or any of his writings on linguistic ambiguity.
F is for "Freudian" At one time, an adjective routinely yoked, in the less thoughtful kind of art-chat, to the nouns "symbol" (either meaning anything longer than wide, or a bit like a hole), or "slip" (and meaning, as Cliff, the postman explained in Cheers, what happens when you say one thing and mean a mother); or simply in reference to anything that seemed on the fruity side. …