Freud: A Life for Our Time

Freud: A Life for Our Time

Freud: A Life for Our Time

Freud: A Life for Our Time

Synopsis

"A magisterial contribution to the history of ideas" (J. Anthony Lukas), this "remarkable biography . . . briskly traces the story of Freud's life and education, deftly weaving the familiar narrative with a style that makes it seem fresh and lively" ("Chicago Tribune"). Photos.

Excerpt

In April 1885, in a much-quoted letter, Sigmund Freud announced to his fiancée that he had "almost completed an undertaking which a number of people, still unborn but fated to misfortune, will feel severely." He was referring to his biographers. "I have destroyed all my notes of the last fourteen years, as well as letters, scientific extracts, and manuscripts of my works. Among letters, only family letters have been spared." With all the stuff he had scribbled piling up about him, he felt like a Sphinx drowning in drifting sands until only his nostrils, he wrote, were sticking up above the heaps of papers. He was pitiless about those who would be writing his life: "Let the biographers labor and toil, we won't make it too easy for them." He already looked forward to seeing how wrong they would be about him. Researching and writing this book, I have often visualized this scene: Freud the Sphinx freeing himself from mountains of paper that would have helped the biographer immeasurably. In later years, Freud repeated this destructive gesture more than once, and in the spring of 1938, preparing to leave Austria for England, he threw away materials that an alert Anna Freud, abetted by Princess Marie Bonaparte, rescued from the wastebasket.

Freud also found other ways of discouraging his future biographers. Indeed, some of the comments that Freud made about the writing of lives must give pause to anyone writing his life. "Biographers," he noted in 1910, in his paper on Leonardo da Vinci, "are fixated on their hero in a quite particular way." They choose that hero in the first place, Freud thought, because they feel a strong affection for him; their work is in consequence almost bound to be an exercise in idealization. A quarter century later, under the impress of old age, ill health, and the Nazi menace, he was more caustic still. "Whoever turns biographer," he wrote to Arnold Zweig, who had proposed to write Freud's life, "commits himself to lies, to concealment, to hypocrisy, to embellishments, and even to dissembling his own lack of understanding, for . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.