Reading Freud: A Chronological Exploration of Freud's Writings

Reading Freud: A Chronological Exploration of Freud's Writings

Reading Freud: A Chronological Exploration of Freud's Writings

Reading Freud: A Chronological Exploration of Freud's Writings


Winner of the 2010 Sigourney Award!

Reading Freudprovides an accessible outline of the whole of Freud's work from Studies in Hysteriathrough to An Outline of Psycho-Analysis. It succeeds in expressing even the most complex of Freud's theories in clear and simple language whilst avoiding over-simplification.

Each chapter concentrates on an individual text and includes valuable background information, relevant biographical and historical details, descriptions of Post-Freudian developments and a chronology of Freud's concepts. By putting each text into the context of Freud's life and work as a whole, Jean-Michel Quinodoz manages to produce an overview which is chronological, correlative and interactive. Texts discussed include:

  • The Interpretation of Dreams
  • The 'Uncanny'
  • Civilisation and its Discontents'

The clear presentation, with regular summaries of the ideas raised, encourages the reader to fully engage with the texts presented and gain a thorough understanding of each text in the context of its background and impact on the development of psychoanalysis.

Drawing on his extensive experience as a clinician and a teacher of psychoanalysis, Jean-Michel Quinodoz has produced a uniquely comprehensive presentation of Freud's work which will be of great value to anyone studying Freud and Psychoanalysis.


We shall begin with Studies on Hysteria, the foundation text upon which the whole of psychoanalysis was built, the one in which Freud and Breuer tell of their successful treatment of hysterical symptoms and the first hypotheses they drew from that achievement. Hysteria was a very common disorder at the end of the nineteenth century and questions were being asked about the causes of the affliction: organic or psychological? Faced with the impossibility of discovering the true cause of that illness, physicians were very much at a loss. Hysterical conversion phenomena were an undeniable challenge to medical science, because the symptoms did not correspond to any identifiable anatomical lesion; further, they tended to appear or disappear in a completely random fashion. The impossibility of understanding these often spectacular symptoms irritated doctors, who ended up rejecting these patients – most of them were women – whom they saw either as mad or as malingerers.

From 1882 on, Freud, encouraged by the success of his Viennese colleague Josef Breuer, began to take an interest in the part played by suggestion and hypnosis in the treatment of patients suffering from symptoms attributed to hysteria. In their Studies on Hysteria, a book which represents the outcome of more than 10 years of clinical work, the two practitioners describe in detail the treatment of five patients, and each author adds a theoretical chapter containing his own hypotheses. Freud’s chapter, “The Psychotherapy of Hysteria”, has gone down in history not only because of its historical value but also because in it Freud lays the clinical and theoretical foundations of a new discipline: psychoanalysis, itself derived from the cathartic method. In use from 1880 to 1895, the “cathartic method” was invented by Breuer; it was a kind of psychotherapy which enabled the patient to recall memories of past traumatic events, when the hysterical symptoms first appeared. Breuer, then Freud, noted that those symptoms disappeared as the patient gradually managed to recall the memory and to re-experience, in all their intensity, the emotions which had accompanied the original event. Freud tells us that, at first, like Breuer, he had recourse to hypnosis and suggestion in order to help the patient make contact with those pathogenic memories. He soon abandoned that technique, however, and changed his approach radically: he noticed that if he asked the patient to say out loud everything that came into his or her mind – the method which came to be known as free associations – the paths taken spontaneously by the patient’s thoughts enabled Freud not only to work his way back to the pathogenic memories which up till then had been repressed, but also to identify the resistances which stood in the way of the patient’s getting in touch with those memories in order to resolve them. This new technical approach brought in its wake an increasing awareness of the part played by resistance, transference, the symbolic nature of language and the processing that goes on in the mind – all elements which are typical of every psychoanalytic treatment and which were already being outlined by Freud in Chapter IV of Studies on Hysteria. Though abreaction was gradually abandoned, release of emotional tension has remained a significant feature of every psychoanalysis.

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