Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

On Authenticity: The Question of Truth in Construction and Autobiography

Academic journal article International Journal of Psychoanalysis

On Authenticity: The Question of Truth in Construction and Autobiography

Article excerpt

Freud was occupied with the question of truth and its verification throughout his work. He looked to archaeology for an evidence model to support his ideas on reconstruction. He also referred to literature regarding truth in reconstruction, where he saw shifts between historical fact and invention, and detected such swings in his own case histories. In his late work Freud pondered over the impossibility of truth in reconstruction by juxtaposing truth with 'probability'. Developments on the role of fantasy and myth in reconstruction and contemporary debates over objectivity have increasingly highlighted the question of 'truth' in psychoanalysis. I will argue that 'authenticity' is a helpful concept in furthering the discussion over truth in reconstruction. Authenticity denotes that which is genuine, trustworthy and emotionally accurate in a reconstruction, as observed within the immediacy of the analyst/ patient interaction. As authenticity signifies genuineness in a contemporary context its origins are verifiable through the analyst's own observations of the analytic process itself. Therefore, authenticity is about the likelihood and approximation of historical truth rather than its certainty. In that respect it links with Freud's musings over 'probability'. Developments on writing 'truths' in autobiography mirror those in reconstruction, and lend corroborative support from another source.

Keywords: authenticity, probability, reconstruction, truth, autobiography, objectivity


Truth: Freud's search for the evidence in dialectics with literature

... one has to remember that the probable need not necessarily be the truth and the truth not always probable.

(Freud, 1939a, p. 1)

This enigmatic statement by Freud (1939a) expresses his reflections on his work and on his own efforts to find appropriate criteria by which to judge the evidence for truth. Claims for truth could not just be made; they had to be substantiated by proof. In the case of his writings on Moses he was looking for some form of corroboration that his drastic conclusions about Moses' origins were true. By his own accounts, his assertion that Moses was an Egyptian rather than a Jew delayed the publication of Moses and Monotheism (Freud, 1939b).

In the end he gave up the hope of finding objective proof when he could not assert that his ideas about Moses were the undisputed 'truth'. He relinquished the attempt to find convincing evidence in this case, and evoked the notion of 'psychological probabilities' instead: ''... but I was not prepared to uphold them publicly, since they were based only on psychological probabilities and lacked objective proof'' (Freud, 1939a, p. 1).

Freud's search for verification tools for his theories was an issue that occupied him throughout his working life. In this he engaged in a discourse with literature as a means of investigating the very necessity for objective truth. The project of Moses and Monotheism, late in his work, brought this critical problem of evidence into sharp focus, which Freud again addressed through a dialectical engagement with literature.

Chianese (2008) maintains that: ''... The recourse to literature was anything but superfluous in the birth and development of psychoanalysis'' (p. 100). He draws attention to Freud's extensive use of literature, as well as to his wavering attitude towards fiction in what he thought had to be a scientific progress of psychoanalysis. Chianese highlights the original title for Moses and Monotheism, which was: ''The Man Moses, a Historical Novel'' (p. 11).

Freud's engagement with the value of creative narration within psychoanalysis was a recurrent theme in his thinking on truth, especially when it came to reconstruction. This is an area where the question of truth and the evidence for it were most pertinent. In Freud's case histories, particularly in his discussion of the case of Fraulein Elisabeth von R. …

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