The Freud Files: An Inquiry into the History of Psychoanalysis: Books

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The Freud Files: An Inquiry into the History of Psychoanalysis. By Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen and Sonu Shamdasani. Cambridge University Press. 450pp, Pounds 55.00 and Pounds 16.99. ISBN 9780521509909 and 729789. Published 24 November 2011

How did psychoanalysis attain its prominent cultural position?" This book, first published in 2006 in French and now available in translation with some light additions and changes, attempts to answer this question. However, the authors fail because they are sidetracked into writing a pamphlet modelled more on the "attack ads" of the US Republican Party than on balanced historical analysis.

Their argument comes in four waves. The first, "Privatising science", accuses Sigmund Freud of engineering "the complete privatisation of the science of psychoanalysis under the sole possession of Freud, and of its separation from the prevailing norms of the academic world". In the second, they produce an ugly neologism, happily destined to oblivion, "interprefaction", intended to convey how Freud portrayed interpretations as facts. In the third, they give intricately argued examples from Freud's case histories of his alleged forcing of his interpretations on his patients. In the final part, they record how a small clique of the faithful (Anna Freud, Ernst Kris, Ernest Jones, Kurt Eissler) managed, through censorship and the sequestering of historical documents, to rewrite the whole history of psychoanalysis and then protect their account from any attempts to question its accuracy.

Throughout, the authors unearth many new sources, particularly concerning the well-orchestrated attacks by the majority of European psychiatrists on the new doctrines in the period 1907-14. What they make of these is, however, disappointing: page after page is devoted to reproducing passages from sources. We have shadow-history followed by insidious invective; instead of narrative history, we have parroting and polemic.

The problem is that the authors' principal aim seems to be not the writing of history but the reconfiguring of historiography. They do not quote the sources because they demonstrate patterns of controversy and debate in the sciences but because they want to find allies in the past: they agree with these Edwardian critics. They believe, with white-knuckled fervour, that the portrait of psychoanalysis as a grand system of thought is a myth whose hold has been maintained solely by the control of "Freudians" over alternative histories and sources. If, they argue, Freud had not withdrawn from open debate, if Freud had not constructed a mythical history, including the distortion of facts, dogmatic assertion and outright lies (although they temper their accusations on occasion), then psychoanalysis as a cultural world event would never have happened. …


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