Magazine article The Spectator

A Tantalising Whiff of Cigars

Magazine article The Spectator

A Tantalising Whiff of Cigars

Article excerpt

This life of Freud is announced as the one the world is waiting for. The chaos into which classic Freudian analysis has fallen, with dissidents on all sides, certainly creates an urgent need for the faithful to find a working model of the founder that will embrace the new heresies, while retaining enough vital tissue to reassure them about the original.

Outside the psychoanalytic community, there is widespread indifference to Freud among psychiatrists and therapists in general. His dream theories have unravelled, his views on women have decayed, his Oedipus theory is seen as fantasy, his long-- drawn-out psychotherapy has had its day. What can be salvaged and recycled? Can a satisfactory new Freud arise from the ashes of the old?

Breger, a Californian analyst and academic, has made it his duty to try. The `Darkness' in his title is the side of Freud that apologists have been slow to acknowledge, in particular the extent to which his own character shaped psychoanalysis, so that it was less a body of objective truths than the projection of an ambitious doctor's will on the `world of science' in which he was determined to be a giant.

It is not always easy to see where Breger is placing his emphasis. He points to `profound discoveries and brilliant insights' in understanding the unconscious, the emotional events of childhood and so on; then laments `the overblown theories, sweeping generalisations and personal biases that have plagued psychoanalysis since its inception'.

No doubt both statements are valid, but in the end one has to emerge from a book with a general idea of its predilections. Sentences stick in the mind - `Freud's theory of sexuality was the half-truth with which he reconfigured his own traumas and anxiety', and, in a particularly damaging passage, `Freud's therapeutic style left a great deal of the patient's emotional life untouched.'

We are left with a man who, despite his insights, achieved fame as a therapist less by the techniques as advertised than by the quality of his attentiveness, humour, intelligence and courage. While this is evidently good enough for Breger, it may dismay hard-core adherents, wondering what is left apart from a ghost of the original old gentleman - a whiff of cigars, an empty couch. …

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