A psychoanalyst and translator of Freud summarizes the connections between Freud’s life and his creation of psychoanalysis.
In this latest installment of Yale’s Jewish Lives series, Phillips (One Way and Another: Selected Essays, 2013, etc.) doesn’t offer a full biography of Freud but focuses on the “great five books” he wrote around the turn of the 20th century (among them, The Interpretation of Dreams and The Psychopathology of Everyday Life), the works that both established Freud as a significant intellectual presence in Western thought and also laid the foundation for psychoanalysis. But Phillips, not neglecting the facts of Freud’s life, sketches his family background, boyhood (he was a voracious reader), gifts as a student, decision to segue from medical practice to this thing that didn’t really yet have a name—the focus on hysteria (principally in women). We learn about his marriage, his children, his professional friendships that usually dissolved later on, his astonishing productivity, his disdain for biography (Phillips is fully aware of this particular irony), his flight from Nazi-dominated Europe and his death in London. The author also discusses how Freud, though not a practicing Jew, nonetheless had to live in a world that did not care: He was a Jew, period, and this had grave consequences for his professional life and, later, for his safety. (Some relatives who stayed behind died in the Holocaust.) Phillips tells the stories of the professors and physicians who influenced him and notes that Freud grappled with ideas most complex and even contradictory—“we are helplessly desiring creatures,” writes the author, with “an instinct for death.” Some readers accustomed to today’s breezier literary styles may wonder why Phillips favors so many page-length paragraphs.
A clear and engaging—though sometimes tendentious—summary of some key moments in an intellectual life.