SHRINKING HISTORY: On Freud and the Failure of Psychohistory by David E. Stannard

SHRINKING HISTORY: On Freud and the Failure of Psychohistory

Email this review


While psychoanalysis was once a heresy in the eyes of historians, University of Hawaii professor Stannard (The Puritan Way of Death) appears the heretic now. For him, all psychohistory is fundamentally flawed; rather than attack individual works, therefore, he argues along thematic lines. He avers, first, that psychoanalysis has not demonstrated its ability as a therapeutic technique, so there is no validity to the basic presumption of psychohistory, that psychoanalysis works. After that, for Stannard, everything falls apart. Presuming that the theory is correct, psychohistorians tend to make up facts where there are none--often by a false logic that posits if B exists, then A must necessarily have occurred. Examples abound, as in Erikson's Young Man Luther, where he attributes to Luther the experience of ""roaring"" in a monastery in his youth because it seems to explain later events, while the experience itself appears to have no foundation. Ignorance of cultural context--a context which is irrelevant for the psychohistorian--also leads to presumptions that individual actions are psychoanalytically significant where they may be only culturally standard--as in Freud's emphasis on Leonardo's freeing of caged birds, which Stannard says was a general practice thought to bring good luck. One failing of Stannard's attack is his own underestimation of the importance of interpretation in historical understanding, since he adopts a simple ""scientific"" approach to ""facts."" (Another, for some, will be his total identification of practice with theory.) More relevant to strict psychohistorical studies of individuals rather than to those which deal with whole societies, Stannard's assault will undoubtedly heat up the going debate.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1980
ISBN: 0195027353
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press