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If Jeffrey Masson's provocative anti-Freud polemic, The Assault on Truth (p.36), was tenuous, slippery, and overstated, it seems like a level-headed masterpiece in comparison with this sorry patchwork of speculation, half-scholarship, and puritanical hysteria. Thornton's basic contention: Freud, whose cocaine use is now well-known, was actually a thoroughgoing cocaine ""addict,"" suffering from ""drug psychosis"" when he came up with his theories about sexual repression, infantile sexuality, and the Oedipus Complex--all of which stemmed from his cocaine-induced ""messianic obsession with sexuality."" Furthermore, many of Freud's patients ""must have"" (a favorite locution here, along with ""probably"") been similarly addled by cocaine--which explains their sexual fantasies. And, in any case, Freud's work was based on that of Charcot--whose theories were fundamentally wrong: Thornton, a British researcher/medical-librarian, rejects all notions of psychosomatic illness, the existence of an unconscious, etc., attempting to explain every psychiatric symptom (including the Anna O. case) through up-to-date neurophysiology alone. These strictly somatic interpretations, however, heavy on diagnoses of temporal-lobe epilepsy, are far from persuasive. Likewise, the evidence for Freudas-zonked-out-snorter is thin, iffy, with unscholarly second-hand references. Finally, in fact, Thornton's argument seems to rest on an emotional antipathy towards the theories of this ""false and faithless prophet"": she blames Freud for the ""permissive society"" (she apparently hasn't read Bruno Bettelheim, or much other 20th-century psychiatric literature), making a few downright bizarre connections. (""The Freud revival in the sixties"" is linked to ""the cult of violence and aggression that began in the sixties. . ."") Despite sarcastic emphasis on some undeniable aspects of Freud's clay feet: a pseudo-scientific mishmash, too shrill and tunnel-visioned to win over most anti-Freudians--let alone the psychiatric mainstream.

Pub Date: April 13th, 1984
Publisher: Dial/Doubleday