FREUD: Biologist of the Mind by Frank J. Sulloway
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FREUD: Biologist of the Mind

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The myth of the hero and the myth of Freud as pure psychologist stand as the two great pillars around which traditional psychoanalytic history has long cultivated its inspiring image of Freud."" This is the premise behind Sulloway's massive, closely argued, and impressively documented intellectual biography of Freud. It is an unabashedly revisionist history, which, while not diminishing Freud's genius, will elicit objections and rebuttal as much as admiration and enthusiasm. Sulloway's approach is rooted in the history and sociology of science. He is out to show the historical/biological context of Freud's ideas--in particular his indebtedness to Darwin, to the ""biogenetic"" law of Haeckel (ontogeny recapitulates philogeny), and to ""psycho"" Lamarckianism (the inheritance of acquired psychological traits). The late 19th century was a foment of ideas--the work of the sexologists and the new child psychologists, the uses of hypnosis and ""cathartic"" therapy; words like id, the unconscious, libido, infantile sexuality, and autoeroticism were all coined before Freud. Sulloway contends that Freud absorbed and transformed many of these concepts (including ideas of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer), and over the years evolved the theories of ego, id, superego; of the sexual basis of neurosis; and of life and death instincts. Freud, however, habitually denied the influence of others and claimed priority. One by one Sulloway documents Freud's intellectual intimacies with Charcot, Janet, Breuer, Fliess, Adler, Jung. . . and the inevitable estrangement followed by bitterness and often lifelong hostility. Freud thought of himself as a ""conquistador"" in science, a figure akin to Hannibal, Napoleon, or Moses, destined for greatness. He conspired in the myth his followers and biographers perpetuated--in particular, that psychoanalysis was born in isolation, in lonely years of self-analysis, in ridicule and rejection by the establishment; and that it was based on ""pure"" psychological principles. Sulloway finds these myths epitomized in Jones' monumental biography which he nevertheless keenly admires as an extraordinary and useful work. The dual myths, Sulloway argues, are characteristic of a science establishing a new paradigm, especially one with the cult-like tendencies and the master-disciple relationship characteristic of psychoanalysis. Thus the new science strives toward ""legitimation"" (its unimpeachable scientificism) and ""nihilation"" (denying other paradigms); and finally employs its methods therapeutically in defense. This last is exemplified in the well-known claim of analysts that critics are victims of resistance repression. Sulloway's work is a tour de force, always stimulating, sometimes brash. One could wish at times for a less thesis-like style (and more concrete examples), but the overall impact is grand. One comes to the agreeable conclusion that the author has cleared the air; and that, in putting Freud in his place, he claims for him a very high place indeed.

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1979
Publisher: Basic Books