What if Freud had left a final paper declaring, revolutionarily, that morality arises not from the guilt caused by Oedipal desires but, instead, from simple fear of the absolute, unchallengeable authority demonstrated in megalomania? CUNY history professor Rosenfield makes just this the premise of his novel debut—and produces a wonderful, chewy, intellectual delight.
Rosenfield mixes real with fictional characters, giving Freud a mistress (and also a daughter by her), with whom he leaves his last paper, Megalomania, before departing from Europe forever. The paper, unread and unauthenticated, manages to survive WWII and come finally into the hands of Freud’s granddaughter, who in turn brings it to the attention of cognitive scientist Professor Albert J. Stewart: and it’s Stewart who tells us about his own first and astonished reading of the paper, then presents it to us in toto with his own annotations, clarifications, and background comments. Stewart himself has just ended a five-year collaboration with one Norman Dicke, winner of the “Looker Prize,” creator of “Loop Theory,” and fabricator of a thinking—Marilyn Monroe robot. Framed by Stewart’s tales of the despotic and despicable Dicke, Freud’s paper becomes all the more riveting as it treats Freud’s real-life and also despotic colleague, Nobelist Julius Wagner-Juarreg, who gave shock treatment to soldiers during WWI, declaring them “malingerers” rather than traumatized victims. He was cleared, in 1920, of charges of unethical practice—though the testimony Freud himself gave in the trial left him haunted ever after, feeling that he had failed “to adequately defend . . . the young men who had been tortured.” And the cause of his failure? Simply the sheer force of Wagner as megalomaniac—a man so bold that he “had perfected the art of lying to a point where truth had become unrecognizable,” the sheer power of his fraud having become the truth.
“Fraud is Man,” declares Freud in this brilliant, learned, ambitious, and wildly thought-provoking masterpiece of fictional revisionism.