THE ASSAULT ON TRUTH: Freud's Suppression of the Seduction Theory by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

THE ASSAULT ON TRUTH: Freud's Suppression of the Seduction Theory

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Masson is the analyst/researcher who was fired as Director of the Sigmund Freud Archives after publicizing his belief that Freud was incorrect--and cowardly--in abandoning the ""seduction theory"": his 1896 idea that all neurosis stems from actual sexual abuse during childhood. Here, then, Masson offers the densely documented, yet in many respects thin and speculative, evidence for his argument. First, Masson demonstrates--with only marginal relevance--that Freud probably was exposed to proof (in 1880s Paris) of frequent cases of sexual child-abuse. Then, much more tenuously, Masson connects the theory-abandonment to Freud's guilt about Emma Eckstein, one of the women-patients whose memories of paternal molestation contributed to the seduction theory; Emma nearly bled to death after an operation by Freud's then-dear friend Wilhelm Fliess (because of a Freud/Fliess ""folie à deux,"" says Masson); and when Freud explained away Emma's hemorrhages as ""hysterical,"" he could then explain away her sexual-abuse memories as fantasies. Furthermore (and least persuasively of all, considering the un-popularity of Freud's subsequent theories), Freud supposedly ""sacrificed his major insight"" because of a wish to appease his hostile colleagues. Drawing on some hitherto-unpublished letters, Masson does indeed add another unlovely (if sketchy) chapter to the Freud/Fliess story. He succeeds in noting inconsistencies, exaggerations, and omissions in the theoretical writings of Freud and his followers. On the issue of Freud's motivation, however, the evidence is entirely conjectural. More important, other than vague references to the many female child-sex-abuse victims (what about all the male neurotics?), Masson doesn't even try to make a case for the truth of the abandoned seduction theory. And his oversimplified attack on the theories which replaced it--the Oedipus complex, primarily--isn't likely to change the minds of Freudians. (Likewise, a shrill condemnation of psychoanalytic practice.) True, this will probably occasion a renewal of the controversy-the size of the brouhaha depending upon the media's susceptibility. But few general readers will want to tackle Masson's paper (dense, digressive, often with slippery logic) directly; luckily, they can turn instead to Janet Malcolm's New Yorker articles (to appear soon in book form), which summarize the debate, sketch in the personalities, and (though even-handed) offers a devastating portrait of Masson as opportunist and vengeful outcast.

Pub Date: March 10th, 1984
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Gixoux