FREUD: The Man and the Cause by Ronald W. Clark

FREUD: The Man and the Cause

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With no particular point of view and no discernible eloquence, Clark (Einstein, The Life of Bertrand Russell) has assembled a workmanlike, middle-road study of Sigmund Freud's career as founder-defender of psychoanalysis--a long, unfocused biography that is sometimes shrewdly balanced, more often just wishy-washily bland. Clark takes no dramatic exceptions to the standard, rather worshipful and protective Ernest Jones bio; but he has certainly spared no effort in gathering and slotting in less flattering post-Jones material (critical studies, letters and diaries that surfaced in the '60s and '70s). At first, indeed, it seems as if this emphasis on fresh data (Freud Sr.'s mysterious second wife, SG's teenage infatuation with an older woman) is going to support a provocative book-length theme: ""the possibility that even the most sacred of Freud's beliefs owed more to personal experience than is usually admitted."" Not so, however; as Clark follows young Sigmund through medical researches to the crucial Paris study with Charcot and the key treatments of hysteria with Breuer, it becomes clear that Freud will remain a generally opaque figure here. Clark leans rather on the analytic techniques and theories as they developed (hypnosis, the ""disaster"" of the seduction theory, ""recovery"" with the Oedipus complex), and--especially--on the ""amalgam of ambition and dedication"" that gave Freud the drive to push a highly unpopular philosophy/practice into acceptance and then defend it to the hilt: ""the commander-in-chief who struck at the first hint of defection with relentless determination and the technique of an accomplished politician. . . defender of the faith rather than seeker after truth."" And, while it's all here--the theoretical borrowings (usually fully credited), the breaks with Adler, Jung, and others, the openness to Lamarckian theory and (though Clark makes too much of it) the paranormal--the narrative never delivers either drama or deep insights. Part of the problem: momentum is continually broken when, with each Freudian development, Clark pauses for a quick assessment--usually much too thin and spotty, authorities insufficiently identified--of how the theory has held up since. (He does much better with the international fortunes of psychoanalysis during Freud's lifetime.) Some value, then, as an even-handed compendium of recent scholarship (and Clark tersely dispenses with the more dubious, sensational speculations)--but fatally lacking in both intellectual vigor and narrative grip.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1980
Publisher: Random House