THE COMPLETE LETTERS OF SIGMUND FREUD TO WILHELM FLIESS, 1887-1904 by Sigmund Freud
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THE COMPLETE LETTERS OF SIGMUND FREUD TO WILHELM FLIESS, 1887-1904

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Even a short review of Masson's edition of these complete letters must give attention to two separate questions. First, how does this volume differ from the still-in-print 1954 Origins of Psychoanalysis: Letters to Wilhelm Fliess, Drafts & Notes, 1887-1902? The 1954 edition had 168 letters, many of them with deleted passages of varying length; Masson restores all deletions and adds 133 previously unpublished items. A few of the restorations are substantial: Freud's reports and laments about the ill-fated Emma Eckstein case; his continuing responses to Fliess' theories (ultimately rejected) of periodicity and nasality. More often, the new material is minor, if sometimes intriguing: references to personal/family health (including cocaine/cigar use); complaints about colleague Breuer; expressions of personal affection for Fliess; patient referrals; travel plans; a few ribaldries. And, while the new edition offers a few extra biographical tidbits and more fully suggests Freud's phenomenal ability to pursue many theoretical possibilities at the same time, the 1954 version (which does, via footnotes, compensate for many of the deletions) remains a much stronger presentation of psychoanalytic theory in its headlong, overlapping, astonishingly wide-ranging development. (Masson corrects many small, and a few not-so-small, errors in the 1954 translation; overall, however, his translations tend to be a bit stiffer than the Mosbacher/Strachey versions.) The other question, of course, is how much the Complete Letters support or detract from Masson's The Assault on Truth (1984)--which used excerpts from the letters in an attempt to demonstrate Freud's supposed motives (guilt over the Eckstein case, a wish to appease the establishment) for abandoning the ""seduction theory."" In fuller context, Masson's evidence seems even weaker than before: the death of Freud's father and his self-analysis emerge, in both importance and chronology, as the most convincing source of Freud's turnaround; a few later references to the seduction theory (most of them also appearing in the 1954 edition) fail to back up Masson's strained arguments, especially in the light of all the negative evidence (the absence of what Freud would surely have written if Masson were right) in the Letters. In either edition, this remains primarily for those with a keen interest in--and some knowledge of--psychoanalytic theory; but future biographers will certainly need to explore the new material here.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1985
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press