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Oct 05 2011

Divination, not research

Frederick Crews has a fascinating pair of articles in the New York Review of Books on Freud’s cocaine addiction and its connection to his work.

According to the official version of Freud’s career, sexuality scarcely entered his mind as a topic of interest until, to his shock and embarrassment, it was forced upon him by his patients’ indecent confessions. His early psychological papers and his letters to Wilhelm Fliess, however, show just the opposite: it was a sex-obsessed Freud who tried to harangue those patients into admitting that they harbored the perverse desires and guilty secrets that were already on his mind. But when and why had sexual issues become paramount for him? His surviving letters from adolescence are those of a moralizing, misogynistic prude,  and the same qualities appear in his early engagement letters, beginning in 1882.

Perhaps the best-known result of taking cocaine is sexual disinhibition.

Crews makes a compelling case that the cocaine use and the sex-obsession are connected. And then there’s the grandiosity…

[T]hanks to Fleischl’s exhilarating influence and to his own solitary cocaine ingestion, Freud was beginning to feel that a choice was looming between directly intuitive, audacious knowledge and narrowly focused laboratory science. Returning from one nocturnal rendezvous with a suffering but voluble Fleischl, he wrote excitedly of “the intellectual elation, the stimulation and clarification of so many opinions,” and added,  “This magic world of intellect and unhappiness contributes a great deal, of course, to my estrangement from my surroundings.”

Given the well-known touchiness and grandiosity of habitual cocaine users, it is hard to avoid the inference that the drug contributed to the subsequent prominence of the contentious, self-dramatizing, and persecution-minded side of Freud’s personality.

Already by 1886, then, Freud was displaying premature certainty, impatience with methodological safeguards, truculence, and a belief that he was destined for great things. Those weren’t traits that blossomed after he developed psychoanalysis and felt a need to defend it. They were the very engine of invention.

Guru attributes, you might call them. Dunning Kruger for the gifted.

The use of cocaine favored a certain manner of thinking—associative, self-confirming, visionary, and all-explanatory—that was inappropriate to the traditional practice of science and medicine but well suited to the original mode of inquiry that Freud increasingly favored…Freud’s psychoanalytic inquiries put into play a deliberate lowering of his empirical guard: suspending skepticism, ignoring the judgments of his peers, and ascribing cryptic meaning to his own presumptive memories and to words tendentiously plucked from his clients’ rambling. If a metaphor or a suggestive pun came to his own mind, he would assume it had emanated from his patient’s unconscious and that it constituted evidence for whatever supposition he was favoring at the time. And, still more self-indulgently, he believed that such insight gave him veridical access to the patient’s traumatic past. That was divination, not research, and it entailed the same erasure of commonsense boundaries that occurs in drug states.

People who are convinced they know things that they can’t possibly know – they never cease to amaze me. It’s interesting to learn that it’s like a cocaine high.

24 comments

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  1. 1
    Rrr

    No shit, Sherlock? (7% was the solution, AIRI)

  2. 2
    Peter N

    Darn — most of those articles are behind a paywall! And I’d really like to read them!

    Off to the public library…

  3. 3
    Daniel Wilson

    Frederick Crews [redacted]

  4. 4
    Ophelia Benson

    Peter – I know; sorry. I usually don’t link to stuff behind a wall, but made an exception.

    Daniel Wilson – no he isn’t! And what an absurd claim – have you actually read Memory Wars?

  5. 5
    Lou Doench

    So Robon Williams was right about Freud all along? ” Snnnnnnnnoooorrrtttt! So let’s talk about your mother!”

  6. 6
    Roo

    Freud was displaying premature certainty, impatience with methodological safeguards, truculence, and a belief that he was destined for great things.

    associative, self-confirming, visionary, and all-explanatory—that was inappropriate to the traditional practice of science and medicine but well suited to the original mode of inquiry that Freud increasingly favored…Freud’s psychoanalytic inquiries put into play a deliberate lowering of his empirical guard: suspending skepticism, ignoring the judgments of his peers, and ascribing cryptic meaning to his own presumptive memories and to words tendentiously plucked from his clients’ rambling

    Having read about a great number of cranks they all act like this. And I’m pretty sure that note all of them took cocaine. I feel like the cocaine consumption could just be a coincidence with Freud.

  7. 7
    Daniel Wilson

    Opheila,

    With respect, I happen to be rather well acquainted with Frederick Crews’ work. I have read all of his better known and many of his more obscure books, including his various anthologies (some of them rare and hard to find); I’ve also carefully looked at a large proportion of his articles in The New York Review of Books.

    In no way does the fact that I have a negative view of Crews mean that I would discourage anyone from reading him – no one could be more strongly in favor of reading as much of Crews’ work (and reading it as carefully as possible) than I am. Many surprises await anyone prepared to make the effort. Crews may be misguided, but he is undoubtedly one of the most important writers of our day.

  8. 8
    Ken Pidcock

    Freud’s psychoanalytic inquiries put into play a deliberate lowering of his empirical guard: suspending skepticism, ignoring the judgments of his peers, and ascribing cryptic meaning to his own presumptive memories and to words tendentiously plucked from his clients’ rambling.

    Recognizably manic.

  9. 9
    Ophelia Benson

    Daneil,

    No need for “with respect” or “happen to be” – I don’t know you, so I can’t be expected to know that you’re a Crews expert. I also wouldn’t expect an expert to call him a buffoon.

  10. 10
    Daniel Wilson

    Ophelia,

    You do “know” me, in a sense, since we’ve encountered each other before, many years ago, on Butterflies and Wheels, when I was using a different pseudonym. You may have forgotten it, but I certainly haven’t. I’ve no wish to rehash old debates, however, since that would bore me and try your patience, so I’ll leave things here. The only point I want to make is that knowledge of Frederick Crews’ work does not automatically equate to respect for Frederick Crews as a person. OK?

  11. 11
    Ophelia Benson

    “Daniel Wilson” -

    At least you spelled my name right this time.

    Well of course I don’t “know” you then, not in any sense, since I have no idea who you were under the other pseudonym (and as it was many years ago I wouldn’t remember anyway). The fact that you commented at B&W some years ago under a different nym certainly doesn’t translate to my knowing you now and thus knowing that you’re a Crews expert. What a weirdly delusional thing to say.

    And no, it’s not particularly OK. Your comment was just a rude drive-by.

  12. 12
    Stacy

    Crews has done an excellent job debunking Freud and his theories. (But even if he’d done nothing else, he’d have a place in my heart for The Pooh Perplex and Postmodern Pooh. Pointing out that one of the idols of the 20th century had feet of clay? Icing on the cake!)

    Seriously, a lot of people still resist the idea that Freud was unethical and downright dishonest and that psychoanalysis was unscientific. I’ve known even skeptics to assume there must be something to it–else how could so many smart people have taken it so seriously? And how could it have been so influential? Part of the blame can be put on the gatekeepers who kept Freud’s letters and other documentary evidence away from public scrutiny for years, but the success of psychoanalysis has still got to stand as an object lesson in how easy it is for even very smart people to believe in unfalsifiable, pseudoscientific woo.

  13. 13
    Pierce R. Butler

    Not that I’m an expert on Freud or his milieu, but it always struck me that, however wrong his answers, he deserves credit for raising a lot of very good (and, in varying degrees, taboo) questions.

  14. 14
    Ophelia Benson

    stacy – yes exactly. Crews was one of those people himself!

    Pierce – he was much more about very dogmatic answers than he was about genuine questions.

  15. 15
    Pierce R. Butler

    But was anybody else even asking questions about the non-rational subconscious mind, infant sexuality, self-defeating behaviors, etc?

  16. 16
    Daniel Wilson

    Ophelia,

    Not OK, huh? Given what I said about Crews the last time I was here, I think it’s really, really polite of me to limit my comments to [redacted]

  17. 17
    Daniel Wilson

    Ophelia,

    By the way, did you ever take a careful look through the revision history of Frederick Crews’ Wikipedia article, or read the comments on its talk page? If not, then you really, really should, because there’s some interesting stuff there (I direct the same observation to stacy, and all other admirers of Crews).

    And, just to repeat myself, you should read as much of Crews’ work, and read it as carefully as possible.

  18. 18
    Stacy Kennedy

    Pierce, yes.

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1975/jun/12/not-freuds-discovery/

  19. 19
    Pierce R. Butler

    Stacy Kennedy @ # 18 – wow, a 1975 Martin Gardner link, with bonus William James!

    *genuflects*

  20. 20
    Stacy Kennedy

    Pierce, I has mad Google skillz (she said modestly). :)

  21. 21
    Ophelia Benson

    “Daniel Wilson” has an unhealthy and malevolent obsession with Crews, which renders everything he says on the subject nugatory and probably defamatory; hence his comments will be redacted.

  22. 22
    Michelle S

    Crews is using semantics, “If a metaphor or a suggestive pun came to his own mind” Freud suggest it “emanated from his patient’s unconscious.” It sounds like Crews is talking about Projective Identification. Projective identification is recognized by tons of shrinks. Doesn’t have to be a Freudian but Freud was the man who recognized it. If I’m seeing a client and while I am working with the client I start to feel something very different and intense (say, Anxiety) and there is no reason for it…what could be going on is projected identification. I am picking up on stuff the client is giving me, subconsciously, through words she uses, body language, whatever. Sometimes you use that to see how that client relates to others. So, for instance, I’m feeling anxiety when I’m talking with my
    client. I can assume others feel this way with my client as well. So I can talk to my client about it. What is so anxiety provoking about the subject? Are they aware of their own anxiety around the subject? Are they aware that they project that anxiety outward? Could this be why this client’s bf gets unusually and seemingly out of nowhere angry at client? on and on

    As for coke and his theories? Whatever. If coke use informed Freud’s “sexy” theories then they might have been more widely accepted (instead of being controversial) with all the other coked out scientists of his day. All the cool kids were doing coke. Was Thomas Edison’s light bulb the result of his coke use?

    As for coke and his self-aggrandizement? I think Freud was ambitious because he was the apple of his mom’s eye. He adored his mom. She called him her Golden Boy. He was encouraged from a very young age and was led to believe from birth that he would do great things. He ruled the household as a kid. He was a mama’s boy. He said he used coke to get over his social phobia. He used to faint when around colleagues and men he admired.

    “His surviving letter from adolescence are those of a moralizing, misogynist prude, and the same qualities appear in his early engagement letters, beginning 1882.” Well, I hope NObody ever read my letters from adolescence. If they do they will probably find that I had very black and white ideas of right and wrong and that boys sucked. So what? As for his early engagement letters…they may have been misogynistic, but the later ones weren’t. He saw his wife as his connection to the world. He discussed his theories with her and assumed that she would understand them (and she did). He shared his coke with her.

    Chauvinist? He was a product of his time, sure. And he didn’t fully understand the female libido, he admitted. BUT, he was the ONLY one at the time who really listened to women. And HE was the ONLY one at the time who believed that being sexually assaulted by men in life was not that uncommon and was the cause of emotional problems for women. He recognized that the problems these women were having were rooted in sexual trauma as opposed to the simple fact of being biologically Woman. That doesn’t seem that chauvinistic to me.

  23. 23
    D.aniel W.ilson

    C.rap. O.h., w.ell, t.here’s a.lways w.ikipedia.

  24. 24
    D.aniel W.ilson

    F.rederick C.rews i.s a. h.ypocrite.

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