Eugene Goodheart is a fine literary critic, but in “Freud on Trial” (Spring 1995) he fails to establish that Freud’s undoubted “suggestiveness” and “persuasiveness” are grounds for his permanent value as a psychological thinker. As Goodheart says, the fact that Freud has served our century as a major “founder of discursivity” needs to be explained. But a sound explanation, such as Ernest Gellner’s thoughtful and complex one in The Psychoanalytic Movement, or The Coming of Unreason (1985)—won’t necessarily require our continued enthrallment to such debatable notions as repression and the Oedipus complex. Indeed, only when we have grasped (as Gellner does) the gratuitousness of those and other Freudian dogmas can we transcend Whiggish smugness and perceive (as Goodheart doesn’t) the full scope of the problem. If Freud has “influenced” us without the benefit of being right in his mental lawgiving, attention must shift from the absolute appeal of his ideas to the modern cultural needs and expectations they have served.
One inconvenience in Goodheart’s argument is that Freud is becoming less persuasive with every passing year. Even Goodheart chokes, for example, on the arrogant tails-you-lose logic of Freudian “resistance,” which allows interpretive folly an unchecked license. Yet Goodheart wants to remove such concepts from the reach of scientific criticism, appealing instead to spongily supportive categories like “the power of narration,” “the company of the great masters of modern literature,” and the “emotional recognition of the truth of an interpretation” as it is reflected in “the confirming response of the analysand.”...
For just $19.95 a year, get access to new issues and decades' worth of archives on our site.
Print + Online
For $29.95 a year, get new issues delivered to your door and access to our full online archives.