Freud on Trial

Freud on Trial

Revisionist scholarship on Freud has become a total assault on his achievement. If it were to succeed, virtually nothing would be left to value in his work. What would remain is a view of his legacy as a poison in our culture that needs to be purged. Two recent publishing events show how far the anti-Freud attack has carried: a featured review of four works of revisionist literature by Frederick Crews in the highbrow New York Review of Books and a cover story in the middlebrow Time that raises the question, “Is Freud Dead?” Crews himself was once a distinguished practitioner of psychoanalytic criticism. The ferocity of his attack has all the animus of a resentful renegade, though he offers the reader no account of his own evolution from champion of psychoanalysis to implacable adversary. Freud, the riddle-solver, identified himself with Oedipus. In the eyes of Crews and others, he has become Laius, an invitation to parricide.

Crews devotes a good deal of space to Freud’s alleged unscrupulousness in the cooking of evidence (for example, his unreliable reporting of what actually occurred in his therapeutic encounters) and in his manipulation of patients to serve the interests of psychoanalysis. He recounts a story of how Freud induced a patient and protege to divorce his wife and marry one of his own patients, a bank heiress, who would then provide funds for Freud’s psychoanalytic projects. Freud was able to accomplish this feat by persuading the protege that he was a latent homosexual and that the new marriage would somehow keep him from a homosexual fate. “The divorce and re-marriage” resulted “in the deaths of both of the abandoned, devastated spouses,” an early suit for divorce by the newly married woman and repeated attempts at suicide by Freud’s protege.

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