The last nail


The Last Nail in the Coffin and The Stake Through the Heart


Le Dossier Freud: Enquête sur l’histoire de la  psychanalyse. January 2006. Paris: Les Empêcheurs de penser en rond / Seuil. 507 pages. ISBN 2-84671-132-1 (20 Euros)

Some years ago the English neurologist Raymond Tallis wondered aloud when „the rotting corpse of Freud“ and Psychoanalysis would finally give up the ghost — as it were. Would it continue to endure in some imagined kind of suspended animation, even though — to all intents and purposes — it was already without life, like the hypnotized `corpse‘ of  Monsieur Valdemar in  Edgar Allan Poe’s narrative `hoax‘, „The Facts in the Case of  M. Valdemar“?  (The strict psychoanalytical analog of this tale would be those various „societies“ in London & Paris and elsewhere that offer to the wealthy gullible an introduction to psychoanalysis as a sure guide to the understanding of Art & Literature — rather as Jung and Freud had in the early years of the Twentieth Century squeezed certain millionaires of America in order to show them the Truth about Life –whether those shrewd American money-changers REALLY learned about Life or Themselves is another question.) It would seem, to judge by the abundance of well-researched and closely-documented publications that have appeared in this new Twenty-First Century that, at last, that time has come.

This does NOT mean, however, that the Time of The Duped has come to an end. „The poor ye always have with you,“ as Jesus rightly said (a proto-Marxist if ever there was!) — he should have added: „The CREDULOUS ye always have with you.“ – and they are with us still — some of them teaching, in University appointments, material that has now — has long since — been shown to be false. Professor Horst Kächele teaches his students at Ulm University about the „epoche-machende“ (his foolish phrase!) discovery of the Dream of Irma’s Injection in Chapter 2 of Die Traumdeutung — the knowledge that this dream-report is a demonstrably IMPOSSIBLE hoax has been known for twenty years. This has not stopped the scions of German scholarship from inculcating lies to their students. Let us hope that scholarship (i.e. accurate investigation of fact) will rescue scholars (i.e. students trying to find an honest understanding of the world they inhabit!). This new Twenty-First Century promises enlightenment — at long last!

In 2000, my own Mousetraps and the Moon. The Strange Ride of Sigmund Freud & the Early Years of Psychoanalysis came out from Lexington Books in the USA. In 2002, Jacques Bénesteau, a clinical psychologist at the C.H.U. of the Université de Toulouse, produced Mensonges freudiens: Histoire d’une désinformation séculaire (Sprimont, Belgium: Mardaga) which, in 2003, was unanimously awarded the prize for the year’s best history of medicine by the French Société française d’histoire de la médecine. In 2003, the American team of senior academic psychologists, Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn and Jeffrey M. Lohr put together the 500-page volume with many contributors including the great Elizabeth Loftus, that will serve as a graduate textbook for years to come, Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology: Initial Thoughts, Reflections, and Considerations (New York: The Guilford Press, ISBN 1-59385-070-0 [paperback]). On September 1st 2005, the fresh, intellectually adventurous Paris publishing house, Les Arènes, published the monumental 800-page Le Livre noir de la psychanalyse under the editorship of the young, brilliant ex-Normalienne, Catherine Meyer, who had to contend with over 40 international scholars. This massive work, for all its „politically-correct“ limitations, was THE publishing event of the year 2005. As a senior French psychiatrist friend said, in spite of its many self-imposed limitations (and there were many!), the volume did indeed „servir à délier les langues“  (serve to get people speaking). Before year’s end, public demand was so great that it had already gone into five new print-runs! An almost unheard-of popular success in French publishing. And TOTALLY unheard-of for an academic volume as well-documented as this one.

Now, in January 2006, the redoubtable French publishing house „Les Empêcheurs de penser en rond“, aided by the long-established senior house Le Seuil, has come out with an extraordinary 500-page volume jointly authored by Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, who served under Catherine Meyer as an associate joint-editor of Le Livre noir de la psychanalyse and the Jung scholar at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at the University of London, Sonu Shamdasani, Le Dossier Freud: Enquête sur l’histoire de la psychanalyse.This excellent and meticulously documented work is without any reservation the cap-stone of the last century of Freudian scholarship — and we now know — thanks to the archival researches of these two scholars —  the vast extent of the sheer, original (from the very origins of psychoanalysis) duplicity that was psychoanalysis. I might add — though neither contributor goes this far — that the Berlin recipient of Freud’s letters, the ear, nose, and throat Zauberer, Wilhelm Fliess, was most likely the real inventor of the imbecilic misunderstanding of human psychology and human biochemistry that came to be known as „Psychoanalysis“ (for Fliess, it was to be called the „Nasal Neurosis Complex“ – & was one of the bizarre grounds for the insane removal of the middle-left turbinate bone from Emma Eckstein’s nose; and, incidentally, though neither of the two authors nor their trusted American source, Frank Sulloway, mentions this — Fliess had NO CONCEPTION of what was the parasympathetic nervous system — but then nor did Freud!).

In a prefatory statement, Borch-Jacobsen writes that this volume was not originally intended to appear as it did; but events overtook plans. The archival scrutiny involved in this volume amounts to over twelve years solid investigation on both sides of  the Atlantic.

Borch-Jacobsen and Shamdasani have divided their presentation into four parts, with a learned Introduction and a brief – but potent! – Conclusion. Their major sections — which deal with Freud’s „invention“ (psychoanalysis) as a „personal science“ whereby Freud, the Guru, discovered within himself the Unconscious and extrapolated outward to the rest of the world and then applied his „knowledge“ to his patients and to the understanding of dreams. This is the schema of the whole book:
Introduction — „La Querelle“;
1.        Une Science privée;
2.        L’interpréfaction des rêves;
3.      Histoires de Malades;
4       La Police du passé;
Conclusion — Qu’aura donc été la psychanalyse?

By far the most original, most valuable, and finest researched piece of long-term archival investigation is contained in Part One „Une Science privée“ which deals with the turbulent years for psychiatrists in Germany between, say, 1910 and the outbreak of the First World War. The sense of the title – „une science privée“ becomes patently clear as the chapter progresses: Freud insisted on the unique value (and unwarranted accuracy) of his „Self-Analysis“ and, together with Jung, insisted on excluding unbelieving German psychiatrists from their „scientific“ congresses. The first scandalous exclusion was of the well-known psychiatrist Max Isserlin who had asked to attend the March 1910 Congress of the international associations of Freudians at Nürnberg. Both Jung and Freud personally refused his request to attend! That same year, at the Congress of German neurologists and psychiatrists held at Baden-Baden in May, the psychiatrist Alfred Hoche gave a paper with the uncompromising title „A Psychic Epidemic amongst Doctors“ (later published as „Eine psychische Epidemie unter Ärzten,“ in the Medizinische Klinik, vol. 6, no. 26 [1910], pp. 1007-1010).

Some of that paper, given on 28 May 1910, is quoted by Borch-Jacobsen and is worth including here as an early and enlightened medical scientific response to the early „institutionalization“ of Freudian psychoanalysis:

In an astonishing manner, a large number of disciples, some of them clearly fanatics, have at present rallied round Freud and are following him wherever he leads them. To speak in this context of a „Freudian School“ would in reality be completely wrong to the extent that it is not a question of scientifically provable or demonstrable facts, but of articles of faith; in truth, with the exception of a few wiser heads, we are dealing with a community of believers, with a kind of Sect (eine Art von Sekte) with all the characteristics that belong to such a situation [. . .] To become a member of the sect is by no means easy. It requires a novitiate of long duration which, preferably, ends at the foot of the Master himself. By the same token, it is not given to anyone to become a disciple, but only to he who has faith [. . .] (Le Dossier Freud, pp.118-119)

And so on! …. It makes for fascinating reading to discover how early-on and how well-informed these, nowadays commonplace criticisms, appeared. The very careful hunting through many diverse sets of archives has allowed the authors to present – with a deft choice of direct quotation and an excellent narrative drive, the extraordinary triumphs and disasters of those pre-First World War years in Germany. Leading specialists, like Kraepelin, were livid with the games being played by the Freudians.

Events seem to have come to a head, or to a potentially terminal crisis, in the second week of May 1913 during the annual Congress of the German Association of Psychiatry held that year at Breslau. The defensive tactics of the analysts in May 1913 give Borch-Jacobsen the sly pleasure (no doubt relished by his French audience) of a footnote on the contemporary French crisis which involved Jacques Lacan’s preposterous son-in-law, Jacques-Alain Miller, to bully the then Minister of Health (Philippe Douste-Blazy) into withdrawing the scientific findings of the INSERM report on the relative efficacy of the various psychotherapies. Some things, notes Borch-Jacobsen, never change!

Once again, in 1913 at Breslau, Alfred Hoche was as trenchantly critical of the ignorant pretensions of the analysts. He was joined by Bleuler. Zurich, which had once seemed, a perfect second site for the evolving psychoanalysis of Freud appeared, momentarily, a lost cause. However, as  the authors point out, once again by an act of rhetorical strategy Freud managed to avoid disaster and total defeat. Quoting from the minutes of the Psychoanalytic Club of Zurich for 10 July 1914, they show how Freud insisted on the authority of his own individual theories and how this was incompatible with science. The Swiss „analysts“ removed themselves en bloc from the Viennese Freudians. Freud had driven them to this – ultimately mistaken strategy – and had „won“ (having got rid of awkward dissidents within his movement). As Borch-Jacobsen writes:
„Freud had staked his everything and had won. In the absence of alternative narratives from Jung or Adler’s side, the so-called „History“ proposed by Freud became henceforth the founding document of the Father-of-Psychoanalysis. (p.143)

In 1974, the American Wittgenstein specialist, Frank Cioffi, asked in the prestigious BBC publication, The Listener, „Was Freud a Liar?“ In those far-off, innocent days such a question was almost an inadmissible vulgarity (Cioffi could get away with it because he was bright AND American!). Nowadays –such has been the immense increase in serious archival research & knowledge about the various myths of the early days of psychoanalysis that Cioffi’s question can (& SHOULD) be rewritten:
„Did Freud ever tell the truth?“

        The answer appears to be „rarely“ and even more rarely when Freud’s own strange inventions „The Oedipus Complex“ (in fact, a misreading by Fliess of his son’s spontaneous infantile erections!); penis envy; the death instinct; and so on were the subject of his inventive — and ignorant — rhetorical discourse. If this extremely well-documented piece of research has any errors, they are in a sense the consequence of its intended audience. This volume was drafted for the cognoscenti of Paris — what I would call the Parisian intellectual middle-class version of Marx’s Lumpenproletariat. As a consequence, many, many pages are wastefully devoted to the arguments of Louis Althusser, to the versions of Freudian thought invented by Jacques Lacan, and to the propositions stemming from Bruno Latour’s supposed grasp of science as a social construct.

        What this book needed, to make it the virtually priceless piece of scholarship it could have been, was a direct infusion of the clear-headed medical scientific thinking of my neurologist friend, Raymond Tallis. Two chapters of The Raymond Tallis Reader, edited by Michael Grant (2000. Houndmills: Palgrave, ISBN 0-333-77272-5) are mandatory preliminary reading — and they have to do, of course, with the ghastly Lacan: Read, please, dear Reader, Chapters 9 & 10 („The Mirror Stage: A Critical Reflection“ and „The Shrink from Hell“) on pages 253-288. They will readily repay the time spent digesting them, and they will make crystal-clear the gross deficiencies of the French understanding of human psychology.

        One point that I have not mentioned, but which should be questioned by the intelligent reader, is the extraordinary absence of any mention of the laureate of the 2002-3 prize for the finest book on the history of medicine, the clinical psychologist from Toulouse, Jacques Bénesteau. Jacques Bénesteau’s 2002 book, Mensonges freudiens: histoire d’une désinformation séculaire, broke ground in France by demonstrating, with a clear and fluent grasp of American, English and English-language scholarship totally unknown in France, his awareness of the current research in Freud scholarship and the enormous strides in getting to the truth that have been achieved in spite of the „Stalinist“ attempts of Anna Freud and her fellow-travellers, from Max Schur and Ernst Kris to Kurt Eissler, that fierce loyal Cerberus of the Freud Archives, to prevent the world’s knowing the lies by which her father rose to fame. Le Dossier Freud is an excellent book; it would have been a more useful volume had it paid less attention to the intellectual gibberish of Jacques Lacan; it would have been a wiser and more honest volume had it given appropriate recognition to the splendid archival investigations of Jacques Bénesteau.

Robert Wilcocks

(posted February 22, 2006)

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