Sunday, March 15, 2015

Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (1916-1917)

I really enjoyed this series of lectures designed to explicate the theory of psychoanalysis and discuss research supporting it. With World War I raging in the background (referred to more than once) and the field of psychoanalysis essentially still in its infancy—or at least very much a work in progress—Herr Doktor Sigmund Freud lays it out. He starts with parapraxes, now known more commonly as "Freudian slips," moves on to dreams, and finally enters into neurotic theory, where it gets a little confusing and heavy on jargon. It's dated insofar as the social norms it assumes so unquestioningly, especially on gender / sexuality issues—he's only a notch above primitive 20th century as often as not, and some wincing should be expected. It is vividly not dated, however, in the grindingly convincing case it makes for an unconscious in conflict with a conscious, a dynamic that defines critical ways we experience reality as basically about the sexual imperative encountering the rational, civilizing imperative. He's very shrewd to argue the case for parapraxes first. He finds examples, in Shakespeare no less, where it is obvious that the phenomenon of self-defeating slips of the tongue, misplaced important objects such as keys, and inexplicable "forgetting" are not just well-known commonplaces of experience, but have also been understood for centuries for what they so often seem to be, evidence of a will in conflict with itself somehow. In Shakespeare, Hamlet misremembers and then corrects himself about how long his father has been dead. A more prosaic example is the joke about the letter home that begins, "Dead Mom and Dad." Freud is so convincing on his elucidation of these dynamics that later, in the last third, when the issues are harder to follow and I more often started to snort and shake my damn head over the fanciful interpretations erupting, it still seemed plausible. In fact, I had to wonder whether my response did not indicate some message in all that mess that I was resisting. Perhaps so. But no, I think it's just heavy on jargon and too many theoretical points (and underpinnings) still in play at the time. It's still a little doughy, or tacky, not even in the oven properly yet. But the lectures are energized by the consideration of exciting and revolutionary ideas. He definitely seems to be on to something. Plus Freud is a very good writer, that's apparent even through the translation of lecture notes.

In case it's not at the library.

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