Prof. John Forrester
Professor of History and Philosophy of the Sciences, University of Cambridge
Well firstly I must say some prefatory remarks, that piece was written by me at the time of the Freud wars which still continue. The Freud wars were intent to deprive Freud of any effect on the modern world but to treat him as if he were still alive
and I’m struck because Freud has been dead for quite a long time and he’s treated, by his critics in particular, as more alive than dead and I wanted to entrain to the spirit of this debate about Freud by bringing Freud back from the dead, it’s a particular gift that historians are supposed to have, a gift of imaginatively reviving the dead, we let them go back to their resting places after the process is over and so I wrote up an interview with Freud which was situated in this room in London in Hampstead and he gave me some interesting responses.
Now my impression of him, well, he was a ghost and ghosts don’t actually have a straight forward materialistic reality, so he didn’t look any different from the photographs which we are all familiar with, there was kind of a combination of all the photographs and he spoke in this terse precise way as in the recording we have which are also made in this room in 1938 BBC in German and in English and he spoke this peculiar precise archaic English, imagining what I’m using rather beautiful words slightly imprecisely and then slightly too precisely and amongst the things he talked about were because of the questions I put to him were the fact that he was always associated with sex and that this was first of his many crimes, that he thought that human beings thought too much about sex, that they were driven too much by sex, and he said that look at your society, isn’t this a living proof of what I said back in 1900 that was so shocking then but is so banal now, everyone is driven by sex from the medical apparatus to those congregated around reproduction, artificial means of reproduction, to the defining of social groups through their sexual orientation, through their sexual identity, the personal leads the political, this is a formula which you’ll find from feminism but it is just psychoanalysis turned upside down because that was what Freud was himself doing showing that if you want to look in any sphere of ordinary life from the economic to the official to the legal you’ll find a personal embedded in the secret way within that and having an unexpected but great influence upon all those other forms of activity and all those other discourses.
So that was one other aspect which he said of the aspect of sex which I have been accused of, I’ve always been accused of, is now a banality and we don’t have to talk about that anymore, the fact that I was sleazy once means I’m now just boring. Interestingly enough if there was one figure that was deeply problematic, deeply fascinating for Freud it was Moses and his final book was to show that Moses was an Egyptian and not a Jew and why?
Well he wanted to say that the invention of Monotheism which the Jews were always associated with was a great historical event but in fact it was an event of the Egyptian, Pharaonic culture, Akhenaten was the great inventor of monotheism and Moses was Akhenaten’s follower who took the children of Israel as a kind of experimental group to disseminate monotheisms once it had failed in Egypt.
Now this peculiar character of Moses, the Egyptian who was a kind of Pharaoh and also a leader of the wild people in the wilderness, this figure was one that Freud identified closely and it catches quite a lot of his interest in features as a personality, he was a wild figure in the wilderness and yet he was immensely authoritative and immensely dictatorial at times person, not dictatorial in the sense that he exerted absolute power over anyone because he didn’t, he had no power
but as a human being he had immense power in his relationship with patients, in his relationship with his followers, disciples or colleagues or friends or students,
all these things but he actually had a dictatorial relationship to them at times but the dictatorial quality was his certainty, this is a man who, whose doubts were always interrogated internally but within he had certainty and that’s one of the features that Freud that is so striking is that all his writings are full of this interrogation and self-questioning - but in tone of absolute certainty, he had a kind of curious contradiction there and that’s one of the reasons why he’s such a fascinating writer to read.
So that’s one of the reasons why he could be seen as a pharaonic or an archaic figure you might say, I didn’t ask him but I can guess what he might have answered, his answer was that America was a hopeful country, a new country, beyond the dollar they believed in a bright new future and Freud as an old European, already he was in his 50s when he went to America, was not bringing a hopeful message, there was no salvation in Freud’s message, his message was always going to be, bad news for humanity, and he thought that that was something toxic for United States, it would catch up like a plague and it did, his prediction was truly caught on like a plague in the United States but it’s bitterly repudiated as well because it’s so un-American and that was what he meant by saying that he was bringing them the plague, something that was alien to America, that whether it was alien to Europe as well or more acceptable in Europe but still alien that’s another question because there is a question, if there were some movements that bring good news I think psychoanalysis was a movement that always brought bad news and would not be acceptable and would always be fought against to the point where people think that Freud is still alive and needs fighting.
He had many criticism of America; he did say it was a terrible mistake, America.
From the point of view of, who exactly, maybe culturally, but his principle dislike of what happened to psychoanalysis in America had to do with three things; the overwhelming predominance of money as a factor in social, in individual relations,
the fact of puritanism which would mean that psychoanalysis would always be perverted and distorted by the puritanist's response to it in America and the third thing that he disliked so much about America was that psychoanalysis was bound to be swallowed up by medicine in psychiatry in particular and as Freud saw that future shaping up he felt more and more hostile to the Americans who were trying to make psychoanalysis a respectable profession within medicine, within the money making medicine that dominated American culture throughout the 20th century and also this idea of a respectable and restricted sense of the human being that medicine gives, his vision of human being was far larger one, captured by novels, by the humanities, works of art, far more than the bodily and the scientific model the one dimensional model which Freud himself also believed in, which was to be found in American medicine, he believed in his legacy in a very profound way, and his legacy was psychoanalysis, and from early on that’s what he cared about most, having a legacy, and first he thought his younger pupils, disciples, followers would become his legacy then it became a larger cultural movement and he became a great figure, a cupful figure like Einstein, like John Maynard Keynes, like Mary Currie, these are the people in the 1920s and 30s that he was linked with as great figure heads of early 20th century culture. He would have been pleased that Bertrand Russell said, in 1950, when he was asked the question for time magazine the greatest man of the first half of the 20th century and Russell said probably Einstein but Freud and Lenin come close, so Einstein, Freud, Lenin - Freud would have been pleased to be in this company. That was his legacy and he knew it by the time he died but he also knew that his legacy was to be hated.
I once talked to a French friend who said his father the day he heard in Le Figaro in Paris that Freud had died said “hurray, finally this dirty old man is dead”, I mean the victory, at that moment in September 1939, the victory in bourgeoisie, one of the chief enemies of the bourgeoisie had died was absolutely powerful, so that was part of the legacy, he was a devil, in fact Keynes called him a devil, a sort of devil in a piece he wrote in 1925.
So Freud was amused, he was a Faustian figure, he turned out, he didn’t know he was going to be that but it turned out that his legacy was Faustian, he had a double side to it and there was a deal with the devil which Freud himself had played with such references that his work was a kind of a deal with the devil, in fact one of the journals in the history of psychoanalysis calls himself Lucifer Amor, that’s because Freud talked about the devil, love, in one of his letters in the 1890s and this was somehow the agent he was coming to terms with, in human history, in human culture, this devil, love, libido we now call it, that was the interlocutor he was dealing with, he was bound to have a tough time of it, if he was dealing with the devil, I think he used to call it resistance and this is become a word of abuse, of the Freudians, they always say any criticism of them, that’s just resistance, people resisting their theories, because they don’t like their theories, and so whenever they object or criticize that’s just resistance, so we don’t have to take those objections or criticism into account.
Now resistance is actually a very neutral and anodyne word, so let’s call it dirty secrets instead, so their hatred of Freud is because Freud says everyone has dirty secrets, not only do they have dirty secrets but those dirty secrets have a fundamental effect on the course of their lives, in fact maybe determining for who they are, what they are, how they become who they are, I mean there is a cynical view that every millionaire makes their first ten thousand in a criminal way, no matter how clean they are after but the first ten thousand is always criminal.
It’s a kind of view in Freud that perhaps everyone starts off a criminal with their dirty secrets. Now this goes two ways, you can either say I don’t have any dirty secrets, that’s a horrible thing to say about me, and that’s why you hate him so much, or just the troubling is my nearest and dearest, my father, my mother, my sister, my brother, my wife, my children, they have dirty secrets, that is equally shocking, is it worse that I’ve got dirty secret or they’ve got dirty secrets, and with that kind of view of why people hate Freud so much one begins to see that Freud organizes his view of human beings around idealization and denigration, that’s the way people see themselves, they denigrate themselves or they idealize themselves, but if they idealize themselves they often denigrate the other people, and it’s this access of denigration and idealization that Freud is talking about all the time and the concept of ego idea in psychoanalysis is one formula for talking about it, but it’s the way of hating other people because or despising other people or despising oneself, that’s kind of toing and froing of this dynamic relation of Freud observes and then theorizes and then people hate that because they don’t want to be either denigrated or have to denigrate others.
So that’s one way of looking at the resistance, the dislike that so many people have for Freud. Freud was a critic of puritanism, no doubt about that, he was a critic of morality because morality was a vehicle for the sadistic power of the super ego but Freud believed in morality but he didn’t believe in either a religious or any other kind of foundation for morality, he said morality is self-evident, you just know, so he’s an intuitive moral theorist you might say, you might even say that’s not a theory, you know what’s good and what’s bad but then he said that morality is actually just a highway code for the regulation of relationship between human beings, there’s nothing moral about red lights or green lights or driving on the left or driving on the right, those are just rules, and, but they’re very important rules because if you don’t drive on the right side of the road or the left side of the road in the country you’re in you’ll end up dead or somebody else would wind up dead.
So morality is very important if it is like that, it is important as the highway code, and the highway code we take for granted, you are a civilized human being,
in the 21st century you obey the highway code, and it’s a matter of self-preservation and preservation of others.
Freud thought morality was just the same, and it’s nothing more controversial that it’s when you get violence and passion associated with morality, that things get complicated, and that’s the sign of the super ego, That is the sign of our inner natures being mobilized, against other human beings in the name of morality, for social order for being right, being on the side of the angels against the devil,
we have witch hunts all the time, in fact more now even perhaps than when Freud was alive, witch hunts of sex offenders, child abusers, people who committed crime in their youth and hid them for 40 years, they’re all coming out of the wood work, not to mention people who commit violent crime, go to jail for 7 years and then come out and people are scandalized by this and passions are aroused, that’s what Freud would call morality as… and he did call it that, it’s morality as the agent of the unconscious, in which it’s used against other people and used in the name of one’s own group, one’s social group to the exclusion of others often, and so forth. Well it’s just a plain fact that Freud work was treated as needing to be restricted to a very small group of people but the usual suspects; lawyers and doctors, this are the people allowed to read Freud because their professional life is bound out within being protected against sex, obscenity, scandal, that’s the view,
the doctors somehow are allowed to see naked bodies therefore they’re allowed to hear about sex, that was true in the 1920s. so Freud was not unusual, the problem was that he talked about sex for a more general public as well, and that’s where the difficulty of the dissemination of his work, of people not wanting to let his books get into the hands of children, but this is an old theme in English life,
it was still there in the 1960s with the Lady Chatterley trial, the judge saying to the jury would you like your servant to read this book, would you feel happy about it?
Well Freud was in the same category, so D.H. Lawrence - Sigmund Freud
Martin Machner in certain respect in the 1920s. The English puritanism which was also to be found in United States, Freud ran into that, but that just deserves a shrug of the shoulders, that’s just life at that time. He was highly respected by the English, just like Bertrand Russell’s comments saying Frued is one of the two or three greatest men of the 20th centuries, that comment makes it clear, that his reputation even though controversial, was a considerable one.
Now things have changed, when I interviewed him it was partly about him being alive but he died in 1939 and yet 50 60 70 years after his death people are still fighting over his legacy and fighting over whether or not he’s a controversial figure or a figure who can offer us anything now, we even have this bizarre scene a few months ago, of burglars breaking into the crematorium of where his ashes are, and it looked quite not clear what happened, it looked as if they wanted to steal his ashes, or they may have wanted to steal the Greek vase in which his ashes were contained. The burglary went wrong, but the question still remains was Freud’s ashes still valuable or was it the container, in which they were to be found this valuable, and that’s kind of allegory in some seems, still, for whether it is Freud himself, his writings or something that Freud represents which might be an old fashioned humanism or a kind of vision of the relations between human beings which the modern world, the 21st century world wants to discard and the psychotherapeutic relationship, is that what is dangerous about Freud?
Two people alone in a room of which one offers to help the other and the other asks for help, in desperation, in depression, in all the difficult things in their lives from the other person, that’s what Freud invented as a relationship and he theorized that relationship, he tried to explore what goes on between two people, in a quiet room, with the door closed, in which they talk, is that very dangerous,
is that where the charlatan is to be found? Because Freud is accused of being a charlatan but what is there about two people in a room, one of them pays the other, true, why is that different from say this relationship I’m having with you at the moment in which you’re filming me, We’re having a conversation in a room which happens to be the same room as Freud’s psychoanalytic conversation went on, could there be dangerous things that will go on in our conversation, why is it even worth filming such an event, are we being charlatan in the same kind of way that psychoanalysis is accused of being charlatanry, maybe the fact that Freud invented psychoanalysis in 1895 that cinema was invented in the same year.
The movie industry is often called the dream industry, Freud’s great contribution was the interpretation of dream, so we have these two dream industries; one telling your dreams to a stranger and the other seeing dreams on a blank wall in a dark room, these two great dream industries and how are they connected one with the other, maybe there is a deep connection to do with the technologies and the social relations in the 20th century. Freud thought Woody Allen was a very good patient, he explored things and he made a career out of it but it’s quite clear that his inner explorations went hand in hand with being a very funny man, what he found through his inner exploration was a ridiculous person, Woody Allen, and he showed it to the rest of the world everyone laughed as they recognized themselves or they recognized this other person they like to despise. So the dynamics of Woody Allen’s neurosis was a very good vehicle for the psychoanalytic, cure of it took over many years for Woody Allen. Woody Allen said…what was one of those great Woody Allen lines? Orthodox Freudians “if you commit suicide they make you pay for the sessions you’ve missed.” So Woody Allen had a clear sense of his relationship with his psychoanalyst many of the years. It made me think about a passage in "Civilization and Its Discontents" when Freud talks about human beings have discovered a number of palliatives to make life easier because life is very difficult, and amongst the palliatives is religion, there’s consolation and sometimes promise of a future life after this miserable one is over, you think you’re going to get a good deal after in the second coming, second time around, but then the other one that he talked about, was drugs and he said Never underestimate the power of drugs as a consolation and people never get sick and tired of their drugs in the way do for instance of their sexual partners, nobody complains about how the whisky this year is not as good as it was last year in the same way they might talk about their mistresses or their favorite lovers, their gigolos.
Freud actually said this in his Civilization and Its Discontents so he saw how all pervasive the very forms of consolation are; sex and drugs and alcohol is the one that the late 20thcentury invented but drink has been there for a long time and other forms of drug, his famous cigar, he knew very well that was his form of consolation that was necessary for him to find life bearable, no I put one out just before I come in the room, no I don’t smoke cigars.