My interest in Freud is not only in him as an individual, although he's a fascinating individual, and a very complex individual. But my interest in Freud and what I think what Freud leaves us today is much more about the kinds of conversations he had.
The kinds of arguments and debates that Freud had with the people around him. With his followers, with opponents. So that I think, when we think today about the kinds of things that psychoanalysts argue about, that they are still debating, that they're still not sure of, you can always trace those debates, those arguments back to what Freud was thinking about, what he was arguing with his colleagues, with his friends. So the whole idea of, that Freud was wrong or that Freud was right, becomes irrelevant. What's relevant is that Freud was initiating these debates and these arguments that are relevant for us today. So if Freud got something right or got something wrong, it's not, it's not really what's important.
What's important is that we go back there and we see the same things we're fighting about today, that these were what Freud was fighting about with his colleagues. And they took one side, they took another side. Sometimes one side got more extreme which sides. But the point is, we see the same issues. So that would be one thing. A second thing is, what Freud left us in terms of the main ideas that he contributed are the things that, that clinicians - people that are really working with patients on a day to day basic today. This is the same things that they're thinking about, what Freud left.
As well as people that are using Freud in the arts and the humanities in, in media studies, in feminist studies, in queer studies, in literary studies. The core ideas of Freud, the idea that people are functioning unconsciously, what does it mean?
It means that we're not aware of everything we do, even when we think we're being very deliberate and we're being very careful. As a matter of a fact precisely when we think we're being so logical and so precise and exact, those are the times that we very likely are influenced by things we don't know we're influenced by.
That there are motivations, there are emotions, ideas, affects - that are affecting us, we don't even know that know that they're affecting us, but they can be the basis for our behavior. A second thing is that much of what we are and much of who we are, and much of who we've become, has to do with our childhood, has to do with our families, has to do with our origins. Have to do with what happened to us as young children. And of course how that's shaped by our constitution, not just what the environment was, not just with the family, but what did we bring to the family?
The thing about childhood, it's much more complicated than people give Freud credit for. He's, Freud is many things, but he's never simple. There's always elements of complexity to anything he's saying, which makes it very hard when people go back and they say, "Well Freud got this right or wrong." Because there's always other layers to Freud. You can always read Freud in other ways, and deeper ways - conflicting with himself, fighting with himself, evolving.
So, with childhood, there's no question, that Freud does take into account the child's family, and the relationship with the mother and with the father, and even with culture. I can give examples of Freud. And yet, of course, the predominant thing in Freud is what the child brings. Impulse, drive, what are the characteristics that the child brings to the family? Not only does the family stamp the child. So what you get in Freud is a very complicated view, of what's, what's leading to what. This again sets many of the debates for today about what's shaping people as they grow up? Another element, another very important element is Freud really is the initiator of bringing in an intra-psychic, which means, what's going on in your mind about the world, not just what's happening in the world? But what happens in our minds, about our relationships with people? So it's not just looking at what are you doing with someone else, but how is that represented in your mind? How do you transform it in your mind? And how do those representations, of, of people shape other representations? How does it, what do you bring from one relationship to another relationship? This is his famous idea of the transference, that you transfer things that happened with one person, onto another person, so that what happens in your most important relationships in childhood, becomes a, a structure, for what happens later in your life.
Again, this is very prominent today in all kinds of theories about interpersonal relationships, object relationships. Another aspect of Freud, is his developmental theory. And his theory is often caricatured, people think of Freud's theory, they describe it as simple and linear. You go from the oral to the anal to the phallic.
It's such a misreading of Freud. It's a simple reading of Freud, because Freud's development of these stages didn't start and never really is meant to be a simple linear progression. Freud's view of time is as complex as anything that we have today. He's thinking of time as always reworking. What happens later changes in your mind, what happened earlier? So there's no idea that you can go from stage one to two to three. Because what happens in stage three reworks what happens in stage two. And then that changes what happens in step four.
So Freud's model of, of time is actually a much more complicated model.
This is very relevant today. People doing work on memory, today think that they're inventing something new, when they think that memory is constructed, that we're constructing memories of the past. Freud said this very, very clearly. His model of memory is not a simple model, that we remember something from childhood.
Freud, at one point he says, "We may not have any memories from childhood, we only have memories about our childhood, because they're reworked by later stages. It's a very complex theory, so Freud is giving us not only that he's giving us complicated and rich ideas, but these are still the ideas that people are arguing about, and researching and shaping. So, again the idea of whether Freud got it right or wrong - completely irrelevant. Freud set the agenda for everything we're still studying. So the question that you're asking me, if I understand you right, is, "What good is understanding history in terms of how does it affect our current life and our wanting to change? Or if we have symptoms, or wanting to get better, what good is it only to understand the past?"
And I can answer that in several ways, but I think the most important thing –
the clinicians that I know, the psychoanalysts that I know, they're not trying to dig up history because they're historians. They're not interested in finding out about a person's history, because they feel that the intellectual knowledge of what happened to you in childhood will somehow change, what's happening today.
They're interested in history, for several reasons, in the, in the family history and the child hood history, for several reasons. First of all, patterns tend to repeat
and they, and identifying a pattern, it doesn't matter where you identify it. So if I see, that you are someone, who, doesn't express assertively what you need, you don't express yourself, you're afraid to ask for what you need.
And that when you do ask for what you need, you become very anxious. It doesn't matter whether I find that pattern and identify it, in your childhood. That somebody in your family did that. Maybe you had a father that was like that, who you observed and you were like him.
Or, whether I see that you do that with your boss at work and you're telling me about your work life, and I see the pattern there. Or I see it that you do that with your husband or wife or with your intimate friends, or with your kids. Or I see that you do it with me. Where you start doesn't matter so much. You identify a pattern. If you're a good clinician, it's pattern recognition. It has to do with, "Can I see that pattern? If it's important in your life, the odds are, you're doing either the same thing that you did with your family, you're doing with your spouse, you're doing with your boss, you're doing with me. Or you're doing it, in different ways. So with your boss, you're meek and you don't express yourself. But then you come home, and with somebody in your family, you are demanding and you're asserting yourself too much, it's the opposite."
So I identify a pattern, even though the behavior is different. So the key thing about the history is that this is a way of linking, all the different realms of your life,
and this is what clinicians, and we have researched by the way. That really confirms, it's not just what we say in theory. This is what analytic therapists do.
They look for patterns in the different areas of your life, and you see the connections between them. So that if, you have a feeling about it when you see the, "Oh, what I'm doing there is exactly what happened in my family." Or, "Here, I'm doing it again with you, that's exactly what I did with my last boyfriend." So that you start to see the patterns come together in your life. It's not, simple causality, what happened in childhood led to this, and now we have a causal relation. It's much more hermeneutic, it's a hermeneutic circle. One thing affects another, and where you break the pattern is not nearly as important, as seeing the overall cycles, the overall patterns.
What I think you're asking, is, "What good is accumulating all of this insight? And knowledge about your history, or about your past. How does that change, you, and your life? How does it change the world, what kind of impact this would have?
In fact, I would agree if somebody just gets intellectual knowledge about them self, they're a historian of them self. This doesn't necessarily lead to change. And there are many, unfortunately, many examples of people that accumulated, information, but the information wasn't trans-formative. What we're really after is transformation. The, the, maybe I could even give you some examples, but I think the important thing is not gaining knowledge about yourself, the important thing is using that knowledge to make a change, and the change can be in any of the areas, of your life. Because one change will in fact lead to another.
So, for example, I can tell you I have permission to speak about one patient that I can use as an example. This is a man, who comes from an orthodox Jewish family, and is married to a woman who is a leading person in Jewish education. He's been married maybe 20 years, family with children.
In spite of his beliefs, in spite of his having a very good sense of his conscience and his morality, Freud has an involvement in an affair. And he's in therapy because he's struggling - with, that this is against his own values. He's terrified it will ruin his relationship, that it'll bring scandal to his family. And yet Freud can't help himself. He is obsessed with this woman, he keeps going back to her.
One of the issues, and of course there's many, and I can give different examples of, of how I would use Freudian ideas with this person. But one of the things is, he's expressing a good deal of frustration and anger and hatred, towards his wife. Feelings that he has no idea he had, at least when he comes to me.
He loves his wife, he doesn't understand why he'd be caught up in an affair. The last thing he would tell me is that, "I'm angry at my wife and I want to destroy our family." This is somebody that believes he loves his family. The idea that there's an unconscious, is so basic. But it's not just this. Why does he hate her, why?
In addition to not knowing, that he was angry at her, let's think why was he so angry at her, after all? His needs are not being met, in the relationship, but he also doesn't know that his needs aren't being met. He knows that things are not as great as they used to be. He knows that it's not as exciting as it was when they were younger. But he just thinks to himself, "Well that's what happens with marriage over years." He doesn't know that he's angry, and he doesn't know why he would be angry. As we work together and he sees that he has needs that are not being met - but is because she just doesn't want to meet his needs?
No. He's also not asking for his needs to be met. Why doesn't he ask for the needs to be met? He doesn't feel he has a right, he doesn't feel he's entitled to it.
For one thing, he knows he's already had an affair, he already knows he's been interested in someone else. "What right do I have to ask her for intimacy or for emotional support when I'm doing this. And of course, even before that, there were feelings of, "I don't have a right to ask for more intimacy.”
Because she's doing so much with the kids, and she's ”So here's a different example of now the less his, the less he asks to have his needs met, the less she needs. The more he withdraws, the more he withdraws, the more she withdraws. The more he then thinks about having the affair and can't help but obsess about it - in the meantime he doesn't know what he needs. He doesn't know he's not asking for his needs to be met. He doesn't see the cycle of what's happening between him and her. And he's trying to get his needs met elsewhere, but in addition, he's trying to get his needs met in a way that punishes the wife, that expresses his rage at her, his aggression at her.
So we have so much, that's unconscious. He's functioning unconsciously. He gets aware of one piece at a time. He has to see the overall patterns, and then things have to change. It's not enough to know. It's not enough to understand, that one reason, I'm afraid of intimacy with my wife is because I had too much of a certain kind of intimacy with my mother, so now I'm afraid to have it with my wife. Knowing that isn't enough. You have to change the patterns, but where they change, may not be so important.
Do you change it, by asking more directly for the kind of intimacy that you want? Do you change it by giving your wife something that brings her closer, and gets your needs? How you change it may not matter, what's important is seeing an overall picture, understanding the relationships, the patterns, and then changing some piece of it, that allows other pieces to change.
The question you're asking, as I get it, has to do with whether Freudian theory can actually change, social life, and the wider relations between people. In a certain way, what you're asking is, " Can psychoanalytic theory, can a contribution to theory, change human nature? And I think Freud would have said, that human nature is not going to change. I think Freud would've been pessimistic about the idea that, that psychoanalytic theory was going to change the way people are in general. However, it doesn't mean there aren't contributions, psychoanalysis from the beginning, has had an impact for example on childhood education, on how we think, about how we - how we treat children, how we work with children, how we talk to children, how we play with children.
So there have - and certainly we've seen changes that psychoanalysis has had a relationship to, Sex education, and the whole sex education movement in Europe in the 1920's was very closely aligned with psychoanalysis. So there can be, social implications, but that's very different from the idea, that it's gonna change fundamentally what human beings are, I think Freud would've been quite pessimistic about that idea.
This Freud writes at the end of his life in civilization. Into analysis terminable and interminable, about the limits, to what psychoanalysis is gonna change.
You know Freud says, "On the boat to America, don't they know we're bringing them the plague?" So, this is the idea that, "Don't people understand, that psychoanalysis is not just an optimistic, positive message that it's going to be Utopian. And that, Freud had very mixed feelings about being a messiah.
On the one hand Freud pushes for leadership, he's clearly identified with Moses. He's clearly bringing something new and revolutionary. At the same time, he's stoic. He's really quite aware, that there are gonna be limits, and that human nature, is involved in the repetition, compulsion, and the death instinct. That ultimately, people have a tendency to destroy themselves, and that human conflict is so basic to who we are, that his, his fundamental - it's not just the unconscious that's his main point.
It's that we're unconsciously conflicted. That we want things that are opposing each other. And so, even if we get what we want, it means we're not getting what we - means that some other part of us, is getting what it didn't want, because we're conflicted. So, human happiness is always gonna be, plagued by conflict.
The idea of a Utopia, implies that if we had the right outside conditions, we could be satisfied. Freud would never go along with that. Because there's something that we're at war with ourselves from within. That doesn't mean Freud doesn't think it matters what the culture or the environment gives us, but fundamentally, we're conflicted from within.
You're asking whether morality changed after Freud. And there's been of course so much change from Freud's day to ours, that it would be very difficult to pinpoint that any change in our society, came precisely because of Freud.
Freud was writing, of the course the main theme that he was writing about early on was about the repression of sexuality. And a good case can be made that the contribution of psychoanalysis opened up, some discussion about sexuality. And Freud was attacked for it, because he was writing about it and speaking about it in a way, making it more acceptable than it was. But it would be hardly fair to say that all of the changes, in sexuality in our culture was because of Freud.
I think if anything, one of the problems with psychoanalysis is that, it struggles to keep up with societal change. So that, often psychoanalysts have had to be, have had to change their ideas, and have had to be dragged in to changing their ideas.
For example, with homosexuality being depathologized. It was psychoanalysts - were last to accept the depathologing, depathologizing of homosexuality. In spite of the fact that Freud had progressive values about homosexuality, and yet psychoanalysts have learned from cultural criticism. Maybe even a better example may be the impact of feminism. Psychoanalysts were very slow to change in regard to the impact of feminism. And they had outdated views. They didn't learn from listening to their women patients to change their theories. They had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, by the protests of the feminist’s movement.
The women's movement, in order to come around. On the other side, the women's movement, at first denounced Freud. See Freud as a patriarch, a golden misogynistic.
But they quickly, really in just a few years, come around, beginning with Juliet Mitchell and then others. Come around to the idea that without Freud, they're never gonna be able to study gender and sexuality.
That they need Freudian ideas, to study the very things that, that brought them to criticize him. So we get this idea of using Freud against himself. Using psychoanalysis to understand psychoanalysis, and to open up a critique. But from my point of view, that's the best use of psychoanalysis.
How would I psychoanalyze psychoanalysis? You know, a lot of my work has been studying, studying, the history of the psychoanalytic movement, and again I'm interested in Freud as a person, but I'm interested in the whole movement.
The people Freud was arguing with and fighting with. And the cultural surround, and how this developed, and particularly the difference between psychoanalysis in Europe, before World War II.
I think a very important part of the history of psychoanalysis is the shift that came about with the rise of Hitler, and World War II. There's a trajectory of psychoanalysis in Europe, before the war, but then there's a cataclysm. Psychoanalysis in Europe, in many countries, is largely destroyed.
Psychoanalysis in many of the core countries where it was developing, was largely Jewish. So with the fleeing from Hitler and the Holocaust, those institutes are wiped out, and it's largely transplanted to America, other places as well. But the American association, dominated for a long time. So then the history of psychoanalysis in America, takes a different shape. For one thing, in Europe, Freud fought very hard that it shouldn't be a medical sub-specialty, that it should be a broader area of interest. In America, it becomes dominated by medicine, but it's also important to keep in mind, that medicine in America was largely male, because women weren't accepted into American medical schools. So when you say that psychoanalysis became medical, under the dominance of medicine, a sub-specialty. It also means that by definition, it became a male sub-specialty. So it takes on specific characteristics that Freud would've opposed in America. I'm interested in, psychoanalysis from my point of view, is a psychology that was developed by immigrants, by the persecuted people, prosecuted people, poor people, misfits, Freud, and almost all of the original analysts around him, were not only recent immigrants or their parents had been recent immigrants to Vienna, which was recently opened up to Jews. But they were also largely from poor families.
This was the first generation of liberation, of emancipation, of education. And it burst, a huge energy burst forth, from this. But it takes on certain qualities and characteristics. It's a psychology, of immigrants, of people on the borders of society. They're being led in, but they're on the margins.
They're not completely in as Jews. So Freud is a doctor, but he's at the lower end of what a doctor can do. Freud can't get a job at a research university, or at a public clinic where they're doing research. He's getting a job in private practice where he can eke out a living as a Jew. So he's an insider, but he's also an outsider.
Even, even Freud's sexuality - he's in love with Fliess, it's clearly got an erotic, homo-erotic component to his love of Fliess, and then to Jung. And yet he's a heterosexual married man.
So Freud is always on the borders of everything, and that shaped psychoanalysis. I think it's a psychology of the inside and the outside. In America where psychoanalysis becomes a dominate medical, powerful sub-specialty.
At that time, psychoanalysts are insiders, they're on the in, they're no longer culturally marginal, and that becomes our biggest problem.
A lot of the damage that psychoanalysis does, comes from having that power of being insiders, and no longer on the margins. I think there are advantages, although it's of course harder to make a living, but there are advantages, to being a bit on the margins.
Not so far outside that you're just counter-cultural, in which case you have no power to affect anything. But not so much on the inside dominant, because that leads to other sets of problems.
Right now, I think the problem with psychoanalysis right now, is that it is the most counter-cultural thing within our society. Our society talks about, everything fast, everything quick, instant information, instant change, pragmatics, results, no waste of time, no time for dreaming. Psychoanalysis, is about that the unconscious doesn't know of time. We take our time, we take all the time we need, for one individual person, and it's not done in a rush. There is nothing more counter-cultural than that. But as a result, psychoanalysis has lost some of the prestige, and power that it had when it was considered the insider thing.
And so, we're struggling with, how far to the margins can we be pushed?
One argument, is that it is more important now than ever that we emphasize, timelessness, not productivity norms. That now it's all the more important, there's another side of the argument that says, "We have to modify things, a bit, so that we can fit into the culture enough to show that it works scientifically, pragmatically, that it's not completely impractical." And those two voices are arguing with each other.
I think it would be, I think it would be going too far to say Freud created the individual, but there's no question that, Freud was part of a cultural phenomenon, in which the individual was being given more prominence. This was happening before Freud. Freud is riding a certain wave, of attention to the individual.
This was beginning to happen in literature, in novels. But Freud gives it a scientific basis. Freud systematizes it, and theorizes it. Freud's thinking about the individual and the society and the group, again is nuanced and complex.
Freud understands, that the individual is always part of a group, and that the group, always is effected by individuals and has individuals in it.
Group psychology and individual psychology for Freud, are dialect-ally related. You can see in the group, in the group psychology in the analysis of the ego. You can see that Freud has a rich view of the individual and society.
Freud's thinking, is dialectical in many way. I would say perhaps one of his greatest contributions, Freud brings together the enlightenment, and romanticism. And brings them together, in this way. The enlightenment brings rationality, a scientific study of what's rational.
Romanticism is interested in the irrational, in our dreams, in sexuality, in femininity, in the unconscious. Freud brings together the entire tradition, of the enlightenment and romanticism, but he does it in a way that also causes some problems. Because for him, rationalism, enlightenment, will win out over romanticism. We're going to use science and rationality, to study the unconscious.
So we're gonna bring together the enlightenment and romanticism, but the enlightenment will be the tool, which studies and then dominates, the unconscious, romanticism.
So Freud brings them together, which I think is a huge contribution. But it's done in a way that leads to some problems, of our thinking that rationality, is the be all and end all. But it's the answer. Even though Freud understands, that it has a very small voice.
I don't think rationality is the answer. That's a very traditional enlightenment science view. I would put it differently, it's not that I don't think rationality is important, I think that we need to see rationality and irrationality, as dialectical. Our conscious and our unconscious.
Our enlightenment and romanticism. The part of us that studies things, in a reasonable scientific way, and the part of us that can use intuition, that can rely on our unconscious. That's a side Freud doesn't develop in quite the same way. So for, for many contemporary thinkers, Hans Lodge is the best known.
What's most important, is the dialogue between the rational and the irrational,. The dialogue, between conscious and unconscious. Rather than one dominating the other.
Here's an example. Freud said to someone once, they were asking him about who to marry, and he said, "When it comes to small decisions, think things over very carefully and use rationality. But when it comes to who to marry and big decisions, you have to trust to trust your intuition, right?" So even Freud who’s championing rationality, understands that there's a place for our intuitive, feeling full response, not just for a rational, logical response.
Freud is in our life today. I can speak about it in terms both, of professional interests, scientific interests, treatment issues, and in the culture at large.
In the culture at large, Freud is so taken for granted that most people don't understand, that they're using basic Freudian ideas.
When someone says, not just that they had a Freudian slip, but when somebody says, "Oh it must be something about my mother," or, "It must be something about my childhood." That's a Freudian idea. When somebody understands that sex is a complicated thing.
When someone says, when someone says that, something I'm doing had something to do with my mother or my mother's attitude towards me, I'm a mothers boy, I was. This is a Freudian idea.
When somebody says, not just a Freudian slip, but when they say, "I did something that I wasn't intending to do, you know?"
But there are even jokes in the culture, you know? "I meant to say, 'pass the salt,' and I said instead, you know, 'you bitch, pass me." These are Freudian ideas that we're not in control of our minds.
That we're not in control of all of our behavior. It's so taken for granted today that people don't even know it's a Freudian idea.
Why does somebody say, "Oh I married him because he reminds me of my father." That's a classic Freudian idea. Even in our understanding of basic ideas, understanding something very important, in the world today, prejudice.
And understanding our attitudes towards people that are not like us, or people who are very similar to us, but with a nuance of difference. This is classic using Freud's narcissism of small differences. Understanding that prejudices, in society, have to do with ways that we defend ourselves, protect our self-esteem. This is all from Freud.
The selfie, can you think of a better example of Freud's work on narcissism, and his understanding about people's - you know, the selfie is an image of yourself. Why do people need that image repeated to them self over and over again?
You think of Lacan's work on Freud, of the mirror stage, the image, the image is a way of shoring up a sense of yourself that's fragmented. And this brings you together in a certain way, and unites. It's about you, but you put it on the internet, it's all of a sudden public, it's about everyone. So it's both something that's about the self and about society.
Pulled together as a compromised formation. It's a symptom, it's a compromised formation, pulling together these different trends within ourselves.
So your question is the relationship between Freud, Freud's ideas and many of the social movements of our day. Socialism, democracy, communism. In many of these movements, Freud was very cautious about Zionism - that Freud was very cautious about and careful about.
For one thing, Freud was very concerned with protecting his psychoanalytic movement, and he understood, that if he was too much on any side of any issue that it could detract or get in the way or distract from his movement. His major concern was gonna be protecting the movement.
Which is one reason why Wilhelm Reich, who was such a communist and active Marxist, ran into trouble with Freud and psychoanalysis. Because they were worried that his activities in communism, would color psychoanalysis.
But I think we have to move beyond Freud himself, taking his ideas, many people have used Freudian ideas, to try to develop and expand each of these movements. And there are people even today that are studying the relationships.
For example, the Zionist movement, clearly Zionism, the joke was that Zionists - and I'm sure you'll have Israeli commentators speak about this more than me.
But people would carry around in one book, Herzl and in the other hand, Freud. So there was something very prominent in the early Zionism about psychoanalysis, and it's bringing together with, with us, socialism. But even today, the idea of free association, that is so close to the idea and democracy of free speech. And I have friends interested, working with for example - the law school, talking about the relationship between the idea of free speech and free association. There's much to explore.
You're asking me about, of course, all the Freud bashing, all of the Freud criticism. At one time, at one time for a psychoanalyst, that would be dismissed as Freud bashing. That it's just all not true.
I think today, among most of my friends and colleagues, people are much more open to that Freud had flaws in his character.
And the fact that Freud had flaws in his character, doesn't mean that what he taught and what he discovered and what evolved from his thinking isn't useful. It can be useful in spite of the fact that the man had flaws.
But the main answer I would give is not so much to defend him or to agree with the criticism.
I would say all of that makes for colorful biography, and it makes for good public, you know. Whether Freud had an affair with his sister in law, that makes for good news paper reporting. But, what's really important are the kinds of conversations that Freud had with people. His arguments about what - his arguments about, is it sexuality that drives all of the things, you know? If, if someone had said sex is more important than we realize, that would not be a contribution.
But when you can show that things that don't look like they have to do with sex, that those are about sexuality, that's a Freudian idea. His conversations, is it sex that's important or power?
For example with Adler, his conversation with Yung, "Is it sex that's important or is it something about the self and spirituality?" His conversations with Firenze. "Is it only our, our drives and what we bring to a situation, or is it trauma? Is it things that have happened to us?"
You take each argument, each debate. His debates with Runk
Runk ends up arguing for the place that he's - Runk ends up arguing that Freud's theory, we lose the will, we lose the individual's will, because it's all unconscious.
So Freud's debates with, "Where's the place of the will?"
Whether Freud is right or wrong, whether he's cheating on his data or not cheating on his data. Whether Freud is cheating on his wife or not cheating on his wife, the important thing is that these conversations open up the debates that we're still debating more than a hundred years later.