Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

THE INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS

These past several days have been emotionally wrenching. First the news [overblown] that Obama was trying to kill the public option. Then Harry Reid's bold move [my new hero]. Then Joe Lieberman's apparent announcement that he would vote to support a filibuster. [You have to be Jewish, as I am, to enjoy the privilege of saying openly just how thoroughly despicable he is. The knee-jerk apologists for Israel have a contemptuous epithet for people like me who dare to attack the Liebermans of this world. They call us "self hating Jews." The phrase always amuses a narcissist like me.] Just this morning, Reid and Durbin indicated that reconciliation is not off the table. [I hope my readers are sufficiently versed in the inside baseball of Washington politics to follow all of this].

Rather than try to blog by the minute, I shall let events unfold and instead talk for a bit about Freud's extraordinary book, THE INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS, which I have finally finished reading. Freud considered it his hauptwerk and he was not wrong. There is obviously much to say about the book, but I want to write about the courage Freud showed in writing it. Freud was, of course, thoroughly a man of his milieu, which is to say a bourgeois professional Jewish doctor in late nineteenth century Vienna. He was ferociously intelligent, classically educated [you need to be up on Greek mythology just to follow his associations to elements in his own dreams], fiercely ambitious, and prudish and proper in just the way one would expect. He routinely refers to masturbation as "pollution" and at one point, about to introduce a dream that features images of urination and defecation, he writes "I have the following short dream to relate, which every reader will read with disgust." [near the end of Chapter Six, "The Dream Work."] My copy is an old 1913 edition of the authorized translation, by A. A. Brill, of the Third Edition, and pasted into the front fly leaf is a slip of paper that reads: "Publisher's Note: The sale of this book is limited to Members of the Medical, Scholastic, Legal, and Clerical professions."

Despite the almost universal rejection he faced when he announced his clinical findings, Freud persevered, acknowledging openly in the accounts of his own dreams the intensity of his desire for professional success and recognition. The fact seems to be that had Freud pursued a more conventional neurological career, he might have actually been appointed to the professorship he so desired [though the fact that he was Jewish worked against him]. Instead, he followed where his research led him, violating enormously the powerful social taboos of his milieu.

The example I find most enchanting concerns the issue of infant sexuality. It was an unquestionable premise of all psychiatric discussion in his earlier days that babies and little children are asexual, only exhibiting sexual feelings and wishes upon entering puberty. But patient after patient, under the hypnosis that was then Freud's principal therapeutic technique [learned from the great French neurologist, Charcot], reported having been sexually molested by her father as a young child. Freud's reports of these findings scandalised his audience. He was, after all, talking about upstanding Viennese bourgeois. Eventually Freud concluded that the reports were actually accounts of infantile wishes, not experiences, an extremely important realization. But this, of course, made things even worse! So, the fathers were not abusers; the little girls were sex mad creatures lusting after their fathers!

We are now so accustomed to these ideas -- thanks, of course, to Freud -- that it is extremely difficult for us to think ourselves into the world that Freud inhabited, and to understand the strength of the inhibitions he had to overcome in order to do his revolutionary work.

Well, enough already. If you haven't read it, I strongly suggest spending several weeks with THE INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS.

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