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TSE  November 2007

TSE November 2007

Subject:

Freud and Memory, was Impact of Literature/Test of Time)

From:

Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Fri, 16 Nov 2007 13:35:23 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (262 lines)

> David Boyd wrote:
> 
> I just can't and don't and won't, arising both from a fair amount of study of [social and occupational] psychology and from a lifetime's practical, occupational experience, share Carrol's disdain for psychoanalysis and Freud and all the rest - it's just one of many available perspectives, but an immensely useful one at that, and, to butcher a well-known phrase or saying, 'we are all Freudians now' - except, Carrol, apparently !!

[Many medical schools in the U.S. no longer offer any classes in
psychoanalysis.]

[This topic has strayed rather far from Eliot's psychiatric problems and
their relationship both to his poetry and to the history of literature
implicit in his criticism. On the first of these Nancy seems by far the
best guide, but her account of Eliot and the psychiatry of his day does
not immediately bear on the questions regarding current neuroscience or
psychiatric treatment.]

All that said.

This topic comes up repeatedly on the lbo-talk list (owned and moderated
by Doug Henwood, editor and publisher of Left Business Observer. Before
becoming a financial reporter Doug was a student at Yale of Bloom's and
then an ABD in English at Virginia, and deeply committed to 
psychoanalysis and Freud. He and I have clashed often on the topic,
usually bringing forth aid and comfort to me from a psychologist on the
list. Here follows a series of posts, which speak fairly directly to
David's claim that "we are all Freudians now." I have reformatted the
posts for convenience of reading. After those posts I give some long
passages from Israel Rosenfield, _The Invention of Memory_, which bear
on these matters.

*******************

Subject: [lbo-talk] Post Marxist Era Date: Sun, 23 Sep 2007 09:53:42
-0700 From: Rakesh Bhandari 

[Bob Wrobel] There are two materialist critiques of human history:
Freud's and Marx's.  If anything, Freud's subject-matter is anterior and
more fundamental.  I imagine that human beings will never be freed from
the twists and turns of the unconscious, but they may yet learn to
create an economy and society around other assumptions than private
property.  On that I agree with you. bobW 

[Rakesh] Has anyone read Henrietta Moore's The Subject of Anthropology,
a critique of Freudian (and probably at least implicitly Marxian) theory
to understand how we are sexed. Yes indeed an equally if not more
fundamental problem. I have done most of the child care of our now three
year old daughter, and I have a lot of questions. How to deal with
princesses, dolls, all the sexed artefacts, other kids' common sense,
social expectations about female comportment and bodily hexis, the
forming of an unconscious in terms of what can only be the most inchoate
understanding of the conflict between parents' expectations and
society's, a child's happiness, enthusiasm and flourishing. rb 
============

Date: Sun, 23 Sep 2007 12:58:30 -0500 From: Carrol Cox 

Rakesh Bhandari wrote:  . . .the forming of an unconscious in terms of
what can only be the most inchoate understanding of the conflict between
parents' expectations and society's, a child's happiness, enthusiasm and
flourishing. 

Carrol: There is no question that most brain functioning, most thinking,
goes on unconsciously. I have never seen any even mildly interesting
evidence that "An Unconscious" as an entity that can be formed, can
determine, etc exists. 
============

Date: Sun, 23 Sep 2007 23:58:27 -0400 From: Doug Henwood 

Carrol Cox wrote:  that "An Unconscious" as an entity that can be
formed, can determine, etc exists. 

Is that your understanding of Freud's unconscious? Like some
puppetmaster working offstage? And not the precipitate of one's life
history? Doug 
============

Date: Sun, 23 Sep 2007 12:00:37 -0700 From: Miles Jackson 

Carrol Cox wrote: There is no question that [CLIP]  Carrol's perspective
reflects the mainstream view among psychologists today.  We have plenty
of research that supports the claim that unconscious cognitive processes
do occur, but no credible research that supports Freud's claims about a
coherent psychological entity called the "unconscious". 

(As an aside, it's interesting to me how popular Freud is outside of the
field of psychology--e.g., among lit crit profs, left-wing economists,
cult studies mavens--when most psychologists today consider his ideas
the equivalent of phlogiston theory.  --Another testament to the
insularity of the academic disciplines!) Miles 
============

Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2007 00:00:18 -0400 From: Doug Henwood 

Miles Jackson wrote:  Freud's claims about a coherent psychological
entity called the "unconscious" 

Where did Freud make these claims?  Doug 
============

Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2007 08:08:27 -0700 From: Miles Jackson 

Doug Henwood wrote: Where did Freud make these claims?  Doug 

In everything he wrote after about 1896.  According to Freud, each of us
has an unconscious mind distinct from the conscious mind, and the
unconscious mind has a strong impact on conscious belief and action. For
instance, Freud's psychohistory of DaVinci posits that his great works
of art are a sublimation of the homosexual desires in his unconscious
mind. Miles 
============

Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2007 11:34:20 -0400 From: Doug Henwood 

Miles Jackson wrote:  In everything he wrote after about 1896.  [CLIP]
 
This is an incredibly mechanistic view of Freud's unconscious. And an
incredibly reductive view of Freud's view of art. But I guess it's
easier to argue with straw men than actual texts.  Doug 
============

Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2007 20:24:40 -0700 From: Miles Jackson 

Doug: This is an incredibly mechanistic view [CLIP] 

"Psychological considerations of a deeper kind justify the assertion
that a man who has become a homosexual in this way remains unconsciously
fixated to the mnemic image of his mother.  By repressing his love for
his mother he preserves it in his unconscious and from now on remains
faithful to her." Freud, Leonardo Da Vinci and a memory of his
childhood, p. 55. 

or this on the masculinity complex: 

"From this point there branches off what has been named the masculinity
complex of women, which may put great difficulties in the way of their
regular development towards femininity, it cannot be got over soon
enough.  The hope of some day obtaining a penis in spite of everything
and so of becoming like a man may persist to an incredibly late age and
may become a motive for the strangest and otherwise unaccountable
actions [later in this book, F. identifies feminism as one of these
strange manifestations of the masculinity complex].  Or again, a process
may set in which might be described as a "denial", a process which in
the mental life of children seems neither uncommon nor very dangerous
but which in an adult would mean the beginning of a psychosis.  Thus a
girl may refuse to accept the fact of being castrated, may harden
herself in the conviction that she does possess a penis and may
subsequently be compelled to behave as though she were a man." [F. later
notes that this explains the curious tendency of some young women to
display an interest in formal education and a profession rather than
childrearing.]  Freud, Sexuality and the psychology of love, p. 177-8. 

I can produce myriad quotes like this from Freud's work, but I think
I've illustrated my point: if you have complaints about the mechanistic
view of Freud's unconscious, direct them at Freud, not me!  (Unless you
consider Freud's own words--a straw man?) Miles 
============

Date: Tue, 25 Sep 2007 01:29:08 -0400 From: Michael Smith 

joanna wrote: I do think god has a wicked sense of humor as Freud,
Mohammed, and Henry the VII all had daughters and nothing but daughters
and lots of them. 

MS] "Henry the VII"? perhaps you mean 'Henry the VIII'? But he did have
a son -- Edward 'the VI', as they say -- who did, to be sure, die a
short while into his abbreviated reign. 

An interesting list, these three. Not one I would have ever assembled.
But I guess you could say they all founded religions. 
============

Date: Tue, 25 Sep 2007 11:06:37 -0500 From: Carrol Cox 

joanna wrote:  Freud may have been a sexist prick, but that does not
make this description of the unconscious wrong, nor his attempt to
describe the mechanisms of the human psyche. 

Sexism, like other isms, can emerge in innumerable forms. In the case of
Freud it is articulated through a vulgar materialist conception of the
human mind as a system of hydraulics with a central pump called The
Unconscious. 

A major topic for cultural criticism of late 20th/21st c. is to explain
the obsessive clinging to defunct theories of mind of so many
intellectuals. Carrol 

==========================   =================

From  Israel Rosenfield, _The Invention of Memory_ (New York, 1988).
(There has been much more investigation along the same lines  in the
last 20 years.)

*****Memories manifest themselves in the immediate, and therefore differ
greatly from the occasion on which they arose. Freud assumes that the
dynamic aspects of memory require processes that operate on fixed memory
traces. Yet those traces become evident only in dreams and neurotic
symptoms, and the character of this material, its superficial confusions
and even apparent incoherence, though perhaps "interpretable," is itself
evidence not of  fixed traces but, on the contrary, of a confused
collection of impressoons that must be _organized_ into a coherent form
that we can associate with memory.  Curiously, Freud's recognition that
dreams must be interpreted to give them a sense suggests that "memories"
are also "interpretations" of previous impressions in terms of present
circumstances.

	Dreams, then, are incoherent because there are no constraints on the
organization of these fragments. They "are exempt from mutual
contradiction" and there is "no negation, no doubt, no degrees of
certainty." Freud failed to recognize that the fragments are nonspecific
and become meaningful only when organized, and that the apparent
condensations and displacements are evidence of the nonspecificity of
the contents and not of the mixing of specific memories. The mechanism
of condensation is an illusion created by interprtations in which one
seeks a context that can give the image meaning and coherence. But the
apparent "correctness" of an interpretation is merely a creation of the
moment.  Pp. 75-6

.

There are no specific recollections in our brains; there are only the
means for reorganizing past impressions, for giving the incoherent,
dreamlike world of memory a concrete reality. Memories are not fixed but
are constantly evolving generalizations - recreations - of the past, a
present, and a future. They are not discrete units that are linked up
over time buta dynamically evolving system.

It is therefore odd that Freud felt compelled to argue in 1815 that the
assumption of an unconscious

***is _necessary_ because the data of consciousness have a very large
number of gaps in them; both in healthy and in sick people psychical
acts appear which can be explained only by presupposing other acts. Of
which, nevertheless, consciousness affords no evidence. . . .All these
conscious acts remain disconnected and unintelligible if we insist on
claiming that every mental act that occurs in us must also necessarily
be experienced by us throug consciousness; on the other hand, they fall
into a demonstrable connection if we interpolate between them the
unconscious acts which we have inferred.***

	But continuity is in terms of the present, in ourncapacity to
generalize and to categorize when confronted with the new and
unexpected. Much as calling two similar-looking flowers _tulips_
extablishes a relatiobn between them, a category and hence a continuity,
our categorization of present events in terms of past experience (which
inevitably we all do) establishes a sense of continuity in thought. It
is the dynamics of such categorizations and re categorizations that give
our mental life the sense of a whole for which Freud postulates the
existence of an unconscious. Specific unconscious memories would account
for a sense of continuity; continuity is a consequence of our ability to
view things in larger relations, given the present. Pp. 76-77*****

-------

A final reminder. No one doubts that an immense amount of mental
activity goes on unconsciously; what is denied is that there is any
coherent entity in the mind which can be labelled The Unconscious. That
is a myth.

Also of interest is Sebastiano Timpanaro, _The Freudian Slip:
Psychoanalysis and Textual Criticism_, tr. Kate Soper (London: Verso,
1976).

Carrol

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