- Killing Freud: Twentieth-Century Culture and the Death of Psychoanalysis
Theory is dead! Psychoanalysis is dead! Can we all go home now? Todd Dufresne is most certainly not in mourning: 'I now see much of post-structuralism as a handmaiden of psychoanalysis. And since I think psychoanalysis has been a terrible mistake, I cannot approve of another theoretical movement that advances this mistaken agenda.'
Killing Freud begins by reviewing previous studies of the case of Anna O (the book to look at here is Borch-Jacobsen's Remembering Anna O: A Century of Mystification - a surprising turn when read alongside his earlier, densely theoretical works). Freud and Breuer's original and founding case, we are told, was really a case of suggestion that they on some level recognized and did their best to deny. Dufresne depicts an unscientific and shamelessly ambitious Freud, eager to found psychoanalysis at anyone's expense. Chapter 2 recounts Breuer's misgivings concerning the Freudian project, and a short final chapter in this opening section touches on Seduction Theory and brings us up to date on critical Freud studies. Part 2 includes a disparate array of pieces: a strikingly weak chapter on Derrida [End Page 317] in which Dufresne faults Derrida for not doing archival work and tells him he needs to read more; an 'Open Letter' concerning Dufresne's own adventures with the Freud Archive and Sigmund Freud Copyrights; an account of the politics of the Library of Congress Freud Exhibit (we learn that Dufresne was one of forty-two critics who signed a petition against the exhibit); a curtailed reading of Leader and Groves's Lacan for Beginners; and a piece authored by a Torontonian analyst who was analysed by Freud and never got over it. Three more brief sections follow before we are finished Killing Freud. Part 3 includes a coauthored essay on Ernest Jones and ice-skating (it was in skating, and in writing about skating, apparently, that Jones negotiated his relationship to Freud and analytic theory), and an account of Freud's relationship to his dogs, perhaps the most intriguing and enjoyable chapter in the book. Killing Freud also includes an interview with Todd Dufresne himself! Finally, the book concludes with a 'Coda' in which Dufresne argues that the future of psychoanalysis, insofar as it has any, is history: 'People just don't care about psychoanalysis like they used to, and consequently have less at stake in its future.'
While Killing Freud is right to recognize a current cultural turn away from psychoanalysis, Dufresne tends towards overperformance, punctuating his writing with too much unfunny preaching about humour. Yet I only laughed out loud when reading a quotation from Lacan (indeed, it is the quotations from Freud, Lacan, and Derrida that kept me reading). On a more substantial level, Dufresne is oddly over-invested in the author-as-origin. Despite its theory-style trappings and its many disclaimers, Killing Freud is not a very textual work. Dufresne repeatedly invokes Freud as a historical figure who can be simply right or wrong and who must be blamed once and for all for the mistake that was psychoanalysis. In his chapters on suggestion and seduction, Dufresne reduces all complexity to the simple binary of suggestion or psychoanalysis (as far as I'm concerned this is almost equivalent to refusing to have any thoughts on psychoanalysis). A more complex reading of the set of problems raised by suggestion would mean thinking about the constitutive suggestiveness of language and subjectivity (recall that the toddler, first beginning to speak, refers to himself as 'you'), and the implications of this for an ethical relationship between self and other. To put this all another way, Dufresne's target is a far too easy one: psychoanalysis as science. And the cure, or answer, it would seem, is just as simple: history. The evidence suggests, however, that psychoanalysis is an irreducibly interdisciplinary discourse, one which necessarily raises particular problems for medical/therapeutic practitioners, but which thereby finds its critical value. Dufresne's desire to kill...