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Reviewed by:
  • Unauthorized Freud: Doubters Confront a Legend
  • Nancy Easterlin
Unauthorized Freud: Doubters Confront a Legend, ed. Frederick C. Crews; xxxi & 301 pp. New York: Viking, 1998, $24.95.

For many years now, Frederick Crews has been decrying this century’s false prophet, laboring diligently to expose the problematic nature of Freudian theory and psychoanalytic clinical practice. Crews’s doubts about the efficacy of Freudianism first emerged in Out of My System: Psychoanalysis, Ideology, and Critical Method (1975), written when Crews himself was still a practicing psychoanalytic literary critic, and further exploration of the scientific viability of Freudianism resulted in the vigorously denunciatory essays included in Skeptical Engagements (1986). More recently, Crews’s focus on the influence of depth psychology on today’s recovered memory movement precipitated a storm of controversy; both Crews’s original New York Review of Books essays and many of his critics’ letters were republished in The Memory Wars: Freud’s Legacy in Dispute (1995). Now, as editor of Unauthorized Freud: Doubters Confront a Legend, Crews has taken a somewhat different tack, presenting well-chosen excerpts of the major Freud critics of the past thirty years.

The purpose of Unauthorized Freud is “to restore the mythified ‘discoverer of the unconscious’ to human size and, in the process, to expose his system of psychological propositions to the same kind of scrutiny one would apply to any other aspiring science” (pp. ix). To this end, the twenty selections in the book have been arranged in four parts, which address, respectively, the origins of psychoanalysis; the knowledge claims of psychoanalysis; Freud’s handling of specific case histories and case studies; and the cultish, hierarchical organization of the early psychoanalytic movement. Though there is of course overlap between these sections (e.g., consideration of specific case histories will necessarily entail recourse to epistemological concerns), the selections generally fit well within their specified groups, and Crews’s section overviews and introductions to the individual pieces provide a sense of continuity especially needed in a volume comprised largely of excerpts from longer works.

Many of the selections, particularly in the first two sections, are characterized rhetorically by an academic dispassion that, given the facts, amounts to massive understatement. Taken together, the essays in part one depict the muddled and piecemeal development of psychoanalytic theory and method in the 1880s [End Page 217] and 90s. Freud’s therapeutic techniques, aided and abetted by generous doses of morphine and cocaine, evolved rapidly during this period. Mesmerism was abandoned for the pressure technique (a sort of proactive phrenology, whereby a strong hand to the forehead purportedly drew out the analysand’s memory), which was in turn forsaken for free association. Peter Swales’s investigation into the theoretical premises of Freud’s therapies suggests that, far from being developed independently of the analytic situation, many trademark features of Freudian therapy probably derived from the treatment of one Frau Cäcilie, a wealthy Viennese poetess whom Freud would fondly recall as his own teacher. The notion of catharsis, the wordplay shortly to underwrite associationism, the necessity of the couch—that all these signature items of psychoanalysis were suggested to Freud by a deeply disturbed patient who was never cured should give even the most ardent Freudian pause. Frank Sulloway’s piece details Freud’s debt to Wilhelm Fliess, who was in fact the true “discoverer” of infantile sexuality and of universal human bisexuality. While it may be difficult for the general reader to piece together the chronology of the supposed development of psychoanalysis, this section leaves a clear impression that dishonesty, medical fraudulence, and epistemic riot constitute the heart’s core of Freud’s methods and practices.

In challenging psychoanalysis’s knowledge claims, the second section of the volume emphasizes the problematic nature of free association, a technique controlled by the analyst who starts and interrupts the process (Gränbaum); grounded in no demonstrated claim to accurate retrieval of memories or infantile wishes (Gränbaum, Sand); and conducive to not-quite-endless deferral before arriving at the preordained goal (Timpanaro). Two pieces in this section focus on the pseudoscientific nature of psychoanalysis, which does not compete with rival theories and is not amenable to the negative test...

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