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Sigmund Freud

involved early sexual

involved early sexual experiences, often attacks by a father or father figure. What Freud came to call psychoanalysis really developed from two major changes in his beliefs: one in his theory and one in his practice. The theoretical change was from belief in the reality of his patients’ stories of early sexual abuse to the belief that these stories were often fantasies. (They weren’t necessarily fantasies, but they could be. See the last chapter for a discussion of the recent controversy about Freud’s disavowal of the seduction theory.) Around the same time he also made a practical change: he shifted from the hypnotic technique, in which the analyst might easily suggest ideas to the patient, to the technique of free association, in which the patient did more of the work of talking-through his or her own story to a sometimes largely silent analyst. Once Freud’s ideas about the centrality of fantasy, the importance of childhood sexuality and the method of free association were in place, psychoanalysis began to take form. From these initial ideas Freud would eventually develop most of his later theories about sexual development and the importance of sexuality to society. In the process of his clinical work with patients, Freud continually developed and refined his theory and technique of analysis. It is important to remember that even these initial cornerstones of psychoanalytic belief did not remain unchanged. Psychoanalysis, as we shall see, was as much about the process of uncovering the causes of mental illnesses as it was about a single straightforward cure. For Freud, psychoanalysis was a theory of process that was also always in process. Therefore I will continue to stress the development, contradictions and ruptures, as well as the coherence, of Freud’s primary ideas and writings.

2 INTERPRETATION When I set myself the task of bringing to light what human beings keep hidden within them … by what they say and what they show, I thought the task was a harder one than it really is. He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his finger-tips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore. And thus the task of making conscious the most hidden recesses of the mind is one which is quite possible to accomplish. (Freud 1905a: 114) The speaker of this passage could easily be Sherlock Holmes describing his method to an admiring Watson. The authoritative tone of the statement is one of a master detective, secure in his penetrating knowledge. However, the final sentence’s reference to the ‘hidden recesses of the mind’ indicates that it is in fact psychological detective work that is being described; S. Freud, not S. Holmes, is the statement’s author. Freud made large claims for himself as a detective of the mind, reading closely and carefully the texts at hand. Like his fictional late nineteenth-century contemporary, Sherlock Holmes, he examined the surface content of people’s remarks, and their outward appearances and gestures, to excavate the secrets hidden underneath. Psychoanalytic reasoning suggests that our strongest desires appear in our day-to-day lives, even, and especially, when we try to hide them. Through daily occurrences such as slips of the tongue, mistakes, forgetting names, dreams, etc., we betray ourselves; we give our real thoughts and desires away to the canny observer. The analytic method allows one to interpret the cracks in the deceptive outer surface of consciousness to discover the unconscious motives lurking underneath. It is in this sense that Freud’s ideas are as crucially concerned with interpretation as they are with sex. Detectives are primarily interested in who committed a crime and, perhaps, how it was committed. Sherlock Holmes wants to know a criminal’s motive only in so far as discovering why something was done can lead to discovering who it was that did it. Psychoanalysts, on the other hand, are first and foremost interested in motive – the why behind the thoughts that run through our heads, the unconscious reasons that underlie our strange dreams or mental disturbances. For Freud, every mental illness has a motive. The task of the analyst and the patient, working together, is, in the first instance, to uncover that motive. But, we might ask, why would someone want to be sick? What purpose could it serve? Psychoanalysis sees illness as always doing some sort of work for the patient: fulfilling some need or desire. By looking at some of Freud’s early writings we can see how this emphasis on the uncovering of motive becomes such a central tenet of psychoanalysis, and we can learn what it means to read psychoanalytically.

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