In Memory of Sigmund Freud

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Dr Gregor Kowal
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In memory of Sigmund Freud

This text was published by Carl Gustav Jung on the 1. of October 1939 in a Swiss newspaper (Sonntagsblatt der Basler Nachrichten) two weeks after the death of Sigmund Freud, who died in his London exile on the 23 of September 1939. Freud and Jung were two extraordinary minds of the 20 century, the creators and – till today – the most remarkable personalities in the field of the analytical psychology. Both men were friends and collaborators. Freud declared Jung to his “crown prince” and successor.  After 7 years of friendship and collaboration the relationship broke apart. The main reason was the ideas published by C.G. Jung in his book “Symbols of Transformation” which differed from the Freudian conception of the psyche.1913 After losing his friend, mentor and the father figure Jung went into a state of psychological confusion, depressions and psychosis from which he recovered first few years after. This remarkable statement is a tribute to Freud but at the same time a critical dispute with his old master. 

Annotation by Dr. G. Kowal.

In memory of Sigmund Freud

by Carl Gustav Jung Oct. 1, 1939

The cultural history of the past fifty years is inseparably bound up with the name of Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, who has just died. The Freudian outlook has affected practically every sphere of our contemporary thinking, except that of the exact sciences. Wherever the human psyche plays a decisive role, this outlook has left its mark, above all in the broad field of psychopathology, then in psychology, philosophy, aesthetics, ethnology and – last but not least – the psychology of religion. Everything that man can say about the nature of the psyche, whether it be true or only apparently true, necessarily touches upon the foundations of all the humane sciences, even though the really decisive discoveries have been made within the sphere of medicine, which, as we know, cannot be counted among the “humanities.”

Freud was first and foremost a “nerve specialist” in the strictest sense of this word, and in every respect he always remained one. By training he was no psychiatrist, no psychologist, and no philosopher. In philosophy he lacked even the most rudimentary elements of education. He once assured me personally that it had never occurred to him to read Nietzsche. This fact is of importance in understanding Freud`s peculiar views, which are distinguished by an apparently total lack of any philosophical premises. His theories bear the unmistakable stamp of the doctor`s consulting-room. His constant point of departure is the neurotically degenerate psyche, unfolding its secrets with a mixture of reluctance and ill-concealed enjoyment under the critical eye of the doctor. But as the neurotic patient, besides having his individual sickness, is also an exponent of the local and contemporary mentality, a bridge exists from the start between the doctor`s view of his particular case and certain general assumptions. The existence of this bridge enabled Freud to turn his intuition from the narrow confines of the consulting-room to the wide world of moral, philosophical, and religious ideas, which also, unhappily enough proved themselves amenable to this critical investigation.

Freud owed his initial impetus to Charcot, his great teacher at the Salpetriere. The first fundamental lesson he learnt there was the teaching about hypnotism and suggestion, and in 1888 he translated Bernheim`s book on the latter subject. The other was Charcot`s discovery that hysterical symptoms were the consequence of certain ideas that had taken possession of the patient`s “brain.” Charcot`s pupil, Pierre Janet, elaborated this theory in his comprehensive work “Nevroses et idees fixes” and provided it with the necessary foundations. Freud`s older colleague in Vienna, Joseph Breuer, furnished an illustrative case in support of this exceedingly important discovery (which, incidentally, had been made long before by many a family doctor), building upon it a theory of which Freud said that it “coincides with the medieval view once we substitute a psychological formula for the `demon` of priestly fantasy.” The medieval theory of possession (toned down by Janet to “obsession”) was thus taken over by Breuer and Freud in a more positive form, the evil spirit-to reverse the Faustian miracle-being transmogrified into a harmless “psychological formula.” It is greatly to the credit of both investigators that they did not, like the rationalistic Janet, gloss over the significant analogy with possession, but rather, following the medieval theory, hunted up the factor causing the possession in order, as it were, to exorcize the evil spirit. Breuer was the first to discover that the pathogenic “ideas” were memories of certain events which he called “traumatic.” This discovery carried forward the preliminary work done at the Salpetriere, and it laid the foundation of all Freud`s theories. As early as 1893 both men recognized the far-reaching practical importance of their findings. They realized that the symptom-producing “ideas” were rooted in an affect. This affect had the peculiarity of never really coming to the surface, so that it was never really conscious. The task of the therapist was therefore to “abreact” the “blocked” affect.

This provisional formulation was certainly simple-too simple to do justice to the essence of the neuroses in general. At this point Freud commenced his own independent researches. It was first of all the question of the trauma that occupied him. He soon found (or thought he had found) that the traumatic factors were unconscious because of their painfulness. But they were painful because-according to his views at the time-they were one and all connected with the sphere of sex. The theory of the sexual trauma was Freud`s first independent theory of hysteria. Every specialist who has to do with the neuroses knows on the one hand how suggestible the patients are and, on the other, how unreliable are their reports. The theory was therefore treading on slippery and treacherous ground. As a result, Freud soon felt compelled to correct it more or less tacitly by attributing the traumatic factor to an abnormal development of infantile fantasy. The motive force of this luxuriant fantasy-activity he took to be an infantile sexuality, which nobody had liked to speak of before. Cases of abnormal precocity of development had naturally long been known in the medical literature, but such had not been assumed to be the case in relatively normal children. Freud did not commit this mistake either, nor did he envisage any concrete form of precocious development. It was rather a question of his paraphrasing and interpreting more or less normal infantile occurrences in terms of sexuality. This view unleashed a storm of indignation and disgust, first of all in professional circles and then among the educated public. Apart from the fact that every radically new idea invariably provokes the most violent resistance of the experts, Freud`s conception of the infant`s instinctual life was an encroachment upon the domain of general and normal psychology, since his observations from the psychology of neurosis were transferred to a territory which had never before been exposed to this kind of illumination.

Careful and painstaking investigation of neurotic and, in particular, hysterical states of mind could not conceal from Freud that such patients often exhibit an unusually lively dream life and on that account like to tell of their dreams. In structure and manner of expression their dreams frequently correspond to the symptomatology of their neurosis. Anxiety states and anxiety dreams go hand in hand and obviously spring from the same root. Freud could therefore not avoid including dreams within the scope of his investigations. He had recognized very early that the “blocking” of the traumatic affect was due to the repression of “incompatible” material. The symptoms were substitutes for impulses, wishes, and fantasies which, because of their moral or aesthetic painfulness, were subjected to a “censorship” exercised by ethical conventions. In other words, they were pushed out of the conscious mind by a certain kind of moral attitude, and a specific inhibition prevented them from being remembered. The “theory of repression,” as Freud aptly called it, became the centre-piece of his psychology. Since a great many things could be explained by this theory, it is not surprising that it was also applied to dreams. Freud`s Interpretation of Dreams (1900) is an epoch-making work and probably the boldest attempt ever made to master the enigma of the unconscious psyche on the apparently firm ground of empiricism. Freud sought to prove with the aid of case material that dreams are disguised wish-fulfilments. This extension of the “repression mechanism,” a concept borrowed from the psychology of neurosis, to the phenomenon of dreams was the second encroachment upon the sphere of normal psychology. It had immense consequences, as it stirred up problems which would have required for their solution a more compendious equipment than the limited experiences of the consulting room.

The Interpretation of Dreams is probably Freud`s most important work, and at the same time the most open to attack. For us young psychiatrists it was a fount of illumination, but for our older colleagues it was an object of mockery. As with his recognition that neurosis has the character of a medieval “possession,” so, by treating dreams as a highly important source of information about the unconscious processes -“the dream is the via regia to the unconscious”- Freud rescued something of the utmost value from the past, where it had seemed irretrievably sunk in oblivion. Indeed, in ancient medicine as well as in the old religions, dreams had a lofty significance and the dignity of an oracle. At the turn of the century, however, it was an act of the greatest scientific courage to make anything as unpopular as dreams an object of serious discussion. What impressed us young psychiatrists most was neither the technique nor the theory, both of which seemed to us highly controversial, but the fact that anyone should have dared to investigate dreams at all. This line of investigation opened the way to an understanding of schizophrenic hallucinations and delusions from the inside, whereas hitherto psychiatrists had been able to describe them only from the outside. More than that, The Interpretation of Dreams provided a key to the many locked doors in the psychology of neurotics as well as of normal people.

The repression theory was further applied to the interpretation of jokes, and in 1905 Freud published his entertaining “Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious” a pendant to “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life”. Both these books may be read with enjoyment and instruction by the layman. A foray beyond the repression theory into the domain of primitive psychology, in “Totem and Taboo” was less successful, since the application of concepts derived from the psychology of neurotics to the views of primitives did not explain the latter but only showed up the insufficiency of the former in a rather too obvious light.

The final application of this theory was to the field of religion, in “The Future of an Illusion” (1927). Though there is much that is still tenable in “Totem and Taboo” the same cannot, unfortunately, be said of the latter work. Freud`s inadequate training in philosophy and in the history of religion makes itself painfully conspicuous, quite apart from the fact that he had no understanding of what religion was about. In his old age he wrote a book on Moses, who led the children of Israel to the Promised Land but was not allowed to set foot in it himself. That his choice fell on Moses is probably no accident in the case of a personality like Freud.

As I said at the beginning, Freud always remained a physician. For all his interest in other fields, he constantly had the clinical picture of neurosis before his mind`s eye-the very attitude that makes people ill and effectively prevents them from being healthy. Anyone who has this picture before him always sees the flaw in everything, and however much he may struggle against it, he must always point out what this demonically obsessive picture compels him to see: the weak spot, the unadmitted wish, the hidden resentment, the secret, illegitimate fulfilment of a wish distorted by the “censor.” The neurotic is ill precisely because such things haunt his psyche; for though his unconscious contains many other things, it appears to be exclusively populated by contents that his consciousness has rejected for very good reasons. The keynote of Freud`s thought is therefore a devastatingly pessimistic “nothing but.” Nowhere does he break through to a vision of the helpful, healing powers which would let the unconscious be of some benefit to the patient. Every position is undermined by a psychological critique that reduces everything to its unfavourable or ambiguous elements, or at least makes one suspect that such elements exist. This negative attitude is undoubtedly correct when applied to the little games of make-believe which a neurosis produces in such abundance. Here the conjecture of unpleasant things in the back-ground is often very much to the point, but not always. Also, there is no illness that is not at the same time an unsuccessful attempt at a cure. Instead of showing up the patient as the secret accomplice of morally inadmissible wishes, one can just as well explain him as the unwitting victim of instinctual problems which he doesn`t understand and which nobody in his environment has helped him solve. His dreams, in particular, can be taken as nature`s own auguries, having nothing whatever to do with the all-too-human self-deluding operations which Freud insinuates into the dream process.

I say this not in order to criticize Freud`s theories but to lay due emphasis on his scepticism towards all or most of the ideals of the nineteenth century. Freud has to be seen against this cultural background. He put his finger on more than one ulcerous spot. All that glittered in the nineteenth century was very far from being gold, religion included. Freud was a great destroyer, but the turn of the century offered so many opportunities for debunking that even Nietzsche was not enough. Freud completed the task, very thoroughly indeed. He aroused a wholesome mistrust in people and thereby sharpened their sense of real values. All that gush about man`s innate goodness, which had addled so many brains after the dogma of original sin was no longer understood, was blown to the winds by Freud, and the little that remains will, let us hope, be driven out for good and all by the barbarism of the twentieth century. Freud was no prophet, but he is a prophetic figure. Like Nietzsche, he overthrew the gigantic idols of our day, and it remains to be seen whether our highest values are so real that their glitter is not extinguished in the Acherontian flood. Doubt about our civilization and its values is the contemporary neurosis. If our convictions were really indubitable nobody would ever doubt them. Nor would anyone have been able to make it seem plausible that our ideals are only disguised expressions of motives that we do well to hide. But the nineteenth century has left us such a legacy of dubious propositions that doubt is not only possible but altogether justified, indeed meritorious. The gold will not prove its worth save in the fire. Freud has often been compared to a dentist, drilling out the carious tissue in the most painful manner. So far the comparison holds true, but not when it comes to the gold-filling. Freudian psychology does not fill the gap. If our critical reason tells us that in certain respects we are irrational and infantile, or that all religious beliefs are illusions, what are we to do about our irrationality, what are we to put in place of our exploded illusions? Our naive childishness has in it the seeds of creativity and illusion is a natural component of life, and neither of them can ever be suppressed or replaced by the rationalities and practicalities of convention.

Freud`s psychology moves within the narrow confines of nineteenth-century scientific materialism. Its philosophical premises were never examined, thanks obviously to the Master`s insufficient philosophical equipment. So it was inevitable that it should come under the influence of local and temporal prejudices – a fact that has been noted by various other critics. Freud`s psychological method is and always was a cauterizing agent for diseased and degenerate material, such as is found chiefly in neurotic patients. It is an instrument to be used by a doctor, and it is dangerous and destructive, or at best ineffective, when applied to the natural expressions of life and its needs. A certain rigid one-sidedness in the theory, backed by an often fanatical intolerance, was perhaps an unavoidable necessity in the early decades of the century. Later, when the new ideas met with ample recognition, this grew into an aesthetic defect, and finally, like every fanaticism, it evoked the suspicion of an inner uncertainty. In the last resort, each of us carries the torch of knowledge only part of the way, and none is immune against error. Doubt alone is the mother of scientific truth. Whoever fights against dogma in high places falls victim, tragically enough, to the tyranny of a partial truth. All who had a share in the fate of this great man saw this tragedy working out step by step in his life and increasingly narrowing his horizon.

In the course of the personal friendship which bound me to Freud for many years, I was permitted a deep glimpse into the mind of this remarkable man. He was a man possessed by a daemon-a man who had been vouchsafed an overwhelming revelation that took possession of his soul and never let him go. It was the encounter with Charcot`s ideas that called awake in him that primordial image of a soul in the grip of a daemon, and kindled that passion for knowledge which was to lay open a dark continent to his gaze. He felt he had the key to the murky abysses of the possessed psyche. He wanted to unmask as illusion what the “absurd superstition” of the past took to be a devilish incubus, to whip away the disguises worn by the evil spirit and turn him back into a harmless poodle-in a word, reduce him to a “psychological formula.” He believed in the power of the intellect; no Faustian shudderings tempered the hybris of his undertaking. He once said to me: “I only wonder what neurotics will do in the future when all their symbols have been unmasked. It will then be impossible to have a neurosis.” He expected enlightenment to do everything-his favourite quotation was Voltaire`s “Ecrasez l`infame.” From this sentiment there grew up his astonishing knowledge and understanding of any morbid psychic material, which he smelt out under a hundred disguises and was able to bring to light with truly unending patience.

Ludwig Klages` saying that “the spirit is the adversary of the soul” (see food note) might serve as a cautionary motto for the way Freud approached the possessed psyche. Whenever he could, he dethroned the “spirit” as the possessing and repressing agent by reducing it to a “psychological formula.” Spirit, for him, was just a “nothing but.” In a crucial talk with him I once tried to get him to understand the admonition: “Try the spirits whether they are of God” (I John 4 : 1). In vain. Thus fate had to take its course. For one can fall victim to possession if one does not understand betimes why one is possessed. One should ask oneself for once: Why has this idea taken possession of me? What does that mean in regard to myself? A modest doubt like this can save us from falling head first into the idea and vanishing for ever.  Freud`s “psychological formula” is only an apparent substitute for the demonically vital thing that causes a neurosis. In reality only the spirit can cast out the “spirits”-not the intellect, which at best is a mere assistant, like Faust`s Wagner, and scarcely fitted to play the role of an exorcist.

[Cf. Klages, Der Geist als Widersacher der See le; and Jung, Civilization in Transition, pp. 181, 347.-EDlTORS.]

sigmund-freud

Sigmund Freud

carl-gustav-jung

Carl Gustav Jung