"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Psychoanalysis of the Living God (II)

In my last installment I noted some recent thoughts on past and possibly future links between psychoanalysis and theology, especially about the controverted question of the existence of God, a discussion that has been advanced very considerably by the contributions, since 1979, of Ana-Maria Rizzuto in her landmark book The Birth of the Living God. That book, as I noted in the previous installment, has recently been the subject of an appreciative study to which I'll return presently.

In the meantime, let me draw attention to Rizzuto's second major book of note: Why Did Freud Reject God? (Yale University Press, 1998).

It is a rather unusual book, and not at all what I thought it would be--until, that is, the second half of the book. It starts off very much remotely, considering Freud's well-known passion for collecting antiquities, some of which he was able to bring with him to London when he fled there in the spring of 1938 to "die in freedom" as he said. Some were left behind; the rest were sold to raise funds to bribe the Nazis to grant the requisite forms permitting the Freud family and a few associates to flee to the British capital. Rizzuto wonders about Freud's relationships to these antiquities, some of which were clearly totems for pagan religions. She sees his massive and endless collecting of them as evidence of an unconscious obsession with very oblique theological questions.

From here she spends a very great deal of time on a detailed examination of the Philippson Bible, an illustrated and annotated Hebrew-German version which Freud's father Jakob gave his son, and which his son clearly read with great attention. This gives rise to a consideration of the religious faith and practice--or lack thereof, as the case may be--of Freud's parents and grandparents.

To read Freud, especially his correspondence, is to be confronted with copious evidence of his scriptural literacy: biblical quotations, that is, verses from and references to the Hebrew scriptures, and occasionally to the Talmud, show up on a regular basis-- and not in a clumsy fashion, either, suggesting deep and easy familiarity with the texts.

Rizzuto also takes great care to examine the other area where Freud's familiarity with the God of Judaism and Christianity emerges very early in his life: through his relationship to his beloved Czech Catholic nanny, who took him to church very early on (up to the age of 2 or thereabouts), as a result of which he apparently developed a habit, his mother said, of coming home and "preaching" to the household.

Having, over eleven chapters, laid out all this material for judicious consideration, and never once with a kind of "gotcha" attitude, Rizzuto comes, only in her twelfth and final chapter, to stitch everything together very graciously in answer to the question of her book's title. At no point does one feel like she is forcing the question, or forcing Freud into preconceived answers or subjecting him to a facile analysis on a couch of his own making. She applies psychoanalytic principles and practices to the man who pioneered them, and does so in a sober, restrained way leading to very well-supported conclusions. I have to think that Freud would, perhaps grudgingly, admire the case she has built.

Her conclusions are that Freud, as stoic a man as it is possible to imagine (he lived in constant pain from 1923, when cancer of the jaw was first diagnosed, leading to an endless series of sometimes brutal surgical interventions and to the wearing ever after of an ill-fitting prosthesis), grew early in life to hate feeling dependent on anyone and to hate feeling helpless or muddled (which is why he refused drugs to deal with his pain until the last few days of his life in September 1939 when he finally asked his physician for enough morphine to be injected to allow his life to move peacefully to its close). Freud associated "religion" with an infantile sense of helpless dependency on a paternal figure onto whom we project hopes for protection and eternal solicitude. Given, Rizzuto documents, an unreliable father in Jakob who left Freud feeling helpless at two crucial periods in his life, he seems to have rejected God because of his belief that God is simply unreliable and untrustworthy, just as his father was.

In the next installment we will turn to the new edited collection, Ana-María Rizzuto and the Psychoanalysis of Religion: The Road to the Living God, which does to Rizzuto and her book what she just finished doing to Freud and the Future of an Illusion


No comments:

Post a Comment

Anonymous comments are never approved. Use your real name and say something intelligent.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...