"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).

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

From Pontus to Vienna: Evagrius and Freud

Going, as I was, to Vienna in early June, I ordered two books to read. The first, discussed here, was Peter Gay's lovely and winsome biography of Mozart. As I noted, Vienna has hosted many giants of Western culture, and Mozart was certainly among them.

More recently, it was also home, until the last 18 months of his life, of Freud, whose legacy and influence in giving rise to psychoanalysis remain towering after having been increasingly discounted since the latter part of the 20th century. I made a point of visiting that home of his, Bergasse 19, when I was in Vienna last month, and you can see a few pictures I took and read a few thoughts here. (For further thoughts about possible uses of psychoanalytic thought for Eastern Christians, see here and here. For possible uses of psychoanalytic categories in spiritual direction, see here.)

The second book I took with me, and finally recently finished, was George Makari, Revolution in Mind: the Creation of Psychoanalysis (Harper, 2008), 624pp.

It is a fascinating, carefully written study that avoids the rather polemical tone and exaggerations of, e.g., Phyllis Grosskurth's 1991 book The Secret Ring: Freud's Inner Circle and the Politics of Psychoanalysis

Makari, the director of Cornell's Institute for the History of Psychiatry, lays out a wide cast of characters--not just Jung and Freud, but, inter alia, Adler, Abraham, Reich, Horney, Rank, Klein, and Anna Freud, these last two engaged in a long-running and rather hostile debate about children and psychoanalysis that only grew worse when Anna accompanied her father in 1938 as they fled the Nazis and wound up in London, where Freud was to die in 1939 and where Klein, according to Makari, had long been accustomed to seeing herself as the queen of psychoanalysis there.

Freud and many of the people in the book spent most of their time in Vienna, though as things developed, Berlin, Zurich, and later London, New York, and other American cities came to prominence; indeed, after the war, the Germanic centres of psychoanalysis were virtually wiped out, leaving the American institutes and analysts to assume a position of dominance (and to use that dominance to force upon the IPA positions that Freud himself disagreed with--especially the question of so-called lay analysis). But while it was still king, Vienna was a place of great intrigue, according to Makari; and having wandered some of the streets he describes, and seen some of the places he mentions--the University of Vienna as well as Bergasse 19--I found the book that much more haunting.

I was, moreover, struck by two things in the book. First, once again, Freud emerges at least somewhat better than he often has (something I noticed earlier this year in reading his correspondence with Pfister) in later portrayals. Though he has been rightly criticized for many things, he was not quite as hard-core and doctrinaire as some of his followers were. He could indeed stubbornly cling to his ideas when they were increasingly debunked, but eventually he could change.

And that is the second take-away from this book: even those who--such as many of Freud's early followers, including Jung and Rank--most readily brandish the label of "scientific endeavor," who most earnestly denounce others for unscientific adventures, who most adamantly insist they are doing nothing but science according to the strictest academic canons, readily, quickly, blindly collapse into unbending and unscientific ideology, lacking any kind of epistemic humility or even basic self-awareness it seems. They then go on ideological crusades against their enemies.

Such crusades, alas, are not a phenomenon limited to psychoanalysis at its founding, nor to others since then--climate science, say. They affect and infect all human disciplines and endeavors, it seems, including theology which can just as easily be reduced to an ideology in the hands of some. It is a salutary reminder that good scholarship is a profoundly ascetic exercise, requiring, as Evagrius showed, discipline of the logismoi, the passions, especially pride and vainglory, and what Augustine so memorably called libido dominandi.

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