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of Literature and Art
As a Jewish boy growing up in Vienna, Freud was a top-notch student. In the 1870s, he studied medicine at the University of Vienna. He had vast intellectual ambitions, and as he walked beneath the statues of the great scholars of old, he fancied that someday his statue would be there, inscribed with the words that were spoken of Oedipus: “He solved the famous riddle and was a most mighty man.”
Freud was a profound thinker and a superb stylist. He can teach one as much about human nature as any writer can. It may be said that others discovered the unconscious before Freud. It may be said that the psychology of the unconscious was “in the air” during Freud’s time, and that if Freud had never been born, someone else would have made the discoveries that Freud made. It may be said that Freud made mistakes during the course of his long career — overlooking some things, exaggerating others. But none of this should prevent us from appreciating the importance of Freud’s work. What most impresses me about Freud is
One of Freud’s best books is Civilization and Its Discontents. Written when Freud was 75, this little book is full of profound ideas. It isn’t an easy book to read; the reader must strain to grasp all the ideas that it contains. It’s a penetrating analysis of human nature, it throws light on the dark side of human nature. Based on his analysis of human nature, Freud makes predictions about the future, predictions that proved to be accurate. All things considered, one must regard this book as a philosophical work of the highest order.
Pascal once said, “All men naturally hate each other.”1 This is what Freud discusses in Civilization and Its Discontents: the dark side of human nature, the hostile, violent impulses in human nature. This book alone can refute the myth that Freud is obsessed with sexuality, that Freud finds sexual motives behind all human actions.
Freud mentions the religious commandment, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” and calls it, “a commandment which is really justified by the fact that nothing else runs so strongly counter to the original nature of man.”2 Freud says that each of us, drawing on our own life experience, can prove his assertions about the original nature of man:
Nor is it only our neighbor who harbors hostile impulses, we ourselves harbor them; Freud speaks of “this inclination to aggression, which we can detect in ourselves and justly assume to be present in others.”4
Freud scoffs at communism, which blames private property for the evil in human society; “Aggressiveness was not created by property.”5 If you abolish private property, says Freud, people will fight over sexual relationships. If you declare complete sexual freedom, and abolish the family, it is impossible to foresee how civilization will develop, but we can be sure of one thing: aggression will continue to be part of it.
How is it possible for people to cooperate with each other? Freud says that two people can be bound together if they have a third person on whom they can vent their aggressive impulses. “The dream of a Germanic world-dominion called for anti-Semitism as its complement.”6 Russian communists were bound together by their hostility to the bourgeois; “one only wonders, with concern, what the Soviets will do after they have wiped out their bourgeois.”7 These sentences were written before Stalin and Hitler committed their worst atrocities. The accuracy of Freud’s predictions validates his analysis of human nature.
Freud’s broad education is evident throughout Civilization and Its Discontents. He frequently quotes Goethe, and occasionally Shakespeare. He also quotes Heine:
One reason I enjoy reading Freud is that he treats the reader with courtesy, he treats the reader like a friend, like a companion who is joining him on a search for truth. As an example of Freud’s courtesy, permit me to quote the start of the book’s final chapter: “Having reached the end of his journey, the author must ask his readers’ forgiveness for not having been a more skillful guide and for not having spared them empty stretches of road and troublesome detours. There is no doubt that it could have been done better.”
When you read Freud, you feel that you are in the company of a great intellectual — bold and original, yet also cautious and skeptical; searching for ultimate truths, yet also admitting when truth is uncertain or elusive. Like all great intellectuals, Freud has a deep love for civilization, for cultural tradition. This is apparent in the first chapter of Civilization and Its Discontents, when Freud discusses the history of Rome. This discussion of the history of Rome is occasioned by a discussion of the nature of the mind; Freud mentions that nothing is ever completely forgotten, that everything is preserved in the mind, and can be recalled in certain circumstances. He compares this to the history of Rome, in which earlier buildings are preserved alongside later ones. Freud’s lengthy, detailed description of Rome shows his respect for tradition, for civilization.
Freud scorns American civilization, perhaps because it lacks the respect for tradition, the courteous tone, that one finds in Freud’s own work. Though Freud anticipated the atrocities of Hitler and Stalin, he felt that one of the greatest threats to civilization was the American spirit — the un-civilized, un-traditional, un-respectful tone of American culture.
I strongly recommend Freud’s book, Leonardo and a Memory of his Childhood; it’s a fascinating sketch of Leonardo, as well as a good introduction to Freud’s ideas. Freud’s Totem and Taboo teaches one much about primitive man and about human nature; I recommend it highly. “What primitive man regarded as the natural thing,” writes Freud, “was the indefinite prolongation of life — immortality. The idea of death was only accepted late, and with hesitancy. Even for us it is lacking in content and has no clear connotation.” The Future of an Illusion is a clear and concise attack on religion; like Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, Freud is an uncompromising atheist.
If you want to read a book about Freud, consider Ruitenbeek’s Freud As We Knew Him; also consider Ernest Jones’ 3-volume biography.
In 1906, when Freud turned 50, his friends presented him with a medallion; on one side was Freud himself, on the other was Oedipus solving the riddle of the Sphinx. The inscription read, “He solved the famous riddle and was a most mighty man.”
What one longs for in youth, one attains in old age.
I recommend Memories, Dreams, Reflections, which is Jung’s summary of his life and work, as dictated to Aniela Jaffé. Much of it deals with the occult. Jung believed that, in the unconscious, time and space have no effect, so the unconscious can perceive future events, and events taking place elsewhere. Before World War I broke out in 1914, Jung anticipated the outbreak of a pan-European war from which only Switzerland would emerge unscathed:
In the 1950s, when Jung was about 80, he appeared on British television. He impressed many viewers, and he was urged to write a book that would make his ideas accessible to a wide audience. He enlisted the help of several of his disciples, each of whom wrote a chapter of the book, following Jung’s outline; Jung himself wrote the introduction. The book was called Man and His Symbols, and it’s an excellent introduction to Jung’s theories. Though it isn’t as concise and well-organized as Freud’s works, Man and His Symbols contains an abundance of provocative ideas and fascinating stories. It’s a readable book, liberally sprinkled with illustrations (avoid the paperback version, which contains fewer illustrations). Man and His Symbols was Jung’s last project; Jung died in 1961, just before the book was finished. If you want to read a biography of Jung, consider Barbara Hannah’s Jung: His Life and Work. Remarks by people who met Jung can be found in C. G. Jung: Interviews and Encounters.
I recommend Jung’s Symbols of Transformation, which discusses the hero archetype and mythology. Jung’s interest in mythology is related to his concept of the collective unconscious. Myths are expressions of the unconscious, and because the unconscious is collective, the same myths are found in different peoples. Jung felt that myths, like religious creeds, helped to integrate consciousness with the unconscious:
Jung’s Psychological Types is an excellent book; no one ever knew more about human nature than Jung did. Answer to Job is an interesting work about Christianity. Aion deals with astrology and alchemy, and their relation to Christianity. Jung had a strong interest in alchemy — its psychological meaning and its symbolism. Jung’s psychology is a search for the self, for wholeness, for the integration of consciousness with the unconscious, and Jung thought that alchemy was also a search for the self and for wholeness. Like some of Jung’s other books, Aion is interesting and profound, but dry and long-winded.
Unlike Freud, Jung was friendly toward religion. Jung was not an atheist; he believed in God as an unconscious entity, an archetypal being. Jung didn’t scoff at the notion that Jesus was the son of God; he believed in Jesus as the incarnation of the son-of-God archetype. Jung believed that modern man needed to re-connect with myths, with dreams, with the unconscious. He believed that modern man had bought technological progress at the price of spiritual sickness:
For Jung, expressing his ideas on paper wasn’t enough: “I had to achieve a kind of representation in stone of my innermost thoughts.” Jung constructed a stone tower on the shore of a Swiss lake, and he lived there as Thoreau lived on the shore of Walden Pond:
During Jung’s last years, his secretary was Aniela Jaffé, a disciple who wrote one of the chapters of Man and His Symbols. Jaffé’s memories of Jung can be found in a wonderful little book called From the Life and Work of C. G. Jung; this book is a good introduction to Jung’s ideas, as well as a lively portrait of Jung himself.
Like Jung, Adler was initially one of Freud’s disciples, then broke with Freud and set up his own school. Adler originated the concept of the inferiority complex. According to Adler, the feeling of inferiority is often caused by a physical defect, a physical handicap of some kind. The feeling of inferiority can inspire great achievement, or prompt a retreat from life.
Like Nietzsche, Adler argued that the desire for power was a fundamental part of human nature. But while Nietzsche had said that the desire for power generally has positive effects, Adler insisted that the desire for power was harmful to others and to oneself. While Nietzsche had glorified the loner, the solitary beast of prey, and criticized the herd animal, Adler criticized the beast of prey and glorified the amiable herd animal. “Education in the home,” wrote Adler “...commits the gravest of psychological errors in inoculating children with the false idea that they must be superior to everyone else and consider themselves better than all other human beings.”13
While Freud had said that a psychologically healthy person should be able to love and to work, Adler added a third ingredient, social interaction: “The three great problems of life,” said Adler, “[are] the question whether [the individual] has fostered his contact between himself and his fellows in an approximately correct manner, or has hindered this contact.... the problem of profession and occupation, and the problem of love and marriage.” Many of history’s outstanding figures have failed to solve what Adler calls “the three great problems of life.” Kierkegaard, for example, wrestled unsuccessfully with the problem of love and marriage. One of the paradoxes of our species is that great men aren’t healthy, and healthy men aren’t great. The great man is generally unhealthy, unbalanced, half-mad. Adler’s healthy man, on the other hand, though he may be an excellent neighbor, an excellent friend and an excellent parent, isn’t likely to be a great man. Should we not strive for both greatness and health? Would it not be a mistake to pursue only one of these goals, and forget the other? Should we not try to reconcile these goals, however difficult that may be?
Adler was sympathetic toward feminism, and his political views were left-wing. Those interested in Adler should read his book, Understanding Human Nature. Though this book is neither well-written nor well-organized, it contains some shrewd observations about human nature; for example, Adler points out that “a pampered child, as much as a hated one, labors under great difficulties.”14
The fertility of the line of inquiry that Freud initiated is shown by the number and quality of Freud’s disciples. One of Freud’s most talented disciples was Ernest Jones, an Englishman. I recommend Jones’s work, Hamlet and Oedipus. I also recommend several essays by Jones: “The Significance of Christmas,” “Psycho-Analysis and the Christian Religion,” “Psycho-Analysis and Folklore,” “A Psycho-Analytic Study of the Holy Ghost Concept,” “Anal-Erotic Character Traits,” and “The Influence of Andrea del Sarto’s Wife on His Art.”
Karl Abraham was another of Freud’s disciples. Abraham wrote a fascinating essay on Giovanni Segantini, an Italian painter. He also wrote an excellent essay on Amenhotep IV, an Egyptian pharaoh, and an interesting essay on “Character-Formation on the Genital Level of Libido-Development.”
Freud’s daughter, Anna Freud, followed in her father’s footsteps and pursued a career as a psychoanalyst. While her father had concentrated on the psychology of the unconscious, Anna Freud concentrated on ego psychology. She specialized in the study of children and adolescents. I recommend her lucid and interesting book, The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense.
Erik Erikson continued along the same path that Anna Freud had trodden. Erikson specialized in ego psychology, and is best known for his work on adolescence and for his theory of “identity crisis.” I recommend his book Youth: Identity and Crisis. Erikson illustrates his theories about youth by discussing the identity crises of George Bernard Shaw and William James. Erikson insists that adolescence must be viewed in its social context: “We cannot separate personal growth and communal change, nor can we separate [the] identity crisis in individual life and contemporary crises in historical development.”15
Though one can learn much from Freud’s disciples, one can learn even more from Jung’s disciples, such as Marie-Louise von Franz. Von Franz lived a long life, and was a prolific writer. The depth of her thought is astonishing, and she often speaks to one’s most personal experience. Unfortunately, her books are somewhat unpolished, consisting of lecture notes, seminar transcripts, etc. Von Franz’s specialty was fairy tales; she wrote several books about fairy tales, discussing tales from many different countries, and enriching her discussion with comments on her patients. She also wrote books about other Jungian topics — dreams, divination, alchemy, etc. She collaborated with Jung’s wife, Emma, on a major study of the Grail Legend. Emma Jung also wrote a small book called Animus and Anima which is highly regarded.
Another prominent Jungian is Edward Edinger, an American, who wrote psychological works (such as Ego and Archetype), and also studies of literature (Shakespeare, The Bible, Faust, Moby Dick, etc.).
Mary Esther Harding was born in England, studied with Jung at his home in Switzerland, and spent most of her career in the U.S. Perhaps her best-known book is The Way of All Women. Among her other books is Psychic Energy: Its Source and Transformation.
Jung is more popular today than Freud, and Jungian books like Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul often become bestsellers.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, an American psychiatrist who worked with terminally-ill patients, is the author of numerous books, including the well-known book, On Death and Dying. She argues that in modern society, the subject of death is taboo; “the more we are making advancements in science, the more we seem to fear and deny the reality of death.”16 She argues that the process of dying usually occurs in five stages: denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance; her theory has become known as “The Five Stages of Grief.” I can’t wholeheartedly recommend On Death and Dying because it isn’t well-written; the classic work on this important subject remains to be written. Kübler-Ross also wrote a short book called Life After Death.
M. Scott Peck, an American psychiatrist, is the author of a book called The Road Less Traveled. Peck’s book is popular rather than scholarly, inspirational rather than scientific, sincere rather than original. Though the style is second rate, it’s clear and readable. Peck’s book isn’t a classic, but it does contain considerable psychological wisdom; the first half is especially interesting.
Peck uses case histories to illustrate the importance of early childhood and of parental love. He says that parental love indicates to the child that he’s valuable. A child who feels itself to be valuable will take care of itself and discipline itself. Thus, parental love, according to Peck, is the source of self-discipline.
Peck’s book shows how important psychotherapy is in the modern world. Many other interesting books will doubtless be written by psychotherapists in the future.
I recommend Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking; it’s highly readable and highly interesting. Since I’m a champion of the classics, I hate to admit how enjoyable a contemporary bestseller can be. Blink was difficult for me to put down, it made me late for appointments. Gladwell tries to present psychology research in a manner that laymen can understand. Gladwell discusses non-rational thinking — intuitive, unconscious thinking. Gladwell’s thesis is interesting, and the stories with which he supports his thesis are also interesting. Popular as Blink is, Gladwell’s other book, The Tipping Point, is even more popular. Tipping Point is described as “social psychology”; it discusses fads, “social epidemics.”
Those interested in the occult should consider Dean Radin’s book, The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena. Radin describes the careful, controlled, verifiable experiments that have been made over the last hundred years, and how these experiments have built a strong case in favor of psychic phenomena. Radin takes a scholarly, statistical approach to the occult; his book isn’t anecdotal or literary. Though he knows how stubborn skeptics are, Radin looks to the future with confidence: “The eventual scientific acceptance of psychic phenomena is inevitable. The origins of acceptance are already brewing through the persuasive weight of the laboratory evidence.”17
Colin Wilson is a popular and prolific English writer who often writes about the occult, crime, and sex. Compared to Dean Radin, Wilson discusses the occult in a manner that’s more literary, less laboratory. The Occult: A History is Wilson’s chief work in this field. Now in his seventies, Wilson burst into prominence at age 24 with a book called The Outsider, which discussed outsiders and outcasts in the works of Kafka, Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, and others. Wilson has written studies of Rasputin, Gurdjieff, Jung, Aleister Crowley, Henry Miller, Rudolf Steiner, and others. Wilson says that his best book is a mystical work called Beyond the Occult.
Hitschmann has written a superb collection of biographical sketches, Great Men: Psychoanalytic Studies. This book is a goldmine of psychological wisdom. I recommend it highly.
Phyllis Greenacre wrote a highly-regarded book called Swift and Carroll: A Psychoanalytic Study (Jonathan Swift is, of course, the author of Gulliver’s Travels, and Lewis Carroll is the author of Alice in Wonderland).
Dalton’s Unconscious Structure in “The Idiot” is an excellent study of the famous novel by Dostoyevsky. One should read the novel before reading Dalton’s book. (Dalton was a disciple of Lionel Trilling, who had a deep appreciation of literature, and also a keen interest in Freud and Freudian interpretations of literature.)
Ruitenbeek has compiled an extraordinary anthology of essays and articles, Psychoanalysis and Literature. The essays on Poe, Hawthorne, Kafka, Lewis Carroll, and Hamlet are excellent. Kazin’s essay on modern literature is full of interesting ideas. Kazin argues that modern English and American writers are isolated within their own selves, and can’t make contact with the external world: “The world — the surrounding and not always friendly reality of nature, history, society — has disappeared for these writers.” The world no longer offers people anything to respect, anything to be enthusiastic about. Modern man has fallen into an abyss of nihilism.
The Creative Unconscious, by Hanns Sachs, is a collection of essays, most of which deal with literature. It’s an interesting book, though the style is second rate. Theodor Reik’s Secret Self is also badly-written but interesting. Reik’s book includes sketches of Goethe, Heine and Anatole France. Reik wrote a number of other books, the best of which may be A Psychologist Looks At Love. Otto Rank is the author of two books that are interesting but badly written: Psychology and the Soul and The Don Juan Legend.
Eissler is a major figure among psychologists who study literature and art. Eissler is an expert on genius, and his work is often interesting. But Eissler wrote carelessly; though he studied literature, he didn’t try to create literature. Eissler is the author of two huge tomes: one on Leonardo, the other on Goethe. I recommend Eissler’s essay, “Psychopathology and Creativity,” which discusses the nature of genius with reference to Goethe. I also recommend Eissler’s essay, “Talent and Genius.”18 Eissler notes that the genius suffers more than other people: “Many a reader of the works of a genius may feel an ardent wish to achieve an equivalent greatness on his own, but it is more than likely that he would not have been able to endure the pain to which most geniuses are subjected.”19