And the winner id…

Sigmund Freud has a following in the humanities and social sciences that I haven’t been able to figure out. Thousands of journal pages have been devoted to carefully interpreting and reconstructing and transliterating Freud’s writing in efforts to elucidate everything from Shakespeare’s plays to how transsexuals come into being as subjects. Freud has come under attack by a lot of academics since he died in the early part of the twentieth century, for being sexist, for being intellectually lazy, or for being downright wrong. Frederick Crews, an English Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley, came down on Freud in an article entitled “Freudian Suspicion Versus Suspicion of Freud” in 1995:

Neither in Freud’s case histories nor anywhere else do we find evidence of behavioral manifestations that point unambiguously to the need for such mythic entities [as id, ego and superego]. Their usefulness is not empirical but rhetorical. Each posited subset of “the unconscious” permits another strand of contrary motivation to be added to the already tangled explanatory skein, leaving us, if we are sufficiently gullible, so awestruck by the psychoanalyst interpreter’s diagnostic acumen that we think we are witnessing elegant and validated feats of deduction instead of being told a self-serving detective story in which the very mystery itself – which of the selves checkmated which others to generate the symptom or dream or error? – is an artifact of question-begging maneuvers.

Remember that “question-begging” is using the conclusion as one of the premises, in order to create an argument that is necessarily true. While arguments like Crews’s definitely give me pause, my own personal problem with Freud comes not from a critique of his arguments nor from a critique of his intellectual legacy; it comes from his giving MS Word reason to overlook the typo “id” when I mean to type “is.”


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