A Review/Reflection of Freud's Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis
Not long ago I finished reading Freud’s Introductory Lectures to Psycho-Analysis. It took me more than a year to get through the darn thing, but eventually I made it. I’m stubborn. Don’t ask me why it took me so long to read this work, probably has something to do with my mother (obligatory Freud joke #1). I originally started reading this work because in some book that Harold Bloom wrote (The Western Canon), he claimed that Freud is one of the great authors of Western Literature. Who am I, a humble theologian, to argue with the great literary scholar Harold Bloom? I had two works by Freud on my bookshelf, the aforementioned Lectures as well as Civilization and Its Discontents. One book is 4x the size of the other, and which one did I opt for… the larger. Again, don’t ask why.
So, more than a year later, having worked my way through all of Freud’s lectures, having had the opportunity to mull over his thoughts, his approach, and his writing, I have to say that I agree with Harold Bloom’s description of Freud as an author – he is pretty good. In fact, I think I would argue that Freud is someone that we all should read, yet not for the same reasons that Bloom gives. I am not some kind of Shakespeare sycophant who looks for ways in which to connect every author to characters of Macbeth or any other Shakespeare play. I do not judge the quality of someone’s writing based on his or her comparison with Shakespeare. I’m not saying that Bloom does either, but one does find a number of Shakespeare references in his work. Again, I am but a humble theologian…
I argue that We should read Freud for a couple of reasons. First, as a friend of mine once said, he is a “damn good writer.” Freud’s writing is clear, to the point, and well thought out. He knows where he is going, what it is that he wants to get across and does his job well. In a time when more and more is written (thanks to the internet) and it seems that less and less is written well, it is important to read good writing. We all can learn about thought organization, the use of examples to make a point, the power of good introductory and conclusion paragraphs, and all that kind of stuff by reading Freud. In reading his lectures one can find great examples of how to write the classic college essay, a skill that seems to be diminishing. Granted, Freud was originally written in German, and I have to admit that I read a translation (by James Strachey), but with a good translator, good writing can be found and experienced across languages.
Second, Freud’s approach to problem solving is tight. He was a scientist as well as a philosopher and knew how to tackle a problem. Yes, I would not ascribe to some of the conclusions that he arrives at in his work. I am not looking at every dream and every slip of the tongue as a window to the unspoken consciousness. When I want to play the bassoon it does not mean I have some kind of latent desire for a maternal presence in my life. Sometimes a bassoon reed is just a bassoon reed (oblique and obligatory Freud joke #2). Yet the way in which he approaches a problem is brilliant, creative, and as I already said, tight. For example, the first couple of lectures speak to the common phenomenon of parapraxis (slips of the tongue). This is something that happens to everyone all of the time. Freud points out that we do not usually pay much attention to such moments because they happen all the time and to everyone. They are ordinary and need not concern us. Yet Freud suggests that because they happen to everyone and all of the time that perhaps there is something happening that we all should consider and look into. Note: he did not coin the term, “Freudian slip” – that came later.
It is this method of careful observation, approach to questions about life, and constant questioning that I think in part makes Freud’s work so good and important. If not for the content but instead for the methodology I think it is useful and important to read his work.
Third, much of his content is still good. I know I just went on and on about how some of his ideas may be outdated, but there still is a good amount of useful ideas in his lectures. Not only was Freud a good thinker and a good writer, but he got a lot of stuff right. For those who work with people, it wouldn’t hurt to read some Freud to get an insight into the human consciousness. It is helpful to remind us that often people’s behavior is masking a deeper desire or anxiety. And sometimes a cigar is not a cigar and a bassoon reed is more than a bassoon reed (good thing I don’t dream about bassoon reeds!). He had a lot of good ideas and we should not write them all off.
So read some Freud. Read some of his lectures, some of his essays, or anything else. Read some good writing and learn from it. What’s the worst that can happen aside from you realizing that there is a deep and growing distance between you and your mother because of some deep unresolved oral fixation drive that was never satiated in your early childhood (obligatory Freud joke #3)? Read Freud and then go and give your mother a call – she deserves it.