Freud & Thinking the ‘Future’ Part 2

Written by: Todd Dufresne

The Late Sigmund Freud

Happy Birthday Sigmund Freud

Todd Dufresne author of The Late Sigmund Freud continues his look at the Freud that has been ignored, avoided, forbidden, and whitewashed for decades.


To celebrate Freud’s 161st birthday, let’s begin where I left off with a simple question: Why has The Future of an Illusion been so badly understood over the years?  One answer is that readers have failed to register how deeply pessimistic Freud’s conclusions are about the future of reason and Kultur.  Another answer is that readers have failed to connect these conclusions to the theorizing of Beyond the Pleasure Principle.  Still another answer: very few scholars have been motivated to confront the practically verboten metabiology that animates Freud’s work from the very beginning.  All three answers are connected.

Freud’s death drive theory presumes the kind of deep history made possible by the psycho-Lamarkianism and recapitulation theories that Freud always championed, but only explicitly institutionalized in Beyond.  It’s a feature that A. A. Brill and Carl Jung rightly call Freud’s “paleopsychology.”  So when Freud, in The Future, shifts gears to imagine what the future will look like, this shift is determined by his lifelong commitment to the paleopsychology.  The future, Freud argues, is based on the deep past.  As such one can’t expect great strides toward reason in the future, toward what he calls the development of a “cultural superego,” until a similar passage of deep time has passed in a condition of Kultur.  Until that “geologically” distant future has arrived, we can safely set aside these metapsychological concerns and attend to the psychoanalysis of our everyday conflictual present.

Naturally, only the psychoanalyst can bridge this geological past to understand the prosaic present and, on the basis of that analysis, predict the geological future.  Psychoanalysis is the master key – but only on the basis of a psycho-Lamarkianism that was already outdated in the 1920s.  Among the only thinkers to confront this fact were Ernest Jones, both in his private letters to Freud and in his official biography of 1953-57, and Frank Sulloway in his much-ignored but very good book of 1979, Freud: Biologist of the Mind.  Yet Freud’s metabiology is simply unavoidable – and is actually very obvious to anyone who bothers to read Freud.  Let me put this as plainly and provocatively as possible: any reading of the “cultural” Freud that ignores the metabiology is a bad reading.  Period.

But there’s still more to be said.  My greatest surprise in conducting this research was that the late Freud was bolstered by, and impelled because of, a similar paleopsychology championed by his old friend and colleague, Carl Jung.  In this sense Freud’s late cultural turn must be thought of as not only the natural consequence of the death drive theory of 1920, but of Freud’s complicated and competitive relationship with a man exiled from psychoanalysis in 1914.  Indeed, I think that Freud’s last published work, the much-maligned and misunderstood Moses and Monotheism (1939), was Freud’s final out-speculating, if not out-Junging, of poor old Jung.

Freud’s most ambitious and accomplished sons may have wanted to kill the Primal Father, but they always failed.  Why?  Because Papa Freud took steps to kill them first – devising and then carefully sidestepped his own Oedipus mythology.  Freud’s late works are entirely spiced in the flavor of this contempt, combined with an insatiable drive to outlast his followers and determine the future of psychoanalysis on his terms alone.  Interestingly enough, it’s one reason why these late works are so interesting to read.  For no follower, even Lacan, was as fascinating, brilliant, diabolical, and droll as Sigmund Freud.  Take one example from Civilization and Its Discontents.  There Freud approvingly cites a favorite author, Heinrich Heine, remarking that “One must, it is true, forgive one’s enemies, but not before they have been hanged.”  Freud, a good hater, never forgave anyone.  Nooses for everyone!

The late cultural works are Freud’s final instructions on why he was always right, and why everyone else was always wrong.  What’s remarkable is that it has taken ninety years for anyone to notice.

In The Late Sigmund Freud I embrace the Freud that has been ignored, avoided, forbidden, and whitewashed for decades – and by scholars and analysts alike.  For the brooding late Freud is the real Freud, even the genius Freud.  It’s time we embraced this Freud and stopped trying to fix, repair, change, apologize for, evolve, and mythologize Freud to suit our own ends.  For this real Freud is the really interesting Freud: coherent, consistent, brilliant, irascible, and dogged.  This Freud has earned a place in the future.

As for the other Freuds – they are the products of wishful thinking, projections not unpackings.  They belong, I submit, to the past of an illusion.

Find out more about the recently published The Late Sigmund Freud  by Todd Dufresne.

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About the Author: Todd Dufresne

Todd Dufresne is Professor of Philosophy at Lakehead University, Ontario. He is the author or editor of Returns of the 'French Freud' (1997), Tales from the Freudian Crypt (2000), Killing Freud (2003), Against Freud (2007), Freud's 'Beyond the Pleasure Principle' (2011), The Future of an Illusion (2012) and Civilization and its Discontents (2016), ...

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