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"Burn Down the Thinkeries!"
The title of this book review on Skeptic.com comes from Aristophanes' take on the Sophists, from 5th Century Athens, from which the insult "sophistry" comes. Modern sophists like Freud and Stephen J. Gould used their facility with language to lead the gullible astray, as Frederick Crews shows in his new book, Follies of the Wise. Jonathan Gottschall writes:

Follies is a collection of previously published writings, most review-essays that originally appeared in The New York Review of Books. It opens with Crews’s most celebrated and notorious essays that made his name practically synonymous with “Freud Basher” (google this term and you will see what I mean). The first two chapters of the book, along with large sections of the first eleven chapters, describe revisionist analyses of Freud that challenge the hagiographical image promoted by Freud and his devotees. This Freud — Crews calls him “the unknown Freud” — is a megalomaniac, a tireless self-promoter, a hopelessly biased and inept scientist, and a truly dangerous quack with very real victims. Take Crews’s retelling of the famous Dora case study: Dora was a young teenager being sexually hunted by an older man while her father turned a blind eye to her peril; for his part, Freud puzzled over Dora’s failures to become aroused by the man’s attentions, tracing her frigidity back — where else? — to the predictable infantile traumas. But for all of his bumbling as an investigator of the mind, Freud also had a tragic facility with language, an ability — like the Sophists in The Clouds — to make a weak and baseless claim seem compelling (to his everlasting chagrin, even Crews was once seduced by Freud’s literary charisma). Consider Crews’s gloss of one of Freud’s most famous case studies, that of the Wolf Man, Sergei Pankeev:
Freud was determined to find a primal scene to serve as the fountainhead of Pankeev’s symptoms. He made it materialize through a transparently arbitrary interpretation of a remembered dream of Pankeev’s from the suspiciously young age of four, about six or seven white wolves (actually dogs, as Freud was later compelled to admit) sitting in a tree outside his window. The wolves, Freud explained, were the parents; their whiteness meant bedclothes; their stillness meant the opposite, coital motion; their big tails signified, by the same indulgent logic, castration; daylight meant night; and all this could be traced most assuredly to a memory from age one of Pankeev’s mother and father copulating, doggy style, no fewer than three times in succession while he watched from the crib and soiled himself in horrified protest.

This is despite Pankeev’s protestations that he could not have witnessed this event: due to the customs of his social class, his crib would never have been located in his parents’ bedroom. Crews makes it clear that, far from being exceptional, the Wolf Man case is a typical foundation stone upon which the whole “ramshackle edifice” of psychoanalysis was set to wobble. And, in the first eleven chapters of Follies, he shows that Freud is still very much with us today. In chapters on the recovered memory movement, the Rorschach test, hysteria, and alien abductions, Crews shows that elementary Freudian concepts underlie them all — especially the cornerstone concept of the “recoverability” of repressed memories by canny therapeutic sleuths. The two chapters on the recovered memory movement are especially powerful, and they demonstrate one of Crews’s most effective points: “pseudoscience inevitably leads to harm.”

In short, it seems Freud made a whole lot of shit up.

Posted by aalkon at September 2, 2007 10:59 AM

Comments

Oh, puhleeze--

> Gould's ability at duplicity, self-
> deception and propaganda..."

Anytime someone feels compelled to describe someone as "self-loathing," I smell a rat.

> Tantalizing but suggestive. Surely
> what is needed is a second set of
> equations...

This is the sound of someone trying too hard to sound classically educate, like a small town theater group of white people in Ohio doing British accents for Noel Coward.

Posted by: Crid at September 2, 2007 12:15 PM

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