A Very Short

Anthony Storr
Neville Jason, Reader

(Naxos AudioBooks)
Civilization and Its Discontents, the Wolf Man, the Rat Man, Anna (and Anna O!), penis envy, the Oedipus Complex, the Electra Complex, The Interpretation of Dreams, cigars, Charcot, Fleiss, hysteria, infantile sexuality, jokes, the unconscious, neuroses, slips of the tongue, the oral, the anal, and death. It is astonishing what the man accomplished in his almost eight decades on earth.

At one point, Storr wonders out loud why Freud was so influential. He cites his marvelous writing style (and it is wondrous, even in translation --- Norman Mailer said Freud was one of the greatest novelists of the 20th Century). But we suspect it is more simple than that.

Most of us want to know what makes us tick, and most of us run into people and events that affect us strangely, that make no sense. We wonder where they come from, what it all means, how could we --- for example --- fall into a trap, any trap, that trap again.

Positing id, ego, and the hidden unconscious gave us a chance to explain these oddities. For those lucky enough, or rich enough, psychoanalysis offered the chance to peer into one's own mind with the assistance of a nonjudging, tolerant, and infinitely patient helper.

§     §     §

Storr was a practicing psychoanalyst, which would mean that he should also be patient, observant, non-judgmental. In writing about Freud, he is patient and observant but very judgmental. He wants to make sure that we know that when Freud defined the obsessional character ("order, cleanliness, control") the master was talking about himself: a man of detail, one who was detached, one who did not brook rebellion in the ranks.

Storr suggests that although Freud repeatedly called his handiwork a science --- not a philosophy, not a religion --- those who deviated from the dogma (Fleiss, Jung, Rank) were cut off, even labeled by the other followers as "Neurotic" or "Psychotic."

There are some surprises here. Freud was called "my golden Ziggy" by his mother. He took a dim view of humanity, called it "trash." He was generous. One of his long-term patients he christened The Wolf Man because of a dream he related to Freud --- a dream, perhaps, next to the dreams of Emanuel Swedenborg, one of the most famous in existence:

    I dreamed that it was night and I was lying in my bed. Suddenly the window opened of its own accord, and I was terrified to see that some white wolves were sitting on the big walnut tree in front of the window. There were six or seven of them. The wolves were quite white, and looked more like foxes or sheep-dogs, for they had big tails like foxes and they had their ears pricked like dogs when they pay attention to something. In great terror, evidently of being eaten up by the wolves, I screamed and woke up.

Wolf Man lived into the 1970s, was often interviewed on the master's technique. He tells us that Freud chatted with him about his own life, talking of his children, daily events; he even loaned him money, arranged for loans from others when he was broke. The only thing Freud did not do, Storr tells us, was to cure him. Even in later life Wolf Man suffered from depression, from the frightening thoughts that first brought him to treatment when he was a young man.

Freud's books, and monographs as published constitute some twenty-four volumes, but Storr informs us that he did not even begin writing until he was thirty-nine years old. Storr doesn't think much of most of Freud's writings outside of his theories (although he does make an exception for his paper on Michelangelo's Moses). Moreover, he suggests that Freud was not all that great an analyst. He offers up the idea that he saw patients mainly to create or shore up his own theories of the mind.

Storr also gives short shrift to Freud's Interpretation of Dreams. He points out that modern psychoanalysts do not see dreams as hiding repressed sexual fantasies or memories. He merely credits Freud for rescuing dreams from the realm of mystics and witches, and he ignores Freud's insight that dreams represent one of the richest treasure-chests of insight to those who bother to record them.

Many of us who bother to interpret our own dreams learn quickly that they are as Freud saw them --- puns and games, a superb internal movie going on nightly, with hints and clues that can tell us more than we ever dreamed possible what the hell is going on there in our psyches, creating its own subtle symbolic system, the system that possibly rules us, possibly can free us.

Freud preferred his patients --- they weren't called "clients" in those pre-Carl Rogers' days --- to be well educated. He also was not interested in treating the overtly mad, nor those over the age of fifty. (In 1900 the life expectancy was such that to analyze an older person, he suggested, would be a waste). Freud also chose the couch for his analysands because he didn't like "being stared at for eight hours a day."

From his time with Charcot, Freud learned that the traumas could be retrieved and defused through hypnosis. This led to one of his major theories, that of trauma and repression. From his own experience, he learned of the significant phenomena of transference and counter-transference --- a subtle but powerful tool that brought the reality of a patient's passions and needs right into the consulting room where they could be examined by doctor and patient to understood where he or she came from, where he or she was going.

Patients were thus given permission to fall in love with the analyst without fear or shame. And an artful analyst could help one define fears and hopes from childhood, artfully transferred to the consulting room.

He cites Freud's showing the profound importance of how children are raised, and how they are hurt. The child, he proved, is indeed "father of the man." You and I as we exist now were formed by those who created us, nurtured us --- or in some cases, maltreated us.

The major gift of the master, in Storr's view, is that individuals were offered the opportunity to have an uncritical, sympathetic listener, one who would devote extensive time to those who may have needed it the most. It was the chance to be in the presence of one who would listen, would not judge nor criticize, and at appropriate times, could guide one into soul-changing insight.

These three discs run for four hours. Nevill Jason is a fine and precise (and dare we say , a compulsive) reader ... in the dry, BBC sense. Storr's judgmental view of his subject would be more befitting a parent rather than a historical figure. Perhaps it is appropriate that Storr emphasizes Wolf Man's oft repeated sentiment that Freud was "like a father" to him.

--- Walter Winnie, PhD
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