Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘history’

23 APRIL, 2012

The Freud Files: How Freud Engineered His Own Myth

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What Copernicus and Darwin have to do with Marie Bonaparte’s diary and Carl Jung’s scathing fury.

In 1916, Freud took the stage in Vienna in front of an audience that had gathered to hear the eighteenth of his Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, and proceeded to canonize himself by staking his place in the history of humanity alongside Copernicus and Darwin, the former having solved geocentrism, the latter anthropocentrism, and Freud himself, allegedly, egocentrism. He likened the criticism psychoanalysis, “his” “science,” was receiving to that Copernicus and Darwin faced when their theories first confronted the status quo. Over the century that followed, Freud’s legacy penetrated society and went on to underpin the making of consumer culture. But understanding the story, the complete story, of how Freud became Freud hinges on understanding the story’s very storiness. That’s the premise of The Freud Files: An Inquiry into the History of Psychoanalysis (library link) from Cambridge University Press, in which prominent contemporary Freud critics Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen and Sonu Shamdasani set out to reopen the files of Freud’s early critics, reexamining old controversies and restaging defining debates to argue that without the legend Freud himself engineered, the scientific status of psychoanalysis would never have achieved the credibility it actually did.

From how Freud manipulated his patient case histories to conform to his theories to how, even after his death, his daughter Anna worked arduously to maintain the myth, the authors open up previously unpublished documents and letters guarded by the Freud estate for decades, exploring how Freud rewrote his own history as a kind of propagandist storyteller.

‘Scientific’ psychology didn’t emerge as the fruit of a lucky discovery, a fortuitous invention, or by some ill-defined process of natural development. It was desired by its various promoters, and imagined on the model of the natural sciences.

For Freud, however, securing his place in history alongside history’s most seminal scientists was not without resistance. At the dawn of this “new psychology,” pioneering American psychologist and philosopher William James wrote to English psychologist James Sully in 1890:

This is no science, it is only the hope of science… But at present psychology is in the condition of physics before Galileo and the laws of motion, of chemistry before Lavoisier and the notion that mass is preserved in all reactions. The Galileo and Lavoisier of psychology will be famous men indeed when they come, as come they some day surely will.

So how, exactly, did Freud rewrite his own history? Borch-Jacobsen and Shamdasani distill it to five elements of alchemy:

…the peremptory declaration of the revolutionary and epochal character of psychoanalysis, the description of the ferocious hostility and irrational ‘resistances’ which it gave rise to, the insistence on the ‘moral courage’ which was required to overcome them, the obliteration of rival theories, relegated to a prehistory of psychoanalytic science, and a lack of acknowledgement of debts and borrowings.

The latter part strikes a particular nerve around here. In fact, there was nothing original about the method of introspective self-observation, which Freud allegedly invented and which shaped the course of psychoanalysis. From Thomas Hobbes:

Whosoever looketh into himself, and considereth what he doth, and when he does think, opine, reason, hope, feare, &c, and upon what grounds; he shall thereby read and know, what are the thoughts, and Passions of all men, upon like occasions.

And from Immanuel Kant:

The wish to play the spy upon one’s self… is to reverse the natural order of cognitive powers… The desire for self-investigation is either already a disease of the mind (hypochondria) or will lead to such a disease and ultimately to the madhouse.

But it wasn’t until the preface to the second edition of The Interpretation of Dreams that Freud publicly articulated his psychoanalysis of himself:

For this book has a further subjective significance for me personally — a significance which I only grasped after I had completed it. It was, I found, a portion of my own self-analysis, my reaction to my father’s death — that is to say, to the most important event, the most poignant loss, of a man’s life.

This erected a kind of “secret ‘science’ of Freud” behind the published public science, which made psychoanalysis into “a riddle, with only Freud possessing the key.” The loop of the riddle solidified when, in 1912, Carl Jung proposed that every prospective analyst be trained by being analyzed by another analyst, raising an obvious question: Who would train Freud, the analyst at the top of the food chain?

When Freud subjected himself to analysis by Jung, the dynamic quickly unraveled into a kind of feud, beginning with Freud’s admission to Jung that he “could not submit to analysis without losing [his] authority.” This triggered what’s easily the juiciest piece of correspondence in the volume, and possibly among the most acrimonious intellectual assaults in history, a scathing letter Jung sent Freud on December 18, 1912:

You go around sniffing out all the symptomatic actions in your vicinity, thus reducing everyone to the level of sons and daughters who blushingly admit the existence of their faults. Meanwhile you remain on top as the father, sitting pretty. For sheer obsequiousness nobody dares to pluck the prophet by the beard and inquire for once what you would say to a patient with a tendency to analyze the analyst instead of himself. You would certainly ask him: ‘Who’s got the neurosis?’… I am namely not in the least neurotic — touch wood! I have namely lege artis et tout humblement let myself be analyzed, which has been very good for me. You know, of course, how far a patient gets with self-analysis: not out of his neurosis — just like you.

The weaving of the Freud legend, the authors argue, was a deliberate architecting of a monoculture, a powerful story that can integrate new elements and theories, but its underlying structure remains unchanged. Freud engineered a kind of filter bubble of and for his followers. In 1908, for instance, he orchestrated the “First Congress of Freudian Psychology” in Salzburg, which was designed as a secret invitation-only event with no criticism allowed. When a critic of Freud’s requested admission to a similar event in 1910, he was denied permission to attend. In a letter to Freud whilst planning the conference, Jung admonished that this “splendid isolation must come to an end one day,” but Freud retorted that “that day is still far off.”

Freud was indeed so adamant about pushing that day as far into the future as possible that when rival Wilhelm Fleiss sold his correspondence with Freud to Marie Bonaparte in 1937 on the express condition that Freud never regain possession of them, Freud pleaded with Bonaparte to destroy them, saying he didn’t want “any of them to become known to the so-called posterity.” She wrote in her diary on November 24, 1937:

But when later, at the end of February or the beginning of March 1937, I saw [Freud] in Vienna and he told me he wanted the letters to be burned, I refused… One day he told me: ‘I hope to convince you to destroy them.’

The formidable filter bubble thickened when Freud formed the International Psychiatric Association, which gave him the perfect vehicle for propagating his ideas. Broch-Jacobsen and Shamdasani write:

Protected from the world by his disciples, Freud could recreate his own reality and his own history, without fear of being contradicted. From this perspective, the legend of the isolated and persecuted scientist is less the expression of Freud’s megalomania or mythomania, than the reflection of the institutional isolation of psychoanalysis. Conversely, the legend maintained the identity of the movement, portraying its mythic independence from and superiority over all other psychological and psychiatric theories. To view the legend simply as a means to satisfy Freud’s ambition and narcissism or simply as a means to promote psychoanalysis in the competing psychological marketplace misses the intimate connections between the legend and psychoanalysis itself.

Ultimately, though The Freud Files may itself bear the ideological biases of its authors, it offers a fascinating look at deliberate construction of one of contemporary culture’s most enduring lenses on the human condition, challenging its most fundamental assumptions and frameworks. Broch-Jacobsen and Shamdasani put it even more forcefully:

Without this excessive dehistoricization, psychoanalysis would never have succeeded in establishing itself as the Holy Scripture of psychotherapy, nor Freud as the Solitary Hero of the unconscious… Psychoanalysis is vulnerable to its history.

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23 APRIL, 2012

E. B. White’s Only New Yorker Cover, April 23, 1932

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‘I can’t draw or paint, but I was sick in bed…and I had nothing to occupy me, but I had a cover idea.’

On this day in 1932, E. B. White — who wrote for The New Yorker for five decades (not centuries) — contributed his only cover for the magazine. (For those who find delight in that sort of thing, it happened to be New Yorker issue number 365.)

In his fantastic 1969 Paris Review interview, the same gem that gave us his timeless insights on the role and responsibility of the writer, White tells George Plimpton the cover’s story:

I’m not an artist and never did any drawings for The New Yorker. I did turn in a cover and it was published. I can’t draw or paint, but I was sick in bed with tonsillitis or something, and I had nothing to occupy me, but I had a cover idea — of a sea horse wearing a nose bag. I borrowed my son’s watercolor set, copied a sea horse from a picture in Webster’s dictionary, and managed to produce a cover that was bought. It wasn’t much of a thing. I even loused up the whole business finally by printing the word ‘oats’ on the nose bag, lest somebody fail to get the point. I suppose the original of that cover would be a collector’s item of a minor sort, since it is my only excursion into the world of art. But I don’t know where it is. I gave it to Jed Harris. What he did with it, knows God.

Various prints of the cover are available from the Conde Nast store, and it can also be found in the altogether fantastic 2000 compendium, Covering the New Yorker: Cutting-Edge Covers from a Literary Institution.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0375869832/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=braipick-20&camp=0&creative=0&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0375869832&adid=02YXM5MD2VFTBCC5WMM6&Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

20 APRIL, 2012

5 (Mostly) Vintage Children’s Books by Iconic Graphic Designers

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Saul Bass, Milton Glaser, Paula Scher, Bruno Munari, Paul Rand.

As a lover of children’s books, I have a particularly soft spot for little-known gems by well-known creators. After two rounds of excavating obscure children’s books by famous authors of literature for grown-ups and icons of the art world, here are five wonderful vintage children’s books by some of history’s most celebrated graphic designers.

HENRI’S WALK TO PARIS BY SAUL BASS

Saul Bass (1920-1996) is commonly considered the greatest graphic designer of all time, responsible for some of the most timeless logos and most memorable film title sequences of the twentieth century. In 1962, Bass collaborated with former librarian Leonore Klein on his only children’s book, which spent decades as a prized out-of-print collector’s item. This year, half a century later, Rizzoli reprinted Henri’s Walk to Paris (public library) — an absolute gem like only Bass can deliver, at once boldly minimalist and incredibly rich, telling the sweet, aspirational, colorful story of a boy who lives in rural France and dreams of going to Paris.

Originally featured here in February, with more images.

THE ALPHAZEDS BY MILTON GLASER

Many of us regard Milton Glaser as the greatest graphic designer alive. From the iconic I ♥ NY logo to his prolific newspaper and magazine designs, logos, brand identities, posters and other celebrated visual ephemera, his work seeks to inform and delight. In 2003, he collaborated with his wife, Shirley Glaser, on The Alphazeds (public library) — mighty fuel for my obsession with alphabet books, in which the letters of the alphabet turn into a boisterous bunch and meet one another for the first time in a small yellow room. Delightful havoc ensues.

In 2005, the duo collaborated once again, producing The Rabbit Race (public library) — an adaptation of the famous Aesop fable.

THE BROWNSTONE BY PAULA SCHER

Paula Scher might be best-known for her iconic identity design and, most recently, her obsessive typographic maps, but in 1973 she teamed up with pioneering documentary-style cartoonist Stanley Mack to produce The Brownstone(public library). It tells the tale of six animal families who have trouble finding the right apartment in a classic New York City brownstone building. The collaboration is somewhat surprising — Scher, a formidable visual communicator herself, took the role of writer, while Mack illustrated the story. The book is long out of print, but you can find a used copy at reasonable price with some rummaging online, or look for it in your favorite public library.

THE ELEPHANT’S WISH BY BRUNO MUNARI

Italian creative polymath Bruno Munari has tried his hand, with celebrated success, at painting, sculpture, film, industrial design, graphic design, and literature. In 1945, he expanded his roster of talents into children’s books with The Elephant’s Wish (public library) — a stunningly illustrated story, with playful folding flaps to add tactile delight. It was published in the U.S. in 1959. This book is also out of print (hey, Rizzoli, what are you waiting for?), but used copies are reasonably priced and you can, of course, look for one in your local library.

In 1960, Munari followed up with the graphically astonishing ABC (public library), then with Zoo public library in 1963. The two were reissued in 2006 and 2005, respectively.

Images courtesy of Douglas Stewart Fine Books

SPARKLE AND SPIN BY PAUL RAND

In the late 1950s, legendary graphic designer and notorious curmudgeon Paul Rand and his then-wife Anne set out to write and illustrate a series of children’s books. First came Sparkle and Spin: A Book About Words (public library), originally featured here in February. With its bold, playful interplay of words and pictures, the book encourages an understanding of the relationship between language and image, shape and sound, thought and expression, a lens we’ve also seen when Italian novelist and philosopher Umberto Eco introduced young readers to semiotics in the same period.

Though the cover of the 2006 reprint, with its all too literal glitter gimmick, would have likely sent Rand into a vapid fury, the book is an absolute treasure, one I’m happy to see survive the out-of-print fate of all too many mid-century gems.

Sparkle and Spin was followed by Little 1 in 1962 and the out-of-print, incredibly hard to find Listen! Listen! in 1970.

For more seminal vintage children’s book illustration, see the fantastic Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling.

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