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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Insert Bad Pun About Being Discontented

Okay, so this is totally outing myself as someone who doesn't always read the Sunday Times, but I just now read the May 8 "review" of one of my favorite scholarly books. Read Lee Siegel's essay "Freud and His Discontents" right here.

Now, like Siegel, I am always glad to have new discussion about old books. And who am I to knock Lee Siegel? He's kind of a big deal, and to disagree with him makes me feel a little crazy. And Siegel does make some interesting points. I was particularly taken by his comments on film.

But...well, I guess I'm frustrated that Siegel seems to be responding more to a cultural idea of Freud, or maybe Freud as manifested by cranky psychoanalysts in the fifties, than to Freud himself. To say that, "If Freud had had only his own writings to refer to, he would never have become Freud. Having accomplished his intellectual aims, he unwittingly destroyed the assumptions behind the culture that had nourished his work" seems just so wrong to me, and not only because Freud was a fantastic--lucid and funny and self-revealing--prose stylist. Freud himself did not seek to reduce the world to pat formulas; rather, his formulas only enable us to describe the mechanisms through which experience becomes ineffable. It seems silly to accuse someone who developed the "talking cure" of trying to shut down conversation.

Also, Siegel says weird things about how parts of _Civilization and its Discontents_ don't fit with Freud's earlier theories. Well, duh: that's because Freud didn't necessarily believe those theories any more. Freud's career spanned decades, and he was constantly revising his ideas; in fact, his openness to revision is one of the things I respect about him the most.

I also don't really agree with Siegel's comments about the history of literature, but I won't pick at them because they are sort of interesting.

None of this is to say that Freud or _CAID_ is beyond critique. But it's weird for me to read something that seems so short sighted in the Times, of all places. No wonder my students say such weird things about Freud when this is what they're getting from important cultural critics.

2 Comments:

  • Signed up as Blogger just so I could express some combination of thanks and relief for your Lee-Siegal-on-S.Freud review. Every once in a while I wonder what possesses the Times to employ wanderers in the desert to trash books they don't like (and appear not to have read for some time). I teach Civilization and Its Discontents almost every semester in Sophomore Lit class on 20th century violence and the search for self. My students, too, think and say odd things--with the advantage that they don't publish their thoughts for several million readers.
    We just finished Tony Roeg's film Walkabout and one of the themes we're pursuing in response to that is the death wish. Tomorrow we're starting CAID and, at the end of the first class, I'm passing out Siegel's essay (which is what got me to your blog in the first place). I'd like to give them "Insert Bad Pun About Being Discontented" as a sort of antidote--and one I think they will "get" and respond to. I like the way you humanize your response, and I think it would be good for them to see that "big names" in big places, speaking excathedra, don't close the human conversation--the conversation that is pretty much the objective of every class we walk into. Let me know if you'd rather I didn't copy your essay for them. (No royalties forthcoming.)

    By Blogger ash, at 3:33 PM  

  • Nice blog. Check out my cat t shirt blog.

    By Blogger unixlinux, at 10:03 PM  

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