and Associating Freely to
Israel Rosenfield’s Freud’s Megalomania: A Novel
Myron S. Lazar, Ph.D.
A recent New
York Times article (Smith, 2000) describes the American Psychoanalytic
Association’s efforts to gain wider visibility for psychoanalysis by
using Marketing P.R. The article caused a flurry of activity on the
American’s Internet message site about whether such an approach to
countering the diminishing number of patients coming for psychoanalysis
cheapens whom and what we stand for. One contributor quoted Oscar Wilde’s
“there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about and
that is not being talked about.” I pondered this debate, especially in
regards to the great number of negatives about psychoanalysis that have
appeared in the press in recent years.
public reaction and controversy surrounding Freud began over one-hundred
years ago with his views on childhood sexuality. Following this auspicious
beginning in our history came attacks about Freud’s views of female
sexual development; e.g., penis envy, passive/active issues, moral
inferiority of women, etc.; Freud’s so-called abandonment of the
Seduction Theory with the development of Ego Psychology (Masson, 1981);
suggestions by Peter Swales that Freud had a secret affair with his
sister-in-law, Minna Bernays (Blumenthal, 1981); his intolerance for those
who disagreed with this theories; and, primarily for the general public,
his reported negative views on religion.
So one could
argue that positive press about the value and complexity of
psychoanalysis, as is being presented by the American Psychoanalytic
Association, Division 39, Social Work psychoanalytic organizations and the
many psychoanalytic foundations across the country, is an important
counter-weight to the distortions as well as the real problems that occur
in this unique approach to treatment of human suffering.
on the controversies surrounding Freud, with perhaps a less noble goal
than the explanation of human frailty, has appeared in Israel Rosenfield’s
new book, Freud’s Megalomania: A Novel. Rosenfield, a Professor
of History, author of several non-fiction books on brain functioning, DNA,
consciousness and Freud, is a frequent contributor to the New York
Review of Books. Some of the more vehement and bloody verbal battles
regarding Freud’s theory and techniques have been fought in the pages of
this formidable publication.
of the subtitle A Novel to Freud’s Megalomania may have
been offered by the author as a warning label to the reader, a strong
reminder that what we encounter in this book will be, at times,
compellingly believable. So much of the book is based on factual events in
Freud’s life and work that one frequently questions the fictional aspect
of the book. One is driven to check out many of the obscure details that
turn out to be verifiable. Beyond the historical aspects of the work, what
we are offered by Rosenfield is an audacious, titillating, surreal, and
challenging fiction. It is audacious in that it claims to have discovered
a seamier side of Freud than even his worst critics have purportedly
revealed. It is titillating in the noir, mystery novel-like writing style
that in many ways imitates Freud’s seductive, audience-centered way of
engaging us, especially in his case histories; it is surreal in its zany,
cinematic, alternatively dark and light, humorous story of intrigue,
deceit, perversion, narcissism, abandonment and guilt, all blended
together; and it is challenging in its moving us to want to explore not
only Freud’s original works but leads us to curiosity about Linguistics,
Cybernetics, Artificial Intelligence, and Set Theory. And finally,
Rosenfield invites us to consider seriously the content of his fictitious
manuscript that is given to Professor Albert J. Stewart, the narrator of
this strange story.
I believe it
would be helpful at this point to provide you with a brief outline of the
novel in order to illustrate the dazzling odyssey on which Rosenfield
takes us. Professor Stewart describes himself as one of the “cogs,” or
cognitive scientists, who count among their numbers, philosophers,
linguists, the founders of Cybernetics and Artificial Intelligence; namely
John von Neumann, Norbert Weiner, Kurt Godel, and Alan Turing.
Stewart, also an anti-Freudian, (the opening sentence of the novel (p.11)
is “I never liked Freud.”) has just participated in a professional
meeting in which “Freud” has been bashed unmercifully (From this point
on, I will distinguish the historical Freud from the “Freud” of the
novel with quotation marks). He finds himself feeling that the critics
have gone too far in their attacks on “Freud”, and aggressively
counterattacks indicating that the same criticisms leveled at “Freud”
could be brought to bear on the cognitive sciences as well. His outcry
causes pandemonium and he is later praised and vilified for his efforts.
Soon afterwards, a young women, Bernadette Schilder, appears at his
office, hands him a manuscript which she claims is a never before
published work of “Freud”, her grandfather, who sired her mother with
his secret mistress Adelaide Benesch (“Freud” met Adelaide on a train
from Vienna to Berlin in 1916 when she was 16). Seven years later
Bernadette’s mother was born on June 19th, 1923, the day that Freud’s
grandson also died. Professor Stewart suggests that the birth of “Freud’s”
illegitimate daughter made this particular day the worst of his life.
Late in his
life, as the story goes, “Freud” gives the manuscript as a gift to his
mistress Adelaide. She accepts it and then decides to return it to “Freud”
at the time of the Anschluss. It finds its way into the hands of a Nazi
officer, who happened to have studied with Julius Wagner-Jaurregg, Freud’s
old boss in the Vienna Psychiatric Clinic. (An important factual backdrop
for the novel is the real Freud’s testimony at the post WWI trial of
Julius Wagner-Jaurregg, an eventual Nobel Peace Prize winner in Science
for his malaria/syphilis cure. The trial was about the tortuous treatment
by electric shock that was employed on soldiers suffering from war
neurosis.) The manuscript is delivered to Bernadette Schilder who is
living in London. Along the way attempts are made to get the manuscript
authenticated and published but it keeps getting turned down as a fake
(One publisher stated that the handwriting was too much like the genuine
Freud to trust its authenticity.).
Stewart, upon receipt of the manuscript from Bernadette, begins his own
search for verification of the document as he recognizes that, in its
content, the manuscript –“Freud’s” new theory of behavior, which
he calls “Megalomania”, – is a radical departure from Freud’s
theories of the past. In this search, Professor Stewart obtains from the
Freudian Archives two previously unpublished documents, both of which shed
light on “Megalomania.” The first of these papers is called “The
Tower of Babel” which relates to the real designer of the Eiffel Tower,
Maurice Koechlin, who sought consultation with “Freud”. The second
document obtained from the Archives was attributed to Anna Freud and was
titled “Notes on a Conversation with Johnny von Neumann”. In this
piece, “Anna Freud” reports on a meeting (including a poker game)
between von Neumann, the founder of Game Theory, and an inveterate
gambler, bluffer, and cheater, and “Freud”.
Stewart then pieces these two documents together to help himself and us
understand the logic and motivation for “Freud’s” radical thesis
contained in the manuscript. Professor Stewart states that the basic
premise in the manuscript is “Freud’s” claim that human psychology
would “not be possible without self-deception, double-dealing, lying and
reprisals….While Freud had witnessed the beginnings of events that
ultimately led to the collapse of political authority and ideologies, the
manuscript suggests that he may have begun to uncover, as well, the
psychological roots of the extraordinary events, both political and
scientific, that have so overwhelmed us these past decades. If anyone has
come close to giving us a sense of how all that could have happened, I
must say that Freud of the manuscript has”(pp 18-19). Stewart also sees
an important link between “Freud’s” new theory and the Game Theory
strategies of John von Neumann that are also deceitful in that they seek
to defeat the opponent by any means possible.
In addition to
the more realistic aspects of the novel, there is a farcical side.
Professor Stewart chronicles his relationship with Norman Dicke (This, by
the way, is the surreal part of the novel that reminds me of the recent
German art-house movie, “Run, Lola, Run” with its cartoon interludes
and the affair in the office that plays over and over again.) Dicke is the
Looker Laureate, (he actually is a voyeur, exhibitionist, sadist, and a
prime example of the kind of megalomaniac described in the manuscript)
creator of Loop Theory, and the inventor of the Marilyn (Monroe) Machine.
“Marilyn was just a machine with an artificial sex voice and a
collection of erotic images. But Dicke related to Marilyn as if it was a
flesh and blood woman watching him have sex. He extolled ‘her’
qualities to the half-naked women lying on the convertible bed along the
wall of his office. He told them ‘she’ was unique”(p. 28).
Stewart condenses Dicke’s Loop Theory to a simple thesis: “We are
loops and we loop”(p.24). Stewart praises the profundity of Dicke’s
theory, which he says is only matched by its difficulty and obscurity. “Even
if you grasp it, your understanding of its totality would last for an
instant. As Dicke said, ‘You get it and it disappears.’ ”(p. 25).
Stewart’s relationship with Dicke, like Freud’s relationships with
Fliess, Jung, and others, ends abruptly and he becomes de-mystified of
Dicke’s brilliance after reading the manuscript. In a footnote, Stewart
says, “Freud’s Wagner (Jaurregg) bears an uncanny resemblance to Dicke.
Of course my understanding of Dicke may have been influenced by my reading
of the Freud manuscript, but I have good reasons to doubt that this is the
manuscript is included in the book, running 77 pages. Reading it made me
curious about whether this could have been something that, stylistically,
Freud would have written. I turned to Patrick Mahony’s Freud as
A Writer (1982) to see if I could glean some clues to make such a
judgment. Mahony comes to psychoanalysis from literary studies and is
truly marvelous at describing the anatomy of Freud’s style of writing
highlights several of Freud’s writing characteristics that could apply
to Rosenfield’s style. One is the remarkable mobility of Freud’s
attention and the way he allowed his intellect to roam from one realm to
another. Rosenfield displays this quality in an amusing and dizzying way.
In the manuscript and the “Tower of Babel”, Rosenfield is able to make
some sense out of the juxtaposition of Moses, Wagner-Jaurreg’s war
neurosis trial, Artificial Intelligence, Game Theory, and the deceit and
betrayal that occurred in the building of the Eiffel Tower. The final
words of the novel, a footnote, is a dream reported by Professor Stewart
that condenses, in a brilliant, comic fashion the unconscious premise of
the entire novel. In this final imagery, one could say that Professor
Stewart has been transformed from a “cog” to a Freudian. By the way,
Rosenfield captures Freud’s footnote fetish quite remarkably and through
his use of them, propels the comic force of the novel.
Freudian literary tool recognized in the novel is a Baroque prose style
adopted by Freud called pensee pensante that translates as thought
thinking (p. 164), or a mind thinking in the actual moment that the
thoughts unfold --what Mahony refers to as the ongoing unfolding movement
in Freud’s writing. This tendency links to a most important quality of
Freud’s writing, namely his ability to relate directly to his audience
by allowing us to feel immediately and intimately present. His case
histories are the best examples of these characteristics embodying a
detective story quality that Rosenfield mimics.
Stewart first meets “Freud’s” granddaughter, he moves us in a
Freud/Sam Spade/Sherlock Holmes manner: “And then something happened
that seems to have forever changed my view of what we had done and where
we were going. One day a woman of medium height with an uncommonly
beautiful face came into my office. She introduced herself to me as
Bernadette Schilder and handed me a manuscript that she said was by
Sigmund Freud.” Somewhat later Stewart says about her, “I never would
have predicted what I was about to learn, but even when I first met her
there was something about this woman, something about the way she peeled
off her coat and smiled, that told me she was going to break the routines”(p.
Later in the
novel a symbolic ‘primal scene’ occurs, reminding me of Poe’s “Purloined
Letter”. It takes place in the purported archival paper by Anna Freud in
which she discovers her father writing the manuscript: “My father’s
light was on and I had knocked lightly on his door and opened it without
waiting for a response. I thought he might have fallen asleep and was
rather surprised to see him busily writing at his desk. He too was
surprised. He looked up at me without saying a word, holding his pen in
midair, a pained look on his face”(p. 159).
characteristic of Freud’s style that Mahony highlights that is not
evident in the actual manuscript is Freud’s self-irony and lightness.
The “Freud” exhibited in the manuscript portion of the novel is more
strident and absolute then we generally expect from him. Contrary to being
light and ironic, he is a man who feels he was shamed and humiliated in
the war neurosis trial and mistreated by Wagner-Jaurregg in spite of Freud’s
continually friendly attitude toward him. Rosenfield might have been
trying to capture in the manuscript Freud’s post WWI pessimism and
despair that arose from the death of his grandson, his cancer, and the
horrors of war.
So what did
Rosenfield have in mind ultimately in his book especially in the actual
manuscript within the novel? I thought that he likely was doing more than
just having fun with the Freudian battles highlighted in the New York
Review of Books or trying to imitate Freud. His blending together John
von Neumann and Game Theory with “Freud” suggested to me that he was
seriously promoting his own theoretical agenda in the manuscript; an
agenda that he feels better matches how men and society function; that
deceit, paranoia, and lying are more the rule of the game than guilt and
repression. One only has to look at the presidential post-election chaos
as well as other recent national events such as Watergate, Iran-gate, and
the impeachment of Clinton to find some credence in this hypothesis.
In a recent
issue of The New York Review of Books, Rosenfield (2000b) wrote a
letter in response to Daniel Mendelsohn’s excellent review of Rosenfield’s
book. Rosenfield disagrees with a conclusion both Mendelsohn (2000) and I
had entertained, i.e., in Freud’s Megalomania: The Novel,
Rosenfield was making fun of both camps in the “Freud Wars.” “The
book is principally about the present state of the cognitive sciences
(including psychoanalysis) and the nature of scientific, political and
intellectual authority—issues that are completely ignored by both sides
in the ‘Freud Wars’.” And later in the letter Rosenfield states: “The
book is cast as a joke because this seemed to be the only way to ‘seriously’
discuss the issues without falling into what Mendelsohn so kindly says my
book is ‘blessedly free of”—the ‘protesting-too-much’ that
characterizes both sides: in the Freud debates, and, I might add, some
discussions in the neurosciences as well”(p. 100).
however one reads Rosenfield’s delightful book, I would strongly
recommend reading it at least twice. It is great fun, a good teacher of
Freud, and a book that one could play with endlessly.
(1981, November 22). Freud and wife’s sister called probable lovers. The
New York Times.
(1982). Freud as a writer. New York: International Univ. Press.
Masson, J. M.
(1984). The assault on truth: Freud’s suppression of the Seduction
Theory. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
(2000). Fun with Freud. [Review of the book Freud’s megalomania: A
novel]. New York Review of Books, 47 (18), 26-29.
(2000a). Freud’s megalomania: A novel. New York: W.W. Norton
(2000b). Freud’s megalomania [Letter to the Editors]. New York Review
of Books, 47 (20), p.100.
(2000, December 9). Analysts turn to P.R. to market themselves. The New
York Times on the Web. [Online] www.nytimes.com.
© DSPP Bulletin, December 2000
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