Freud Shows His Slip

Freud and His Followers by Paul Roazen '58 Alfred A. Knopf, 599 pp., $15.00

DON'T ASK your analyst about the ironies of the psychoanalytic movement. The aura of authority in sheepskin diplomas and overstuffed leather couches came too painfully for him to let on that analysts go mad, or that Freud sometimes showed his slip. He'd rather pretend that the great controversies and little embarrassments never happened, or are so far in the past that, well, who remembers them? Psychoanalysts may have been torn by cult politics then, but that's history, he would say, now it's a science.

But sciences rarely exist in pure forms, and the most awkward age of psychoanalysis isn't that remote. Freud chose euthanasia over cancer only 36 years ago, and good gossip, which has a stamina of its own, has survived along with many of Freud's family and colleagues. They keep a polite silence on touchy subjects like Freud's scorn for America--these will remain secrets until 2010, when the Freud family papers are finally released. But a coaxing scrambling Paul Roazen has eked from them enough fascinating anecdotes on Freud's private life and the personal struggles of the psychoanalytic movement to carry his third Freud book and to show how undisciplined a discipline can be.

Freud and His Followers addresses questions about Freud that you've always been too dignified to ask. Was Freud sexually stimulated by the fantasies of his women patients. Did he cut patients off at the end of their 55 minutes? Was his couch ever used for other than professional purposes? What was his sex life like? Roazen's carefully footnoted respective answers are sometimes, always, never, and not very lively.

Roazen gathered his information on what Freud was really like in a series of interviews with 70 of his surviving patients, pupils, and relatives. They were scattered throughout Europe and America, and many of them were eager to purge themselves of personal Freud stories. Roazen ran back and forth, using knowledge gained from one confessor to wheedle more out of another.

He combined this research with his examination of the unpublished Freud papers of Ernest Jones, many of which had been ignored when Jones wrote his praise filled three-volume biography. The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud. The result is a portrait not of a legend, but of a man, both brilliant and stubbornly dogmatic. Roazen's Freud shows a sense of humor as well as a vindictive determination to humiliate former pupils whose loyalty wavered, a longing for scientific respectability mixed with a periodic fascination with the occult. Freud never seems less than a genius, but he becomes a very human, vulnerable genius and less of a school of thought.

THIS SOFTER VIEW of Freud makes some of the turmoil of the early psychoanalytic movement more reasonable. Freud's dramatic break with Jung over infantile sexuality was more than a disagreement between two men who shared a penchant for scientific heresy. The rivalry had been building to an icy separation for years, with Freud at first uncritically embracing his bright new supporter, then burdening him with the administration of the International Psychoanalytic Association, and finally resenting even Jung's greater physical stature. In a photograph taken at the Weimar Congress in 1911. Freud at five foot seven seems taller than the six foot two Jung. He was standing on something.

Freud's break with Jung is perhaps the greatest dispute in psychoanalysis but it certainly wasn't the most insane. Freud's power over his followers was frightening, even fatal, and his victims were not all ideas. His personal and scientific rejection of Victor Tausk helped drive him to a horribly deliberate suicide by both gun and rope and shortly after Freud wrote Herbert Silberer that "I no longer desire personal contact with you," because of a basically professional argument. Silberer hanged himself, dramatically leaving a flashlight in his face and a letter, to Freud, on his desk. The personalities were so strong that important ideas were often dwarfed by their conceivers.

That's why Roazen's approach is more than good gossip. There is an irreverent joy that comes with photographs of Freud's couch and anecdotes about his Oedipus complex that seems more appropriate at cocktail partles than in serious works in the history of science. But scientists rule with their theories, and Roazen's account of the bizarre twists in the development of psychoanalysis that hinged on human quirks shows that science is not always a religious drive toward truth. It has a politics and justice of its own.