A Searching Rebel
"GENERALLY THERAPISTS are well adjusted to the society in which they live. I don't think that's a good thing," says Jeffrey M. Masson '64 "I think that the society in which we live is pretty decadent, corrupt. And what one really wants to teach people is to recognize that and take some sort of stand against it. I would teach people to question everything, don't take any shit from anybody and don't listen to authority."
Masson seems at times to be a rebel looking for a cause. At one point he found it--psychoanalysis--which, temporarily at least, seemed to obviate the need to rebel. But it did not last, and later, disillusioned with the field. Masson wrote a book which he claims might just start the downfall of the profession.
"People, patients and the general public are going to be very angry," he says of his book. Predicting that psychiatrists will reject his criticisms, he adds. "And sooner or later this total silence on the part of analysis is going to backfire."
"I think that a lot of patients are going to think twice before going into therapy with somebody who will not take seriously their early life. Since most analysts would say, 'Well I don't think it really matters,' it could well mark the beginning of a stampede away from analysis."
"If a little girl is raped by her father, her fantasy life is going to be of a different quality than if she imagined she were raped," he says. "Now I don't believe they [little girls] imagined they were raped. But on the other hand, I think that people cannot know, and their symptoms would show that. And it would be the analyst's job to discover what happened and help them recover the memory."
"This is the most important thing you can discover about your life; the reality of your childhood. And I think a lot of patients realize that analysis has short-changed them, has told them that their memories are not memories at all. It's simply not true that analysts take child abuse seriously."
Masson's book. The Assault on Truth is based largely on careful documentation of Freud's theoretical evolution, which he says challenges the foundations of the analytic community. But the debate over how he got these documents is a matter of controversy that has often overshadowed the book itself.
Masson began his academic career at Harvard with a bang, and a behavior pattern soon emerged. He persuaded the University to let him skip freshman year, moved into Adams House and then right back out because they would not allow him women visitors over night. "I never took well to rules and regulations either at that level or at an intellectual level," he says.
Even at 19 Masson seemed to have the ability to charm the authorities and at the same time rebel against them--an ability that served him well when he moved into the psychoanalytic field. But at Harvard, both as an undergraduate and as a graduate student, he studied Sanskrit.
"I was a particularly young 19-year-old when I came to Harvard." Masson says, "It was a very difficult time for me. I felt lonely and ignored, which I was for a long time, and I never really oriented myself in Cambridge. I always felt like a stranger, an outsider, unacceptable. I remember I would sometimes wander the streets around Christmas time, looking in and seeing all those colorful lights inside houses and feeling totally left out," he says.
After receiving his PhD. from Harvard in 1971, Masson accepted a position in the University of Toronto's Sanskrit Department. But when Masson became embroiled in a conflict with the department head, the incoming president of the university decided to settle the matter by dissolving the department. Still in Toronto, however, Masson became involved in psychoanalysis, and in a relatively short time managed to climb to some of the highest peaks of the profession. He became close friends with Kurt Eissler, the director of the Sigmund Freud Archives, a vast repository of Freudiana and the bastion of Freudian orthodoxy.
All this without receiving a degree in psychoanalysis, but he had graduated from a training institute, and delivered several papers at conventions. He became the heir-apparent to the director-ship of the Freud Archives, even gained permission to go through a cupboard of previously unrevealed Freud letters. At the Archives, Masson unearthed what he believed was significant new documentation that Freud abandoned his seduction theory for intellectually dishonest reasons. Masson delivered a speech on his beliefs, and like a prodigal son was tossed out of the Archives and Eissler's life for attacking the master.
"I went in as an honest student interested in the documents, interested in the history, totally open. I never hid anything: I never pretended to be anything I wasn't," he says. But "there is a rabbit-like timidity on the part of analysts when it comes to looking at the full truth, and I don't have that I'm not frightened I don't know intellectual fear in that sense.
"So, sure I was the wrong person to bring into the Archives, if they wanted to keep everything secret," Masson continues, "but I didn't know that."
AFTER DRAWING attention to his discovery. Masson quickly fell from grace among Freud's Toronto disciples. He was abruptly dismissed from his post, his critics claiming Masson had publicizd his opinions prematurely and in a flamboyant manner. Typically, Masson rebelled.
"I do think I have a tendency to become disillusioned. I become initially very enthusiastic about a field and then as I discover the realities of the field I become disillusioned," he says. "I didn't believe that psychoanalysis was corrupt. I believe it now."
But Masson admits that his book and reputation in the analytic field have left him almost entirely isolated from the profession. "No analyst has called me, former friends or former enemies," he says, adding "It's not a great loss you know. To be accepted in the psychoanalytic community is hardly a thrilling experience."
But he admits that "I had a couple of friends who were psychoanalysts who I liked who will not talk to me today and that saddens me, including Eissler. I'm sad about that I cannot understand how a personal friend will leave you because you wrote a book."
Now Masson is independent, perhaps looking for a cause and says he likes it. He next plans to write a book on the treatment of women in a turn of the century Swiss Sanitorium.