Prof. Brendan Kelly is now in ‘Year 11’ of his difficult to explain 24-year undertaking of an annual reading of one volume of Sigmund Freud’s complete works, bringing us to Volume 11, Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, Leonardo Da Vinci and Other Works (1910)
For reasons too complex to explain, I have undertaken to read all 24 volumes of the Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, at the rate of one volume per year, over the course of 24 years.
Last year, the 10th instalment in the Freud Project was devoted to Two Case Histories: “Little Hans” and the “Rat Man” (1909) (Irish Medical Times, February 18, 2020). This was Volume 10 of the Standard Edition, translated from the German under the general editorship of James Strachey, in collaboration with Anna Freud, and assisted by Alix Strachey and Alan Tyson (Vintage: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psycho-Analysis). This year, Year 11 of the Freud Project, brings us to Volume 11, Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, Leonardo Da Vinci and Other Works (1910).
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was a truly remarkable person. The father of psychoanalysis, Freud transformed the way we think about our inner lives and heralded the emergence of a new psychological therapy: psychoanalysis. While psychoanalysis no longer retains the popularity it once enjoyed, it remains a key feature of the intellectual landscape, an active therapy for many people, and an endless source of concepts, ideas, and challenges for the modern world.
Against this background, this year’s instalment in the Freud Project looks at some of Freud’s writings from around 1910, with particular focus on five lectures about psychoanalysis that he delivered at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts in the United States (US) in early September 1909.
Bringing psychoanalysis to the US
In December 1908, Freud was invited to Clark University and when he delivered his lectures there the following autumn, Freud wrote that “it seemed like the realisation of some incredible daydream” (p4). Freud delivered the lectures in German and essentially off the cuff, but wrote them out later, following his return to Vienna, Austria. The first English translation was published in the American Journal of Psychology in early 1910.
Freud started his first lecture by admitting to “novel and bewildering feelings” as he took to the podium and pointed to the contributions of others to the genesis of psychoanalysis: “If it is a merit to have brought psychoanalysis into being, that merit is not mine. I had no share in its earliest beginnings” (p9). Freud rightly points to the work of Josef Breuer here, but it is still the case that psychoanalysis is generally associated with Freud, for the most part.
In this first lecture, Freud went on to discuss hysteria in some detail, concluding that “our hysterical patients suffer from reminiscences” (p16). In the second lecture, Freud again noted the contributions of others to emerging understandings of “hysteria” and pointed out that “at about the same time at which Breuer was carrying on the ‘talking cure’ with his patient, the great Jean-Martin Charcot in Paris had begun the research into hysterical patients at the Salpêtrière which were to lead to a new understanding of the disease” (p21). Psychoanalysis, it seems, had many parents.
Repression, jokes, the meaning of dreams
As the lectures progressed, Freud outlined many of the key ideas in psychoanalysis including repression, the significance of jokes and the meaning of dreams. He noted, for example, that a “repressed wishful impulse continues to exist in the unconscious” and leads to the development of a “substitute for what had been repressed”, which manifests as a “symptom” (p27). In the third lecture, Freud likened telling jokes to “our patients producing a more or less distorted substitute instead of the forgotten idea we are in search of” (p31), and he drew a distinction between the “manifest content” of dreams and “latent dream-thoughts” (p35).
The fourth lecture touched on a range of other familiar themes including “infantile sexuality” (p41) and the fifth focussed on “the pathogenesis of nervous illness” (p49).
Freud argued that “we humans, with the high standards of our civilisation and under the pressure of our internal repressions, find reality unsatisfying quite generally, and for that reason entertain a life of phantasy in which we like to make up for the insufficiencies of reality by the production of wish-fulfilments”.
However, while “our civilised standards make life too difficult for the majority of human organisations”, we should not “forget that the satisfaction of the individual’s happiness cannot be erased from among the aims of our civilisation” (p54). Freud was right: a balance is needed, so that the repressive demands of civilisation do not prevent humans achieving a degree of happiness in life.
Future of psychoanalysis
In addition to these five wonderful lectures, Volume 11 of the Standard Edition of Freud’s works also includes an essay on Leonardo Da Vinci, a reflection on the future prospects of psychoanalytic therapy, thoughts about “the psychology of love” and various shorter writings. As ever, Freud’s insatiable curiosity is always to the fore: questioning, reasoning, and seeking to draw conclusions about complex aspects of human psychology. Freud’s intellectual ambition was truly extraordinary and, even if he occasionally over-reached in some of his findings, at least he was not afraid to ask big questions.
The five lectures on psychoanalysis presented here are a very useful introduction to key themes in Freud’s work, and the other essays present many points of interest and, on occasion, amusement.
Having thoroughly enjoyed this year’s volume, I look forward to more in the next instalment of the Standard Edition, Volume 12, which presents the Case History of Schreber, Papers on Technique and Other Works (1911-1913). That volume will be considered next year, Deo volente, in Year 12 of the Freud Project.
About the author
Prof. Brendan Kelly is Professor of Psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin and co-author with Dr Muiris Houston of Psychiatrist in the Chair: The Official Biography of Anthony Clare (Merrion Press, 2020).