Adamancy is the word for both Sigmund Freud and Frederick Crews.
In his new biography, â€œFreud: The Making of an Illusion,â€ the University of California Berkeley professor emeritus castigates the fraudulent founder of psychoanalysis for a rigid, even authoritarian personality antithetical to science.
In fact, Crews points out, others preceded Freud in the development of psychoanalysis, but Freud not only wrote them out of history, but he also formed a secret committee of apostles to excommunicate anyone who dared to challenge his supremacy.
Even worse, Crews can find no evidence that Freud ever cured anyone.
On the contrary, as soon as Freud became renowned, he began to say that psychoanalysis cured no one.
He continued to make money (and money was very important to Freud), promising his patients relief while writing that he was more interested in discovering the sources of mental suffering, which most of the time could be traced to some sort of sexual trauma, a view that originated, the biographer explains, in Freudâ€™s own troubled childhood.
A poor medical student who had a lifelong aversion to blood and to conducting the sort of painstaking clinical studies that might have overturned the dogma he developed, Freud made up much of his evidence, often attributing his own experiences to others.
Some of his patients provided him with the repressed memories he wanted to find; others protested his methods and conclusions and were treated as hysterics, a catchall category that has never been satisfactorily defined.
The case against Freud is presented, in sum, with the same adamancy that Crews attributes to his subject.
Crews also flays generations of Freud biographers who he believes have excused and covered up the masterâ€™s faults, personal and professional.
To them, Freudâ€™s probity had to be preserved as sacrosanct even as he assassinated the character of his competitors.
Crews marshals his evidence like a prosecutor, and he has a lot of it to work with â€” not only as a result of his own brilliant investigations, but also because of the growing and impressive literature of Freudphobians, several of whom have blurbed his book.
Freud: The Making of an Illusion
By Frederick Crews
Crews is adept at finding a Freud condemning himself in his own words.
The biographer relies on previous researchers, especially the remarkable Peter Swales, who have exposed Freudâ€™s prevarications, which included changing the details of his cases to suit his foregone conclusions.
Over and over, Freudâ€™s closest associates, like his early biographer Ernest Jones, falsified the record of Freudâ€™s personal and public life, finding extenuating explanations for his ill treatment of women, including his wife.
Apologists minimized his follies â€” the touting of cocaine as a cure-all and the needless operations on noses to remedy sexual dysfunction.
At this point, the reader of this review, like the reader of this biography, might well ask: How did Freud and his gang get away with it?
Crews argues that Freud wanted to be a great man in the Romantic tradition and knew how to present himself as the hero of a movement that society initially scorned, reviling Freudâ€™s revolutionary quest for the secrets of the unconscious.
And Freud knew how to flatter and discipline a following that sought the same deliverance as the believers in what amounted to a new religion.
For those outside the faith, Freud found another ploy.
A great admirer of Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle, the psychoanalyst presented himself as the outsider detective who could read the physical and mental behavior of his subjects in case histories that read like Poeâ€™s famous â€œThe Purloined Letter,â€ in which the letter is hiding in plain sight, undiscovered until the perceptive detective spots it.
As arrogant as Sherlock Holmes, Freud dazzled his readers with clues of his own invention, which he then deciphered with aplomb.
But here is where Crews the sleuth goes awry.
All too often in his account, armed, he believes, with incontrovertible evidence of Freudâ€™s duplicity, Crews tells us what Freud â€œmust haveâ€ thought or felt. Beware the biographer who presumes, but cannot prove. To say â€œmust haveâ€ is the equivalent of admitting what is actually not known, and to write â€œmust haveâ€ immediately precludes other possibilities: that a subject may act out of character or in ways the biographer has not considered.
In short, Crews shares Freudâ€™s adamantine self-assurance.
What is also missing in this biography is the quotidian Freud, what he was like to live with, how he interacted with his friends, what life was like after he left Nazi-dominated Europe, and even Freudâ€™s own views about biography and his practice of the genre.
Instead, we get case after case of Freudâ€™s appalling treatment of patients and colleagues.
Unfortunately, the whole man himself is not there. He is presented as a sensibility but not as person.
As biography, Crewsâ€™ book falls short, no matter how powerful you find his dressing-down of the master.