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Freud, Sigmund

Entry updated 24 April 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1856-1939) Austrian neurologist, psychoanalyst and author, father figure in the creation of psychoanalysis, the central twentieth-century explanatory discipline of Psychology. He has been inevitably and rightly associated with doctrinal extremities in theory and practice, and his reputation as a scientist of the mind has suffered, perhaps unduly (see Imaginary Science; Scientific Errors). He is of greater specific interest in the context of this encyclopedia for his extraordinary capacity to create usable (and hypnotically suggestive) metaphor-indurated models of the driven human psyche (the terrain of the unconscious as a whole; the primacy of dream analysis; the psychopathology of everyday life; the Oedipus Complex; the id/ego/superego triad; the death instinct), which became integral to twentieth-century discourses of Homo sapiens's self-understanding, and which have for a century suffused the execution and exegesis of works of imagination.

In any attempts to grapple with the significant (and sometimes coercive) ganglia of focus and symbol that have shaped Fantastika from its beginnings, the influence of Freud's later works seems clear, among the first of these voyages into Tiefenpsychologie ("deep psychology") being Totem und Tabu: Einige Übereinstimmungen im Seelenleben der Wilden und der Neurotiker (1913; trans A A Brill as Totem and Taboo: Resemblances Between the Psychic Lives of Savages and Neurotics 1918), an exercise in speculative Anthropology that derives some of its vatic imaginative thrust from The Golden Bough (1890; often expanded) by Sir James Frazer (1854-1941) (see Taboos). Though subsequently discounted, the renderings here of Identity-establishing rituals, where the sons gang together to kill the father in order to create the future of the tribe (hoping that by laying down laws they will avoid being killed themselves in turn), have had a dramaturgic influence on the sf imagination, particularly it might seem on Prehistoric SF, Xenobiological Space Opera, and tales involving Generation Starships, especially those constructed on Godgame lines.

The influence of the essay "Das Unheimliche" (Autumn 1919 Imago 5; trans Alix Strachey in Collected Papers V [coll 1925] as "The 'Uncanny'") is also pervasive, though perhaps most explicitly in the more world-oriented forms of horror (see Horror in SF): the kind of story which conveys sublime terror through a sense that that which is hidden – the Doppelganger in one's past; the past of the world itself clamouring for recognition – itself creates the future we unavailingly long not to experience: imparts a prison-house inevitability to any future we are fated to inhabit or usurp (for further discussion see Crime and Punishment; Mysterious Stranger). In Jenseits des Lustprinzips (1920; trans C J M Hubback as Beyond the Pleasure Principle 1922), Freud formalizes this pattern of intuition that the past creates the future – a leap some of his followers could not accept – as explicable within the frame of a manifest death instinct he called Thanatos: for "all life must die from internal causes." In Die Zukunft einer Illusion (1927; trans W D Robson-Scott as The Future of an Illusion 1928), and in the later Moses and Monotheism (1939) [for details see below], he dismisses any sense that Religion might sidestep or create some Transcendental exemption to what seem his deepest non-"professional" feelings: that the future expresses the past: that the future is death.

A very partial solace may be extracted from Das Unbehagen in der Kultur (1929; trans Joan Riviere as Civilization and its Discontents 1930), where it is argued that, although we are doomed as a species, we may defer the end through the deep and difficult task of remaining civilized, which is to say taming the destructive savagery within. For individual human beings, however, the task is more or less insuperably daunting, haunted by a pervading angst vor etwas (crudely, "anxiety of expectation"): for the pure taste of prolepsis is terror. The uncanny spectre of what would be called World War Two slouches through these pages. The last book published in his lifetime, Moses and Monotheism (trans Katherine Jones mostly from manuscript 1939), transgressively rewrites the creation of Judaism. The composition of this book took place during his last months in Vienna as Professor of Neurology (from 1902) and his exile in London from June 1938, after the destruction of his library by Nazi Germany. A surreal (but genuine) London meeting in July 1938 with Salvador Dalí (1904-1989), whose work reflected an extravagant immersion in Freud's mature speculations, is depicted, slightly fantasticated, in a play by Terry Johnson (1955-    ), Hysteria: Fragments of an Analysis of an Obsessional Neurosis (performed 1 September 1993 Royal Court Theatre, London; 2006).

Freud's cultural influence over the past century lies too deep for tears; he is a central font for twentieth-century wrestlings with the anxiety of influence central to this era, which Harold Bloom and others understand in terms derived from the later work mentioned above. Like some dream-pervading stone idol, Freud himself has never presented as being under any significant influence, the countenance of his thought seeming penetrative, stone-faced, omnipresent. In recent decades, he increasingly seems a figure (as noted above) whose far-reaching intuitions trump the shopworn analytics of psychoanalysis as such, and to nitpick on technical grounds his later flow of intuition can be – in a phrase Freud originated – an exercise in "the narcissism of small differences". As Bloom suggests in Agon: Towards a Theory of Revisionism (1982), "We read Freud not as we read Jung or Rank ..., but as we read Proust or Joyce, Valèry or Rilke or Stevens." Though his subliminal influence is pervasive, various entries in this encyclopedia do refer to him by name, usually in the shorthand mode of necessary but unspecific acknowledgement, an example (of many) being an essential but brief citing in comments on Roger Zelaznys The Dream Master (January-February 1965 Amazing as "He Who Shapes"; exp 1966).

The man himself figures in various texts, including Nicholas Meyer's The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1974); D M Thomas's The White Hotel (1981) and the hallucinated Eating Pavlova (1994); Anthony Burgess's The End of the World News: An Entertainment (1982); Barry N Malzberg's The Remaking of Sigmund Freud (fixup 1985); Salley Vickers's Where Three Roads Meet (2007; vt Where Three Roads Meet: The Myth of Oedipus 2008); Mark St Germain's drama Freud's Last Session (first performed Summer 2009 Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, Massachusetts; 2009), featuring a debate between C S Lewis and the fatally ill atheist Freud two weeks before ending his life; and Alex Pheby's Playthings (2015).

The complexities of Freud's career, which involved a constant presentation of him and his work as not being outlier, seem to have been reflected in how he (or his publishers) signed his name on title pages. Variants include Sigm Freud; Sigm Freud M D, LL D; Professor Dr Sigmund Freud, LL B; Prof Dr Sigm Freud [these varieties of appellation are not registered in the Checklist below]. Only Moses and Monotheism seems to have been originally released as by Sigmund Freud. [JC]

Sigmund Schlomo Freud

born Freiberg in Mähren, Moravia, Austrian Empire [now Czech Republic]: 6 May 1856

died London: 23 September 1939

works (selected)

  • Totem und Tabu: Einige Übereinstimmungen im Seelenleben der Wilden und der Neurotiker (Vienna, Austria: Hugo Heller and Company, 1913) [nonfiction: binding unknown/]
  • "Das Unheimliche" (Autumn 1919 Imago 5) [mag/]
    • "The 'Uncanny'" in Collected Papers V (London: Leonard and Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press/The Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1925) [nonfiction: coll: trans of the above by Alix Strachey: hb/nonpictorial]
  • Jenseits des Lustprinzips (Leipzig, Germany: Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag, 1920) [nonfiction: binding unknown/]
    • Jenseits des Lustprinzips (Leipzig, Germany: Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag, 1921) [nonfiction: rev of the above: binding unknown/]
      • Beyond the Pleasure Principle (London: The International Psycho-Analytical Press, 1922) [nonfiction: chap: trans by C J M Hubback of the above: hb/nonpictorial]
  • Die Zukunft einer Illusion (Vienna, Austria: Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag, 1927) [nonfiction: hb/]
    • The Future of an Illusion (London: Leonard and Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press/The Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1928) [nonfiction: trans by W D Robson-Scott of the above: hb/nonpictorial]
  • Das Unbehagen in der Kultur (Vienna, Austria: Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag, dated 1930 but 1929) [nonfiction: hb/]
    • Civilization and its Discontents (London: Leonard and Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press/The Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1930) [nonfiction: trans by Joan Riviere of the above: hb/nonpictorial]
  • Moses and Monotheism (London: The Hogarth Press/The Institute of Psycho-Analysis, 1939) [trans by Katherine Jones: first portion from 1937 essay in Imago: most from manuscript: hb/photo of Michelangelo's Moses]
  • Writings on Art and Literature (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1997) [nonfiction: coll: trans by various hands from various sources: Alix Strachey's trans of "Das Unheimliche" (see above) is here revised: edited by Neil Hertz: in the publisher's Meridian: Crossing Aesthetics series: hb/uncredited]

about the author

A small sample of the nontechnical literature on and using Freud is listed here.


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