A varied and sometimes erratic record of what I'm learning inside and outside of the classroom

Monday, November 8, 2010

Echoes of Freud

This post could also be titled, "How to Find Freud in a Book Where His Name Isn't Even Mentioned Once."

I was studying for my American Literary History midterm this past week, and my study group was going through authors/poets like Walt Whitman, Sarah Jewett, Emily Dickinson, and others. Inevitably, our Norton Anthology of American Literature would say something in the biographical information of these writers about their sexual relationships and how it affected their works.

"Oh my goodness--" I thought to myself, "It's FREUD! We owe all of this psychoanalytic thinking and examining the sexual aspects of these writers' lives to FREUD!" It's amazing, really, how deeply Freud's ideas have penetrated modern thinking.

As I said in one of my earlier blog posts, there is really no excuse to be ignorant about anything, considering how much information we have available to us via technology. So it's time to take my own advice and apply it to the understanding of Freud. I've heard some things about his theories that have repulsed me, and as I've researched more I don't necessarily agree with him, but I can at least try to understand where he's coming from and take a more ethical approach instead of immediately condemning things I don't understand. I was curious to know about Freud's impact in the Western world, and I found an intriguing article entitled Freud's Impact on Modern Morality. It's interesting that Freud himself shares a little of the mindset of taking the approach I was talking about. Robert Holt, the author of the article mentioned previously, writes,
"[Freud] makes it quite evident, in his clinical writings, that he had to suppress or to hold in abeyance his own repugnance for deviant sexual practices or fantasies...and the like, in order to be able to help the patient to confront and to understand these unpleasant and threatening phenomena. Freud has often been misunderstood on this point. He did not say or mean that 'anything goes,' or that the analyst should in any way encourage or condone most forms of socially deviant behavior, even in the realm of sexuality" (pg. 39).
So basically, Freud avoided passing moral judgment on his patients while in order to help them in the best way he knew how. It doesn't mean he condoned their "socially deviant behavior." (The article does go on, however, to explain that Freud's theories had consequences he did not intend, and could be in part responsible for the current moral state of society.) As I have grown older, I have found that tolerance and open mindedness do not necessarily constitute acceptance/embracing of all other ideas. Sometimes I will consider all sides of an issue and realize that in light of all this information, I believe my original stance to be best. That said, I still have a lot to learn about Freud and his ideas, but I'm not sure I will ever agree with some of them.

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