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The life and times of the father of psychoanalysis
on August 7, 2004
This is a very interesting look at the life of Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis and, to some, the "doctor of love." It is, of course, a look at his life and not an analysis of his work and ideas - while it certainly mentions many of Freud's theories, ideas, and publications, it does not go into an in-depth analysis of them. I tend to think of Freud as this wildly successful, albeit controversial, psychologist lounging back in his office chair with a cigar, nodding toward a patient lying on a nearby couch, and generally basking in his great fame and accomplishments. This is not really the case, however, as this video makes clear.
I knew nothing about Freud's childhood. After his birth, he lived in a one-room abode with a father in his early 40s, a mother in her early 20s, and two step-brothers as old as his mother. In the next few years, six more children would be born, but when the family moved to Vienna, Sigmund enjoyed the comforts of his own room and a doting the less precocious children were denied. Born a Jew, the anti-Semitism around him spurred him on to ever greater efforts at learning, and before entering medical school he spoke six languages and had been recording his dreams for a number of years. He wanted to do research, but a quota on Jews in this field made this impossible; he decided to become a doctor, and he chose to work in the field of nervous disorders primarily because such doctors were in short supply and he was anxious to establish himself and marry his sweetheart (the courtship was an interesting one characterized as exceedingly Victorian). Early in his career, he experimented with and recommended the use of cocaine for mentally afflicted patients, but this work with a drug he did not yet recognize for its deadly addictive qualities didn't exactly win him the acclaim he yearned for. His much more fertile ideas on the nature of hysteria and similar disorders of the mind as stemming from physical causes were changed during a period of study in France. When he opened his own practice, he made use of hypnotism among more traditional methods; soon thereafter, he began using "the talking treatment" and observed that his patients almost always seemed to trace the origins of their problems back to some traumatic childhood experience involving sex - be it real or imagined. From this work would come his ideas on the Oedipus complex and, much later.(...) At the age of 40, Freud decided to analyze himself using free association techniques, the results of which would form a large part of his most famous book On the Interpretation of Dreams (which sold all of 300 copies in its first six years).
The video then traces Freud's attempts to establish psychoanalysis as a recognized science. Many of his colleagues derided him as a dirty-minded man obsessed with pornography, and his Jewish heritage also worked against him among the establishment. Not until the 1920s would he become a household name. By this time, he had put forth his ideas on the death drive among men, having seen his worst visions of man's unconscious unleashed by World War I. His pessimism about man's inner nature grew in his final years, culminating in Hitler's rise to power and his own dangerously-delayed escape from Vienna. Bouts with oral cancer cursed Freud with great pain in the final decade of his life, but he never gave up his addiction for cigars.
The most interesting information presented here centers upon Freud's own neuroses, with the cigar addiction being just one of many. He also suffered from a paranoia about travel, gave up sex after the birth of his sixth child despite the fact he argued that any restrictions upon a husband's sex life (including birth control) would make him neurotic, and tended to faint in the presence of talented male friends such as Carl Jung, with whom he bitterly parted ways after Jung's ideas began to diverge from Freud's own insistent theories. This was a complex man who broke down the barriers between man and his formerly repressed drives. While his ideas on psychoanalysis were already beginning to be rejected or changed before his death in 1939, he continues to tower over the field of psychology and wields immense influence over popular culture still today. A study in contrasts, the life of Sigmund Freud makes for a fascinating documentary.