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Intro to come

Freud's five myths

Freud clung to five myths in promulgating psychoanalysis. Apart from asserting the three-fold nature of the psyche (ego, id and superego) and the principle of sexual trauma (developed, then abandoned, then readopted), he clung to a narrative concept of the psychoanaytic procedure and (inconsistently) to the archaeological metaphor of the process ("unearthing" what is hidden), and the unhappiness myth of human life.

The French theorist Gilles Deleuze, among others, has offered an alternative to the three-fold nature of the psyche. Even Jacques Lacan,in his 'return to Freud', throws into doubt the ego theory. Jeffrey Masson wrote in the 1980s about Freud's changing view of 'seduction theory', though Masson's explanation (Freud wanted to be accepted in bourgeois Vienna) is widely rejected.

Lis Møller, in The Freudian reading: analytical and fictional constructions (1991) has dismantled Freud's confusions about whether the psychoanalyst is working alone or in tandem with the patient in (re-)constructing a plausible narrative that will count as a successful, completed treatment of a psychosis.

The unhappiness myth, exchanging neurotic misery for normal unhappiness as the goal of psychanalsis, is Freud's inheritance from Schopenhauer.

On Freud's embrace of narrativity as the key to human sense-making of their lives, listen to Charitini Douvaldzi in Stanford University's 'Entitled Opinions' series.

At around 46 minutes into her first discussion with Robert Harrison, Douvaldzi suggests that, in contrast to 'the talking cure' (where "verbalization may help treat symptoms"), "narrativization" according to his theory of 'trauma and disavowal' "may in fact lead to illness".

In her second interview, at about 10 minutes in, she also notes:"Sex is the one thing in Freud's metapschology he is not able to account for", since it does not fit into pleasure as avoidance of pain from excitation (1920) or the death drive (1929). though "he is very aware that one cannot reduce sex to the final release of tension in orgasm. [...] Pleasure in an increase in excitation he cannot account for".

She further argues that Freud rejected an interpretation of religion as extinction of the self in favour of unity with another, which fits perfectly into his theory, in favour of arguing that it comes from the "deep-rooted desire for a father" (18 min).

Professor Douvaldzi also traces Freud's self-proclaimed discovery that the ego's attempts to placate the superego only lead to harsher demands to his reading of Nietzsche's Geneology of Morals(Essay 2).


In The Freudian reading: analytical and fictional constructions (1991), Møller notes that the fiction and the psychoanalyst have to show that they understand the unconscious in the same way (reach the same results) if they are to be allies in interpreting what is taking place (95).

He gives more importance to form in discussing jokes, whose pattern disguises their purpose: the jokes he describes as tendentious rather than innocent "are either hostile or obscene", notes Møller (97). They "express thoughts that satisfy aggressive or libidinous impulses, which would otherwise have been suppressed. The function of the joke technique is consequently to 'evade restrictions and open sources of pleasure that have become inaccessible' (ibid).

Freud applies the same principle to fiction in "Creative Writers and Daydreaming' (1908), in which the narrative pleasure "makes possible the release of a still greater pleasure arising from deeper psychical sources" (Møller 1991:98).

For Freud, the author listens to his [sic] unconscious and gives it artistic expression rather than suppressing its suggestions. The author's mind is both a "refractive" and "obscuring" prism.

Thus, as Freud writes in a study of Wilhelm Jensen's short story Gradiva (1907), the narrative can give "an accurate description of the processes of repression and symptom formation, as well as of the principles of the psychoanalytic process" (Møller 1991:100) while covering up other aspects of the author's repressed history (101).

Freud presented a copy of his analysis to Jensen. But Jensen "showed no understanding of the second meaning the psychoanalyst had extracted from his work," Møller reports. "The author seemed 'altogether incapable of entering into any other but his own poetic intentions'" in Freud's words (103).

"Freud's power as a reader shows itself not so much in his capacity for persuasive synthesis as in his will to press his inquiry to the point where he encounters the unreadable — that which he cannot explain; that which does not fit in with his explanatory system; or that which he can only explain at the risk of overthrowing previous conclusions" (Lis Møller:1991:ix).

"Coherence, comprehensiveness, and closure may be what the analyst aims at; it is, however, rarely what we get" (Lis Møller:1991:x).

"Freud's work does not present a uniform theory of interpretation, which would provide for a coherent account of the object, procedure, purpose, and epistemological status of the psychoanalytic interpretation. His work, I argue, is the scene of the encounter of different, conflicting, and even incompatible theories of reading. The dominant line of argument is punctuated with problems and questions, leading to revisions that compel us to reconsider our idea of a 'Freudian reading'" (Lis Møller:1991:x).

"Freud used several analogies and metaphors in order to account for reading in psychoanalysis, but none of these has proved more pervasive than the archaeological metaphor, which appears to be inex- / tricably bound up with the very idea of psychoanalysis as a depth hermeneutics" (Lis Møller:1991:xi-xii).

"In order to create a coherent account of his patient's 'forgotten years,' the analyst must rearrange and fill in gaps in the material the analysand produces in the course of the treatment. Analysis is shown to revolve around a void — a hole in the analysand's memory that can only be filled by the analyst's construction. However, reconstruction is also Freud's term for psychoanalytic literary analysis. The analyst, he says, must 'reconstruct' the 'original arrangement' of the textual 'elements'" (Lis Møller:1991:xi).

"Recently, the American psychoanalyst Donald P. Spence has asserted that psychoanalysis needs new metaphors. Taking vigorous exception to Freud's analogy with archaeology, Spence suggests that we should start looking for a possible alternative, for 'we will never step out from under the reigning metaphor unless we have a metaphor to take its place.' But as Lacan and Derrida's bold re-readings of Freud's work have shown, significant alternatives to the archaeological metaphor and to the idea of the past as a buried Pompeii have, in fact, been present from the onset. In a draft from 1896 Freud advances the thesis that memory-traces from time to time are subjected to a rearrangement or a 're-transcription' in accordance with fresh circumstances. In the papers from the nineties, Freud turns to such textual metaphors in order to account for the otherwise inexplicable temporal gap between on the one hand, the event that allegedly constitutes the trauma and, on the other hand, the pathological response to the traumatic incident, the outbreak of a neurosis. Memories, he claims, are retranscribed in accordance with subsequent impressions; retroactively they acquire a new meaning that allows them to operate in the present 'as though they were fresh experiences.' 'Re-transcription,' then, pertains to the mechanism designated, in From the History of an Infantile Neurosis, by the term 'deferred action' (Nachträglichkelt)" (Lis Møller:1991:xii).

"Freud never contents himself merely with posing those questions to which he has the answers; he also poses problems to which he has no solution, or which he can only solve by revising the theoretical foundation of his reading. As a consequence, his interpretations of literary works may seem strangely unfulfilled. In this, I shall argue, is their primary strength. Taking as my main examples Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's Gradiva and Freud's analysis of E. T. A. Hoffmann 'The Sandman' in 'The Uncanny,' I show that these readings present the same pattern: in each case a dogmatic and highly authoritarian psychoanalytic interpretation is undermined from within, as it encounters the unreadable" (Lis Møller:1991:xiii).

"The tradition within which Freud was working did not allow him to distinguish between, on the one hand, the account that makes sense of seemingly discontinuous and disjunctive material and, on the other hand, the patient's actual history. The outcome of this is not merely a confusion of ideas in psychoanalysis. Freud's failure to distinguish between convincing explanations and 'things as they actually were' prevented him from understanding that the uncovering of an actual past may be of far less importance to psychoanalytic therapy than the creation of a coherent account that synthesizes a particular set of events. A well- constructed narrative has a special significance in its own right. It even possesses a kind of truth, a truth that is real and immediate and carries an important significance for the process of therapeutic change" (Lis Møller:1991:4).

Donald P. Spence (1982) says "he misconstrued the psychoanalytical process, confused the construction of a well-organized narrative, 'narrative truth,' with the excavation of a past reality, and prevented himself from seeing that cure does not depend on the recuperation of a historical truth" (Lis Møller:1991:5).

According to Donald P. Spence (1982) "the curative interpretation is the persuasive interpretation — and interpretations are persuasive not because of their 'evidential value' but because of their 'rhetorical appeal' (p. 32). As an alternative to Freud's archaeological model of psychoanalysis, Spence therefore offers an 'artistic' model (p. 270). 'It may be useful' he says, 'to think of an interpretation as being a certain kind of aesthetic experience as opposed to being an utterance that is either (historically) true or false' (p. 268)" (Lis Møller:1991:5).

"Freud [...] clearly acknowledges the problems to which Spence calls attention, and in his discussions of psychoanalytic epistemology he not only anticipates Spence's idea of narrative truth, but goes beyond the vague and insufficient definition of narrative truth as 'a good story'" (Lis Møller:1991:5).

"Allegations of reductionism have from the beginning attended the psychoanalytic critic's attempt to uncover the deepest levels of meaning. The record of the Freudian critical tradition 'all too clearly shows that a special danger of dogmatism, of clinical presumption, indeed of monomania, accompanies a method that purports to ferret out from literature a handful of previously known, perennially "deep" psychic concerns,' writes Frederick Crews toward the end of Out of My System, a study that documents the author's growing dissatisfaction with the methods he himself has applied to the study of literature" (Lis Møller:1991:7).

"The authority of psychoanalytic interpretation of literature depends on the assumption that the literary text conceals and yet reveals a latent content that psychoanalysis has the power to demask and reconstruct (restore); it depends on the assumption that the task of the critic is to reveal hidden layers of meaning, to bring to light the latent truth" (Lis Møller:1991:9).

"What is at stake in Spence's critique of Freud's conception of the psychoanalytic process in general and his archaeological metaphor in particular is, in fact, the surface/depth paradigm in psychoanalysis, or to be more specific, the idea of psychoanalysis as a depth psychology or a depth hermeneutics that sets 'aside the surface meaning in favor of the latent intent' or sees 'the surface meaning as a derivate of some piece of the patient's unconscious"'(Lis Møller:1991:9).

"The surface/depth paradigm has from the very beginning informed the psychoanalytic critic's concept of literature and textuality" (Lis Møller:1991:9).

"It is true that many traditional psychoanalytic critics have pointed out that more attention should be given to the textual surface, that is, the obvious meaning and the form of the literary work. They have not, however, queried the adequacy of the surface/depth model itself" (Lis Møller:1991:9).

In his study of Poe's The Purloined Letter "Lacan," says Shoshona Felman, "makes the principle of symbolic evidence the guideline for an analysis not of the signified but of the signifier — for an analysis of the unconscious (the repressed) not as hidden, but on the contrary as exposed — in language — through significant (rhetorical) displacement" (Lis Møller:1991:10).

"According to Freud, the inconsistencies, the gaps and lacunae, the ambiguities and the uncertainties of the neurotic patient's story are marks of repression. Neurotic patients are patients precisely because they are unable to represent themselves in the form of a consistent narrative. From this perspective, the aim of psychoanalytic therapy is to fill in the gaps in the patient's memory in order to (re)construct a coherent life story, or rather, in order to restore the patient's faculty of telling an ordered story of his own life. The psychoanalytic process is thus poised between two narratives: the patient's faulty story and another, more adequate, that is to say curative, story constituting the end of the therapeutic work: 'It is only towards the end of the treatment that we have before us an intelligible, consistent, and unbroken case history'" (Lis Møller:1991:12).

But "Freud's analysis of Dora never reaches the point where the pieces of the puzzle fall into place; it never reaches the point where we are able to perceive a singular, intelligible pattern. Analyzing, in this case, seems to breed ambiguity; the more analysis, the less intelligibility" (Lis Møller:1991:13).

In a postscript to the Dora study, Freud adds "the case story remains (as he puts it) 'incomplete to a far greater degree than its title might have led [the reader] to expect' (p. 112)" (Lis Møller:1991:13).

"What characterizes this case is, it seems, precisely Freud's unwillingness to listen to this story. Her story is first of all articulated in the form of Dora's manifest resistance to the plot that Freud has conceived and her refusal to accept the role he has assigned to her. It is only between the lines of the story that Freud is determined to tell that we find traces of the one Dora has chosen for herself" (Lis Møller:1991:13).

"Feminist critics foreground the Lacanian notion of countertransference: 'What did Freud want from Dora?'" (Lis Møller:1991:14).

The cure has to be worked towards

According to Peter Brooks, "Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria marks Freud's dawning recognition of the fact that the adequate and curative narrative is not simply 'there,' waiting to be discovered and brought to light, but is the product of a process of telling and reading — a process that involves not just one but two narrators and two readers, the analyst and the analysand" (Lis Møller:1991:14).

No epistemological turning point

"Freud, in the course of his career, develops his understanding of narrativization in psychoanalysis, indeed, proceeds from one narrative theory to another that is far more complex and sophisticated. But must we necessarily assume the existence of an epistemological turning point in Freud's thinking? Must we necessarily distinguish between an 'early' and a 'late' Freud? The attempt to locate an epistemological break is certainly complicated by the repetitive structure of his thinking, that is, the fact that his later discoveries are prefigured in his writings from the nineties, and that he seems to abandon a hypothesis only to let it resurface in a slightly different form" (Lis Møller:1991:15).

Not just a talking cure

"In fact, the repressed past is not brought to light by the patient through free association or through uncensored trains of memory; it is produced as a construction in analysis. Psychoanalytic therapy, Freud remarks [In 'Constructions in Analysis' (1937)], consists of two discrete voices and implies two active parties, the analysand and the analyst, to each of whom a distinct task is assigned. As is well known, the role of the analysand consists in relating memory fragments, thoughts, ideas, dreams, regardless of the seemingly unimportant nature of this material. The analyst, however, "has neither experienced nor repressed any of the material under consideration.... His task is to make out what has been forgotten from the traces which it has left behind and more / correctly to construct it" (Lis Møller:1991:17-18).

"Freud makes a point of distinguishing between, on the one hand, 'interpretation,' or perhaps rather 'deciphering' (Deutung), of an association or a dream element, for instance, and, on the other hand, 'construction'" (Lis Møller:1991:18).

"To communicate a construction to a patient is to return to him a piece of his 'early history that he has forgotten'. [...] The construction is an attempt on the part of the analyst to place memory fragments in an order, and thus to establish the relationship between seemingly unrelated events. To construct is to plot" (Lis Møller:1991:18).

"At the same time, the concept of construction in analysis raises a whole series of questions concerning the truth of psychoanalytic readings" (Lis Møller:1991:19).


Antony Easthope. 1999. The unconscious. The new critical idiom. London; New York: Routledge. ISBN: 0415192080.

Lis Møller. 1991. The Freudian reading: analytical and fictional constructions. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN: 0812231260.


In the format in which they appear in the source.

Brooks Peter. Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative. New York: Vintage Books, 1985.

Frederick Crews, Out of My System: Psychoanalysis, Ideology, and Critical Method / (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), p. 166. For Crews psychoanalytic literary criticism, see The Sins of the Fathers: Hawthorne's Psychological Themes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966).

Shoshana Felman, "To Open the Question," in Literature and Psychoanalysis: The Question of Reading. Otherwise, ed. Felman ( Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), p. 5; Felman's italics.

Sigmund Freud, Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's Gradiva (1907), Standard Edition, vol. IX.

-- 1937b. "Constructions in Analysis." In The Standard Edition, vol. XXIII.

Spence Donald P. Narrative Truth and Historical Truth: Meaning and Interpretation in Psychoanalysis. New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, 1982.