The Death of Sigmund Freud
Bloomsbury, 288 pages
Reviews edited by Andy Ross
Review by Jonathan Derbyshire
The Guardian, September 1, 2007
In 1914, Sigmund Freud published a short essay about Michelangelo's statue
of Moses. According to Mark Edmundson, the article marked a decisive shift
in the focus of Freud's work. The concept of the superego, "the centre of
authority in the human psyche", enters Freud's thinking at this point as a
solution to the question of how the ego structures repression.
says that the ego is at the beck and call of three masters: as well as the
superego, it is beholden to the id, the seat of instinctual desire, and to
the external world. Human mental life is the conflict between these
contending authorities. Freud recognised that psychic wellbeing consists in
tolerating this conflict.
Freud's fascination with Moses was so
intense that he confessed to a friend that the prophet wouldn't let go of
his imagination. Freud struggled to finish his final book, Moses and
Monotheism, before the Nazis overran Vienna. The moral of Moses and
Monotheism is that resistance is possible. Moses, the "hero of
civilisation", renounces pleasure and desire in the name of something
greater and teaches others to do the same.
Review by Bryan Appleyard
The Sunday Times, August 12, 2007
Sigmund Freud created the discipline of psychoanalysis. In reading, Freud
attempted to consume all of world history as if he would be satisfied with
nothing less than a psychoanalysis of the entire planet. What he was seeking
was universality. Psychoanalysis is the attempt to unearth the deep psychic
structures of humanity. He sought laws of the psyche as solid as those of
Freud saw tyranny as an entirely predictable product of the
need to seek consolation and escape from one's own predicament by placing
one's destiny in the hands of the dictator/father.
celebrates the possibility of the truly self-aware person "continually in
the process of deconstructing various god replacements and returning once
again to a more sceptical and ironic middle ground". Such people cannot fall
This seems to replay a familiar religious myth of
transfiguration and saves Freud's greatness. Edmundson portrays him as a
great prophet and moralist. Freud's death was the death of a prophet.
Edmundson's Freud saw himself as Moses.
AR A worthy book, certainly, but I baulk at
regarding Sigmund Freud, any more than Karl Marx, as a new Moses. As Karl
Popper said, neither were scientists in the sense of creating falsifiable
theories, whereas Albert Einstein
was, as well as
Time Magazine's Person of the Century, so Einstein is the first of the
new Jewish trinity (or perhaps Marx the Father, the Old Testament tyrant,
Freud the Son, with his thing about love, and Einstein the Holy Ghost,
pervading all of spacetime with spooky momenergy).
The Times Literary Supplement, April 16, 2008
Edited by Andy Ross
Personality: What makes you the way you are
By Daniel Nettle
University Press, 298 pages
Sigmund Freud's answer to Daniel Nettle's question would have begun with
your unconscious mind: the unique pattern of fantasies, defences, and
instinctual conflicts that create your neurotic insecurities and
Today, personality researchers almost
uniformly agree that the things that make you the way you are consist of a
combination of your genes, your peers and the idiosyncratic, chance
experiences that befall you in childhood and adulthood.
of personality was passionate, controversial, sexy, unfalsifiable and wrong.
The behavioral-genetics view of personality is calm, uncontroversial,
empirically testable and correct.
Evolutionary theory, the genome
project, studies of identical twins reared together and apart, and
brain-imaging techniques have enabled scientists to identify the differences
in how people's nervous systems are wired up and how those differences
express themselves in characteristic responses to other people and to
events. These characteristic responses statistically cluster into five basic
factors: extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and
openness to experience.
Because human beings have complex,
sense-making minds, they are forever telling stories about themselves to
explain why they are the way they are. Our storytelling brains make each of