I have a continuing interest in exploring psychoanalysis. I unfortunately do not have the academic muscle to learn German, so when trying to determine which translations of Freud to read, a friend and analyst urged me to read this book first. Next step: Read some of Freud’s writings.
Freud & Man’s Soul by Bruno Bettelhein
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1983
Bettelhein’s overarching premise is that none of the English translations of Freud’s writings are very good. The translations seem to have missed a fundamental point. Translated to English, the Greek “psyche” means soul, spirit and mind. Hence the term coined by Freud, “psychoanalysis”, is the analysis of a person’s soul. Bettelhein goes on to provide a number of other important examples of ideas misinterpreted in the English translations.
The following are a number of direct quotes from this book:
Page 11-12: “… Those who use this now-familiar term (psychoanalysis) are usually vaguely aware that it combines two words of Greek origin, but few are conscious of the fact that the two words refer to strongly contrasting phenomena. “Psyche” is the soul — a term full of the richest meaning, endowed with emotion, comprehensively human and unscientific. “Analysis” implies a taking apart, a scientific examination. English readers of Freud are further thrown off by the fact that in English the accent in “psychoanalysis” is on “analysis,” thus emphasizing the part of the word whose connotations are scientific. With the German word, Psychoanalyse, on the other hand, the accent is on the first syllable — on “psyche,” the soul. By coining the term “psychoanalysis” to describe his work, Freud wished to emphasized that by isolating and examining the neglected and hidden aspects of our souls we an acquaint ourselves with those aspects and understanding the roles they play in our lives. It was Freud’s emphasis on the soul that made his analysis different from all others.”
Page 4: “Freud showed us how the soul could become aware of itself. To become acquainted with the lowest depth of the soul — to explore whatever personal hell we may suffer from — is not an easy undertaking. Freud’s findings and, even more, the way he presents them to us give us the confidence that this demanding and potentially dangerous voyage of self-discovery will result in our becoming more fully human, so that we may no longer be enslaved without know the dark forces that reside in us. By exploring and understanding the origins and the potency of these forces, we not only become much better able to cope with them but also gain a much deeper and more compassionate understanding of our fellow man.”
Page 12: “The story of Psyche may have been particularly attractive to Freud because she had to enter the underworld and retrieve something there before she could attain her apotheosis. Freud, similarly, had to dare to enter the underworld — in his case, the underworld of the soul — to gain his illumination. ”
Page 15: “In his life and work, Freud truly heeded the admonition inscribed on the temple of Apollo at Delphi — “Know thyself” — and he wanted to help us do the same. But to know oneself profoundly can be extremely upsetting. It implies the obligation to change oneself — an arduous and painful task.
Page 16-17: “All of Freud’s work to uncover the unconscious was intended to give us some degree of rational control over it, so that when acting in line with its pressures was not appropriate, the releasing of these pressures could be postponed or neutralized, or — most desirable of all — the power of the unconscious could be redirected through sublimation to serve higher and better purposes.”
Page 19: “Like the father of American psychology, William James, Freud based his work mainly on introspection — his own and that of his patients. Introspection is what psychoanalysis is all about.”
Page 23-24: “We encounter in Teiresias the idea that having one’s sight turned away from the external world and directed inward — toward the inner nature of things — gives true knowledge and permits understanding of what is hidden and needs to be known.”
Page 30: “What is most significant about Oedipus, the Oedipal situation, and the Oedipus complex is not only the tragic fate that we all are projected into deep conflicts by our infantile desires, but also the need to resolve these conflicts through the difficult struggle for, and the achievement of, self-discovery. This is why, as Freud always insisted, the Oedipus complex is central to psychoanalysis. ”
Page 32: “The English translations cleave to an early stage of Freud’s thought, in which he inclined toward science and medicine, and disregarded the more mature Freud, whose orientation was humanistic, and who was concerned mostly with broadly conceived cultural and human problems and with matters of the soul. ”
Page 32-33: “Freud recommended psychoanalysis to our interest “not as therapy but rather because of what it reveals to us about what concerns man most closely: his own essence; and because of the connections it uncovers between the widest variety of his actions.”
Page 41-42: “The influential German philosopher Wilhelm Windelband, Freud’s contemporary, elaborated on the fundamental differences between these two approaches to knowledge. He classified the natural sciences as nomothetic, because they search for and are based on general laws, and in many of them mathematics plays an important role. The Geisteswissenschaften he called idiographic, because they seek to understand the objects of their study not as instances of universal laws but as singular events; their method is that of history, since they are concerned with human history and with individual ideas and values. ”
Page 43: “Psychoanalysis is plainly an ideographic science, utilizing unique historical occurrences to provide a view of man’s development and behavior.”
Page 48: The following is a quote from Freud’s in his Postscript to An Autobiographical Study (1935): “After a lifelong detour over the natural sciences, medicine, and psychotherapy, my interests return to those cultural problems which had once captivated the youth who had barely awakened to deeper thought. These interests had centered on the events of the history of man, the mutual influences between man’s nature, the development of culture, and those residues of prehistoric events of which religion is the foremost representation … studies which originate in psychoanalysis but go way beyond it.”
Page 73: “Freud never faltered in his conviction that it was important to think in terms of the soul when trying to comprehend his system, because no other concept could make equally clear what he meant; nor can there be any doubt that he meant the soul, and not the mind, when he wrote “seelisch.
Page 77: “Freud’s atheism is well known — he went out of his way to assert it. There is nothing supernatural about his idea of the soul, and it has nothing to do with immortality; if anything endures after us, it is other people’s memories of us — and what we create. By ‘soul’ or ‘psyche’ Freud means that which is most valuable to man while he is alive. For him, the soul is the seat both of the mind and of the passions, and we remain largely unconscious of the soul. In important respects, it is deeply hidden, hardly accessible even to careful investigation. It is intangible, but it nevertheless exercises a powerful influence on our lives. It is what makes us human; in fact, it is what is so essentially human about us that no other term could equally convey what Freud had in mind.”
Page 79: “Freud’s lack of interest in how he was mistranslated in English can perhaps be explained by his general animus toward things American, an animosity that was certainly fed by the American insistence that psychoanalysis be considered a medical specialty. Freud expressed his negative feelings most vividly when he told Ernest Jones, ‘America is gigantic, but it is a gigantic mistake.’ We cannot be sure why Freud thought so, but – apart from whatever unknown personal reasons he had for making this remark — his views must have been influenced by what he regarded as the American commitment to materialism and technological accomplishments, which excluded those cultural — one may say spiritual — values that were most important to him.”
Page 102-103: “Probably among the worst distortions of Freud’s thoughts is the interpretation of narcissism as positive and normal, the appropriate consequence of a natural selfishness. It has been observed lately that the present American culture is essentially narcissistic. Selfishness, concentration on the self, wishing to have one’s way at any cost — all narcissistic traits — are everywhere in evidence. It seems that quite a number of Americans, in their efforts to attain the good life, have made themselves their prime love object, advocating self-assertion over concern for others, looking out for Number One. This is directly opposed to Freud’s conviction that the good life — or, at lest, the best life available to man, the most enjoyable and most meaningful — consists of being able to truly love not oneself but others, and of being able to find meaningful and satisfactory work that will have positive results also for others. Freud evoked the myth of Narcissus to help us understand that egocentricity is undesirable. Without a clear understanding of what this myth implies — that Narcissus’s infatuation with himself causes him to destroy himself — one fails to understand why Freud applied the term ‘narcissistic’ to the most primitive stage of human development, the stage in which the utterly helpless infant compensates for his helplessness with a megalomaniac self-centeredness. Freud did so to warn us against narcissism, to warn us of the destructive consequences of remaining fixated on caring only for oneself. He knew that caring only for oneself is self-defeating, that it alienates one from others and from the real world, and eventually, from oneself, too. … What the myth symbolically represents as Narcissus drowning in his own image is in actuality the emotional deadness of the narcissistic person. Narcissism leads to a shallow, meaningless life, devoid of close, reciprocal, mutually satisfying and enriching relationships with others, which represents the best life has to offer.”