Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Karl Kraus and Tom Szasz Go After Sigmund Freud

Karl Kraus, the great Viennese journalist and scourge of everything phony and cowardly, has always been one of my heroes, ever since first reading about him in Wittgenstein's Vienna, as a student in 1973. (As I recall, I read a copy borrowed from my ol' buddy, Treebeard.) I've been reading this amazing little book about him, Karl Kraus and the Soul-Doctors, by Thomas Szasz. Szasz has long been another of my heroes. How did I miss knowing about this book all these years? It was published in 1976, the year I got my Ph. D. and my first full-time teaching job. Maybe I was just too busy with other things!

Anyway, the book is all about Kraus's war of words against psychoanalysis. It's full of brilliant flashes that make unexpected objects leap out of the void, like lightning-bolts at midnight. (All the quotations that follow are from Kraus, as translated by Szasz.)

I have to admit that one reason I like this book is that it expresses a conclusion I have come to lately. This is the idea that the worst harm done by psychoanalysis was not done to their patients. There the harm consisted mainly in getting huge amounts of money which they simply did not deserve. After all, those patients wanted to waste their money. As libertarians, the three of us (Kraus, Szasz, and I) have to respect that!

One feature of psychoanalysis that is particularly salient is that it promises an understanding of human life by a very particular means: the interpretation of symbols. This led very naturally to the interpretation of the arts by Freudian methods. Here, as Kraus points out, the victim is often dead and unable to defend his honor.

"Victim?" you say, "how can interpretation be a form of victimization?"

To see this, you need only understand how psychoanalysis interprets human life. As Kraus says, it "accounts for the anguished soul of the adult by reducing it to the anxious longing of the infant". Inevitably, this method of interpretation is "reductionist" in the deflationary sense of the word. Faced with the great riddle of human life, the Freudian looks for the answer in the nursery and the toilet. "God made man out of dust. The psychoanalyst reduces him to it." Thus: "In the case of Goethe's The Sorcerer's Apprentice, [analysts] disagree only on whether the work is the product of sublimated masturbation or bedwetting. If I tell the [them] to kiss my ass, they tell me that I have an anal fixation."

The fact that it turns giants into dwarfs is one of the two most obvious features of this method. The other follows from the fact that it explains by interpreting: it promises that you can understand without complicated mathematical reasoning or doing any field studies or experiments. Just learn a certain manner of thinking. "Psychoanalysis is a method for making a layman into an 'expert' rather than for making a sick person well."

Thus, Freudianism is an easily developed method that enables the analyst to shrink other people, to be the (comparative) giant. (Hence the expression, "headshrinker," or "shrink" for short.) "Psychoanalysis is, in fact, an act of revenge through which the analyst's inferiority is transformed into superiority." It is the dwarf's revenge against the giant.

For this reason, it also serves as a way to bring meaning and value to your life: "Despite its deceptive terminology, psychoanalysis is not a science but a religion -- the faith of a generation incapable of any other."

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