FREUD AND MAN'S SOUL
FREUD AND MAN'S SOUL
VINTAGE BOOKS A DIVISION OF RANDOM HOUSE
First Vintage Books Edition, January 1984
Review [by Michael Horvitz]
It has been my experience that many people, Americans in particular, have a strong negative opinion of Freud, although in most cases they have not read any of his works. Their ideas of Freud are generally formed as a result of quips and sarcastic comments heard from others or on television or read in magazines, or by [inaccurate] descriptions of his ideas and concepts by psychologists who prefer to dismiss Freud as misguided and/or irrelevant. If Freud were really the embodiment of how he is often described and derided, he would not be worthy of the serious consideration he has been given by many intelligent men and women over the past 100+ years.
Here is a book that looks into Freud’s works and ideas in a refreshing manner. Bruno Bettelheim, in his brief but masterful work, Freud and Man's Soul, clearly and thoughtfully describes how and why Freud has come to be grossly misunderstood by his American audience, largely as a result of some serious mistranslations of his works in English. For example, take the word “ego” (a Latin word, with a cold clinical aura about it, used in place of the phrase “das Ich” or “the I” as Freud used it) which Bettelheim discusses as follows:
The word "ego" was used in the English language in a number of ways long before Freud's translators introduced it as a psychoanalytic concept. These uses, which are still part of the living language, are all pejorative, such as "egoism," "egoistic," and "egotism."
…No word has greater and more intimate connotations than the pronoun "I." It is one of the most frequently used words in spoken language--and, more important, it is the most personal word. To mistranslate Ich as "ego" is to transform it into jargon that no longer conveys the personal commitment we make when we say "I" or "me"--not to mention our subconscious memories of the deep emotional experience we had when, in infancy, we discovered ourselves as we learned to say "I."
…When Freud named one of his major concepts the I, he brought his theories about the workings of the human psyche as close to us, his readers, as is possible through a choice of words.
Then look at the word “id,” which is the Latin mistranslation of “Das Es” (“the it”), Freud’s chosen term. To get a feeling of the use of “the it,” or “it,” we may think of how we say, “it felt good.” That identifies a part of us separate from the ego (the “I”), a deeper part of our selves which is connected to our instinctual life. Here’s what Bettelheim says about Freud’s use of both of the terms ego and id:
"Ego" and "id" are part of a theoretical lingo, but the main purpose of psychoanalysis is to help us deal with the least theoretical aspects of our mind--with that in us which is most primitive, most irrational, and can be expressed, if at all, only in the most ordinary, least complicated language. The distinction between the I and the it is immediately clear to us, and hardly needs psychoanalytic explanation, since we are aware of it from our way of talking about ourselves. For example, when we say, "I went there," we know exactly what we were doing and why we did it. But when we say "It pulled me in that direction," we express the feeling that something in us--we don't know what--forced us to behave in a certain way. When a person suffering from depression says "It got me again" or "It makes life unbearable!" he gives clear expression to his feeling that neither his intellect nor his conscious mind nor his will accounts for what is happening to him--that he has been overcome by forces within him which are beyond his ken and his control.
Bettelheim points out that even the word “psychoanalysis” is misleading. In the German usage, it does not convey anything cold or clinical:
Those who use this now-familiar term 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 emphasize that by isolating and examining the neglected and hidden aspects of our souls we can acquaint ourselves with those aspects and understand the roles they play in our lives. It was Freud's emphasis on the soul that made his analysis different from all others.
In English, “Psyche” has been translated to mean “the mind,” although in German it clearly refers to the soul, which is how Freud used it.
…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." As early as 1905, in the opening passage of an article entitled "Psychical Treatment (Treatment of the Soul)," he wrote:
"Psyche" is a Greek word and its German translation is "soul." Psychical treatment hence means "treatment of the soul." One could thus think that what is meant is: treatment of the morbid phenomena in the life of the soul. But this is not the meaning of this term. Psychical treatment wishes to signify, rather, treatment originating in the soul, treatment--of psychic or bodily disorders--by measures which influence above all and immediately the soul of man.
… Where Freud selected a word that, used in daily parlance, makes us feel vibrantly alive, the translations present us with a term from a dead language that reeks of erudition precisely when it should emanate vitality.
Bettelheim carefully describes not only the mistranslations that have deceived or confused even intelligent readers, but also helps to render Freud’s discoveries and theories more accessible through such clarifications. Further, his explanation of our unconscious has a warmth and empathy that is capable of disarming readers who might otherwise be hostile to the idea of its existence.
I wouldn’t be surprised if thoughtful introspective readers unfamiliar with the true nature of Freud’s works take an interest in reading more of him after this excellent introduction by Bettelheim. Bettelheim’s sensitivity and compassion about the human difficulties and suffering that Freud was concerned with help to bring the reader closer to the subject.
Perhaps with this book the intelligent reader can rediscover Freud in a new, more valid, accurate and acceptable manner, in spite of the negativity that surrounds him, a negativity which I believe stems not only from ignorance of his works, but also from a particular need to deny the existence of that deeper and lesser-known part of ourselves, the unconscious.
I have deliberately used many quotations from the book in this review which hopefully gives the reader a good sense of Bettelheim’s fine manner of conveying Freud’s ideas and explorations. I conclude with a quote from Freud, which I believe further helps the reader understand that Freud was not interested in making psychoanalysis into something cold and clinical:
“Psychoanalysis is in essence a cure through love.”
- Letter to Carl Jung (1906), as quoted in Freud and Man's Soul (1984) by Bruno Bettelheim
Excerpts from the book:
As a child born into a middle-class, assimilated Jewish family in Vienna, I was raised and educated in an environment that was in many respects identical with the one that had formed Freud's background. The culture that was transmitted to me in my home, then in secondary school, and, finally, at the University of Vienna, had changed very little since Freud's student days, fifty years earlier. So it was natural that from the time I began to think on my own I read Freud. After studying his earlier works, I eagerly read his new ones as they appeared, from Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) and The Ego and the Id (1923) through all the later essays, in which his ideas reached their fullest development. Understanding Freud's writings was considerably facilitated by my thus being able to follow his ideas as he completed the edifice of psychoanalysis, which he had begun a few years before I was born. It was also facilitated by my being in analysis myself and by my study of psychoanalysis in the same unique Viennese cultural climate in which Freud worked and thought. When, in middle age, I was fortunate enough to be permitted to start a new life in the United States, and began to read and discuss psychoanalytic writings in English, I discovered that reading Freud in English translation leads to quite different impressions from those I had formed when I read him in German. It became apparent to me that the English renditions of Freud's writings distort much of the essential humanism that permeates the originals.
In The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), which opened to our understanding not just the meaning of dreams but also the nature and power of the unconscious, Freud told about his arduous struggle to achieve ever greater self-awareness. In other books, he told why he felt it necessary for the rest of us to do the same. In a way, all his writings are gentle, persuasive, often brilliantly worded intimations that we, his readers, would benefit from a similar spiritual journey of self-discovery. 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 knowing it to 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. In his work and in his writings, Freud often spoke of the soul--of its nature and structure, its development, its attributes, how it reveals itself in all we do and dream. Unfortunately, nobody who reads him in English could guess this, because nearly all his many references to the soul, and to matters pertaining to the soul, have been excised in translation.
This fact, combined with the erroneous or inadequate translation of many of the most important original concepts of psychoanalysis, makes Freud's direct and always deeply personal appeals to our common humanity appear to readers of English as abstract, depersonalized, highly theoretical, erudite, and mechanized--in short, "scientific"--statements about the strange and very complex workings of our mind. Instead of instilling a deep feeling for what is most human in all of us, the translations attempt to lure the reader into developing a "scientific" attitude toward man and his actions, a "scientific" understanding of the unconscious and how it conditions much of our behavior.
…The best explanation for [people’s] failure to grasp the essence of Freud's thinking is the universal wish to remain unaware of one's own unconscious. Freud, who understood very well that this would be true for his readers, tried to speak to them as directly as possible. When he wrote about himself and his patients, he wrote in a manner designed to induce the reader to recognize that he was speaking about us all--about the reader as much as about himself, his patients, and others. Freud's choice of words and his direct style serve the purpose of making the reader apply psychoanalytic insights to himself, because only from his inner experience can he fully understand what Freud was writing about.
The errors in the translations of Freud become particularly misleading when they are compounded by the unavoidable distortions arising from the span of time that separates us from the era in which Freud formulated his ideas. In translation, Freud's ideas had to be transferred not only into a different language but into a different cultural environment--one in which most readers have only a nodding acquaintance with classical European literature. So most of Freud's allusions fall on deaf ears. Many of the expressions he used have been reduced to mere technical terms; the key words no longer have a multiplicity of special connotations, even though Freud chose them because they carried deep meaning and were vibrant with special humanistic resonances.
Language is all-important in Freud's work; it is the supreme instrument of his craft. His use of the German language was not only masterly but often poetic--he nearly always expressed himself with true eloquence. This is well known and widely recognized among those familiar with German writings. It has been remarked frequently that Freud's case histories read as well as the best novels written in his time. Many German writers recognized Freud as a great stylist: Thomas Mann, referring to one of Freud's books, wrote that "in structure and form it is related to all great German essay writing, of which it is a masterpiece." Hermann Hesse praised Freud because his work "convinces both through its very high human and very high literary qualities," and added that his language, while "completely intellectual, is beautifully concise and exact in its definitions." Albert Einstein said that he admired Freud particularly for his achievement as a writer, and that he did not know any other contemporary who could present his subject with such mastery of the German language.1 Indeed, Freud modeled his style on the German classics--most of all on Goethe, whom he read closely as a student and who influenced him profoundly. (It was Goethe, incidentally, who introduced the term "sublimate"--sublimieren--into the German language in reference to human feelings that must be worked at, improved, and elevated.)
Because Freud attached so much importance to finding the mot juste, his translators' clumsy substitutions and inexact use of language are all the more damaging to his ideas. Deprived of the right word or the appropriate phrasing, Freud's thoughts become not merely coarse or oversimplified but seriously distorted. Slipshod translations deprive his words of some or most of the subtle sensory tones and allusions that he deliberately evoked to permit the reader to understand what he had in mind, and to respond not only on an intellectual level but also on an emotional one--not merely with the conscious mind but also with the unconscious mind. Only by comprehending his writings on both levels is it possible to grasp Freud's full meaning, in all its subtlety and richness, and this is crucial for a correct understanding of psychoanalysis.
Whenever Freud thought it possible, he tried to communicate his new ideas in the most common terms, words that his readers had used since childhood; his great achievement as a stylist was to imbue these words with nuances, meanings, and insights that had not been part of their everyday use. When he could not communicate sufficiently by using readily available familiar terms, he would create new words from common ones, sometimes by combining two words, which is a standard practice in the German language. Only if common words, even when they were invested with new meanings or used in combination or juxtaposition, seemed inadequate to express what he intended to convey did he resort to the use of Greek or Latin--to terms such as the "Oedipus complex," which are derived from classical myths. Even then, he chose words he thought would be familiar to his readers and thus be invested with connotations important in communicating both his overt and his deeper meanings. He assumed that his readers would be cultivated people who had been schooled in the classics, as he had been. (In Freud's day, Gymnasium, or secondary school, students were required to study Greek and Latin.)
Among the Greek words that Freud used in very significant ways are "Eros" and "erotic"; from these words is derived the important concept of erotogenic zones, the term Freud created to name areas of the body particularly sensitive to erotic stimulation, such as the oral, anal, and genital zones. The concept first appeared in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905). In a preface to the fourth edition, written in 1920, Freud stressed "how closely the enlarged concept of sexuality of psychoanalysis coincides with the Eros of divine Plato." For readers who, like Freud, were steeped in the classic tradition, words such as "Eros" and "erotic" called up Eros's charm and cunning and--perhaps more important--his deep love for Psyche, the soul, to whom Eros is wedded in everlasting love and devotion. For those familiar with this myth, it is impossible to think of Eros without being reminded at the same time of Psyche, and how she had at first been tricked into believing that Eros was disgusting, with the most tragic consequences. To view Eros or anything connected with him as grossly sexual or monstrous is an error that, according to the myth, can lead to catastrophe. (It would be equally erroneous to confuse Eros with Cupid: Cupid is an irresponsible, mischievous little boy; Eros is fully grown, at the height of the beauty and strength of young manhood.) In order for sexual love to be an experience of true erotic pleasure, it must be imbued with beauty (symbolized by Eros) and express the longings of the soul (symbolized by Psyche). These were some of the connotations that Freud had in mind when he used words like "Eros" and "erotic." Devoid of such connotations, which are closely related to their classical origin, these words not only lose much of the meaning he wished them to evoke but may even be invested with meanings opposite to those he intended.
This is true of the word "psychoanalysis" itself, which Freud coined. Those who use this now-familiar term 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 emphasize that by isolating and examining the neglected and hidden aspects of our souls we can acquaint ourselves with those aspects and understand the roles they play in our lives. It was Freud's emphasis on the soul that made his analysis different from all others. What we think and feel about man's soul--our own soul--is all-important in Freud's view. Unfortunately, when we now use the word "psyche" in the compound word "psychoanalysis" or in other compound words, such as "psychology," we no longer react to the words with the feelings that Freud intended to evoke. This was not true for his contemporaries in Vienna; for them, "psyche" used in any combination never lost its real meaning.
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