Sunday, 6 May 2012
I am indebted to the online The Writers Almanac for the reminder that today is the 106th anniversary of the birth of Sigmund Freud , born in Freiburg, Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic), in 1856. He is usually associated with Vienna, where he lived from the age of four until the Germans occupied it in 1938. He then moved to London, where he died of throat cancer in 1939. Freud wrote such books as including The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (1905), and Civilization and Its Discontents (1930).
Freud started his professional life as a medical doctor, but as a Jew in the 19th century Hapsburg empire, he knew his prospects in medicine were probably limited. He became interested in psychology, especially in a mental illness called hysteria, which caused patients to suffer from tics, tremors, convulsions, paralysis, and hallucinations. Freud learned that some doctors were using hypnosis to treat hysteria, and he went to France to see the use of hypnosis firsthand. Seeing that a patient could be talked out of his or her symptoms gave Freud the idea that the symptoms were a product of the mind and not the body. He learned the method of hypnosis himself and began to treat patients, but he had little success. Then one of Freud's colleagues told him about a patient named Anna O., whose hysterical symptoms had improved when she told stories about her life. The woman herself named this process of storytelling "the talking cure."
Over the next few years, he developed the idea that his patients were not conscious of all their desires and fears, that many of their own thoughts were hidden from them in their unconscious mind. He believed that their unconscious mind would reveal itself in various ways, through slips of the tongue, jokes, and especially dreams. What made his ideas so revolutionary and controversial was that he didn't just apply them to mentally ill patients, but to all human beings, even himself.
Though he's fallen out of favor in the scientific community, many of his revolutionary concepts -- like the idea of the unconscious, the interpretation of dreams, and the idea of repressed feelings causing harm -- have entered our culture and our literature. And even though they haven't read his books, most people are still familiar with his concepts, like the Oedipus complex, the ego, the phallic symbol, (see illustration above left) and the Freudian slip.
Talking of slips showing: in an interview on this morning's (Sunday May 6 2012) BBCTV1 Sunday programme, presenter Andrew Marr, interviewing a Greek political commentator, referred to a 'worrying' shift of support ahead of the Greek elections to parties whose programmes included rejection of the European austerity plan and unrestricted immigration. - thereby exposing the BBC's well known but nevertheless regrettable political bias. Why should people's legitimate democratic choices, if different from the centre left/liberal consensus be described as 'worrying'?