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The Freudian Subject: A Radical Reappraisal

Lecturer: Jen Izaakson

Originally Taught: Winter School 2021

Freud is often relegated to an antiquated relic, that elicits nostalgia, but is made little use of within contemporary philosophical thought.

This course would examine some of the most radical and unexplored aspects of Freud’s theory and ask what sort of subject does Freud construct? Many regard Freud as the father of the ‘science of sex’, an image built retrospectively after his death, but many do not know the origins of psychoanalysis in its historical context. By uncovering these roots, we can find a lesser recognised Freud: his professional ostracisation for lecturing on male hysteria (psychosomatic illness), thus divorcing it from female biology after several millennia, denying women’s so-called ‘frigidity’ in favour of a universal polymorphous perversity, and the coining of ‘housewife’s psychosis’ through the Dora case.

We can discover an underbelly to Freud that places him amongst the foremost thinkers on the indeterminate nature of the subject. The eventual openness of Oedipality, such as its bisexuality in the Leonardo Da Vinci essay, remains largely overlooked in favour of its early, stricter model in Little Hans. Freud’s foundational concepts of castration, primary femininity, infantile sexuality, when understood as indeterminately expressed elements of subjectivity, all speak to an anti-humanist and anti-deterministic Freudian subject. Where then might Freud fit within theory?

If we are to consider Freud as proposing inherently anti-normative parts of the Self, with the unconscious understood as discursive, and sexuality as necessarily disruptive, how does that radical subjectivity relate to the imposition of societal ideological structures?

Other questions to address: what can feminist criticisms of Freud tell us? Where is Freud today within the academy? Is today’s ‘talking cure’ of therapy similar to Freud’s original psychoanalysis? 

In advance of the course, the two introductory texts I suggest are Stephen Frosh’s Simply Freud (2017) and an outstanding text book called Reading Freud: A Chronological Exploration of Freud’s Writing (2005) by Jean-Michel Quinodoz.  This course is designed to be accessible to new comers to psychoanalysis and will explain key terms like castration, perversion, etc. in understandable ways that everybody can get to grips with. PDF of the complete works of Freud: https://www.valas.fr/IMG/pdf/Freud_Complete_Works.pdf

Lecture 1: Early Freud: Male hysteria, seduction, and universal perversion.

Freud made himself unemployable and unpopular with these theories, but what can we make of them now?

Key readings:

Sigmund Freud, Male hysteria lecture entitled Observation of a Severe Case of Hemi-Anaesthesia in a Hysterical Male (1886), pages 25 – 31, Volume 1, Standard Edition 

Sigmund Freud, the ‘Dora’ case entitled Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (1905 [1901]), pages 2 – 122, Volume 1, Standard Edition (please ensure whichever copy you read that it includes the full retrospective footnotes from 1923)

Further reading:

Sigmund Freud, Heredity and the Aetiology of Hysteria (1888), pages 191 – 225, Volume 3, Standard Edition 

Note: There is a lot of reading for these lectures! If it is too much, there are overviews of almost all topics in Reading Freud: A Chronological Exploration of Freud’s Writing (2005). Regardless, these will be gone through thoroughly in the lecture so that by the end everyone will have a good grasp of the ideas.

Lecture 2: Mid Freud – The developing model of Oedipality, infantile sexuality, and universal bisexuality

The Oedipus Complex is perhaps the psychoanalytic model Freud is most widely known for after his elaboration of the unconscious.

From the classic heterosexual model of Little Hans, that already hints at the necessary incorporation of homosexuality, to its triangulation and eventual full bisexuality later on, how can we best understand Oedipality? Is it lifelong and what is its remit? Does its relative absence in the Three Essays on Sexuality mean it isn’t sexual?

How can we reconcile the Leonardo Da Vinci essay that proposes a lifelong open bisexual Oedipus complex with Freud’s later essay on its dissolution?

Should we take the Three Essays on Sexuality literally? If the ‘researches of childhood’ are part of the imaginary life of children and vital to castration, does this give childhood development primacy within Freud’s thought? Does Freud here start to construct an indeterminate theory of the subject?

Key readings:

Sigmund Freud, The case of ‘Little Hans’ entitled Analysis of a Phobia In a Five-Year-Old Boy (1909), pages 3 – 148, Volume 10, Standard Edition

Sigmund Freud, Leonardo Da Vinci essay entitled Leonardo Da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood, pages 63 – 138, Volume 11, Standard Edition

Sigmund Freud, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905), pages 125 – 222, Volume 7, Standard Edition

Further readings:

Bennett Simon & Rachel Blass, The Development and Vicissitudes of Freud’s ideas on the Oedpus Complex, The Cambridge Companion to Freud (1991), pages, 161 – 174, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Link: https://philpapers.org/rec/SIMTDA-4

Ronald Britton & Michael Feldman & Edna O’Shaughnessy, The Oedipus Complex Today: Clinical Implications (2019 [1989]), London: Karnac Books

Lecture 3: Middle Freud Maternalism: Primary femininity, masochism, and Freud’s theory of the maternal and narcissistic love.

Primary femininity is pitched by Freud as the bedrock of the subject, but what does it mean and why is its repudiation so important for the development of the subject? Does repudiation equate to rejection? What does Freud mean by narcissistic love and why does he associate both narcissistic love and masochism with women? Both primary femininity and our infantile experience of masochistic desire take place within in earliest life and therefore relate to the world of the maternal. Can we find a theory of the maternal here in Freud?

Key readings:

Sigmund Freud. S, On Narcissism (1914), pages 73 – 104, Vol. 14, Standard Edition

Sigmund Freud, Formulations of Two Principles of Mental Functioning (1911), pages 218 - 226, Vol. 12, Standard Edition

Further readings:

Sigmund Freud, Civilisation and its Discontents (1939 [1929]), pages 64 – 148, Volume 21, Standard Edition

Sigmund Freud, Analysis Interminable and Interminable (1937), pages 250 – 253, Vol. 23, Standard Edition

Lecture 4: Middle Freud Paternalism - the paternal function , castration, and psychosis.

In the middle stage of Freud’s work, he began to observe more and more cases of psychosis in men and relate these issues back to their fathers. But the paternal for Freud does not exactly equate to fathers. What is psychosis? And what is the paternal function and why is it so vital for holding the mind together? What does Freud think this means for patriarchal society and culture?

Key readings:

Sigmund Freud, the ‘Wolf Man’ case entitled From the History of an Infantile Neurosis (1918 [1914]), pages 7 – 104, Volume 17, Standard Edition 

Sigmund Freud, On Transformations of Instinct as Exemplified in Anal Eroticism (1917), pages 7 – 104, Volume 17, Standard Edition 

Sigmund Freud, The ‘Judge Schreber’ case entitled Pscyho-analytic Notes on an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia (1911), pages 9 – 84, Volume 12, Standard Edition

Further readings:

Rosine Jozef Perelberg, Dead Father, Murdered Father (1916), London: Karnac Books

Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo (1913 [1912]), pages 1 – 100, Volume 13, Standard Edition

Lecture 5:  Freud’s legacy – Freudianism and the contemporary Freudian tradition

Freud’s work has undergone significant revisionism within secondary texts and the image of his work both castigated by second-wave feminists and lauded by the Frankfurt School. Are either of these Freud’s recognisable to us in regard to the primary texts?

Where does Freud fit within theory today? Is his thought post-structuralist? Is it queer? If Freud’s work was to explain that which was not explainable within socio-political structures, how does that relate to the role of ideology?

What kind of future does the Freudian practice of psychoanalysis have given the expansion of therapy?

Key readings:

Juliet Mitchel, The Feminists, Psychoanalysis and Feminism (1974), pages 305 - 356, London: Penguin Books Stephen Frosh, Psychoanalysis Outside the Clinic (2010), pages 1 - 39, New York: Palgrave Macmillan

Further reading: Stephen Frosh, Hate and the Jewish Science (2005), New York: Palgrave