Eleven years ago, in Out of My System, the influential literary critic Frederick Crews served notice that his Freudian sympathies were being eroded. Now, in a closely reasoned and witty new book, he shows where that reappraisal took him and why he has come to regard himself as an opponent of all "self-validating" doctrines. The essays and occasional pieces that make up Skeptical Engagements are linked by a theme that Crews came to understand by trial and error: "the fear of facing the world, including its works of literature, without an intellectual narcotic ready at hand."
Having witnessed psychoanalysis from the believer's vantage as well as the skeptic's, Crews offers a uniquely trenchant perspective on Freudian claims. Psychoanalysis, he argues, is a classical pseudoscience--a doctrine insisting on its rigorous evidential basis while refusing in practice to be bound by the ethics of disconfirmation. Such a doctrine becomes overelaborate and even self-contradictory as it continually attempts to appease its doubters and add escape clauses to its failed predictions. Unlike other critics of modern psychoanalysis, Crews traces this tendency to Freud himself, whose stance toward evidence, he shows, ranged from the opportunistic to the flatly dishonest.
Skeptical Engagements is also a searing critique of pretension and folly in the literary academy, from deconstructive "freeplay" to post-structuralist Marxism. Such schools have explicitly set themselves against the empirical values which Crews takes to be a requisite in any thriving field of knowledge. And in a final section Crews applies his skepticism and his normative cultural concerns to such diverse figures as Joseph Conrad, Henry Miller, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, Philip Rahv, and Leslie Fiedler. About the Author:
Frederick Crews, Professor of English at the University of California at Berkeley, is the author of nine books, including The Pooh Perplex, E.M. Forster: The Perils of Humanism, The Sins of the Fathers: Hawthorne's Psychological Themes, The Random House Handbook, and (with Sandra Schor) The Borzoi Book for Writers.