9781887178723 / 1887178724

Dr. Freud, a Life





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About the book:

There are so many biographies of Sigmund Freud, not to mention the mountains of scholarly matter surrounding his theories, that it's hard to imagine a fresh, readable, convincing new approach to his life and work. Paul Ferris--an outsider who has never been psychoanalyzed, much less trained as an analyst--has done the trick. Agnostic about the true value of Freud's achievements, Ferris prefers to proceed on the reasonable assumption that Freud is worth studying sheerly because of his overarching influence on our culture. Consequently, the early chapters involve some fence-sitting, with unnamed fanatical acolytes and critics alike held at arm's length.

But nothing is so striking as the extent to which this mainstream biographer has learned the lessons of Freud's harshest critics. There is no apology--and not much surprise even--in the description of Freud's entanglement with (and indefensible defense of) the homicidal quack Wilhelm Fliess. Whatever else one may admire in Freud, Ferris has no trouble being straightforward about shabby motives, unprofessional behavior, or Freud's arrogance in matters about which he was sometimes almost comically ignorant. What praise this biography does have to offer, meanwhile, is qualified. Ferris says Freud's great achievement was getting us to take sex seriously, but seems to admit that he may have replaced ignorance with confusion. He also expresses well-grounded awe for Freud's writing ability and productivity, but implies, in a well-judged chapter on the Dora case, both that the application of his writing talent to science was a serious loss to imaginative literature and that losing him to literature might have been a blessed release for some of his patients. --Richard Farr

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