The Freud Reader
is a non-fiction compilation of the writings of the Austrian neurologist and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, published in 1989 and edited by the German-American historian Peter Gay. It includes 51 texts that span Freud's entire career, plus additional explanatory material written by Gay himself. Broad subjects covered here include Freud's research on dreams, sexuality, therapeutic technique, and many other areas.
The first of fifteen chapters is comprised of "Introductory Material" written by Gay himself. Here, Gay argues convincingly that Freud is among the rare individuals who can be said to have truly shaped the Twentieth Century, adding that his research serves humanity in ways few scientists ever have. The editor also offers a broad overview of Freud's life and career, from his early work in neuropathology and cerebral anatomy, to his founding and embrace of psychoanalysis--what Freud termed "the talking cure"--to his fleeing from Nazi Germany to escape anti-Semitism, and finally his death in 1939 of jaw cancer, likely the result of his being a lifelong smoker. Freud once said that all addictions are merely replacements for masturbation, "the one great habit."
Chapter 2, "Concluding Introductions & The Making of a Psychoanalyst," discusses at length the scientists who influenced Freud, with particular attention paid to the French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot. Aside from being a pioneer in the field of neurology, Charcot is probably best known for his belief in hypnosis as a therapeutic tool, particularly in the diagnosis of hysteria. Although hysteria is no longer a recognized neurological condition, and although Freud himself would eventually abandon hypnosis as a diagnostic or therapeutic tool, Freud's early experiments with hypnosis formed the foundations of what would become psychoanalysis: the idea of talking to patients in order to resolve conflicts between the conscious and unconscious mind.
Chapter 3 focuses on "Dreams." Of particular interest is an early case study of an eighteen-year-old woman referred to in Freud's notes pseudonymously as "Dora." After allegedly rebuffing a sexual advance from an older neighbor, Dora lost her voice. Freud examines the ways in which various symbols in her dreams represent "virginity" or "repressed sexual desire."
The next three chapters all concern Freud's "Theory of Sexuality." Broadly speaking, Freud's theory is divided into three parts: "The Sexual Aberrations," "Infantile Sexuality," and "The Transformations of Puberty." In his writings on sexually deviant behavior, Freud is careful to distinguish between the objects of sexual desire and the acts of sexual desire one might wish to participate in with the aforementioned objects. Aberrations in one's choice of sexual object, Freud writes, include such well-known taboos as pedophilia and bestiality. An aberration in one's sexual aims, however, are less taboo and may include, for example, a preference for watching or touching as opposed to sexual penetration. These aims are said to be aberrant, even when the sexual objects in question are not.
Freud goes on to write that "a disposition to perversions" is a human instinct and therefore might best be studied in children, who have yet to have these perversions repressed by the psychosexual identity one develops in adulthood. In observing these perversions in children, Freud looks not to explicit acts of sexuality but rather various compulsions like thumb-sucking or autoerotic sexual pleasure derived without external stimuli.
Freud then discusses the stages by which a child develops, psychosexually-speaking. He identifies two "pre-genital" stages of development centered first on the mouth, and second on the anus. Freud adds that prior to puberty "the whole of the sexual currents have become directed towards a single person in relation to whom they seek to achieve their aims." This is usually a close family member who, in effect, becomes a model for their desired sexual partner after puberty.
Following the three chapters on psychosexual development, the next chapter is "Character and Anal Eroticism." It explores how "an enhanced erogenous significance of the anal zone" can manifest itself as an oppositional character trait. For example, in the case of a 44-year-old man, Freud finds that the subject's extreme cleanliness is a reaction to his repressed desire for stimulation of that which is not clean on his body.
In Chapter 8, "Therapy and Technique," Freud takes a critical look at some of the flaws that emerge in the application of psychoanalysis when the practitioner's technique is incorrect.
In Chapter 9, "Beginning Treatment, Transference-Love, and a Male Choice," Freud discusses the ways in which a patient may jeopardize the therapeutic process by withholding information. Freud also offers advice on how to navigate a situation where the patient feels emotionally attached to the therapist in either a negative or positive way. As long as neither patient nor therapist wishes seriously to consummate such feelings, these emotions can in fact be helpful in diagnosing psychological conditions and areas of repression.
Chapter 10 revisits "Therapy and Technique," focusing this time on incestuous influences--not, in most cases, explicit acts of incest--that are denied and repressed, thus manifesting themselves in adulthood as neuroses.
Chapter 11, "Psychoanalysis in Culture and Leonardo Da Vinci," examines claims about Da Vinci's homosexuality in relation to the artist's depiction of mothers in this work. Freud goes to write that the mother, in the mind of the homosexual man, is utterly irreplaceable, and thus he seeks out male partners who will not compete with the mother figure. These views, it should be noted, diverge dramatically from what modern scientific research says about homosexuality. Nevertheless, Freud deserves credit for viewing homosexuality as simply a variation that exists within the wide spectrum of human sexuality, and not a form of deviance that demands a "cure."
In Chapter 12, "Totem and Taboo," Freud applies his research to archaeology, anthropology, and theology.
In Chapter 13, "Psychoanalysis in Culture Continued," Freud applies the principles of psychoanalysis to various cultural texts, including various classics of English literature.
In Chapter 14, "Transitions and Revisions," Freud explores narcissism as a construct of the libido and the ego, likening it to a condition where an individual prefers masturbation to sex.
In the final chapter, "The Dependant Relationships of the Ego and The Dissolution of the Oedipus Complex," Freud details the interactions between the id, which represents natural urges and instincts; the ego, an internal defense mechanism that regulates the id based on individual experiences; and the super-ego, a purely learned influence dependent on experiences with the external world. Freud further details these inter-dependent influences as they relate to the Oedipus Complex, which states that a child experiences unconscious sexual desire for one parent and hatred for the other.
With The Freud Reader
, Peter Gay does an extraordinary job of paring down Freud's wealth of academic writing to its most important studies and essays.