The Battered, Triumphant Sage

Freud and His Followers

by Paul Roazen
Knopf, 599 pp., $12.95

Social Amnesia

by Russell Jacoby
Beacon, 191 pp., $8.95

The only memorable scene in HD’s otherwise muzzy, self-absorbed memoirs of the Professor, mainly taken from two series of meetings she had with him in 1933-1934 when Freud was seventy-seven, occurs during an analytic session. Evidently the deeper fish weren’t rising and HD was simply dimpling the surface with her toes. Suddenly Freud begins to beat on the headboard of the horsehair sofa she’d been reclining and reminiscing on till his fist roused her. “The trouble is—I am an old man—you do not think it worth your while to love me.”

As Roazen observes, Freud was fifty years old before any of his famous followers came to court. He knew what the lure of maturity was, the accomplishment of a completed self and the magic of a man who has been vouchsafed revelations, not to mention the attraction, too, of someone with livelihoods for sale. But a cancerous old codge—could a libidinous transference be effected for such a precariously pale, jaw-gnawed sage? And can we achieve it today with these spousely familiar texts? how shall they startle our understanding with more than the hammer of an old man’s rage?

Paul Roazen’s present book on Freud is clearly the result of research he undertook for Brother Animal, a fuller and less cautious description of Freud’s friendship and falling-out with Victor Tausk than appears in Freud and His Followers. The earlier study is an extended account of this discipleship, and Tausk’s suicide in 1919 forms the dramatic center of a kind of biographical whodunit. Roazen was rightly excited by the material his researches began to unearth and the “new not so nice” Freud who began to appear out of the dark fog of flattery and reticence which had always shielded him before—hulking a little, I’m afraid, like a menacing figure in another bad Hitchcock film. Freud had warts. Was he the whole toad?

The man defined by these volumes is said to be a warm and courageous genius, an inspiring teacher, an amusing storyteller and understanding companion, a source of wisdom and example of pure dedication; but he is shown to be aloof, vain, proud, tyrannical, unforgiving and vindictive, suspicious, jealous—in short, a quite unpleasant neurotic. In that difference lies the bias of both books.

Brother Animal is a disturbing work, not because it is critical of Freud while pretending, as Freud and His Followers also does, to be “objective,” or because it absurdly overvalues Tausk’s talent, or even because the conclusion we are asked to come to is that Freud was a seriously responsible factor in Tausk’s suicide (a charge, to this reader, more than totally unproved), but because of its very questionable biographical methods. Roazen’s use of quotation, the beautiful placement of his omissions, the implicit and often fluctuating judgments, his style (which might be described as a conscious stream of insinuation and unscrupulous contrivance), and his almost total avoidance of substantive issues …

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Letters

Next Question October 16, 1975