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The Late Sigmund FreudReview - The Late Sigmund Freud
Or, The Last Word on Psychoanalysis, Society, and All the Riddles of Life
by Todd Dufresne
Cambridge University Press, 2017
Review by David Mathew
Sep 3rd 2018 (Volume 22, Issue 36)

In the final chapter of his life, Sigmund Freud wrote a letter to his admirer Lou Andreas-Salomé in which he summarises his present and future in the following terms:


"A crust of indifference is slowly creeping up around me; a fact I state without complaining. It is a natural development, a way of beginning to grow inorganic" (quoted in volume under review, p.21).



Contestably, this "natural development" – and indeed the very words that comprise this cited gobbet – could stand as an interesting echo of Todd Dufresne's own argument. Where Freud was heading towards the end, and producing the works on which Dufresne largely concentrates – namely Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), The Future of an Illusion (1927), Civilization and Its Discontents (1930) and Moses and Monotheism (1939) – Dufresne himself announces in this book that the present volume will be the last time he tackles Freud in writing. And yet, in neither case does a heavy heart accompany the reading: indeed, it is almost refreshing that despite the lunacy of the times in which we live (and will live through), these ideas and opinions are not eschatological, or even glum. As human beings we are drawn to patterns and to a sense of finality and closure: in a sentence, this was Freud's own message in the first of his works mentioned above. What we witness in this, Professor Dufresne's virtuoso and audacious performance, is our repeating ourselves into a state of docile resistance. Or, as Dufresne puts the matter:


         "Beyond the Pleasure Principle is itself the name of the trauma Freud inflicted on psychoanalysis from a position inside psychoanalysis. In Freud's terms it is unbound endogenous energy, energy from the inside, masochistic energy, which was only secondarily projected onto the world of others. This history of this trauma's reception – interpretation after interpretation, book after book – is therefore the history of its compulsive drive, not for mastery, but for nothingness." (p.26)


The author writes with great wit and impressive conviction; an astonishing wealth and density of his learning, research and extrapolations are on display in these pages. In a discussion of The Future of an Illusion (notable for some excellent observations on Marxism and religion), Dufresne mentions that "Freud's self-deprecating irony is very nearly his natural fallback position". I would argue that here, too, one professor has learned much from his predecessor. Dufresne's own work sparkles with life and powerful prose; his eyesight, for much of the time, is impeccable. As a reviewer, one can offer no purer praise, perhaps, than to say that the book under review will be picked up again and consulted; and this one will. Dufresne's reading of Civilization and Its Discontents, particularly Freud's chewy Chapter Seven – drawing in, as it does, object relations, Klein and Winnicott, in an exploration of the Baby's relationship with its father, is a work of scholarly exactitude.


In a current political atmosphere (in the UK) in which an entire party can be (and has been) accused of anti-Semitism, it is striking – not so much as a coincidence but as an apposite logical frailty – that Freud himself was held answerable for much the same hatred. Dufresne's passage on the critical reception that Freud faced with the publication of Moses and Monotheism is fascinating – not least for the list of correspondents mentioned therein, who include Salvador Dali, Ernest Jones and Abraham Arden Brill, "Freud's first American translator", the latter of whom tried to shield Freud from some of the harsher comments made by Jewish readers. Not that the book's hostile reception was a surprise to Freud. "I don't anticipate a friendly reception from the scientific circles," he correctly predicts; "Jewry will be very offended" (p.145).  And in a different letter, Freud adds: "But what can I do about it? I have spent my whole life standing up for what I consider to be the scientific truth, even when it was uncomfortable and unpleasant for my fellow men" (p.146).


I started this review by discussing the end of several affairs, and into this area of inquiry, as it were, comes a rather baffling confession that I feel I should make. More than several years ago, I read Todd Dufresne's volume Killing Freud (2003) as part of the revision plan for my Masters in Psychoanalytic Studies. Quite what imp of the perverse had led me to believe, in the intervening years, that the author had been on the attack in that earlier volume must go unnamed. But it is true to say that on beginning The Late Sigmund Freud, and noting both its titular double entendre and its positive spin set against the inevitably downbeat backcloth of the Nazi uprising that threatened Freud's life and the jaw of the cancer which claimed it, I thought: Well, he's changed his tune over the years. Such was the difference in what I remembered of Dufresne's earlier book (or as it turned out, misremembered) and the book under review, that I re-read the earlier book as well. Every bit as much as The Late Sigmund Freud is recommended, Killing Freud is similarly informative, witty and spry; both volumes are excellent additions to the Freud canon, and in the case of the book under review, a suitably impressive and poignant way for the author to say his farewell to his subject matter.



© 2018 David Mathew




David Mathew works in the Centre for Learning Excellence at the University of Bedfordshire, UK, and as an independent researcher and writer. His wide areas of interest include psychoanalysis, language, linguistics, distance learning, prisons, applications of care and anti-care, anxiety and online anxiety. He is the author of Fragile Learning: The Influence of Anxiety (Karnac Books) and The Care Factory(Cambridge Scholars). A third academic volume, on the subject of lifelong learning, has been commissioned and will be submitted in December 208. He is the author of four full-length works of fiction (three novels and a volume of short stories) and three further books (two novels and a volume of short stories) have been commissioned. In addition to his writing, he edits the Journal of Pedagogic Development, teaches academic writing, and he particularly enjoys lecturing in foreign countries. For leisure, he enjoys time with his wife and dog and listening to music (particularly post-bop, fusion and post-rock). For more information, please select any of the following links:: Fragile LearningDavid Mathew’s Books and Amazon PagesJournal of Pedagogic DevelopmentCentre for Learning Excellence; ResearchGate Profile here.


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