Saturday, July 04, 2009

about old man Freud

In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud recounts a story about his father being picked on for being a Jew, in their former home village in Moravia:

"I might have been ten or twelve years old when my father began to take me with him on his walks, and in his conversation to reveal his views on the things of this world. Thus it was that he once told me the following incident, in order to show me that I had been born in happier times than he: "When I was a young man, I was walking one Saturday along the street in the village where you were born; I was well-dressed, with a new fur cap on my head. Up comes a Christian, who knocks my cap into the mud, and shouts. "Jew, get off the pavement!"" - "And what did you do?" - "I went into the street and picked up the cap," he calmly replied."

...which is meant to demonstrate what maturity can be, and how it can be distinctly counter-intuitive. Despite Freud's father having no real choice, and the subsequent history of European anti-semitism, it's hard not to see this story, cut out from history this way, as prefiguring, almost justifying, Mahatma Gandhi's idea of passive resistance,

but on the very next page we learn that:

"One of the first books which fell into my childish hands after I learned to read was Thiers' Consulate and Empire."

So you can imagine old man Freud, suffering being victimised this way, and making his way home, where he sits reading Thiers! I don't think this is an indictment of either Freud, it just illustrates how life is.


For various reasons, I was trying to get a copy of Gerard de Nerval's book Visionaries, or the Precursors of Socialism, in English. That it's not available may or may not be a good thing. In restoration France, socialism seems to have been imagined as an obscure menace potentially afflicting the resuscitated old society, somehow mixed up with conspiracy and occultism. Theophile Gautier, somewhere, says all his friends, with the exception of Sainte-Beuve, were medievalists, and this would be a properly medieval outlook. I think it's more disconcerting to encounter people who think we really do live in a total society, than people who think we ought to; like Agamben, who is madder than Cabet ever was. The younger Freud, later author of Civilisation and its Discontents, simply could not understand that societies could exist, had existed, and did exist, in which one faction was permanently pitted against another. Despite that fact that socialism, if it is ever built, can and ought to accomodate aberrant or eccentric behaviour, where possible, the idea of a total society, insofar as it prefigures a rational total society, is a prefiguration of socialism.

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