Thursday, December 15, 2011

Reik & Fromm on Dogma

The Dogma of Christ (1930)
In 1955 Erich Fromm reluctantly published an essay he had written as a student when he was 30 years old. The topic was a psychoanalytic discussion of Christ, inspired by his teacher, Theodor Reik. Whereas Reik made a traditional analysis of an individual Christ, we find here a young Fromm who takes a social-psychoanalysis some five years before his official proposal of the approach as presented in The Social Determination of Psychoanalytic Therapy. In The Dogma of Christ Fromm discusses the “function of religion as a substitute for real satisfaction and as a means for social control”.

Understanding ideology and dogma, Fromm examines the life of the individual who develops the ideology, rather than how the ideology influences the individual. In this way, ideology is a product of the socioeconomic conditions within which a person functions. In his 1950 foreword to the first English publication, Fromm writes “the main emphasis of this study is the analysis of the socioeconomic situation of the social groups which accepted and transmitted Christian thinking.” We find in this essay what Fromm calls the “nucleus” of his developed theory of ideology.

The year of the writing of The Dogma of Christ, 1930, found Fromm completing his psychoanalytic training and becoming associated with the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research. This writing was made five years after completing his doctorate, which examined “the function of Jewish law in maintaining social cohesion in three diaspora communities”. Whereas Fromm’s childhood and formative years were steeped in Jewish theology, his sociological interests continued to explore the function of belief and spirituality in the social person.

With his first psychoanalytic writings we find the same theme, only now interpreted through a Freudian lens. But even in this early essay, nine years before Freud’s death, Fromm is beginning to challenge core Freudian assumptions about sexuality and culture. Here we find a Fromm that is somewhat reverent of Freud, but not completely comfortable in Freudian ideology. The text is an overture to the thinking done in the 1935 paper The Social Determination of Psychoanalytic Therapy, as well as the later lectures/writings: Psychic Needs and Society (1956), Dealing With the Unconscious in Therapeutic Practice (1959), The Relevance of Psychoanalysis for the future (1975), and Psychoanalysis & Religion (1950).

Theodor Reik: Listening With The Third Ear, Part 2

In his 1982 contribution to psychoanalysis, Freud and Man's Soul, Bruno Bettelheim describes an American psychoanalysis that has become sanforized, impersonal, and theorized beyond any semblance of human empathy. Through an ideologically-driven (and Bernaysian promoted) translation by Strachey, self-serving presentation, and overt misrepresentation of Freud's thoughts and words, psychoanlysis had strayed far from Freud's intentions. Possibly the most noted example of this bastardization is the English translation of "das Ich, das Über-Ich, and das Es" as the ego, superego, and id," Latin terms that never appear in Freud's writing.

In the second chapter of Listening With The Third Ear, Reik discusses how Freud came about the "discovery" (we might consider it less of a discovery and more of a model or system) of psychoanalysis, and how the method Freud used came to shape the system that he established. Reik also shows us that the intimate nature of this method of exploration, namely self-analysis, is necessarily personal -and must remain personal once the analysis is turned towards objects.

Reik describes self-analysis as a requisite for anyone who intends to use psychoanalysis as a tool for modeling self understanding. Examples from Freud's own self-analysis run throughout his own works, disguised as case studies from his examination room. In fact, a good number of the vignettes and examples which Freud wrote on are more likely to be from his own self-analysis.

Reik points out the necessary distinction between undergoing analysis and undergoing self-analysis. The latter is, essentially, a more personal, convoluted, and difficult endeavor. However, Reik suggests, it is a required experience which makes analysis a more personal act.

"Psychoanalysts have not observed that psychoanalysis has, so to speak, two branches. One is the research into the symptomatology and etiology of neurosis, of hysteria, phobia, compulsion neurosis, and so forth. The other is the psychology of dreams; of the little mistakes of everyday life such as forgetting, slips of the tongue, and so forth; of wit and of superstitions -including all that Freud called metapsychology"

Reik describes here something that is essential in considering contemporary criticism of Freud's theories. In fact, most of the criticisms are leveled, from within and outside of psychoanalysis, at the former branch that Reik speaks of, namely the etiology of neurosis. Amongst therapists of most schools of thought, the defense mechanisms which Freud described are typically acknowledged, to some degree or another. Even when disputed they often resurface under new management and dressed in new nomenclature.

A Jungian psychologist at The New School, with whom I studied Jungian analysis, once lectured that "we choose to do in life that which we feel least competent in doing." This seems to be the lesson that Reik offers us from Freud. The necessarily personal aspect of psychoanalytic psychology is essential in the analysis of culture, people, or art. Our own active engagement with the phenomenon and our willingness to come out from behind the bulwark of "objectivity".