As a sometime biographer of Freud, I am persuaded by Kramer's account of the role played by Freud's life in the development of his ideas. Freud emerges as a prototypical projecter -- one who discerns in others what is actually present in oneself. I am less convinced by Kramer's critiques of Freud's various discoveries. Kramer devotes attention to Freud's most outlandish claims, while rarely citing the strongest supporting evidence. No reader of Kramer alone would appreciate the extent to which Freud airs doubts, responds to criticisms, admits his changes of mind and presents extensive transcripts that readers can judge for themselves. Also, it seems unrealistic to expect Freud to have anticipated the results of a century's study of phenomena, many of which he was the first to identify and ponder.
Still, in the end, Kramer succeeds in reconciling the two Freuds -- the inventor of the modern mind and the false saint -- and that is a considerable achievement.
This seems to be a fairly common position at the moment: a kind of halfway house. Yes, there are some problems with psychoanalysis - it's clearly not as rigorously scientific as Freud claimed - but there's no denying the achievements. But looked at more closely, Kramer is simply contradicting himself. If Freud is, as he admits, "a prototypical projecter -- one who discerns in others what is actually present in oneself", then there will be no "strongest supporting evidence", and this is precisely the case that Freud's critics have been making so convincingly over the past few decades. Whenever you look hard at the evidence presented by Freud, it evaporates away, and all you're left with are Freud's - admittedly very eloquent - claims. We always have to take his word for it, and unfortunately Freud has been proved, again and again, to be thoroughly unscrupulous when it comes to the reporting of his clinical experiences.
Maybe it's a reluctance to accept that one of the 20th Century's great thinkers was, basically, deceitful, a liar, that stops people like Howard Gardner from admitting the full folly of the psychoanalytic project. And there is also, undoubtedly, the realisation of what it would mean if Freud was finally consigned to the pseudo-scientific rubbish heap, along with Mesmerism, Lysenkoism, phlogiston, and all the rest of it, in terms of the reputations of thousands of intellectuals, writers and psychiatrists whose careers have been built on the Freudian edifice. Because the claim that Freud was "the inventor of the modern mind" is not an idle one. Anyone looking back at the cultural history of the last hundred years will need to have at least some knowledge of psychoanalysis to make sense of it all, from novels, films (Hitchcock), art (the Surrealists), to philosophy (Marcuse) and literary criticism (just about everyone). And that's before you get on to the therapy business.
Allen Esterson, at Butterflies&Wheels, has this to say:
Now Howard Gardner is the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He also holds positions as adjunct professor of psychology at Harvard University, and adjunct professor of neurology at the Boston University School of Medicine and Sciences. So how come when it comes to Freud he writes such nonsense? [...]
The question remains: How is it that someone of Gardner’s intellectual eminence, a psychologist to boot, can read Freud so credulously, and even come up with the manifest absurdity that Freud presented us with “transcripts” that enable us to judge for ourselves the validity of his alleged clinical findings? The same, of course, may be asked, in more general terms, of innumerable academics and intellectuals in the twentieth century – and the answer is just as elusive. My best guess is that Freud’s extraordinary gifts as a story-teller and rhetorician cast a kind of spell over many readers, so much so that they find it almost inconceivable that what he reports are not authentic accounts of his historical and clinical experiences. There was some excuse (just) for this before around 1980. Thereafter the knowledge that Freud’s accounts of the early history of psychoanalysis were questionable was easily accessible in the literature, and doubts about the accuracy of his clinical accounts were being voiced. Today, credulity exemplified by Howard Gardner’s statement quoted above can surely only be explained by a longstanding attachment to Freud’s writings as a consequence of early acquaintanceship with them (usually in the course of a University education at a time when Freud was almost universally revered in the United States), plus what I’m inclined to describe as a kind of wilful ignorance of the critical writings on Freud of the last three decades.
Certainly Freud's "extraordinary gifts as a story-teller and rhetorician" are part of the answer. Harold Bloom includes Freud in his book "The Western Canon", and what he writes is quite interesting. Inevitably for Bloom it all comes back to Shakespeare:
Whether you believe that the unconscious is an internal combustion engine (American Freudians), or a structure of phonemes (French Freudians), or as an ancient metaphor (as I do), you will not interpret Shakespeare any more usefully by applying Freud's map of the mind or his analytical system to the plays....
For many years I have taught that Freud is essentially prosified Shakespeare: Freud's vision of human pychology is derived, not altogether unconsciously, from his reading of the plays.
If you extend Shakespeare to include the whole "Western Canon", then I think Bloom may well be right. Psychoanalysis is a theory of the mind as developed by a highly ambitious man thoroughly at home with all of Western literature from the classical to the modern. As we now know, its supposed grounding in the therapeutic situation, in the rigours of scientific endeavour, is entirely spurious. Freud didn't cure anyone, or come to his conclusions through the hard work of trial and error. The analytic situation was merely the backdrop for what was really going on: myth-making on a grand scale.
Which explains why among all Freud's followers, the literary establishment are the most entrenched. It's just the sort of theory they'd appreciate, because it's true home is not science, but, precisely, Western literature. That's why they feel so at home there. It's Western intellectual and literary thought, as at the end of the 19th century, condensed into one all-encompassing theory. To use it to explain Western literature, as generations of academics have done, following Freud's example, is to hold up a mirror and believe you're seeing through a window. It's an echo chamber for the best that's been thought and written in Western culture, from sex to death and all points in between. Those who devour Freud's writings so eagerly do so because they want so badly to believe it all. How wonderful to have such a deeply satisfying theory that gets you from biology to culture in just a few short steps, throws in Sophocles to Shakespeare, Goethe to Nietzsche on the way, and explains it all in what seems to be such a rigorously scientific manner.
What a pity it's none of it true.