Friday, January 15, 2016

Introduction to Freud's Thought

Introductory Lectures on PsychoanalysisIntroductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis 
by Sigmund Freud

“With words one man can make another blessed, or drive him to despair; by words the teacher transfers his knowledge to the pupil; by words the speaker sweeps his audience with him and determines its judgments and decisions. Words call forth effects and are the universal means of influencing human beings.”   ― Sigmund Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis

In 1916, some twenty years after coining the word psychoanalysis, Freud began a series of lectures entitled Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. This book presents those lectures where Freud describes his theories and techniques directed towards discovering and finding solutions to the mental problems observed in patients.

During the course of the twenty-eight extremely accessible essays, we discover that he came by the idea that there could be unconscious desires from the practice of hypnosis, in which wish suggestions are rooted in the brain and some time after the patient has awakened actuates upon those suggestions without knowing why.  Freud has a way with words and his style makes this and his other books enjoyable to read.

An important aspect of this book is its logical organization.  It is divided into three sections pertaining to parapraxes, dreams, and a general theory of the neuroses. Although mutually related, we find that Freud's discourse throughout follows a similar pattern: hypotheses, research and discovery, and one may wonder whether the research inspired the hypotheses, or if the presuppositions needed to begin questioning and researching led to his very particular and what were at the time revolutionary brand of ideas. 
Parapraxes are introduced as faulty acts, such as memory or speech errors, mishearing, chance actions, forgetting, losing or mislaying something, misreadings and misprints, blunders and slips of the tongue. Upon reading more they turn out to be everyday displays of pathologies: actions assumed to have not been planned but upon inspection the opposite is often the case. 
Before Freud, dreams were generally considered random and meaningless images, but for Freud, the psychoanalyst, nothing is left to chance or indifference; there is not a single psychical phenomenon which does not have some meaning or intention, most notably disguised expressions of unconscious wishes. If you are interested in more details about Freud's views on dreams his earlier Interpretation of Dreams is a great book to read.
The final section of lectures draws the reader into the realm of the neurosis. These type of mental disorders need to be understood as the result of conflict and repression, and hence the neurosis, dream, parapraxes, and unconscious mind are solutions arising from the inherent and universal animosity either between unconscious and conscious mental states, or society and the individual.

This is the best place to start if you have never read Freud. His prose style is felicitous.  He explains the "Oedipus complex", "freudian slip" and other concepts which have become part of our cultural heritage.  In doing so he provides a thorough introduction to his views on psychoanalysis.

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Brian Joseph said...

I have read Freud back in high school and collage Psychology.

Though I am skeptical of his thinking, this thinking has had such a large and lasting impact on modern thinking and modern culture.

R.T. said...

Very interesting! And I really should read Freud; you're postings have persuaded me, and I think I have a copy collecting dust in the back room. I recall, however, that Harold Bloom quipped that Freud was a much better literary critic than psychiatrist, and I note that Bloom lacked any medical credentials to make that claim. I also note that many readers' interpretations of Sophocles' play (Oedipus the King) have been ruined by Freud's theory; in other words, the play has very little to do with the mother-son-father dynamic and more to do with problems caused by human pride and the search for knowledge.

James said...


I share your skepticism about at least some of his ideas; however, I truly enjoy reading his prose. Also as you mention he has had a tremendous impact on culture and influence on other thinkers and writers.

James said...

R. T.,

Harold Bloom is right at least in the sense that Freud was a knowledgeable and worthy critic of literature. Your point about Sophocles' Oedipus is well-taken. However as a metaphor for the psychoanalytic take on mother-son relations it has become part of our culture. I hope those of us who know Sophocles' drama can live with that.