French Connection III?

A year and a half ago Catherine Meyer, a bright young Normalienne who had served her publication apprenticeship with the small and daring independent firm of Odile Jacob (their offices are a stone’s throw from the French memorial mausoleum to great writers, Le Panthéon – they braved the French politically correct and intellectually ridiculous classes by daring to publish the decisive opening of the French mind to critical inquiry, Alan Sokal’s and Jean Bricmont’s Impostures intellectuelles) … as I was saying, Catherine Meyer served her apprenticeship at Odile Jacob. The lessons were learnt. She is today a Senior Editor at the newly established adventurous publishing house, Les Arènes and a year and a half ago she conceived the idea of a Black Book of Psychoanalysis on the various misdeeds of its practitioners from Freud on, based on the original Black Book on Communism, possible to write only once the Soviet Union had collapsed and the various archives had been opened up, for the first time, to genuine scholarly inquiry.

Also involved in the origins of this publishing event was the clinical child psychologist practicing at the C.H.U. (Centre hospitalier universitaire) of the University of Toulouse, Dr. Jacques Bénesteau. Jacques Bénesteau had researched and produced single-handedly what probably remains the most wide-reaching piece of research into the origins of Freudian and Jungian analysis and its subsequent adventures throughout the world (including, of course, their “milking” of the big American families of many millions of dollars and the “accidental death” of Dr. Horace Frink so that Freud’s enterprise could benefit from the millions that his second wife might release to “The Cause”).

Bénsteau’s revealing, highly documented work – and, above all (this is still so rare in French academic circles) completely familiar with the hundreds of critical studies in English (whether from Americans, like Frederick Crews; Englishmen, like Allen Esterson; Scandinavians writing in English, like Max Scharnberg; or Australian professors of psychology, like Malcolm Macmillan) is simply and accurately entitled Mensonges freudiens: Histoire d’une désinformation séculaire (Freudian Lies: A History of a Century of Disinformation), Belgium: Mardaga, 2002. Incidentally, this book won the annual prize in 2003 awarded by the Société française d’histoire de la médecine for the best book of the year for serious research into the history of medicine.

You should bear in mind the title of Jacques Bénesteau’s book, Mensonges freudiens: Histoire d’une désinformation séculaire. And one reason for bearing that title and that author in mind is that you will never hear of them again if you become an earnest reader of Le Livre noir de la psychanalyse.

We have been told that there is a grave situation for the future of psychoanalysis in France. There is! And the current uproar between the Freudians, the Lacanians, and their empirical medical critics is just beginning. I am glad to say that it will get very much worse before it gets any better. Metaphorically, it has to do with the painful but necessary lancing of a vicious boil that is causing local and general problems. I have hope that (even in France) sane empirical evidence-based medicine will triumph. It will be a bloody fight – fought to the bitter end by the Lacanians (in particular) who have everything to lose if intelligent, objective medicine wins, and whose victory will set French psychiatry back another whole century.

On Sunday, 25 September 2005, Alex Duval Smith wrote an important news piece in the London Observer about this 800-page volume with 40 international Freud critics as contributors, edited, jointly, by Catherine Meyer (whom you have met) and a former Lacanian-scholar, now reputedly a reformed disbeliever, Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen. Borch-Jacobsen, a professor of Comparative Literature at Washington University in Seattle, who claims Danish, French, and American nationalities. Apart from his Hegelian incursions into the “thought” of Jacques Lacan, he is mostly known for a little book about the true origins of the Tale of Anna O. How Borch-Jacobsen ever became (or appointed himself) co-editor of Catherine Meyer’s Black Book, I have no idea. I suggested to him (cruelly by not unfairly) that he was the publishing equivalent of the wooden horse of Troy. The remark was not appreciated!

Alex Duval Smith appeared delighted to announce that this 800-page Livre noir sold out within its first two weeks and is now on a second print run. This is — up to a point – good publishing news. Indeed one of the empirical psychiatrists who has invited me to lecture in France in November felt that – for all its faults – the Livre noir had achieved a significant breakthrough in the French medical world. As he wrote to me “people could talk again!” (“les langues sont déliées”) This is what Duval Smith writes (with some exaggeration):

“The book marks the revenge of behavioral psychologists and neuro-scientists, who claim to have been censored by Philippe Douste-Blazy when he was Health Minister.”

This is one of those, alas too frequent, pieces of journalist clap-trap that for understanding requires a lot of information (not readily available to the lay reader of The Observer, for whom it was presumably intended). (1) The book was not conceived in a spirit of “revenge”; (2) The 40 scholars who accepted to have their papers translated into French were not “behaviorists” and indeed most of them were not clinicians at all; (4) Douste-Blazy’s “censorship” as Minister of Health (he was both a doctor and a professor of Medicine before politics called) was his “decision” to wipe off the Internet and place carefully under the carpet the INSERM report requested by his predecessor. A word, or two, is in order here to alert the reader to what had happened: First, “INSERM” stands for Institut National de la Santé Et de la Recherche Médicale; it is an objective medical investigative body, and it concluded that of the various state-funded psychotherapies, psychoanalysis was by far – the most expensive, the most dangerous to patients, the one that took the longest time for the least improvement; Second, what happened was that a “meeting” of Lacanians (led by Lacan’s own son-in-law Jacques-Alain Miller — referred to in e-mails to me by Jeffrey Masson as “an intellectual gangster”) was called by Jacques-Alain Miller, Douste-Blazy (a gutless wonder at the best of times) cowered before the massive presence of the Lacanians at the Mutualité building in Paris’s Latin Quarter and agreed, under their duress, to “Bury” the INSERM report quite properly requested by his predecessor, also a doctor and, you may like to know incidentally, a founder of Médecins sans frontières, Bernard Kouchner! Unlike Lacanians, they deal with real medical knowledge to help people in real medical distress.

The famous Livre noir, edited by Catherine Meyer & Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen is highly selective in its very careful and pro-Freudian and pro-Lacanian use of quotes. Probably the single most important publication in Freud studies over the last 20 years is the 1985 Harvard University Press translated edition of the integral text of the letters that Freud wrote to the Berlin E.N.T. surgeon Wilhelm Fliess over the long period of 17 years, from 1887-1904 — the very years that ushered in the new-fangled invention that Freud chose to call “Psychoanalysis”. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, who was responsible for putting together this magnificent edition, is allowed a scant three entries in the “Author Index” whereas Jacques Lacan (whom my friend the neurologist, Ray Tallis, has named “The Shrink from Hell”) is given twenty-three entries! To this day – some twenty years after the Harvard publication, the French still have to rely on the skimpy and mendacious ‘edition’ of daughter Anna Freud. The French do not know about Emma Eckstein! The French do not know that the Oedipus complex was the consequence of Fliess and Freud’s misunderstanding of “spontaneous” infantile erections. “Spontaneous” (some things have to be repeated, I’m afraid!) means just that: NO mentation; no fantasizing: JUST a physiological action of the infant. Discussions with Stephanie Ebdon of the London-based Sigmund Freud Copyrights reveal that the French still have access only to the ancient doctored version of Anna Freud published by P.U.F. (Presses Universitaires de France). Stephanie – with a very English kind of understatement – pointed out that P.U.F. had signed a contract with SFC in 1988 for a French translation of Masson’s edition: “thirteen years is a quite remarkable time to wait.” P.U.F. have a section called “Bibliothèque de Psychanalyse” directed by the 80-year-old Lacanian psychoanalyst, Jean Laplanche, and this section was to produce the contracted translated edition. Laplanche wanted no mention of Jeffrey Masson and wanted to eliminate his Introduction and his editorial notes. As Stephanie says “No Deal” — PUF are contracted with SFC to produce a complete French version of the English text “and that’s what we expect of them!” And that’s how matters have stood for the last 13 years! Masson wasn’t even sure if Laplanche was still alive – he is! But he seems more interested in cultivating his vineyards than in fulfilling his part of the contractual agreement.

Borch-Jacobsen (and I am convinced that this is his doing rather than Catherine Meyer’s) has followed the approach of Anna Freud in her highly-censored edition of her father’s letters. This edition (first published in French in 1954 and jointly edited by Princesse Marie Bonaparte, Ernst Kris, and Anna Freud) is all the French STILL have to go on if they wish to inquire into the Origins of Psychoanalysis. Anna Freud’s editorial principle appears to have been to eliminate ruthlessly any document or letter that proved her father to be a liar (in his chosen medical profession as much as in his private life). The pair of them, Father and Daughter, created a travelling-circus illusion that was to last for years: He only spoke the Truth; She showed, via the censored correspondence that he always and only spoke the Truth. Some highly critical philosophers of science, like Adolf Grünbaum, have unhelpfully taken him at his word — and often when his “word” was most unreliable.

Borch-Jacobsen has used material from my research which proves – it really does! – that the opening dream in Chapter Two of The Interpretation of Dreams is an invented piece of whimsy that could not have existed before 1897 (at the earliest) and was full of lies about his eldest daughter’s health. I also included (in both my Freud books) reference to the short letter, “Daimonie, warum schreibst du nicht?..” written to Fliess by Freud on the very day he would later claim (in Die Traumdeutung, The Interpretation of Dreams) that “the secrets of the dream” had been revealed to him — Wednesday, 24th July 1895. In that brief letter there is no mention of the impossible dream of the night before, nor any reference to having grasped “the secrets of the dream” There IS, nowadays incidentally, a deceptive stone plaque erected in the 1970s to the effect that at Bellevue (Vienna) Freud DID, in fact, uncover the “secret of dreams” , just as his book claimed! Needless to say, the brief letter of 24th July 1895 (with NO mention of the supposed dream) was carefully “removed” from the Anna Freud edition. It has now been published — with the rest of the 133 missing letters — in the Harvard edition of 1985. But, to this day, the French have no knowledge of this. And also, needless to say, Borch-Jacobsen plays the Anna-Freud-game and silently removes this evidence against Freud.

What surprises me about the reception of this book is the fierce, hysterical (?) outrage of the Freudians, with the Lacanians taking the lead. If only they realized how kind to Freud Borch-Jacobsen had been by his plentiful trimming of awkward comments by Sigmund! The unvarnished truth about Freud and his obsessively invented nonsense is far worse than anything revealed by this book. In other words,the situation in France is far more serious, medically, than the noisy reception of this book allows. In a sense, it IS – this Livre noir – a valuable first step that may begin to open the flood-gates to Truth. But it is by no means The Black Book of Psychoanalysis. That was written by a clinical child psychologist and published in 2002 and its title, in case you have forgotten, is Mensonges freudiens: Histoire d’une désinformation séculaire. Read it!

Robert Wilcocks is Professor Emeritus of French Literature at the University of Alberta and author of Maelzel’s Chess Player: Sigmund Freud and the
Rhetoric of Deceit.

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