Taking Seriously Vacuous Antimonies I Mean Antinomies

Just a small thing. I wanted to extract and keep a couple of comments by Frederick Crews from a longish piece on Philip Rieff because I think they’re interesting.

“The question ‘What can Freud teach us about the relation between our impulses and civilization?’ ceases to be interesting if it transpires that Freud didn’t actually make the discoveries he claimed to have made about the psyche,” says Frederick C. Crews, a professor emeritus of English at the University of California at Berkeley and a leading Freud skeptic.

Of course – oddly – a lot of people – well actually not a lot of people, but a sizable proportion of people in certain disciplines – think questions about what Freud can teach us about relations between various things don’t cease to be interesting no matter how clear it becomes that Freud didn’t actually make the discoveries he claimed to have made about the psyche. Their fixed idea (one might even call it an idée fixe) of Freud’s insight and profundity and originality seems to float completely free of any actual ontological status for his ‘discoveries’ about the psyche. There’s something puzzling and disconcerting about that.

“Rieff was brilliant in assessing the schismatics’ more simplistic visions of liberation, and he left us with the sense that Freud’s tough-mindedness, while hardly sufficient as a replacement for actual supernatural belief, deserved our sympathy and respect.” But Mr. Crews continues: “My feeling today is that those books of Rieff’s were period pieces, in three senses: In the intellectual style of the era, they overrated the extent to which social stability depends on the ideas of literary intellectuals; they overrated Freud’s permanent interest as a scientific pioneer; and as a result, they took seriously the vacuous antinomies of Civilization and Its Discontents, whereby a measure of ‘repression,’ causing personal unhappiness, is deemed requisite to the preservation of culture.”

Eloquent, isn’t it. That’s why I wanted to pull it out.

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