Stepping Sideways

Phrasemaker, Scruton, isn’t he.

Freud, who assumed the mask of the objective observer, who presented his results as the inescapable conclusions of arduous empirical study, who repeatedly claimed that his psychological discoveries would one day be grounded in biology, is now widely accepted at mask-value…Someone must have reminded him that not all children are boys; but he had an easy way with his critics, which was to throw the Greeks at them. Thus was born the Electra complex, conjured from a thigh-bone of Oedipus…At every point where scientific method might impose its logic on the argument, Freud stepped sideways into metaphor, asserting with dogmatic intransigence that this is how things are because this is how they must be.

Stepping sideways into metaphor – perfect way of putting it. That’s quite a familiar dance step these days, beloved of bishops and postmodernist theologians alike, not to mention astrologers.

And in his case studies he presented unforgettable portraits of wrecked human beings, about whose flailing carcasses he patrolled like a jackal, tearing off pieces and holding them up to the light, which he imagined to be a light of science, but which was in fact a light of the imagination, transfiguring all on which it fell. Freud suffered from the ‘charm of disenchantment’. Like Marx he was irresistibly drawn to explanations that demean us, and which turn our world-view upside down – or set it, as Marx insisted, ‘on its feet’.

Yeah. I used to suffer from that charm too – I’m sure most of us did. Although I wouldn’t say ‘explanations that demean us’ – I don’t think that’s quite accurate (though it’s close). I think it’s more a matter of trying to see past explanations that sentimentalize or prettify us, to get at the uglier (more demeaning) truth underneath. Of course that’s not always mistaken, to put it mildly (advertisers aren’t actually always in the business because they want to educate us); but it’s also not always the case that the most repellent or unnerving explanation is invariably and necessarily the right one. Freud often does seem to be convinced that the most irritating intepretation he can come up with is indeed necessarily the right one. Probably because of his toilet training.

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