Nussbaum as Freudian

In comments on ‘Reading Nussbaum’ Tea mentioned that Nussbaum ‘is not only delusional about religious believers (and dogmatic about respecting religious beliefs), she is also a Freudian.’ True. I’d remembered the Freudian claims in Hiding From Humanity, but when I found that chapter again I realized I’d forgotten that they’re also heavily present in Upheavals of Thought. She introduces the subject in a very interesting way in the latter book (p. 181):

It has become fashionable in the United States to sneer at psychoanalysis. In part this dismissive attitude results from the fact that Americans are generally impatient with complexity and sadness, and tend to want a quick chemical fix for deep human problems. People who have that view of life will not have reached Chapter 4 of this book anyway…

Fashionable? Really? And ‘sneer’? Really? No, I don’t think so. There are people, in the US and elsewhere, who take a critical view of Freud, but do they amount to a fashion? I think it’s more reasonable to say that it used to be highly fashionable among intellectuals, especially of the humanist variety (as opposed to scientific), to view Freud as almost infallible, and that there has now been a rational and well-informed reaction against that fashion, thanks to people like Fred Crews and Allen Esterson who have carefully investigated Freud’s claims and found them wanting. It’s not a matter of sneering, it’s a matter of rational judgment – which is not something Nussbaum should be sneering at.

She goes on to say that there are people who admire humanistic approaches in literary or philosophical form (Proust and Plato) but ‘react with suspicion’ to any mention of the names Klein and Winnicott, because, she thinks, they consider such figures pretend scientists who don’t measure up to ‘a model of science set by the natural sciences.’

To them I simply want to say that I myself treat these figures as humanistic interpretive thinkers, very closely related to Plato and Proust, whose work gains texture and depth through having a clinical dimension.

Yes well that’s a very ‘fashionable’ ploy with die-hard fans of Freud, and it’s not at all how Freud thought of himself or how his ardent fans thought of him until the feebleness of his ‘science’ became too obvious to ignore, so it tends to look more like a protective dodge than like a considered view of what Freud was really attempting to do. But okay; think of Freud as a kind of poet who occasionally saw patients, if you like, but then don’t be so damn rude about skeptics. For someone who is so insistent on respect, Nussbaum can be remarkably sneery herself when it’s her ox that is being gored.

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