Auden and Freud

Well I have been working on the connection that Auden makes to Freud’s work and how Freudian ideas change the way Auden thought about poetry. One of his prose works, “Psychology and Art To-day” explores these connections in quite intricate details. But, in order to understand ‘In Memory of Sigmund Freud’, it is important to look at what Auden thought about Freud. There is lots of prose that are specifically about Freud. The most interesting ones are the review of Dr. Ernest Jones’s biography of Sigmund Freud called Sigmund Freud: Life and Work. Vol I and II.

I will quote a few lines from these texts to create a picture of the hidden inspirations behind ‘In Memory of Sigmund Freud’.

The Greatness of Freud (Review of Sigmund Freud: Life and Work. Vol I: The Young Freud, 1856-1900. By Ernest Jones, 1953)

“The great revolutionary step taken by him, one that would make him a very great man still if every one of his theories should turn out to be false, was his decision – I am not particularly sure that he ever quite realized what he had done – to treat psychological facts as belonging, not to the natural order, to be investigated according to the methodologies of chemistry and biology, but to the historical order. […] – to take such a step was to enter a ground forbidden, not by conventional prudery but by his God; for the historical world is a horrid place where, instead of nice clean measurable forces, there are messy things like mixed motives, where classes keep overlapping, where what is believed to have happened is as real as what actually happened, a world, moreover, which cannot be defined by technical terms but only described by analogies.”

“In devising a therapeutic technique in which the doctor was to say and do as little as possible while the patient worked out his own salvation, in his distaste for “ruling, educating, curing”, Freud accepted the moral consequences of his intellectual position. I say ‘I have a toothache’, meaning that my aching tooth is something distinct from myself and for which, since I can now do nothing to alter it, I am not responsible. Accordingly, I put myself passively in the hands of my dentist and when, I wake from the gas, the pain and the tooth are gone, but I am myself. But I do not say ‘I have a depression’, I say ‘I am depressed’, meaning that I cannot be cured without becoming a different person, and, whatever help I may seek, I remain responsible for myself. The treatment of the mentally ill by hypnotism, drugs, shocks, or any other method in which the patient is purely passive, is morally revolting in the same way as is the maintenance of social order by the Criminal Courts.”

The History of a Historian (The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud. Vol. II: Years of Maturity, 1901-1919. By Ernest Jones, 1955)

“The objective or ‘scientific’ side of the historian’s work consists in trying to find out what actually happened in the past. In this research he must eliminate so far as possible his personal hopes and fears and never accept second-hand evidence. like accounts of previous historians, when there is available first-hand evidence, like documents contemporary to his period, by which to check the former.”

“So far the difference between a good historian and bad historian is the difference between carefulness or honesty and carelessness or dishonesty. Freud’s surrender of his original belief that phantasies of seduction in childhood were accounts of historical fact is an example of the first; to write a paper, as Stekel apparently did, showing influence of a person’s name upon his character and life in which all the names were made up, is an example of the second.”

“While in natural sciences, controversies are short-lived, for either one side is proved to be right or both sides are proved to be wrong, in the realm of the historical, be it what is normally called history, or psychoanalysis, or theology etc., controversy and schism are perpetual. This does not mean, of course, that everybody is equally right, but that in deciding between two sides, one has to make a qualitative judgment. If I say that I choose Freud as against Jung or Adler, I do not mean that I believe every word that Freud uttered as gospel, or that there might not be a detail of fact upon which he was wrong and his opponents right – I am, anyway, in no position to judge – I mean that, as a whole, his work feels or ‘smells’ right to me, and that theirs does not.”

“[…] all those people who think of analysis as a device for getting a brand-new personality in place of their own would read Freud’s warning: ‘A man should not strive to eliminate his complexes but to get in accord with them: they are legitimately what directs his conduct in the world.'”

“Freud cannot be blamed for what journalists and literary folk have done with his ideas, but there are too many persons to-day who believe they have Freud’s sanction for measuring their value and state of psychological health by the quantitative amount of sexual gratification they are getting, just as others who imagine that an unhappy childhood relieves them of all obligation to behave well. For such people I can imagine no better corrective than reading Dr. Jones’s biography and discovering that Freud himself was an embodiment of the Bourgeois ideal at its best, hard-working, a good husband and parent, honest about money, unobtrusively charitable and with an aesthetic distaste for all pathological types and extremes.”

The Freud-Fliess Letters (The Origins of Psycho-Analysis: Letters to William Fliess, Drafts and Notes, 1887-1902. By Sigmund Freud, 1954)

“Only one idea of general value has occurred to me. I have found love of the mother and jealousy of the father in my own case too, and now believe it to be general phenomenon of early childhood… If that is the case, the gripping power of Oedipus Rex, in spite of all the rational objections to the inexorable fate that the story presupposes, becomes intelligible… Every member of the audience was once a budding Oedipus in phantasy, and this dream-fulfillment played out in reality causes everyone to recoil in horror, with the full measure of repression which separates his infantile from his present state. ([A Sigmund Freud Quote] Oct. 15th)”

“Scientists are less apt than artists to keep personal accounts of their progress. These letters are, therefore, all the more fascinating as a demonstration that, despite all differences in subject matter and methodology, the process of creative work in the scientist and the artist are strikingly similar. In both cases advance is never in a straight line or at an even pace; circuitous routes are taken, blind alleys run into; there are good days […], and bad days […], there are moments of triumph […] and moments of disappointment

‘No critic can see more clearly than I the disproportion between the problems and my answers to them, and it will be a fitting punishment for me that none of the unexplored regions of the mind in which I have been the first mortal to set foot will ever bear my name or submit to my laws.’ [A Sigmund Freud Quote]

and those of us whose activities are artistic may be consoled to learn that when it comes to jealousy of one’s contemporaries, scientists are every bit as bad.”

“[…] One should, I think, bear in mind, firstly the intellectual atmosphere in which he was educated, its presuppositions as to the nature of science and secondly, the complete denial of their validity in the field of psychology which psychoanalysis, if its findings are true and its therapy successful, implies. Freud was brought up in and, with a part of his mind, continued until the end of his life stubbornly to believe, what might be called the Helmholtz faith, namely that real knowledge can only be obtained by the methods of the natural sciences, physics, chemistry, biology, etc.”

“In the historical order every event is unique and related to others by the principle of analogy, not, as in the natural order, by the principle of identity, which means that they are not quantitatively measurable: say that A is the cause of B means in the historical order that A provides B with a motive for occurring, i.e., A makes B possible or likely but not inevitable; further, while change is reversible in the inorganic order and cyclical in the organic, historical change is irreversible yet every new event changes all past events; lastly, while in the natural order what is real must necessarily be true, in history a deliberate lie, a mistaken notion, are as real and important as truth.”

Sigmund Freud (Essays and Reviews, 1952)

“Whatever we may think of that famous trio Ego, Super-Ego and Id, we can see that they are like Prince Tamino, Sarastro, and The Queen of The Night and not like mathematical equations.”

I still have to build up connections between the Poem and these texts, but they certainly originate from the same intentionality. Auden was fascinated by Freud and most of his work on him captures his interest in Freud both as a scientist and as a historian. It does seem quite logical that Freud would end up as the Hero in Auden’s poetic imagination and he did end up writing ‘In Memory of Sigmund Freud’.

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