(in romaneste aici)
I have just seen a documentary called „The century of the Self” made by Adam Curtis. I liked very much one of his previous documentaries called “The power of nightmares”, and I was very curious about this one, as the subject was direct reference to the psychoanalysis. I wanted to see if anybody else sees the metasocial potential implication of psychoanalysis crossing over its traditional eye to eye limits. Unfortunately, I had a bad surprise. The author had not given enough time for studying psychoanalysis basic concepts. Adam Curtis interpreted them totally wrong. Actually I can’t believe that these two documentaries have been made by the same author. If “nightmares” was almost irreproachable, this one is a… nightmare.
As expected, this documentary makes also a pertinent analysis about corporatist and politics dirt in the XX-st century capitalism. Here is the analysis for this good side. But, in a very strange manner, the psychoanalysis was found responsible for this social disease. Starting from the Freudian theory of human being, dominated by irrational, unconscious and criminal tendencies, Adam Curtis gets the idea that the psychoanalysis itself sees the human being as a productive robot, dominated by its software, in the same way that corporatism sees and deals with it.
However, these ideas don’t belong actually to psychoanalysis as discipline, but to Freud’s philosophy. He was also a philosopher and stated philosophical ideas that sometimes have no connection with the psychoanalysis whatsoever. But, since Curtis stepped into Freud philosophy, I wander why did not continue in seeing his late pessimism about society, when he elaborated the famous Eros-Thanatos theory? As a philosopher, Freud became almost nihilist, at this point, and that skepticism was focused also on his very dear previous child: the psychoanalysis. It is pointless to find any kind of connections between the pessimism and the corporatism. Some techniques and suppositions of Freud’s theories were indeed successfully applied by corporatism dirt purposes, but this actually proves their validity.
As a former assiduous reader of Freud, I say that he was a subversive theorist, as he came up against prejudices of his time and suffered a lot because of this. Of course, he was also overestimated by political reasons during the Second World War by the Nazi Germany’s enemies, in order to make Hitler a monster in public eyes (Freud was persecuted by Nazis) and win the war faster. Perhaps Freud was not the main difference between antiquity and modernity, as Salvador Dali stated at one point, but his texts remained alive, heavily influencing most of the humanist areas.
I agree that Freud himself couldn’t get off his own native prejudices, and some of them became pylons of nowadays corporatism. Still, they were not specific to Freud’s thinking, but to the tradition he inherited. He was just not strong enough getting rid of them. That is all for a general analysis of this documentary. Furthermore I will analyze it in a little more details.
There is no connection between corporatist manipulation and psychoanalysis.
The very strange thing about this documentary is that only a small part of its 4 h is directly dedicated to psychoanalysis. Moreover, its basic concepts are distorted and interpreted through marketing glasses, as much as its data were used by the corporatist capitalism for strategy and statistics. But this analysis stops here and shows no interest in showing its intimate details and its main purposes. Instead of showing this, the documentary is full of politics and corporatist analysis. Unfortunately, these are exactly the facts that the traditional psychoanalysis used to ignore as causes for mental disorders.
The psychoanalysis has just one single application to real life: the therapy made in cabinet. So it cannot be sustained that the psychoanalysis leads to corporatist manipulation of XX-st century, because only a very small part of humanity were directly in contact with it. It is not psychoanalysis’s fault that its theories had become a manipulation tool for obscure forces of society. However, this also happened to other sciences. The best example here is the atomic bomb, made under the atomic physics theories. The responsibility for the disaster produced by using of these weapons does not belong to the scientists but to the politicians who started the wars.
The failing of understanding the therapeutic inner dynamics
The documentary keeps presenting psychoanalysis as a way of “controlling” the instincts and pulsions (drives) that the social system perfected. But this is not the psychoanalysis interest. Unfortunately, on the other hand, the psychoanalysis is also accused by the opposite and exclusive idea, which is that of willing hedonism unlimited satisfaction, specific to consumerism. These two accusations are contradictory to one another, but no one of them is actually specific to the psychoanalysis. It is neither pure Victorianism nor pure hedonism. It is neither interested in repressing natural pulsions, more than the culture itself does, nor interested in putting into act those overpulsions that come out as a result of this original repression. It is also not interested in a new repression of those pulsions who were repressed before. Inside the psychoanalysis cure (as a wide meaning) nothing is “controlled”, but encouraged to express in a cathartic way. That doesn’t mean putting those pulsions into act, as hedonism does, but living them in a kind of mental level. These thoughts can be dangerous and often never acceptable by the client itself to be put into act in real world. The neurosis consists in the patient's mind terrible fight with them. But their simple verbalization in front of the psychoanalyst can cause some peace of mind. This is, briefly, the psychoanalysis specific cathartic phenomenon and not at all the advices or client manipulation, as this documentary presumes. With this documentary, Curtis simply criticizes the two main traditional ethical brands known since ancients, and misinterprets them as psychoanalysis. Fortunately, the psychoanalysis took a step forward from this traditional dichotomy, in the same way that the Kantian criticism stepped forward from the rationalism-solipsism one, although it was a small step.
Despite the fact that psychoanalysis looks like a Dionysian theory, in fact it is closer to Apollonian one. So, concerning its ethical implications, it is closer to stoicism than to hedonism, as supposed to be by the author. Unfortunately he is prisoner in the hedonism-repressivism mentality and all his accusations are actually struggles to get out such a trap. First, on one hand he criticizes the psychoanalysis under the hedonistic view, when accuses it for repressions, for refusing the individual freedom. But, on the other hand, he criticizes it under the Victorian positions, when interprets it as a hedonist ethic, accusing it of transforming the human being into “the slave of its own desires and passions”.
So the problem, that Adam Curtis and many others have, is not the psychoanalysis itself. Their problem is their own ethical indecision that projects into the psychoanalysis. Their problem is their own guilt about this indecision in accepting one of these two traditional ethical currents and the impossibility of getting over such dichotomy. The frustration concerning this inability, unfortunately, finds a way out into this type of attack against psychoanalytical theory and cabinet practice.
Mistaking psychoanalysis for behaviorism
The critical point of this documentary is an unfortunate coincidence; one of the Freud’s nephews was Edward Barnays, the man that founded Public Relations in United States at the beginning of XX-st century. The PR has infected the Western minds during more than an entire century till nowadays. But, it must be clarified that there was no professional relationship between the two men, Barnays preferred to work with local psychologists (due to the long distance to where his uncle lived). At one point, Barnays took care of Freud’s work in order to be published, but this was a short time administrative relation and not a psychoanalytical practical or theoretical one. Both of them had psychological talent, but they went separate ways. Freud build up the psychoanalysis and his nephew applied it to advertising and politics. Freud was a physician, and his interests were limited by the patient’s small world; Barnays was almost a businessman, with specific interests.
It is easy to see that Freud’s nephew is much closer to behaviorism than to psychoanalysis, even if the two trends are closely related. It is well known that many behaviorists practiced psychoanalysis before turn their ways to some more profitable or “quicker results” psychotherapy. Actually, the behaviorism and the psychoanalysis are the two main and rival currents in the psychology. Adam Curtis seems to be unaware of this. He roughly takes behaviorism as psychoanalysis.
Still, there is to say that psychoanalysis never excelled in USA. It didn’t find resonance in the American mentality as did in the European one. In USA it was also used, there were some remarkable psychoanalysts, a strong organization was developed around it, and was masterly applied (especially in the psychosomatic medicine). But it never gained the influence that the European one did over the world. Maybe that happened because the psychoanalysts fit more to the introverted European neurotic mentality, rather than to that of the American pragmatic one. The documentary says that, in some institute, there were trained “thousands” of people to become psychoanalysts. However, that is not important. Adam Curtis has no idea of what it means to become a psychoanalyst, of how many years of practice and how many years of paid one’s own didactic cure is needed for to be accepted as member in the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA). IPA does not recognize as psychoanalysts those who don’t pass all kind of formation very bureaucratic steps.
The government does not want to pay psychoanalytical formation for “thousands”, that documentary mentioned. The very big costs of such a mental treatment are the main reason for the behaviorism appearance, with lower costs and superficial benefits for the patient. The government or medical assurance companies pay for psychoanalytical cure only in extreme cases, when nothing else (cheaper) shows any improvement in patient’s condition. The government barely pays cure for genuine neurotics cure (like in Germany and never in the USA). It is out of the question to pay for the psychoanalysis’s didactical cure formation, unfortunately. It is the trained one who pays for as it is very expensive, so few would be interested to do it. The training offered by the authorities in some several cases is very superficial. Someone with skills and talent can have the luck of finding a good psychoanalyst, but such training is totally insufficient. That’s why behaviorism has thrived in the U.S. Many of its pioneers have failed practicing psychoanalysis so that they have turned into something more practical and with “faster” results, usually other than those of psychoanalysis. The training that the author refers is actually specific for behaviorists, very different from that of psychoanalysis.
Quote errors and distortions in showing the psychoanalytical phenomena
Unfortunately, in this documentary are interviewed only a very small number of psychoanalysts. Besides, there are shown the insignificant parts from their affirmations, with no relevance to psychoanalysis. Instead of giving an idea of what the psychoanalysis and the Self are, the documentary presents all kind of theorists which have no connection whatsoever with the psychoanalysis. An experimented eye can easily see that they are not psychoanalysts and they do not understand what it is all about. And, when a well known psychoanalyst, Martin Bergmaann, is interviewed, the ideas exposed in such short sequences have nothing to do with the previously exposed ideas. These theoretical connections are very artificial matched.
For example, in the second part of the film, at the 17.28 minute, “Dr. Neil Smelser political theorist and psychoanalyst” is talking. Only a short look on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_J._Smelser) shows Neil Smelser as a “University of California, Berkeley sociologist who studied collective behavior.” So Neil Smelser seems to be a behaviorist but not a psychoanalyst.
The physician Ernest Dichter is magically transformed into psychoanalyst just because he was Freud’s neighbor in Vienna, even if the Institute he worked for was “The institute for motivational research”, which sounds 100% behaviorist. It is possible that Dichter have been practiced psychoanalysis before coming to America, but it does not mean that, after leaving Europe, he was practicing it anymore in such an institute. If Maradona was a former football player, that does not mean he is still today a player.
In the second part, at the 14.30 minute, the documentary shows an experiment made by some American psychiatrists, by applying psychoanalysis out of the cabinet into a metasocial field. That experiment gives the impression that psychoanalysis wants to change the inner thinking mechanisms of a person. But still, the psychoanalysis and psychiatry are different. They usually reject each other because each one of them has a different way of improving patient’s condition. The psychoanalysis produces a mind’s ideas revolution after making peace with some existential personal dilemmas, as the psychiatry just uses the dugs for a mental equilibrium. Of course, there are psychiatrists that practice psychoanalysis also, but this is exception.
When Anna Freud’s nephew, Anton, says (second part at minute 30.15) that she became politically very powerful, I am confused. What kind of political functions in institutions did she occupy? Wasn’t she just a psychoanalyst? What was actually her political power? Further on, the example of a failed therapy made to Bob Burlingham is not representative for the entire psychoanalysis, as the documentary gives the impression.
In the second part, at the minute 45, the documentary describes the unpleasant secondary effects of electroconvulsive therapy. Those who does not knows much about psychoanalysis can get the impression that this is one of its techniques but, in fact, such a thing has absolutely nothing to do with psychoanalysis.
Also, in the second part, at the minute 58, there are shown some sequences from a scream therapy that also is something else than psychoanalysis. Screaming psychotherapy fundamentally differs from psychoanalysis.
At the minute 49, we have a story about a so-called psychoanalyst (Ralph Greenson) that took Manrlyn Monroe at his home and made her a part of his family. This approach is probably the most non psychoanalytical fact of all that were presented in this documentary. The classical psychoanalysis needs a professional relationship only between the analyst and the client. They must meet in the cabinet only and nowhere else. This is part of what is called “the psychoanalytic frame”. I don’t mean that what Curtis showed could not be psychoanalysis in a certain future. But, for sure, it is not traditional psychoanalysis, so the example of its failure or success cannot be judged for this moment. I am not getting into details here, a person that knows the transference phenomena in psychoanalysis would get the idea.
The author also gives the impression that the psychoanalysis’s main idea would be educating the children in the spirit of accepting with obedience the rules of society, as Anna Freud sustained that once. Anyway, this is not psychoanalysis but pedagogy or politics. It is just an opinion that other psychoanalysts may not agree with. On the other hand, the children imitate the adults by nature so there is no need for psychoanalysis to be blamed for. This is simply human nature.
The documentary's name shows a superficial understanding of psychoanalysis basic concepts
The documentary’s title, “The century of the Self”, shows that the English term “Self” failed to translate the German term “Es”, sometimes also translated by terms like “Id” or “Se”. “Es” is part of the second Freudian topography, developed at the middle of 20-s, well-known from the «Self-I-Super I» triad (Es-Ich-Ubeich). Adam Curtis took this technical handicap of English language and was not able to restore it during this documentary. “Es” is a very profound part of “Unconscious” from the Freudian first topography («Unconscious-Preconscious-Conscious») that corresponds to the “I” (Ich) and almost all “Super I” (Uberich) from the second topography. Curtis says that the whole XX-st century stays under the shadow of this “Self”, but he just has no basic understanding of psychoanalysis’s concepts. He does not seem to know that this Freudian second topography was developed due under the Jungian archetypal theories influence on him. In fact, “the Self” was conceived as being more active in the humanity’s deep history than in the XX-st century. Only recently the contemporary life rough pragmatism gained power over the traditional relationship with the environment.
Using the term “Self” for today corporatist manipulation is a kind of finger measure for the ocean. The market research superficiality made by corporatism is so insignificant among the “Self” term deep connotation that this comparison is inevitable. Adam Curtis is not able to make the difference between such ambivalent mixture of contemporary pragmatism and superficial parts of “Self” (Es). Even the old concept of “Unconscious” (witch is smaller than “the Self”) is much wider that corporatism “marketing philosophy” that is roughly mistaken with psychoanalysis here…
Nobody is able to understand psychoanalysis from these misunderstanding positions no matter how hard tries. If someone does not sacrifice several years in studying it, then that person will not be able to make an objective analysis of this phenomenon. Unfortunately, when the mind is focused on the politics and it is fulfilled with and the attention captured by all kinds of politicians lies, then it would be almost impossible to find some more place inside of it for psychoanalysis concepts. Maybe the TV should be stopped for a while. Anyway, it is well known that politicians use to lie most of the time. Why bother remembering their lies? The time and memory saved could be used for understanding such a discipline that, among existentialism, means the backbone of twentieth-century philosophy. I say it is convenient.
As previously pointed, the psychoanalysis has never been at power in USA, as the documentary says in the second part, at the minute 47. I wish it would. But the psychoanalysis problem is exactly the opposite accusations made by Adam Curtis. I think that the classical psychoanalysis is too hamletian, too isolated into cabinet and too Cartesian concentrated over the single person, without understanding that the socio-political environment as the main cause for its pain. It is true that some psychoanalysts changed their views and sold their soul to corporatism but not all psychoanalysts did. Nevertheless, this is not psychoanalysis’s fault itself.
As for me, I think that both the psychoanalysis and especially the behaviorism made compromises with (repressive) authorities. They created development conditions for both of them in exchange for efficient propaganda materials. Such “Institutes” were, and are still today, manipulation laboratories, comparable (on a different scale, of course) to the extermination ones during the Nazis. I think that the psychoanalysis has many problems. One of them is its neurotic conservatism stagnancy. But, unfortunately, this is not what this documentary is all about.