The A-Z of Sigmund Freud

Though doubts increase about Freud's clinical work, 100 years after the publication of The Interpretation of Dreams, his influence still pervades modern culture from Dali to Hollywood
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A is for the Analysis of Art"Before the problem of the creative artist analysis must, alas, lay down its arms," wrote Freud in his essay "Dostoevsky and Parricide" (1927-8), meaning that he could only account for the themes and symbols of art, or for the neuroses of particular artists, and not for the qualities which made them great. That concession did not, however, deter him from writing copiously on the likes of Leonardo, Michelangelo's "Moses", Richard III, Ibsen and dozens of similar topics. Like other wings of the rambling Freudian mansion, these works of artistic commentary have in recent decades been the objects of criticism, refutation, derision and abuse. And yet, if the letter of Freud's teachings has come under heavy fire, no one could dispute the pervasive influence of his spirit in the century since The Interpretation of Dreams was first published.

Whether in pure, vulgarised or downright caricatured forms - from deconstruction to dirty jokes, from biography to Hollywood blockbusters - his work has permeated almost every aspect of modern culture. One consequence of this infiltration is that, much as the prospect would have dismayed him, it has become increasingly acceptable to speak of Freud not as a (reputedly discredited) figure in the history of psychology but as a major imaginative artist in his own right: a novelist in his case histories, a dramatist in his view of the forces contending within and between personalities, a poet in his epic conception of the histories of individuals and cultures. In short, as a writer whose work can no more be obliterated by allegations of fudging clinical evidence than, say, the work of Milton or Goethe (to name two other writers he admired). The 25 entries which follow suggest just a few of the ways, both profound and trifling, in which Freud's presence has told in the world of art.

B is for BurgessAnthony Burgess, like other writers of his generation, admired Freud deeply both as a heroic liberator and as a student of language and literature: Burgess noted with pleasure the trans-linguistic pun - Freude being the German for "joy" - which linked Freud with his fiction mentor, James Joyce. (Joyce made a slightly more equivocal pun, about children being "jung and easily freudened", in Finnegans Wake). Burgess seems never to have completed his proposed opera about Freud, but Freud is summoned up respectively in his multi-layered novel The End of the World News.

C is for CliftMontgomery Clift, that is, who played the lead role in John Huston's Freud: The Secret Passion (1962), one of the director's less successful offerings. But the story of Freud and Freudians on screen is another article; actually, it's a whole book.

D is for DaliFreud usually had sound, if conventional, taste in painting. Sad to note, then, that he was favourably impressed by his brief meeting with Salvador Dali, the most meretricious of the Surrealists: "That young Spaniard, with his candid fanatical eyes and his undeniable technical mastery", had changed his mind about the movement. (See "S is for Surrealism"). For his part, Dali, who made several sketches of Freud, pronounced that his cranium was the surrealistic equivalent of a snail.

E is for EmpsonThat is, Sir William Empson, poet, critic and philosopher; one of the earliest and subtlest English thinkers to read and apply the lessons of the master to literature. See, for example, his wonderful essay on Alice in Wonderland in Some Versions of Pastoral; or any of his writings on linguistic ambiguity.

F is for "Freudian"At one time, an adjective routinely yoked, in the less thoughtful kind of art-chat, to the nouns "symbol" (either meaning anything longer than wide, or a bit like a hole), or "slip" (and meaning, as Cliff, the postman explained in Cheers, what happens when you say one thing and mean a mother); or simply in reference to anything that seemed on the fruity side. Warning: few find it impressive these days.

G is for (the) Goethe (Prize)On 28 August 1930, Freud was awarded the Goethe Prize of 10,000 Reichmarks. His graceful acceptance speech, delivered by Anna Freud, expressed the hopeful thought that Goethe "would not have rejected psychoanalysis", and indeed that, like other poets, he had come near to its findings himself.

H is for HitchcockHitchcock's films are a treasure trove of Freudian themes and motifs, and were influential purveyors of pop-Freudianism to the masses: the Oedipus complex in Psycho, frigidity and repressed memory in Marnie, psychoanalysis in Spellbound (fancy sets by Dali) and perversity passim.

I is for IbsenA dramatist Freud seems to have thought comparable to Shakespeare in genius, and (see above, "G") referred to as one of the poets who had arrived intuitively at truths he had only uncovered in clinical practice: for example, in discussing the question of "those wrecked by success", Freud cited Rebecca in Rosmersholm.

J is for JokesFreud's classic Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious is, notoriously, not a barrel of laughs. But Freud has been the cause of wit, or at any rate jocularity, in many others: seeBill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, the complete works of Woody Allen and the old one about how many analysts it takes to change a lightbulb (Just one. But it takes a long time and the lightbulb's really got to want to change).

K is for Karl KrausThe bitter Viennese satirist who famously sneered that psychoanalysis was the illness for which it thought itself the cure.

L is for Hannibal LecterThe ultimate nightmare shrink; christened thus by his creator Thomas Harris so that he can be called "Hannibal the Cannibal". But is there perhaps another layer of reference here? In his definitive biography, The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, Ernest Jones writes of Freud's "ancient and passionate identification of himself with the Semitic Hannibal" - a fantasy apparently rooted in an occasion when his father was humiliated by an anti-Semite, and young Sigmund dreamed of a Hannibalic revenge. Chianti, anyone?

M is for MetaphorVarious commentators have observed that Freud sees mind as a machine for producing metaphors. (And that his own metaphors, like the one in that last sentence, tend towards the mechanistic). In some sense, that is to say, each and every one of us is a kind of poet. In our dreams, as the saying goes.

N is for Norman O BrownClassicist, guru, and author of the (re)visionary Freudian tract Life Against Death, one of the holy books of the Sixties counterculture, and, like Freud himself, an influence on all sorts of people who had never actually read him.

O is for OedipusMost people know that Freud went to Sophocles for the name of his most famous complex. Not so many know that he dreamed of having a portrait-bust painted for display in his old university, and adorned with the Sophoclean boast: "Who solved the riddle of the Sphinx, and was a man most mighty."

P is for Adam PhillipsEnglish author of Terrors and Experts and other collections of essays; one of the most thoughtfully humane, and certainly the most elegant of present-day writers in the psychoanalytic tradition.

Q is for QuestenbergA character in Schiller's play Wallenstein. In the Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, Freud quotes an exchange between Questenberg and another character to prove that dramatists had long understood that a verbal blunder might express a hidden intention.

R is for ReadingIn 1906, the Viennese publisher Hugo Heller asked a number of eminent public figures to nominate 10 good books. Freud's list makes surprising reading: he opted for Multatuli's Letters and Works, Kipling's The Jungle Book, Anatole France's Sur la Pierre Blanche, Zola's Fecondite, Merezhkovsky's Leonardo da Vinci, Gotfried Keller's Leute von Seldwyla, CF Meyer's Huttens letzte Tage, Macaulay's Essays, Gomperz's Griechische Denker and Mark Twain's Sketches. For further details, see Peter Gay, Reading Freud (1990).

S is for SurrealismThe Surrealists revered Freud, and sometimes said that they owed it all to him. Alas, the love affair was unrequited: "I have been inclined to regard the Surrealists, who have apparently adopted me as their patron saint, as complete fools (let us say 95 per cent, as with alcohol)..."

T is for Lionel TrillingThe great American literary critic and novelist: one of the most astute non-professional commentators on Freud, and one of those who helped establish Freud's enduring claim on the attention of humanists everywhere.

U is for the UncannyA concept so well known that even non-Germanophones brandish the original, Das Unheimliche. Freud's classic exposition, published in 1919, has spawned countless offspring in theoretical writings about horror fiction and the like, hence:

V is for VampiresThese days, even the dimmest movie-maker has some idea that vampire movies are "really" all about oral sadism, menstruation, venereal disease, necrophilia and what have you, so that all the sexy stuff which used to be sub-textual in horror flicks is now right up front. It is doubtful whether this counts as a progress.

W is for 'WR - Mysteries of the Organism'A cult film, once immensely popular with hippies, intellectuals and people who liked to goggle at sex scenes, about the Freudian heretic Wilhelm Reich. It was directed by the Yugoslavian film-maker Dusan Makavejev, who hasn't had such a smash hit ever since.

X is for the X-CertificateWhich used to protect young cinemagoers from erotic images such as those displayed in WR - Mysteries of the Organism. One of Freud's great revelations was that it is not only states and courts which act as censors. The mind itself performs that task on a daily, and nightly, basis.

Y is for 'Young Man Luther'A celebrated psychoanalytic biography; though, as the 20th century progressed, the term "psychoanalytic biography" often looked like a pleonasm, so deeply had Freudian theories swayed assumptions about the narrative shape of a life. See Richard Ellmann, Freud and Literary Biography (1985).

Z is for Stefan ZweigThe younger writer was a friend and patient of Freud; moreover, the two men were admirers of each other's prose. Freud once praised Zweig in terms that could well be applied to Freud's own work: "The perfection of empathy combined with the mastery of linguistic expression left me with a feeling of rare satisfaction." Zweig's chance to return the compliment came in melancholy circumstances: it was he who delivered the German oration at Freud's funeral at Golders Green crematorium, 26 September 1939. It was, Ernest Jones reports, quite eloquent enough to be worthy of a major writer.

Dreamscapes, a festival investigating Freud's influence on 20th-century culture (including film, music, drama and literature) runs in London until 4 June. Details from 020-7584 8653 or on the website, www.austria.org.uk/dreamscapes

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