Sunday, August 12, 2007

On Freud

In The Sunday Times - I review Mark Edmundson's The Death of Sigmund Freud.


  1. Very enjoyable, Bryan. I must get this title, for I place Freud nearer to Marcus Aurelius than 'Socrates' as a searcher for answers.

  2. It is several years since I read Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen's 'Diary of a Man in Depair', his record of the German embrace of nazism, and his condemnation of it, which was finally ended by a gestapo bullet in 1945. I have been meaning to re-read it, but will now wait until I have read Edmundson's book, which may, through Freud's vision of 'the ethical man' throw up greater insights into the integrity and astonishing courage of Reck-Malleczewan.

  3. This is an exceedingly interesting review and the book looks likewise good.

    Sigmund Freud, victimized by the Nazis, did some victimizing of his own long before that. He helped get the greatest anatomist of the 19th century -- Josef Hyrtl, his professor at the University of Vienna -- dismissed from his post.

    Freud was the protege of a materialist scientist named Ernest Brucke who despised Hyrtl's belief in a higher power (Hyrtl a devout Catholic). Darwin's theories catalyzed the paradigm shift already happening in medicine, and though Hyrtl was brilliant with a scalpel and had written the first comprehensive anatomy textbook in German, he had beliefs that Brucke, Freud and others disdained.

    Hyrtl insisted that the human mind was not the product of biology or physiology, but of God's direct intervention. He said, "The attempt to follow the labyrinth of the brain's cells with an anatomical knife was just as worthless as the presentation of the structure of the monad with a hammer or the division of a spiderweb with a carpenter's saw."

    Hyrtl gave a speech to this effect to new students and that gave Brucke what he needed to force H. out: The chair of the anatomy dept's salary was cut by 2/3ds in 1874 and he left the U. a broken man.

    J. Hyrtl fascinates me because he stood on the fault line of a paradigm shift in scientific thinking. (He's interesting for other reasons too, including the fact that like other Viennese, he was a "head hunter." He owned the skulls of a number of famous folk, including Haydn and Mozart.)

  4. Fine review, Bryan.

    Susan, I suspect that most geniuses leave victims in their wake.

  5. Bryan

    Mick Hartley takes you to task in an energetic manner on his blog -
    - and I have to say, despite your normal, profound, correctness, that I agree with him.


    Sorry. Bad pasting job.