MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2003, 208 pages
This is, above all, an intelligent book, densely, but for the most part lucidly and, at times, even elegantly written. In my view it represents a significant contribution to Freud scholarship.
Drassinower strives to find a middle path in
interpretation of Freudís contribution to social and political thought between
the utopianism of Norman O. Brown and the Marcuse of Eros and Civilization (as
distinct from, as he points out, the more realistic Marcuse of The Aesthetic
Dimension), and tragic/stoic/pessimistic interpretations, such as that of
Drassinower reminds us of Freudís commitment to both
Eros and Thanatos. Against the naÔve
utopianism of those who one-sidedly celebrate Eros, he points to Freudís
recognition of the inevitability of unhappiness, conflict, loss, death and
mourning as inescapable features of the human condition.
But against the pessimism of those who one-sidedly focus on such
negativities, he points to Freudís own recognition of the possibilities of
Eros, especially an Eros based not upon the denial of death but its recognition
and conscious working-through or
Without explicitly announcing the fact, what
Drassinower is attempting to give us here is an existentialist Freudóthe Freud
that a Heidegger, or an Otto Rank, or an Ernest Becker would approve.
This is a Freud who transcends both a one-sided biologism (the
reductionistic naturalization and biologization of human nature that many
perceive in the theory of the drives or triebe), and an equally one-sided
environmentalism (the oversocialized or socially deterministic theories of
personality or the self that are characteristic of much post-Freudian
psychoanalytic thought), in favour of recognition of a uniquely human
situation (something resembling Heideggerís Dasein) inextricably
confronted by the realities of separation, loss and death.
Drassinower finds in Freudís concept of the death-drive an
existentialist recognition of the reality of death and, in his concepts of
separation anxiety and mourning, a basis for realistic hope. This is the hope
that, instead of being denied and projected resulting in various forms of
destructiveness toward both self and others, these existential realities may be
faced, mourned and integrated. In so taking death into ourselves, as it were, we would have
less need to inflict it upon each other, thus circumventing, to some extent at
least, the bleak, Hobbesian implications that Drassinower finds only apparent in
Freudís Civilization and Its Discontents.
This is certainly the existentialist Freud that many of us wish were the real Freud. There is little doubt that such a Freud actually exists here and there, on the margins of his complex and shifting theoretical achievement. But whether such themes are central in Freud, whether Drassinower has uncovered the real Freud, or whether, instead, he has produced yet another creative misreading that justifies, on the basis of Freudís own texts, the authorís preferred existentialist understanding, is another question altogether.
From a strictly scholarly point of view, is it
legitimate to interpret Freudís death-drive as an existentialist recognition
of our being-towards-death when Freud himself, product as he was of the
Helmholtz school of physicalistic physiology (positivism, materialism and
reductionism), mostly wrote of the death-drive as a biologically-based
ďprimary masochism,Ē a striving of the organism towards an inorganic state?
Whereas much Freud scholarship in the field of social
and political thought has suffered from a merely scholastic familiarity with
psychoanalysis, Drassinower possesses the sort of sophisticated understanding
(knowledge of as distinct from mere knowledge about) the field
that generally only comes from direct experience of the analytic process.
If psychoanalytic scholarship has sometimes served as a defense against
psychoanalytic experience, this is certainly not the case here.
Drassinowerís systematic deconstruction of one-sided interpretations,
his grasp of the dialectical nature of Freudian thinking (both Eros and
Thanatos) is admirable.
If the author had announced that his existentialist Freud is a Freud on
the margins of the Freud we mostly have, readers such as myself could entirely
and enthusiastically agree.
Donald L. Carveth
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