The Major Theories (1900 - 13).

"Each one of us has a neurosis, which is necessary for entry into Freud's teachings...."
- Fritz Wittels, an early initiate into Freud's Wednesday Society.

Since the 1890's Freud had regarded most of the mind as being unconscious, a somewhat revolutionary view for the time. Later in his Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1915-17) he claimed that his invention was the third big attack on human pride since it showed that we were basically irrational. First Copernicus dealt us a cosmological blow (the earth is not the centre of the universe), then Darwin attacked us with biology (man is descended from apes), and now here was Freud to give us a psychological battering (1). Although he did not actually "discover" the unconscious he was probably the first to give it a sound basis in psychology by specifying its contents and intentions (2) It is in the unconscious that the repressed impulses reside, whilst memories and thoughts more easily recalled are in the preconscious.

The first full account of Freud's theories of the mind appeared in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) which was the end result of his self analysis and his most revealing work, giving an insight into his private life that he hid from most of his other publications. Freud believed that all dreams were meaningful and asserted that "a dream is a (disguised) fulfilment of a (suppressed or repressed) wish" (3). In this respect dreams are similar to neurotic symptoms, having come about as a result of a conflict and a compromise between unconscious and conscious forces. Freud divided the content of dreams into "manifest content" (what we remember of them when we wake) and "latent content" (the repressed and most significant part). Dreams often seem unintelligible because our wishes are distorted due to the censorship of the conscious mind (ego), which tries to protect us from recognising desires that may be hateful or perverse. However, analysis can reveal the latent content of dreams by interpreting the symbols that appear in them in relation to events in the dreamer's life. To take an example given in a later edition of the book, a man dreamt that he was an officer sitting at a table opposite the Emperor. Since to Freud such exalted figures in dreams usually stood for parents, he concluded that the man must be experiencing conflict with his father.

Freud was very upset by the lukewarm reception that the book received, and his morose moods continued despite the success of his self-analysis. However, he was never as isolated by the medical community as he liked to believe (4): it suited his psychology to be cast in the mould of the tenacious outsider who has to take on the world in order to be regarded seriously. His relationship with Fliess began to decline as their now-conflicting theories (Fliess's biology versus Freud's psychology), coupled with the homoerotic current that existed between the two, drove them apart. They quarrelled violently during a visit to the Achensee, near Innsbruck, in August 1900, viciously attacking each other's views. Fliess later revealed that he had feared that Freud would try to murder him there. They continued to write to each other for a while, until finally breaking off all contact in 1904, but this was to be their last congress - they never saw one another again. Over the next thirty years Freud's devotion to psychoanalysis, his "consuming passion", would cost him many friendships, and though he often professed it was worth the sacrifice he never developed such a close relationship with anyone again.

In his Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901), Freud extended the theory developed in The Interpretation of Dreams to include lapses in memory and slips of the tongue or pen: like dreams, these are also symbolic of unconscious attitudes and wishes and can be interpreted in similar ways. Freud once found himself unable to remember to collect some blotting paper (Fliesspaper) during the course of several trips into the town. He concluded that his disagreements with Fliess had caused this lapse (5). Freud wrote Psychopathology with the ordinary reader in mind and thus made it clear that the theories of personality that he had developed from studying neurotic patients applied to most "normal" people too. He wanted to develop a general theory of the mind (as was also the intention in both his aborted Project for a Scientific Psychology of 1895 and Dreams).

Various debates have arisen around the scientific validity of Freud's undertaking as most scientific innovators throughout the ages have used controlled clinical trials involving statistical comparisons with other theories to prove the effectiveness of their own method - not so Sigmund. He drew his far-reaching conclusions from the clinical observation of a limited number of people, a few hundred educated upper-middle class Viennese, at least in the early days - Freud disliked treating the coarse and stupid, and the poor could not afford his high fees. Ernest Jones (1879-1958), a Welsh-born physician from London who became Freud's "official" biographer in the 1950's, said in his defence that Freud would "feel" when something was right so did not see the point of collecting evidence to support his claims (6). Unsurprisingly, this did little to appease the critics. Karl Popper famously concluded that psychoanalysis is a "pseudo science" as it does not put forward hypotheses that can be objectively falsified (7). However, even if psychoanalysis does not have the status of a "true" science, this does not mean that we have to reject it outright - it has had such a huge influence upon our culture that we cannot dismiss it even if it is essentially a "pseudo theory" (8).

In March 1902 Freud finally received the professorship from the Austrian government that he had wanted for so long. He was relieved but also somewhat annoyed at the amount of canvassing that had been necessary to get it - the government were somewhat reluctant to reward someone as controversial as Freud was turning out to be. He set about gathering his first followers, who included Wilhelm Stekel, Alfred Adler, Rudolf Reitler and Max Kahane, all practising physicians. The little group met in the "Psychological Wednesday Society", which was renamed the "Vienna Psychoanalytic Society" in 1908. The relationship between Freud and his younger followers was like that of a father for his sons rather than an equal partnership, which would cause problems later on when their views began to diverge. Kahane and Stekel later committed suicide, as would many more of Freud's followers; clearly they were nearly as neurotic as his patients were.

Freud overturned the conventional view of sex and procreation completely in his Three Essays on The Theory of Sexuality of 1905 (with Dreams, perhaps his most important work). He extended the concept of what is "sexual" to include any kind of pleasurable experience, such as masturbation and thumb sucking, so was able to argue that even babies have a "sexual life". Freud's apparent "obsession" with sex that is so prominent in cultural representations of him largely owes its creation to this text (consider, for example, the 1988 teen comedy Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, in which a bespectacled Freud, clutching a huge phallic sausage, demands everyone to "Tell me about your mother"). However, it must be noted that he was certainly not the first to suggest that children might have sexual desires, even though he may have liked to think that he was (9). Indeed, the first philosophers to consider the "wickedness" of children were probably the early Church leaders in the doctrine of Original Sin (10). Freud saw children as "polymorphously perverse" as their sexual interests are directed towards every part of the body. These later become focussed on single organs in adulthood under the guidance of what Freud called the "libido", the force that drives the sexual instinct.

Freud believed that the sexual life of human beings was divided into five stages. The first stage of a baby's life is known as the "oral phase". Its desires are centred around the mouth, and the mother's breast becomes its first love object, closely followed by its own thumb or other "suckable" part of the body. This period lasts until the child is weaned, when it passes into the "anal phase". Here the child is introduced to toilet training and is able to gain satisfaction from either emptying its bowels at the proper time to please its parents, or withholding its faeces to release at an inappropriate moment to irritate them. From around three years of age, when the child is fully toilet trained, its interest is transferred from bowel movements to its genitals (usually through masturbation). This period of development is called the "phallic phase". A curiosity to observe the genitals of others, particularly those of the parent of the opposite sex, leads to the famous Oedipus complex, which will be discussed in much greater detail later in the chapter. Resolution of the Oedipus complex initiates a fourth stage: that of latency, in which interest in sexual matters seems to disappear as the child becomes more involved in outside activities such as schooling. Sexual feelings re-emerge at puberty as the "normal" person enters the final stage of development - the "genital phase", in which he or she can finally obtain full intercourse with the opposite sex.

Freud attached great importance to the period of childhood as most neurotic illnesses (such as hysteria and obsessional neurosis) originate there, with the exception of what Freud called the "actual neuroses" - those derived from present sexual traumas. The neurotic either becomes fixated on a particular stage of development (called "developmental inhibition") or tries to return to an earlier phase (called "regression"), and this, in the main, is what creates the symptom. For example, an attachment to anal phase is what causes the obsessional neurotic's elaborate rituals involving the retention or payment ("letting go") of money (a substitute for faeces), as was vividly illustrated in the case of Freud's famous patient the "Rat Man". What we call "normal" sexuality, incidentally, is just one of the many possible avenues that the libido could take. Neuroses, then, can be said to occur when we cannot give up the attachments of infantile sexuality as this causes a conflict between the unconscious infantile part of the mind (under the sway of the libido) and the conscious part (ego) that wants to advance and must repress infantile desires. An outbreak of neurotic symptoms is the only viable compromise between these two forces, a substitute for the unattainable state of pure infantilism (11). Neurotics are particularly vulnerable to fantastic delusions, which function as a "correction" of the reality that they find so unsatisfactory. Often a neurotic person will take refuge in past memories and re-live conflicts from them such as battles with parents, but this time they will be the more powerful. They are usually unaware that they are doing this.

Carl Jung

After having corresponded sporadically with him by letter since April 1906, Freud finally met his most famous follower, the young Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, on the third of March 1907. Nineteen years Freud's junior, Jung (pictured left) was working with psychotics at the Burgholzli Mental Institute in Zurich under Eugen Bleuler, attempting to discover whether Freud's methods of treatment could cure psychological problems more serious than neurosis. Freud was impressed with Jung's work and decided that he could use him to popularise psychoanalysis, particularly as he was not old, Viennese or Jewish like the psychoanalytical stereotype that Freud was trying so hard to get away from. Freud felt that he was nearing retirement (or death) so needed a successor, and appointed Jung the "crown prince" of the movement. His Viennese followers were annoyed by his favouring of Jung over them, which led to inner dissension.

By 1908 the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society had twenty-two members from many different countries and Freud was becoming a better-known, if somewhat disreputable, figure. Jung and Ernest Jones, under Freud's ever-watchful gaze, set about making psychoanalysis an international movement. By 1909 the three of them had visited America and taken psychoanalysis there. It stayed for good despite Freud's dislike of the country and its people: he thought them superficial and money-mad (i.e. anally retentive), postmodern before postmodernism, and blamed American food for aggravating his intestinal ailments. This denigrating of Americans had its roots in the European bias felt by many of Freud's acquaintances.

The Nuremberg conference of March 1910 confirmed the growing influence of psychoanalysis and agreed to the foundation of an International Psychoanalytical Association with Jung as its president. Freud appeared to have decided long before that psychoanalysis could be a new form of religion, but at the same time was reluctant to see it as a popular movement: it was a doctrine for the educated. As "his" psychoanalysis grew, however, so did its dissenters. Adler and Stekel were the first to leave the Society, resigning their posts in February 1911 over the issue of sexuality that would prove to be the crux for most of Freud's circle. Adler had decided that the most important early impulses were not sexual but aggressive ones. What mattered most was the struggle for power. Children were driven by the will to survive, and the weaker ones were forced to make strong attempts to compensate for their deficiencies, or "organ inferiority". Those that failed to find other alternatives often turned to neurosis as the only viable way of maintaining their position. Adler seemed to be suggesting that neurosis was formed largely by predetermined biological factors, although he later adopted a more sociological viewpoint, claiming that neurotic illnesses were actually caused by the lack of concern for the welfare of others ("social interest"), that accompanied most inferiority feelings (whether biologically motivated or not) (12). Ironically, Freud himself later adopted the notion of a key "aggressive drive", as we shall see. Stekel supported Adler at first, then briefly made peace with Freud but ultimately proved to be even more of a heretic: he later wrote that "I no longer believe in the overall importance of the unconscious" (13).

By 1911 Jung was beginning to turn away from psychoanalysis too. The event that precipitated the final rupture in his relations with Freud was almost tragically trivial: Freud went to visit their mutual friend Ludwig Binswanger at the Bellevue sanatorium in Kreuzlingen, Switzerland, in May 1912 and neglected to drop in on Jung who lived in nearby Zurich. Jung never forgave Freud for this "insult". The lectures that Jung gave at Fordham University in America in September 1912 were ostensibly in defence of psychoanalysis, but contained many basic criticisms of Freud's theory. Jung was insulting Freud openly by the end of 1912, and had stopped speaking to him altogether by the beginning of the following year. However, as had been the case when Freud broke with Fliess, the pair continued to write to each other for a while. Jung agonised for years over this split, leading to a nervous breakdown, and Freud was also depressed for a time, but recovered more quickly than Jung and resolved to console himself with his other "sons and daughters". In revenge, Freud published a little book entitled On The History of the Psychoanalytical Movement, which set out the conflict and criticised Jung and Adler. This led to Jung's resignation as president of the International Psychoanalytic Association.

The Committee

Following a suggestion made by Ernest Jones, the summer of 1913 brought the formation of the famous "Committee" of Freud's followers (pictured right) to protect against further defections. The chosen few were Jones himself, Karl Abraham (1877-1925), a German colleague of Jung; Sandor Ferenczi (1873-1933), a Hungarian; Hanns Sachs (1881-1947), a Viennese lawyer, and Otto Rank (1884-1939), the group's young Viennese secretary. Max Eitingon (1881-1943), a wealthy Russian-born medical practitioner, joined the group in 1919.

Between 1913 and 1914 Freud published four essays under the title of Totem and Taboo. This is considered by many to be his most ambitious and strange work, using as it does dubious anthropological evidence to link the formation of civilised society with creation of totemism in primitive clans (14). Charles Darwin had claimed that early humans lived in small hordes in which a dominant male kept possession of all the females. Freud suggested that jealous desire for the females pushed the younger males to murder the patriarch. However, the clan later felt remorse for this act and denied themselves the women for whom they had committed parricide by outlawing "incest" (defined as sexual relationships between members of the same clan). The primal father was symbolically recreated by the adoption of a totem animal that it was forbidden to kill, except in a ritual sacrifice once a year. This sacrifice would result in a period of grief followed by rejoicing, exemplifying the ambivalent feelings in the tribe's attitude to the father figure. Guilty feelings were thus controlled and social relationships made possible as the women could be used as bargaining chips to trade off to other local clans. At a later stage, the father was elevated into a god figure, signifying the beginning of organised religion. Freud believed that primitive man was represented by tribes such as the Australian aborigines, who in turn symbolised both the early infantile stage of modern man and the present state of neurotics.


1) See Introductory Lectures in Psychoanalysis (1915-17), Standard Edition XVI, p.285.

2) See Whyte, Lancelot Law (1960) The Unconscious Before Freud, Tavistock Publications, London.

3) See The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) Standard Edition IV, p.160.

4) See Sulloway, Frank J. (1979) Freud: Biologist of the Mind, Burnett Books, London.

5) See The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901), Standard Edition VI, p.159.

6) See Jones, Ernest (ed. and abridged by Lionel Trilling and Steven Marcus) ([1953-7/1961] 1993) The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, Penguin Books, London, p.106. Freud himself rarely tried to address this issue: his attempt to answer such criticism directly (in The Question of Lay Analysis of 1926 (Standard Edition XX) for example), is ambiguous at best. Given that he asserted in his Autobiographical Study (1925, Standard Edition XX) that "I have always felt it a gross injustice that people have refused to treat psychoanalysis like any other science" (p.58), this omission is surprising.

7) See Eysenck, H. J. (1985) The Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire, Viking, London, p.14.

8) Paul Ferris expressed this well in his recent biography of Freud: "Freud's attempt was on a mighty scale. If human personality was too much for him in the end, at least his running commentaries on the lives we lead were full of insights and ingenious explanations of mysteries that, even when they became mysteries of another kind in his hands, added to our knowledge of ourselves". See Ferris, Paul (1997) Dr. Freud: A Life, Pimlico, London, p.3. In any case, the claim that psychoanalysis is a science can be made to stand or fall by choosing the appropriate definition of "science". See Rycroft, Charles (1995) A Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (second edition), Penguin, London.

9) See Sulloway, Frank J. (1979) and Ellenberger, Henri F. (1970) Discovery of the Unconscious, Basic Books Inc, New York.

10) See Webster, Richard (1996) Why Freud Was Wrong (revised edition), HarperCollins Publishers, London.

11) As Freud often stated (see for example "Civilised" Sexual Morality and Modern Nervousness (1908, Standard Edition IX) and Civilisation and its Discontents (1930, Standard Edition XXI)), this conflict can also be regarded as the opposition between our instinctual need for sexual gratification and the prohibitions modern society enforces to prevent us from obtaining satisfaction: neurosis is the price that we must pay for civilisation.

12) Whilst Freud agreed with Adler that neurotics often suffered from inferiority feelings (see for example Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920, Standard Edition XVIII) and On Narcissism (1914, Standard Edition XIV), he attributed these to tensions between the ego and superego (see Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1915-17, Standard Edition XV). For a definition of these two concepts, see below.

13) See Ferris, Paul (1997) Dr. Freud: A Life, Pimlico, London, p.275.

14) As both Bronislaw Malinowski and Claude Levi-Strauss have since pointed out, a major weakness of Totem and Taboo lies in its insistence that the primal murder initiated the beginning of civilisation when in fact a crime of passion such as this would not have been possible if civilisation had not already been in place. See Malinowski, Bronislaw ([1927] 1949) Sex and Repression in Savage Society, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, London, and Levi-Strauss, Claude (1967) The Elementary Structures of Kinship (second edition), Eyre & Spottiswoode, London.


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ã Robin Tamblyn, 2000.

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