Why Freud Matters
In this article at NYT, Benjamin Y. Fong talks about what he thinks is of value in Freud's psychoanalysis, and that if psychoanalysis experiences a cultural death, then something of worth would be lost. He identifies this insight as:
'... the relation between two realms of psychic activity that Freud called the “primary” and “secondary” processes. The former domain is instinctual and relentless, a deep reservoir of irrational drives that lie just beneath the apparently calm façade of our civilized selves. The latter is the façade itself, the measured and calculating exterior we unconsciously create to negotiate everyday life. Although these two terms are somewhat obscure, the basic divide between them is familiar to the point of obviousness.'
The more we submit to dominant cultural norms, and the more we ignore the inner impulses, the more the subconscious drives fester and agitate, ultimately expressing them in subtle and not-so-subtle ways and manifesting in various everyday and pathological neuroses. The usual means employed to handle this situation are further suppression by means of rigorous training in rational thinking and social norms, and by talking small 'vacations' -- periods of time in which we suspend our rational selves to satisfy the inner impulses.
What Freud proposed was a different approach: a conversation between the conscious and the unconscious, where a person can talk to another without having to filter his thoughts for the sake of propriety and without the fear of being judged. This communication between the two offers the possibility of a change:
'What Freud proposed, and what remains revolutionary in his thought today, is that human beings have the capacity for real change, the kind that would undo the malicious effects of our upbringings and educations so as to obviate the need for “breaks from real life,” both voluntary and involuntary.'
'Against our culture of productivity and its attendant subculture of “letting off steam,” Freud hypothesized that the best way to refashion our world for the better is to adopt a new way of speaking to one another. Above all, this radical way of talking is defined by what appears to be extended pointlessness, something we are increasingly incapable of tolerating as the world around us moves ever faster. There are books to read, mouths to feed, meetings to attend, corporations to fight or defend, new places to visit, starving children to save…who has the time? And yet it is precisely in not allowing ourselves the time to be “unproductive” that reality is insured to remain rigid and unchanging.'
It is this 'new way of speaking to one another' that is of value, and I do not think that it is something that necessarily requires a session with a trained psychotherapist. The essence of it can be attained in our close and intimate relationships. Our friendships and our loves can all benefit from the honesty that comes from engaging in a dialogue with the unconscious.
The efficacy of Freud's psychoanalysis as a means of treating psychiatric disorders can be questioned, and while it may not offer much in terms of a psychiatric cure, I do think that our lives and relationships can be more enriched by the insights of this new way of speaking.