I just finished Freud’s Moses and Monotheism for about the third or fourth time in my life. At times it is like cracking walnuts in your mouth; it is the kind of book that tells you how uninformed you are are about most things, including yourself; of course, that is the part of us we know the least. The skinny on the book is that considering it was written about 72 years ago –it was published in 1939, Freud having published sections earlier — is that the archaeological and sociological information Freud drew upon is no longer valid as good science. However, it is a fabulous psychoanalytic ride. Even with my background, there are paragraphs beyond my brainpan’s capacity to fathom, or else I am drawing very old and my cerebrum has puckered here and there. Instinctual renunciation, return of the repressed, latency, obsessional neurosis are but a few of the concepts Freud delves into with the hand of the master trying to express what is second nature to him but conceptually difficult to us mere students. It is a most challenging book but worth each page. You don’t read Freud, you examine each sentence as if part of the Talmud.
Essentially he writes in his last years in a comprehensive way about how behaviors in each of us can be applied to the species collectively. He applies his psychoanalytic processes to society at large and it is fascinating to observe how a significant amount of what he shares does seem applicable if not basically true. I am always injudicious with my “idol,” giving him a wide berth to do his thing, enjoying how he messes with our minds. I root for Siggy. I was trained in analytic psychotherapy but my personality was ill-equipped to deal with or master the Newtonian concepts of Freud, the 19th century model of how energy, drive (instinct), and cathexis (attachment) work. I moved more into an expressive and interpersonal way of dealing with clients; however, the training was in analytic thinking and that has proven very worthwhile. In fact, centuries hence Freud might be remembered more for his critique and observation(s) about mankind as a whole, and perhaps being honored more as a philosopher than a healer. Indeed, most of his cases were not successful. Like or dislike him, like Darwin, he will not go away. His Moses book guts religion, Judaism and Christianity, for what it is– illusion. Man needs his myths, his gods, for he is damaged in that way. Freud thought that a man or woman were not fully developed or matured until they had given up the obsessional neurosis of a god in the sky (see his The Future of an Illusion).
I am psychologically free in ways I can not even describe as an atheist. The believers of late smack their smarmy lips as they go on to prattle about how poor Christopher Hitchens will now see their reality. Garbage in, garbage out!
Buy it or don’t buy it, Freud occasionally stops to patiently inform the reader, urging him to go along for a while with his suppositions and hypotheticals and before you know it he has surrounded you with his wagons. He posits, to wit, that there were two Moses’ and that one was murdered by the early tribes under his control; he argues that this primordial deed was repressed, an unconscious act, for suppression is a conscious choice; that centuries later that which was denied returned, much as each of us for several years after age five or so experience a latency period which later erupts as we move into our adolescence. In short, sexual features and feelings are repressed and reemerge years later. So an analytic concept long verified by therapists with clients and over the decades is applied to an entire Jewish people’s traditional history. It works. And if it does not work, at least you begin to fathom an important analytic concept or two about each one of us. Freud’s ability to apply individual behavior to the species at large is most telling, instructive and makes you think in global terms.
In the last few weeks or months, I can not say, I have had reminiscences about the years before I was ten, places I played in, streets I rode my bike on, early childhood chums, neighborhoods I prowled about, very dim and early relationships with young people who came and went, flitted about me and then were gone — in one case, a young girl I played with and then I realized she had moved away. Some of these memories can not be confirmed by the person who experienced them. I am simply not sure they were events. I am sure that my level of awareness was dim as I could not survey all about me in ways that ended in conclusions or observations, as if I was some primordial sea creature swimming onto the beach, looking about, sensing, but not realizing or seeing in a profound way. I could not explain my world. I was in it but not fully aware. I mildly experienced who I was. I take that back. I did not experience myself. I only sensed, as if I was being jabbed by the needles of everyday occurrences. You understand, don’t you? Think back.
When Kane on his deathbed says “Rosebud,” I can grasp that so much better now at this age. The sled had so much meaning for him, condensed meaning — the time in which he enjoyed his sled, the time in which he is sold by his mother; his ineffective father and the capitalistic banker Thatcher, all conspiring to bring about a personal abandonment he would he feel all his life. In one of the most often misheard lines in Citizen Kane, Susan Alexander mentions her mother and Kane responds in so many words, sotto voce, that he knows about mothers. I gag when I write that, for I remembr seeing the movie as a young child, all alone in the local theater, and I wonder today if I was not touched by my own feelings of being abandoned on levels I could not possibly articulate but that I felt. I must have incorporated the lonelinesss and the abandonment of Kane for there were such feelings, I hesitate here, in my own family, especially from my mother. In all my childhood my mother never read a fairy tale to me, any book at all. A puzzlement. Why? That is the rub, and the “enchantment” about the memory.
And so of late I am reflecting and trying to re-empathize with a host of significant memories, trying to string them on a necklace of affect and effect. I am imagining and reimagining the meanings they have for me, for it is an old cliche that as we near our end we turn back to our beginnings — what observation might Freud interject here! And so of late I have come up with a few sentences that might begin my very next book.
I was fucking abandoned when born. So what! And who cares? I am unfinished man…Dive Delve Descend.
And a happy Hanukah to my brethren.