Gass on Freud

Today’s New York Times features an op-ed by William H. Gass on Sigmund Freud, who would have turned 150 yesterday. From “The Inside Man”:

…Freud employed a strategy worthy of Spinoza. He would look for the solution in the same realm where the problem was. Neurology could run its energies around like dogs at a track, while psychology could do the same with trains of thought. If his patients were in mental pain, he would look for a mental cause.


There were protests, certainly. We complained. We resisted. But down deep, despite Freud’s gloomy deterministic message, we doted on this new diet of inside information. The alleged sex life of infants was perhaps polymorphously perverse, and the continuity of man with animal that Darwin and Freud stressed was demeaning, but we learned to be proud of the first, and to shrug at the thought of the second.

Yet how much richer our awareness of the world is because he convinced us — at least for a while  that even our dreams were real; that out of the scraps of our life, the unconscious could make a quilt; that gestures could reveal more than a slit skirt and be even more glamorous. It became fashionable to be neurotic, to be in analysis and to be able to afford it. And we were having such a good time, we scarcely noticed that this therapy  which took so long and cost so much  wasn’t curing anybody.

In “A Temple of Texts: Fifty Literary Pillars,” the title piece from his new collection, Gass follows his list of 50 influential books with a Postscript:

I originally compiled a much longer list, and pared it for the [International Writers Center] exhibition, mentioned earlier. After I had made my choices and pellmelled my notes about them, I realized that one book was missing which ought — absolutely — to have been present: Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, a work, among all of his others, that made a convert of me for more than twenty years. This masterpiece I just — well, I just forgot. Let it stand for the Nothing that is not here, and the Nothing that is.

In the original “Temple of Texts” exhibition booklet, published in 1991, the Postscript is handwritten and includes, at the very bottom, a doodleish self-portrait.