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Bloom, H. (1991). Freud: Frontier Concepts, Jewishness, and Interpretation. Am. Imago, 48(1):135-152.

(1991). American Imago, 48(1):135-152

Freud: Frontier Concepts, Jewishness, and Interpretation

Harold Bloom

Wittgenstein, memorably attacking Freud in conversations and in lectures, said of psychoanalysis that it was essentially speculation, not even reaching the level of hypothesis. Like a related remark, in which Wittgenstein observed that Freud failed to distinguish between reasons and causes, such an attack has a dialectical undersong that unintentionally celebrates Freud while illuminating him. “A powerful mythology” was Wittgenstein's concluding judgment upon psychoanalysis, a judgment which can be interpreted antithetically as another involuntary tribute to Freud's mythologizing power. Perhaps it was not what he took to be Freudian muddles that most provoked Wittgenstein. Freud's peculiar strength was to say what could not be said, or at least to attempt to say it, thus refusing to be silent in face of the unsayable. Freud is not philosophy, but then Montaigne also is not philosophy.

Speculation, rather than theory, is Freud's mode, as it was Montaigne's. It hardly matters that Montaigne cheerfully and knowingly also confused reasons with causes, or if it matters it is only to enrich his discourse. Freudian speculation may or may not be scientific or philosophical; what counts about it is its interpretative power. All mythology is interpretation, but interpretation only becomes mythology if it ages productively. Interpretation that dies young or ages barrenly is exposed as gossip. Montaigne, just short of Shakespeare, is the dominant mythologist of the later Renaissance. Freud, short of no one, is the dominant mythologist of our time, whatever our time turns out to have been.

In The New Introductory Lecture on Psychoanalysis, Freud boldly admitted that “the theory of the drives is, so to speak, our mythology” (1933, 95).

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