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Paul, R.A. (2018). Teaching Freud's “Project”. Am. Imago, 75(2):318-323.

(2018). American Imago, 75(2):318-323

Teaching Freud's “Project”

Robert A. Paul

Freud's “Project for a Scientific Psychology” was never published in Freud's lifetime; we only know of it because he had sent it to Wilhelm Fliess, whose widow sold it to a Berlin bookseller. Marie Bonaparte acquired the manuscript together with the treasure trove of Freud's letters to Fliess, and, over Freud's wishes that it be destroyed, sent it to safety in Britain during the war. When it became available to the reading public in 1950, reactions to its appearance were mixed. Some regarded it as a dead end, a misguided attempt to translate psychological facts into a desiccated and purely conjectural model of the mind as an electrical system—a system basically designed to turn itself off, or divest itself of energy or excitement, as symbolized by the letter Q (quantity) followed by the Greek letter η (eta, energy). Others, however, saw in the Project a text that, whatever its shortcomings as a representation of the actual nervous system and its operation (something that was barely beginning to be understood when Freud put pen to paper), serves as a skeleton key that unlocks a great many mysteries about his subsequent writings. I belong to this latter camp. I cannot see, for instance, how one can gain a full comprehension of Chapter 7 of The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), or of the metapsychological papers written during the First World War, or of Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) without seeing that the models of the mind presented in those well-known texts rest on an unseen foundation of assumptions that find their first and baldest expression in the Project. I thus find this text both worthwhile in its own right and illuminating as an entrée into Freud's later works, and I take real pleasure in helping students and candidates get past the arcana of its surface and come to grips with its essence.

In this brief communication I want to focus on Sections 14 and 15 of the Project (1950[1895]).

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