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Massicotte, C. (2014). Psychical Transmissions: Freud, Spiritualism, and the Occult. Psychoanal. Dial., 24(1):88-102.

(2014). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 24(1):88-102

Psychical Transmissions: Freud, Spiritualism, and the Occult

Claudie Massicotte, Ph.D.

This paper explores Freud’s reflection on telepathy, a reflection generally dismissed as a marginal or even slightly embarrassing aspect of his writings. Ernst Jones’s influential Life and Work of Sigmund Freud exemplifies best this marginalization as it rigorously examines Freud’s consideration of telepathy but frames it as a paradoxical feature of the latter’s character or as proof of the difficulty, even for men of genius, to overcome irrational superstitions. The paper offers a historical perspective on the conflict between Freud’s intellectual engagement with telepathy and the scientific community’s rejection of occult beliefs generally associated with the spiritualist movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The author argues that the treatment of Freud’s reflection on telepathy as a result of superstition not only fails to recognize the caution he undertook within his inquiry into the occult but also omits the important questions that motivated his investigations. Ultimately, Freud’s probes into the possibilities of certain occult phenomena such as telepathy had less to do with superstitions than with a critical examination of the limits of communication as they demonstrated the need within psychoanalysis to reevaluate certain unexplained transmissions of meaning.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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