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Emerson, L.E. (1933). Emerson and Freud: A Study in Contrasts. Psychoanal. Rev., 20(2):208-214.

(1933). Psychoanalytic Review, 20(2):208-214

Emerson and Freud: A Study in Contrasts

L. E. Emerson, Ph.D.

Emerson and Freud, in some respects, are as far apart as the poles. Emerson explored the nature of goodness and health; Freud explored the nature of evil and disease. The purpose of both was the same: to avoid evil; to gain good—to escape from sickness and enjoy health. The contrast between Emerson and Freud, which I wish to present, is the contrast between methods and materials, not purposes. Emerson, as philosopher, seer, and poet, was looking for the perfect man. He saw that men were always partial, unfinished, incomplete, unhappy, suffering, and struggling, and he tried to picture what the opposite would be. He, himself, was not well and feared an early death from “consumption,” which was in his family. He suffered from a lack of “animal spirits,” as he called it, and lack of “vital energy.” He tired easily, especially in society; and friends taxed his reserve resources sorely.

In his Journal he says: “The true medicine for hard times seems to be sleep…. Yesterday afternoon I stirred the earth about my shrubs and trees and quarrelled with the piper-grass, and now I have slept, and no longer am morose nor feel twitchings in the muscles o E my face when a visitor is by.” (Journals IV, p. 236.) Elsewhere he writes: “I have so little vital force that I could not stand the dissipation of a flowing and friendly life.” (Journals IV, p. 237.)

How close Emerson was to the insane impulses that might lead to a mental breakdown is shown by the following dream. He writes: “I found myself in a garret disturbed by the noise of some one sawing wood. On walking towards the sound, I saw lying in a crib an insane person whom I very well knew, and the noise instantly stopped: there was no saw, a mere stirring among several trumpery matters, fur muffs and empty baskets that lay on the floor. As I tried to approach, the muffs swelled themselves a little, as with wind, and whirled off into a corner of the garret, as if alive, and a kind of animation appeared in all the objects in that corner.

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