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Greenberg, J. (2001). The Ambiguity of Seduction in the Development of Freud's Thinking. Contemp. Psychoanal., 37(3):417-426.

(2001). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 37(3):417-426

The Ambiguity of Seduction in the Development of Freud's Thinking

Jay Greenberg, Ph.D.

In his Biography of Leonardo da Vinci (1910a), Freud compared revisions of childhood memory to the way in which nations rewrite their histories in accord with “present beliefs and wishes” (p. 83; see also 1899 and 1901, p. 48). Here I present a history of Freud's seduction hypothesis, and an interpretation of it, that reflects my own “beliefs and wishes.” I hope to show that the seduction theory is the first of a series of broad organizing concepts that Freud used to develop a vision of human experience that went beyond anything proposed before; it was his first attempt at creating a theory that he believed to be uniquely psychoanalytic.

In taking this position, I construe the potential meanings of the concept “seduction” quite broadly. I also stand in opposition to those who believe that psychoanalysis began only when Freud abandoned the seduction hypothesis and embraced the world of inner fantasy. In contrast, I believe that we can read the early theory itself as evoking the interpenetration of internal and external events, of reality and the way that reality is idiosyncratically experienced, in an extraordinarily subtle and textured way. This vision of the seduction hypothesis and its role in the history of psychoanalysis supports my own contemporary psychoanalytic perspective. As Freud taught us early on, no attempt to create history can do otherwise.

At the very beginning, psychoanalysis was a method. Following Anna O's suggestion, Josef Breuer found that if he encouraged his patient to talk in depth about her symptoms, eventually she would be relieved of them. Freud, more intrigued by the possibilities and certainly more comfortable with the intimacies bound up in the new treatment, developed its potential. He experimented with several techniques for helping patients to remember what they had apparently forgotten, and also with various ways of dealing with the memories that eventually emerged.

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