Freud Biographer : Louis Breger

Louis Breger’s “Freud: Darkness in the Midst of Vision” (2000) is definitely one of the best biographies I have read. For more updated material than what Peter Gay had available to him and a more psychoanalytic view of Freud and his ideas, Breger’s biography may be the best blend of psychoanalytic insights and critical appraisals of Freud.

Mark Edmundson, in his review of Breger’s biography in the New York Times, December 2000, says this: “Breger strives to put himself in a middle position between what he takes to be the hagiographic approaches of Freud’s best known biographers, Ernest Jones and Peter Gay, and the bitter, albeit often eloquent, denunciations of Frederick Crews.” I would not agree with Breger that Jones and Gay were, strictly speaking, hagiographic, though they are largely supportive and considerably less critical than the Freud “bashers”, such as Crews.

An example of Breger’s psychoanalytic interpretations of Freud, is his argument that Freud’s attitudes and ideas about women stem from ¬†early traumas in Freud’s life. Mark Edmundson says, ” Breger claims that Freud’s mother neglected him as one new sibling after another came into the picture.To Breger, Freud’s derogatory theories about women were a form of long postponed revenge, and example of neurotic darkness in the midst of a valuable vision”.

Breger includes a chapter on “Background and Sources” ¬†which provides an excellent survey of current (as of 2000) and likely future directions of psychoanalysis. He supports my own view about the variety of Freud chroniclers: “Within present-day Psychoanalysis there is a wide range of views and positions, from the most devoted to the sharply critical. All these analysts have at least one thing in common: work with patients in analysis and psychotherapy. there is also a large group – philosophers, literary critics, historians, experimental psychologists – who have written about Freud with little or no clinical experience. Each of these commendations brings their strengths and limitations: no position guarantees that the author will arrive at a coherent interpretation of Freud and his work.”(p.375).

Edmundson (2000), in his review of Breger’s biography, says “psychoanalysis has, and probably always will have, its manifest weaknesses, but it still stands as a distinguished secular blend of literature, philosophy and pedagogy that has the power to help people change their lives for the better.” This statement and Breger’s and Edmundson’s view of contemporary psychoanalysis has been challenged by a number of Freud’s critics, the majority of whom are not psychoanalysts. This is a topic which I will return to in future posts, since much has ensued with the psychoanalytic movement since the Breger biography and Mark Edmundson’s review of it.