Power, Meaning and Persuasion in Freud's "The Wolf-Man": A Response to Stanley Fish

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Chesca Long-Innes holds an M.A. from the University of Cape Town; thanks to the inimitable John Higgins for bringing her essay to our attention. I am indebted to John Higgins, whose enthusiasm for Freud, both as a thinker and writer, helped awaken my own interest, and whose penetrating grasp of the significance of his work encouraged me to read it with the respect it deserves. 1. Stanley Fish, "Withholding the Missing Portion: Power, Meaning and Persuasion in Freud's 'The Wolf-Man'", in Times Literary Supplement, August 29 1986, 935-38. A collection of papers presented at the colloquium has since been published under the title The Linguistics of Writing—Arguments Between Language and Literature, edited by Nigel Fabb, Derek Attridge, Alan Durant and Colin MacCabe (Manchester: Manchester UP, 1987). All page references to Fish's article will be to the TLS version and will appear in the text. 2. Cyril Barrett, ed., Wittgenstein: Lectures and Conversations (Berkeley: U California Press, 1972), 44. For further references to the "huge literature focusing on the issues of evidence and testability," see Fish's list in The Linguistics of Writing, 171-2 n. 3. Frank Cioffi, "Wittgenstein's Freud," in Studies in the Philosophy of Wittgenstein (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969), 186. The same fundamental objection is embedded in Sebastiano Timpanaro's reference to the "captious and sophistical method, resistant to any verification, quick to force interpretations to secure preordained proofs, employed by Freud and Freudians in their explanations of slips, dreams and neurotic symptoms," in The Freudian Slip (London: New Left Books, 1976), 14. Traditionally, and prior to the work of the French women's liberation group Psychanalyse et Politique, feminists have rooted their objections in similar ground. For a comprehensive survey of, and response to, this tradition, see Juliet Mitchell, Psychoanalysis and Feminism (London: Penguin, 1974). The project of Mitchell's text is to defend psychoanalysis against this claim, and to show that because those feminists in opposition to Freud try to discuss his concept of femininity outside the framework of psychoanalysis, their objections, and even their tributes, cannot be made to stand up. She also reveals that their rejection of the scientific status of psychoanalysis would be more accurately described as a rejection of its two most crucial discoveries: the unconscious and infantile sexuality. 4. I am not persuaded by Fish's attempts to dissolve this contradiction in the final section of his paper by declaring that no one can get to the side of rhetoric, that "being persuasive, assuming the stance of a rhetorician, is not something you can choose to avoid"—a stance that in the end neither renders his interpretive efforts more convincing, nor vindicates his arguments. The rest of this paper will be dedicated to demonstrating why. 5. Sigmund Freud, "From the History of an Infantile Neurosis," in The Pelican Freud Library, vol. 9, 235. 6. For further discussion of methodological approaches to the analysis of infantile neuroses, see Sigmund Freud, "Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-year-old Boy," in The Pelican Freud Library, vol. 8, 169. 7. Sigmund Freud, "From the History of an Infantile Neurosis," 235. 8. Ibid., 240. 9. For an elaboration of this point, see Louis Althusser, "Freud and Lacan," in Essays in Ideology (London, Verso 1984). Althusser suggests that one of the difficulties facing any attempt to understand and assess Freud's work today is to cross the "vast space of ideological prejudice" that divides us from Freud through the reduction of his "revolutionary discovery" of the unconscious to disciplines essentially foreign to it—including that of psychology itself: "Western reason... will only agree to conclude a pact of peaceful existence with psychoanalysis after years of non-recognition, contempt and insults... on condition of annexing it to its own sciences and myths..." (186). This history of mythologization has had far-reaching effects on the reception of Freud's ideas. First, it has resulted in a displacement of the object of psychoanalysis from what analytical technique deals with (the unconscious) to analytical practice, or the "cure" itself. Second, it has prevented the successful transferral from a form of critical attention dominated by...

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