Yesterday, I had a session with a writing mentor. Maria, a fellow psychology student, was kind enough to see me and give her opinion of my work so far. I took with me two rough pieces of writing, my purging/understanding and my ideas for things to critically assess. I also took with me a grumbling feeling of dissatisfaction about the way things are going with my research.
Although I’m really enjoying my journey into Freud’s life and work and the places this is taking me, I’m beginning to feel that the topic has been so thoroughly discussed that there is little scope for any real, original input from me. In my more pessimistic moments I think that since my essay is inevitably going to be a patchwork of other people’s opinions, I might as well stop flailing around trying to be fresh, save myself some grief and just get stitching. Something in me, though, resists. I don’t like many of the critiques I have found, especially the ones that quibble over the accuracy of various translations of Freud’s work. They seem to be avoiding the issue – sophistry rather than psychology. Also, I have been quite surprised by my findings so far, and this indicates that there is a tiny crack of opportunity through which the Edelweiss of originality might push. I fantasise about a world-weary Freud-averse psychology lecturer reading my essay and saying, ‘Well, fancy that. Perhaps this theory isn’t deader than the Dodo after all!’
So, I went for a mentoring session in the hope of finding an angle. Maria didn’t disappoint. Delightfully, before we even began our session, she declared herself to be a Freud sceptic. This made me happy, for the reasons given above. Next, she took her time reading through my sheets of ideas while I surfed the internet and sipped my coffee. (The writing center at London Met, for those of you who don’t know it, is a delightful, serene, coffee-scented scholastic paradise. There’s chocolate, too.)
Maria’s first comment was interesting. “You say that Freud’s theory is difficult to validate and is unscientific by today’s standards,” she began, “but what did it look like back then? It would be really interesting to have the contrast.” I agree, although it means a significant return to the library. But hey, no pain no gain. Then she pointed out that Freud was more of a Coelacanth than a Dodo. (You may recall the fairly recent flurry of interest in the Coelacanth, the so-called ‘fossil fish’. Held to be long extinct, it was discovered serenely swimming around near South Africa, unevolved and unrepentant.)
So yes, it’s undeniable, even to unbelievers, that Freud is a psychological icon. The reason for this seems ironically to lie in the fact that his theories are resistant to scientific testing – the other side of this coin being that they are difficult to refute definitively. So, my essay might plot Freud’s star from its zenith through its wilderness years and to its recent tentative, gentle ascendancy. With Maria’s help, I have found a possible angle. I can be an artisan needlewoman rather than a sweatshop labourer. And I suspect I may have infected her with a grudging respect for the grand old father of psychoanalysis.