Since the Freud Archives have been opened, clearer accounts the development of Freud’s ideas have been published – complete with the debates, discussions, disagreements, disputes not to mention emotional blood-letting amongst the great man, his disciples, foes and peers. Freud emerges not just as a genius but an ambitious man  bent on holding his identification with ‘Freud’ and ‘Psychoanalysis’. Historical accounts which do not flinch at Freud’s ambition and its costs – close friendships and affiliations and accusations of intellectual property theft – humanise  this rather reified figure, I think.

Freud’s was also a journey  into uncharted territories. He changed his mind over time. In his  2008 history,Revolution in Mind: the creation of psychoanalysis‘, George Makaris outlines the conundrum lying before followers of Freud in the 1920s. Carl Jung and Alfred Adler had rejected Freud’s psychosexual theory of the unconscious. The Great War and its aftermath – a time of social ferment and change – also provided a milieu in which Freud’s highly specific theory of the unconscious was disputed and ultimately rejected – by Freud – in favour of more provisional, and evolving, theories of  mind and unconscious. On pages 322 through to 323 Makaris writes of the conundrums that emerged.

Which Freud did a Freudian follow? How could there be a Freud when there were divergent Freuds?  …

Theoretical physicists are free to question the most basic assumptions of their field, but it is paralyzing for engineers to do so.  Psychoanalysis did not have separate cadres of theoreticians and practitioners. Science and therapeutics, as well as the competing imperatives of the lab and clinic, were all packed into the same clinical encounter. [There had been a desire] in the growing clinical community to have a stable theory to use, and Freud’s reshuffling of his scientific claims could potentially throw practice into confusion. And just as there had been no clear way to adjudicate among the theories of Freud, Adler and Jung, there seemed to be no clear way to adjudicate between Freud and Freud. Freud’s multiple theories of the unconcious highlighted the provisional nature of all these claims, and their distance from empirical verification and consensus…

Over the next years, new voices would emerge and argue that a community of psychoanalysts could be unified by other means than a committment to a highly specific theory of the unconscious.