A Response to excerpts from The Psychopathology of Everyday Life
The two chapters from The Psychpathology of Everyday Life by Sigmund Freud demonstrate a unique style of reporting. Freud uses observations and examples to back up his conclusions. While the technique is similar in both chapters, the anecdotal method is even more pronounced in the chapter on the “Slips of the Tongue”. Here Freud adds to his examples those collected by his fellow scientists. He analyzes examples by Meringer and Mayer, Wund and Stekel. (59-60,61,68-69). This technique of gathering and listing different examples suggests that this was probably the favoured scientific method of Freud and his contemporaries.
Freud provides interesting examples and proceeds to explain them, gradually establishing a basis of trust between him and the reader since he adheres to the rules he has set: an examples, an analysis and a conclusion. While on the one hand, this method might seem unsophisticated and even naïve at time as the reader does not always agree with the writer’s analysis of the given examples (67 par12). On the other hand by the sheer volume of examples, Freud manages to eventually and somewhat subconsciously persuade the reader that slips of the tongue are not incidental, but rather have a strong connection to the our inner most thoughts and desires.
The first chapter also uses the technique of analyzing an example. Here Freud follows the process of forgetting a proper name; by using an elaborate example, Freud shows the case when names are “not only forgotten, but wrongly remembered”(1). While trying to retrieve the name that was forgotten “substitute names- enter our consciousness”(1). Freud believes that the names we wrongly remember, those substituted for the forgotten words are connected “in a discoverable way with the missing name” and step-by-step he unravels it (2).
In order to prove the connection between the forgotten and the substituted names, Freud gives the example of the name of the painter of the frescoes in Orvieto Cathedral. The forgotten name Signorelli is wrongly substituted with the names: Botticelli and Boltraffio. Freud cannot regard forgetting the name “as a chance event”, and his conclusion is that the conditions for forgetting a name accompanied by false recollection have to do with a disposition to forget names, a process of previous suppression and an external association between the forgotten names and the element suppressed (4,6). Although some of Freud’s conclusions might seem somewhat far-fetched, here too, by analyzing the example and sticking to his self imposed rules, Freud manages to draw inferences that the reader accepts as reasonable.
After reading so much about Freud, reading him today is almost an anti climax. Thanks to Freud we read and discuss literature (and life) differently. Thus it is strange to actually read Freud and be privy to his world through his examples. One can almost see Freud hiking on a sunny day in the Dolomites with his walking stick, talking civilly to older ladies who make a slip of the tongue, and to imagine him immediately taking out his notebook and carefully recording the event. By choosing this unique personal style, Freud has probably managed to make more palatable his new ideas that were no doubt hard to digest at the time. To the reader today reading Freud is much more pleasant and innocent than most of what was written about him.
Freud, Sigmund. The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Trans. and ed. James Strachey. Vol. 6. London: Hogarth, 1961. 1-7; 53-77; 100-101.