I just got through a couple weeks of teaching Freud, which was a lot of fun. It was particularly interesting to do as I’ve been spending so much time with Lacan lately — it seems to me that the basic Lacanian interpretative strategies and emphases really “work” in the classroom setting, though by this I don’t mean much more than highlighting the “linguistic” element. We did a handful of his introductory lectures along with the case of Elizabeth von R. from Studies in Hysteria, and with regard to the latter, I feel like in discussion I stumbled across a really evocative way of putting the problem of hysteria: what kind of beings must we humans be if we can get sick from a pun?
That case study also includes the kind of thing that always disappoints me in Freud, namely, his desire to bring things back to some kind of biological origin. In his concluding reflections on the function of metaphor in hysteria, he brings in Darwin’s theory of the origin of the emotions (also quoted by James, by the way!), and things really fall flat for me at that point. There’s something similar skewing his theory of feminine sexuality, it seems to me — many of my students felt frankly betrayed after reading “Femininity” from the New Introductory Lectures, and I think it’s the gravitational pull of the idea of a “natural” biological outcome that produces all the well-known contradictions and slippages in his argumentation here. (And to their credit, my students engaged more in authentic critique than in extrinsic criticism, as Freud had built up enough good will in their minds in previous readings that they tried to stay with him for as long as they could.)
I know I’m not saying anything original, but it’s striking to see how this unfolds among students approaching Freud for the first time — and to juxtapose it with my current work with Lacan, so that I can see so clearly the ways in which Lacan might, from a certain perspective, be “saving Freud from himself,” bringing forward his most authentic and radical insights and freeing them of the gravitational pull of naturalistic reductionism.