The children of colonial psychoanalysis - chapter 13-part 2

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Phallocentric Circles

Freud seriously questioned humanity’s dependence upon religion, even though he was proud to be ethnically Jewish. One thing he pathologized in religions was the belief in a supreme being. He felt that the concept of religion in the ‘final form’ taken by present-day Christian civilization was fatally flawed. He was highly critical of Christianity and saw it as an expression of infantilism.

Though Freud may have had revulsion to religion, the origins of psychoanalysis are deeply rooted in encounters with Biblical religious traditions. The Bible is among the primary sources where Freud extracted his symbols and myths, and from where all of his patients were situated, upon whom he based his prognoses, Ipso facto, the entire corpus of his knowledge or experiences of religion and spirituality were extracted from within the Judeo-Christian context.

Although much of Freud’s work serves as a critique of religious feelings, psychoanalysis nevertheless employed and carried forward the core themes of the Bible. Judeo-Christian tropes dominate psychoanalytical concepts, as Freud mined Biblical literature to extract analogies for his favorite phobias. The ‘primal scene’. which Freud associated with Original Sin, signifies the experience when a child sees the parents engaging in sex, which means, according to Freudian
psychoanalysis, that the child will be traumatized for the rest of his or her life, or until properly psychoanalyzed.

In Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis, Richard Webster explains how the ‘cryptic Judeo-Christian ethos’ was the very foundation of what was touted to be a scientific theory. Webster notes that Freud misdiagnosed several of his early patients as traumatic hysteria when they were “actually cases of injury-related brain damage and epilepsy”. He called psychoanalysis a “crypto-theological system” which encompassed “a modernized reworking of traditional Judeo-Christian morality, sexual realism, and restraint”.

Its very structure was church-like, in that psychoanalytic treatments in Freudian practice were modeled after the Catholic confessional. The psychoanalyst replaces the priest, who is relatively invisible to the patient just like the priest is not visible during confession. The patient confides the traumas he or she has experienced just like the Catholic confides sins. In so doing, the patient is relieved of a burden, and redeemed into good mental health just like the sinners who confess are saved from their sins. (For more on this, please read page 141, chapter 13)

Freud brought phallic symbolism intimately into our lives. In A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis, David Friedman notes how psychoanalytic interpretations have enduringly placed the penis and associated anxieties at the center of society. Friedman suggests that: “attitudes toward the penis have been instrumental in mapping the course of both Western civilization and world history”. He notes that through the centuries, “the penis has been deified, demonized, secularized, racialized, psychoanalyzed, politicized and, finally, medicalized.” This extreme cultural focus on the phallus, codified (overcoded?) by Freud, brought concepts such as ‘castration anxiety’ and ‘penis envy’ into popular discourse.

Freud had visions of grandeur,and his personality and ideas certainly achieved immortality. He
shared with Karl Marx a belief that religion is an illusion—neither man believed in a soul or life after death.

E.M. Thornton wrote in The Freudian Fallacy:

Freud’s concept of the unconscious must be attributed to his cocaine usage. Death wishes, infantile incestuous desires and perversion are not the pre-occupations of the normal mind. Constantly recurring throughout the drug literature are the same words and phrases used by Freud and his followers to describe his concept of the unconscious mind. In both psychoanalysis and this literature the same metaphors of looking down into an abyss occur.

Sometimes a Saint is Only a Saint

In The Future of an Illusion, Freud portrays religion as a fantasy that fulfills “the oldest, strongest, and most urgent wishes of mankind”. In 1927, Freud sent a copy of his controversial book to his friend Romain Rolland, the renowned French Nobel laureate and humanitarian. Rolland, who was a student of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, began a thirteen-year correspondence with Freud. (For more on this, please read page 142 and 143, chapter 13)

Women, Infants, Hindus and the Irish

There were many similarities between the writings of these two colonial officers, [Berkeley-Hill and Daly] who were self-educated in what could be called pop psychoanalysis. Hartnack notes that they both had a derogatory style and an exclusive focus on negative content. Both consistently failed to note any achievement or positive aspect of Indian culture. Hartnack elaborates:

Instead, they compared the behaviour of Indians with other dependent people, with women, infants and the Irish, and time and again with European neurotics. They tried to explain group behaviour by attributing it to psychopathological defects of individuals, a procedure quite common in the international psychoanalytical discussion of their time.

Hartnack notes that this work had clear colonial overtones. Several contemporary works use parallel approaches to Indian Studies. Both [Daly and Berkeley-Hill] identified themselves fully with British colonialism. Indians were a threat and had thus to be fought, and resistance had to be smashed not only on a military but also on a cultural level. Unlike Orwell, who left Burma in order not to cope with the dual identity of a colonial bureaucrat by day and a questioning and critical human being by night, Daly and Berkeley-Hill worked to abolish these scruples and contribute to a properly functioning colonial world.

One critic in the Hindu diaspora in the USA, when reading an earlier draft of this chapter, asked “Is Doniger’s anxious eagerness in accepting Kripal’s and White’s astounding theses a symptom of the same colonial mindset?” Hartnack continued:

Contemporary psychoanalytical thought offered Daly and Berkeley-Hill models to legitimize their degradation of, and thus their separation from Indians: If one were not a healthy adult British male, one was in trouble, for all other human beings were looked down upon. They [the Hindus] were in the majority and there was the potential of hysteria, violence, revolution, sexual seduction and other supposedly irrational acts, which would be difficult to control. Therefore, it was the white man’s responsibility to keep them under surveillance, if not behind iron gates. In this context, psychoanalytical investigations offered structures of explanation, the first step toward a mastery of the perceived threat.

Contemporary professional psychologists, such as Alan Roland and Salman Akhtar, distance themselves from and disapprove of this reductionist, infantilizing approach. Some of the caveats and foibles in what has been called the Wendy’s Children genre of scholarship are also found in Freud’s work. The psychoanalytic movement at the turn of the century has been compared to that of a religious cult, disdainful of its critics and hyper-attached to a particular hyperbole. Many
similarities are in evidence.

In The Memory Wars: Freud’s Legacy in Dispute, Frederick Crews, professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley, describes the coercion of clients by Freud to fulfill the mission of his institute. As a result of this, and other examinations of Freud’s methodologies,
his data gathering has been shown to have been less than authentic—a charge similar to what has been leveled against some members of the RISA school of thought.

Ninety years ago, the innovative thinkers who challenged Freudianism, such as Wilhelm Reich and Carl Jung, among others, were ex-communicated from the psychoanalytical society. Similarly, in RISA and other associated venues, not much dissent is allowed. (For more, please read 144, chapter 13)

Today a number of scholars rely on applied psychoanalysis to create new and ever more exciting research, even though they are not competent in psychoanalysis. This methodology has found its way into History, Sociology, Anthropology, and Religious Studies, among other disciplines.

Hindu-Americans who question scholarship written about their religion are perceived as invalid, inferior. They are not considered ‘legitimate intellectuals’. Those who write articles on websites such as Sulekha are spoken of as ‘dangerous’, perhaps capable of irrational acts and as Berkeley-Hill also described Indians a hundred years ago, ‘difficult to control’. Some scholars of Hinduism Studies are threatened by this contemporary challenge to their established paradigms. They have furiously begun to psychoanalyze the Hindu diaspora as the first step toward a mastery of the perceived threat. Simultaneously, Hindu-Americans have turned the ‘surveillance’ inside-out, and are gazing back with their own tools—such as the Chakra Hermeneutics described in Chapter 9—to better understand those who control the narrative about Hindu traditions.

Read chapter 13 part 2 from page 140 to 145

Pdf of the book is available for free download here.

Go to Chapter 14

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