In the Archives – Binge Reading Janet Malcolm – thanks Elliott


I loved in The Archives – an inside look at some drama that took place in the 80s regarding a man who was going to become the head of the Freud Archives.


Anyway – recap – the drama.

Anna Freud is getting old, all the psychoanalysis are getting old. Then need a young (ie person under the age of 45) to run the institutions of the guru errrr Founder – Freud! Enter Jeff Masson – a charming young scholar who wants the job. Problem – he is a trouble maker. He is looking to poke holes in psychoanalysis. We all know this person -who desires greatness by disruption (Duchamp for example). Perhaps he is a nihilist. Anyway – Jeff finds a letter in the Archives that makes him believe that Freud should not have discarded the seduction theory, and that all of psychoanalysis is a lie. Obviously you cannot have this sort of person running the Freud Archives. So he is ousted, there is a lawsuit, there are other characters. You get the story.

I am reflecting on this for two reasons

  1. Theory of Seduction – I never took a class on psychology although I did take a class where we read a bunch of Freud’s social and political works. Totem and Taboo, Moses and Monotheism (which could probably be called a conspiracy theory).  I think Freud is an excellent writer and I say again and again, he won over Freud and perhaps the others such as Jung, Reich, Adler, and the rest because of this. Jung in particular is a totally idiosyncratic writer. Perhaps Jung’s medium is painting. Don’t get me wrong – I love Jung -but it is what it is.

So theory of seduction. Fantasy matters. The inner life matters and has material impact on the world. This is my interpretation via the archives of Freud’s breakthrough.  Once does not have to actually be seduced to have some sort of neurosis, all one has to do is think he was seduced.

There are arguments in the book that well, being at Auschwitz is surely different from imagining you were at Auschwitz. and I would agree with that. But perhaps the difference is at the level of somatics and trauma. I am thinking of work like The Body Keeps the Score. And perhaps this is different than neurosis. That mental trauma and physical trauma is different that psychology and somatics are different. Anyway the point is that fantasy matters, it has material impact on ones ability to function in the world.  This is fascinating to me.

2. Internal vs external – I am sort of misstating this but its the best I can do in stream of consciousness blog. In the book Janet Malcolm questions whether or not this whole incident took place because of something inside Masson. Did he has some death wish (or failure wish)? Or was it something structural in the events, in the search for a new head of the Archive etc? Was Masson set up for failure no matter what? It is hard to differentiate the internal and the external because his internal state state or desire feeds into the structural events. But the question is, Did he self implode or did the the structure collapse around him?

  • Self implode – at first I was totally convinced that he self imploded. The picture that I got was of a complete narcissist, and someone somewhat out of control. That he was driving rather than driving himself. His desire to make an impact by breaking things apart made it impossible for him to not implode (since imploding is breaking things)
  • Structural collapse – The whole structure of events made it impossible for Masson to succeed. No matter what he would have been ousted from the archives. This may have been correct. The particular incident that led to his firing was not due to his narcissism and I was lead to believe. (This is pitch perfect New Yorker storytelling). Rather, a new york times reporter was going to write an article about these events come hell or high water – and no matter what it would have been damning for Masson. The real crime was talking to journalists – or the structure of collapse was Journalism itself.

There are sometimes situations where it is near impossible to avoid catastrophe. Here I am thinking about institutional racism (or sexism which I have personal experience with). Some of the structures of the events are such that the only hope is to avoid utter catastrophe, but make no bones about it – it will happen.

In this an un analytical stance. That the external world has this importance, that the internal world is impotent.  Well perhaps we can develop our internal world in such a way that we develop our imaginations and realms of possibilities and can see through the impossibilities to avoid the catastrophies that befall us- even when they seem  inevitable.

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