In his book the Coming of Age of the Origin of Species, published in 1880, Thomas Henry Huxley made the cogent statement: "It is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions." Psychoanalysis too began as a heresy. But a century after its formulation the question no longer is whether it is heresy or superstition, but rather why its decline has become such a fruitful source for academic research. For Freud bashing is in. By combining selective information from newly uncovered archives and previously available sources a number of philosophers, revisionist historians, and postmodern critics have postulated that the pseudoscientific qualities of psychoanalysis make it a fraudulent enterprise. But if these assorted skeptics are correct and psychoanalysis is as dishonest and as obsolete as they maintain, then one must ask why they keep wasting their time and bother scoring points by "proving" that Freud's theories are irrevocably passe, or, to put it crudely, why they keep on beating this dead horse.
Current Freud bashers benefit from the fact that psychoanalysts did not uncover the roots of the unconscious as Freud and his disciples had hoped; that documents and letters, whose existence was previously unknown and which reflect disagreements over theory and clinical practice are becoming increasingly available; that the academic pursuit of textual interpretation has reached a fever pitch; that the early quarrels among the followers of so-called deviants and classical Freudians provide ample material for revisionism; and that these controversies themselves encourage the writing of biographies, which, in an age that celebrates indiscretion, allow for the sort of speculation which the inductive qualities of psychoanalysis themselves incorporate.
For instance, the philosopher of science Adolph Grunbaum has spent much of his life arguing with scores of Freudians whether or not psychoanalysis is a science, whether or not it is epistemically and clinically viable, and whether or not epidemiological or physiological proof of cure can be demonstrated. Phyllis Grosskurth, the biographer of Melanie Klein, Freud's renegade spiritual daughter, has censured the Freudians, in her book The Secret Ring: Freud's Inner Circle and the Politics of Psychoanalysis, for continuing the practices of concealment Freud had instituted to preserve his movement. Robin T. Lakoff and James C. Coyne, in Father Knows Best: The Use and Abuse of Power in Freud , once again demonstrate that Freud botched the analysis of "Dora," the first case he described in detail. And John Kerr, in A Most Dangerous Method: Freud, Jung, and Sabina Spielrein, enlarges on the story of Spielrein's affair with Jung and Freud's intervention in it, which Aldo Carotenuto had already brought to our attention in 1982.
The list goes on. For now, may it suffice to exemplify the debunking of Freud by focussing on the central controversy stirred up by Jeffrey Masson's claim that Freud abandoned his seduction theory. If Masson were proven correct, then all of psychoanalysis, by implication, would have been a hundred-year hoax.
Masson's expose is based on disclosures from archival materials, on speculation, and on conclusions from these. Of course, Freud's "science" as well is speculative. But whether or not psychoanalysts in the confidential relation that is necessary for their practice are making uncalled for suggestions to their patients, whether or not they help detect unconscious psychic mechanisms in them, and whether or not they are totally ethical, has been the meat of the psychoanalysts' professional exchanges and endless papers all along.
That Freud simultaneously invented a method, a theory of neuroses, and a theory of the normal mind to ferret out the roots of the individual and by extension social unconscious, and thus could not demonstrate the validity of each of these enterprises by themselves, continues to confuse and to invite doubt. So does the fact that he locates his "proof" in mythology and history, in literature and poetry, in religious practices and everyday life. And a method that is as dubious as free association …