In 1981, J.M. Masson was fired from his position as Projects Director of the Sigmund Freud Archives, shortly after suggesting in a talk in New Haven that a key theory Freud had developed in 1895 and later repudiated - the so-called seduction theory - may have been valid after all. This talk scandalized the Freudian orthodoxy, as reported in Time, Newsweek, and The New York Times.
Here for the first time are the letters from Freud, long kept from public view, which stirred this controversy. On the basis of these letters and other new information Masson discovered at the Archives and elsewhere in Europe, he has written a devastating and highly controversial expose of the origins of psychoanalysis. In 1895, Sigmund Freud formulated what was perhaps his most profound theory: that emotional disturbances in adults stem from actual early traumatic experiences, the knowledge of which has been repressed. But Freud eventually renounced this theory in favor of a new view, that his women patients had "fantasized" their early memories of rape and seduction - a view on which the whole budding science of psychoanalysis would be based.
Masson makes available previously unpublished letters from Freud's closest friend, Wilhelm Fliess, which reveal that Freud had grave doubts about abandoning the "seduction theory." Masson discovered that not only had Freud read the contemporary literature documenting the high incidence of sexual abuse of children, he had in all likelihood witnessed autopsies of children who had been raped and murdered. That Freud abandoned his seduction theory, Masson argues, was a failure of courage rather than a clinical or theoretical insight.
As a result, most psychiatrists and psychoanalysts have in effect been reluctant to trust the memories of their patients, women in particular, about the traumas they experienced in childhood. Like Freud, they see such traumas as fantasy rather than reality. This cover-up of the truth, Masson asserts, has poisoned the entire profession.
“A Watergate of the Psyche.”
– New York Times
“A solid expose that reads like a psychological detective thriller... This brilliant, meticulously researched book probes what many see as the failure of psychoanalysis to confront the real world.”
– Publishers Weekly
“When the furor subsides, Masson's book will take its rightful place in the annals of psychoanalytic critique; not the bomb that destroys the whole building, but part of the wave that is eroding the basic foundation.”