Freud's Sister

A few observations about

Goci Smilevski's novel Freud's Sister

Goci Smilevski's novel Freud's Sister (Penguin 2012, translation by Christina Kramer) did not endear me to Freud.  His one sister, Anna, lived a tragic life.  She had serious mental and emotional problems.  Her mother tried to coerce and badger her to change into what she expected her to be, and was downright mean in oft expressing the wish she had never given birth to her.  Sigmund did help her some, showed her some care and affection, carefully away from their mother to avoid her criticism of his being soft on her, in their early years.  

But Sigmund was powerless to deal with her mental and emotional problems as an adult.  A psychiatrist should not deal with a family member as patient.  He didn't.

Several things in this book reminded me of episodes from my own childhood.  The idea that you can coerce a child into behaving a certain way was an accepted truth when I was little, for example.  As an adult I approached my mother with a tale of my being terrorized by something she did to me once as punishment for misbehavior: she threw me out of the house never to come back.  I was 9.  Her response?  "It worked!  You changed at that point and stopped sassing me and disobeying me."  Next morning early she found me in the coal bin trying to sleep.  She let me back in the house with some good verbal jabs.

Did it work?  Not from my point of view.  I learned to act in a certain way and waited to do what I wanted and go where I wanted until times I knew I was not being observed.  I learned to act one way and be another way.

Two things reminded me that Freud was a product of his times: he did not make it possible for his daughters to get a higher education, for example, because he thought a woman's role was in the home where no college teaching would be useful (p. 245).

To his daughters, Sigmund often said, "The most intelligent young men know very well what their wives must have: sweetness, cheerfulness, and the capacity to make their lives easier and more beautiful."

Why is this significant to me?  Because my father several times told me that Freud believed that men create civilization, women decorate it.  This quote attributed to Freud by Smilevski comes very close to that misogynistic absurdity.  By keeping them from gaining an education, Freud made sure his daughters lived up to his ideals for women by not helping them become educated, but at the same time he cooperated with and was assisted by several women in the medical profession.

There is one quotation from Freud that I liked, personally, in Smilevski's novel.  Sigmund and Anna are arguing over the religious notion of an afterlife.  She believes in an afterlife, he does not.  What he allegedly said on page 250 is something I agree with:

"Do we need to believe in such infantile ideas?  Do we need to deceive ourselves in this way so we can endure life more easily?  Or is there a better way to endure one's existence?  If we knew we were left to our own resources, that would already be something.  In that case we would learn to use them properly.  Man is not completely helpless.  Beginning in the days before the Flood, science has taught man many things, and his power will increase still more.  As for the great necessities of fate, against which nothing can be done, he will learn to endure them with resignation.  Withdrawing his expectations from whatever follows in the life beyond the grave, and concentration all his liberated forces into his earthly life, man will possibly succeed in making life for everyone endurable.  And that is the most humane, the highest goal: for each person to have a life without burden."

Their argument continues on the next page, but the main idea of this Freudian argument that I like is that if persons would stop living for a future life off this world, and stop investing their fortunes and energies in that future life, maybe they would take better care of each other in the here and now.

This idea in turn leads me back to think about the Cathar religion in the south of France many hundreds of years ago.  One of the reasons they were persecuted and burnt as heretics is that they undermined the hierarchical structures of feudal society.  The church was a feudal land owner and needed serfs to serve as their labor force.  For Cathar nobles to get into the fields at harvest time and help their serfs bring in the cops --as they did-- was scandalous and violated the social order allegedly set up by God!  

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