The Birth of a New Discipline

Archetypal Cosmology in Historical Perspective

Keiron Le Grice
From Archai Issue 1, 2009

At the turn of the twentieth century, when Sigmund Freud first developed the theoretical framework and therapeutic method of psychoanalysis in Vienna, one could scarcely have conceived of a movement less likely to exert a powerful, lasting influence on the modern mind. Controversial, taboo, ridiculed and rejected by many, psychoanalysis, with its theories of repressed libidinal impulses and childhood sexuality, radically contravened and challenged the deeply entrenched values, mores, and attitudes of the Victorian morality of the era. To many people at the time it must have seemed certain that psychoanalysis was destined to be quickly consigned to history, to be written off as a curious oddity, a failed experiment, a perverted and warped conception of human nature. The early reactions to Freud’s publications were scornful and scathing. According to Ernest Jones, Freud’s biographer and fiercest ally, “The Interpretation of Dreams had been hailed as fantastic and ridiculous . . . the Three Essays were [deemed] shockingly wicked. Freud was a man with an evil and obscene mind.” Psychoanalysis moreover, was an affront to the nineteenth century’s assured belief in progress and rational self-determination. The notion that the modern human being, despite pretensions to rational autonomy, was in fact the unwitting instrument of unconscious impulses and complexes, and that the pious morality of that time concealed a seething cauldron of instincts whose sublimated expression lay behind humanity’s most elevated cultural aspirations and achievements was a message both unpalatable and, seemingly, altogether untimely.

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