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Freuds Megalomania [Paperback]

Israel Rosenfield
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 26 2001
In an inventive blending of "comic energy and intellectual muscle" (The New Yorker), Israel Rosenfield serves up for our scrutiny and sheer delight Freud's long-lost last "manuscript," which reveals a Freud who in reflecting upon his life's work realizes that he has gotten it all wrong! A victim of his own self-delusion, Freud goes about setting the record straight with a preposterously seductive new theory of human behavior: it is not drives that motivate us, but rather our boundless capacity to deceive ourselves. Such are the explosive contents of his last manuscript, Megalomania. Its discovery years later prompts a postmortem that effectively puts the icon to rest, resurrects the man, and exposes the naïveté of Freud's disciples and the megalomaniacal tendencies of his detractors. This "wise and witty" (Boston Sunday Globe) intellectual spoof delivers a surprising twist on history and a playful challenge to today's enduring Freud debate.

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From Publishers Weekly

A frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books, Rosenfield delivers in his first novel an intellectual spoof of the so-called "Freud Wars," which have been fought out in NYRB's pages and letters columns. The controversy pits luminaries like Frederick Crews, who dismiss Freudian explanations as pseudo-scientific, against intellectuals who believe Freud's work illuminates the deepest structures of the human psyche. Rosenfield imagines a lost manuscript in which Freud criticizes his own work. This manifesto is an addendum to Moses and Monotheism, Freud's last book. Here the Master realizes, at last, that the great force in human nature is not unconscious drives but self-deception--upon which he has built his own empire: psychoanalysis. Instead of a science, psychoanalysis turns out to be merely a ploy for attention--on a historic scale. The fun here is in the imitation of Freud's sometimes rambling style, and the scholarly armature with which Rosenfield surrounds his document. The work is introduced by a Prof. Albert J. Stewart, an anti-Freudian with his own axes to grind. The document's discovery leads to the story of Freud's heretofore secret love child, Emma, and his mistress, Adelaide Benesh. The endnotes refer to real and imaginary characters, many featured in the NYRB controversy. Freudophiles should enjoy parsing the numerous scholarly notes and research documents and deciding whether they are historically based, pure fiction or an ingenious blend; the descriptions of Freud as a presumptuous, arrogant lover and father are winning. Readers who follow current academic or literary controversies will find this novel amusing and expertly satiric, but the crux of the cleverness may remain mysterious for the uninitiated.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

What if Freud had left a final paper declaring, revolutionarily, that morality arises not from the guilt caused by Oedipal desires but, instead, from simple fear of the absolute, unchallengeable authority demonstrated in megalomania? CUNY history professor Rosenfield makes just this the premise of his novel debut—and produces a wonderful, chewy, intellectual delight. Rosenfield mixes real with fictional characters, giving Freud a mistress (and also a daughter by her), with whom he leaves his last paper, Megalomania, before departing from Europe forever. The paper, unread and unauthenticated, manages to survive WWII and come finally into the hands of Freud’s granddaughter, who in turn brings it to the attention of cognitive scientist Professor Albert J. Stewart: and it’s Stewart who tells us about his own first and astonished reading of the paper, then presents it to us in toto with his own annotations, clarifications, and background comments. Stewart himself has just ended a five-year collaboration with one Norman Dicke, winner of the “Looker Prize,” creator of “Loop Theory,” and fabricator of a thinking—Marilyn Monroe robot. Framed by Stewart’s tales of the despotic and despicable Dicke, Freud’s paper becomes all the more riveting as it treats Freud’s real-life and also despotic colleague, Nobelist Julius Wagner-Juarreg, who gave shock treatment to soldiers during WWI, declaring them “malingerers” rather than traumatized victims. He was cleared, in 1920, of charges of unethical practice—though the testimony Freud himself gave in the trial left him haunted ever after, feeling that he had failed “to adequately defend . . . the young men who had been tortured.” And the cause of his failure? Simply the sheer force of Wagner as megalomaniac—a man so bold that he “had perfected the art of lying to a point where truth had become unrecognizable,” the sheer power of his fraud having become the truth. “Fraud is Man,” declares Freud in this brilliant, learned, ambitious, and wildly thought-provoking masterpiece of fictional revisionism. -- Copyright © 2000 Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Alluring theme � disappointing fiction June 26 2002
It is surprising that this novel got on the New York Times's list of notable books of the year 2000. It does not work on almost every level.
First of all, it is supposed to be a satire. According to my dictionary a satire is "a literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision or wit." Unfortunately, I could not find much irony, derision or wit in the novel. It trudges along, and its deliberately scientific language and formality do not create any satirical effect at all.
Secondly, the novel wants to educate and satirize at the same time. It was quite confusing and tiring for this reader to figure out when to take a fact at face value and when to assume that it was made up. Education goes well with gentle wit and straightforwardness. Satire works best when something is exaggerated and distorted (in this respect, satire is similar to caricature). Blending the educational and the satirical is bound to be difficult. There are examples of a successful blend (take Chapter 6 of Julian Barnes's "Flaubert's Parrot"), but not in this book.

Thirdly, structure. The novel is not - as the blurb claims - "a magical blending" but rather a messy blunder. It sags under the burden of distracting, long-winded side-stories. The storyline is burdened by deviations into the life of two rapists, an illegitimate granddaughter of Freud, and Mr. Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame). For what purpose? What is the joke? I don't get it.
Fourthly, characterization. Satire needs a target worth of derision. Since Freud is no longer on the pedestal on which some academics have put him, he does not really qualify as a target. And what about his disciples? Yes, definitely worthy targets.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Updating Freud July 31 2000
Rosenfield's "Megalomania" is an important and original
critique of Freudian theory cleverly disguised as a spoof. Rosenfield
puts his ideas in the mouth and style of Freud, in the form of a newly
discovered Freudian manuscript that repudiates some of Freud's earlier
ideas. The thesis is that the great weakness of mankind lies not in
the defensive operations described by Freud and associated with guilt
over the Oedipus complex, but in the adaptive function that allows
human beings to fill in troubling gaps in their knowledge with more or
less plausible stories. The problem is that because these stories are
incomplete and inaccurate, believing in them requires intense social
pressure. This is the opening for the megalomaniac, who identifies
with the false belief and manipulates the population with brutal
effectiveness into following him. This leads to ethnic and religious
hatred and war. The fanaticism of the megalomaniac has a psychotic,
not a neurotic quality. This idea helps us to understand why
psychoanalysis, although influential among intellectuals, has had no
impact on political history.
Rosenfield wants us to think Freud
could have come to this idea on his own, if not, perhaps, for his own
megalomania. This can hardly be presented as a scientific finding, so
Rosenfield resorts to pastiche and comedy. But the satire actually
spoofs Freud's self-importance in relation to his family and
followers, not his ideas, which are treated quite seriously. If you
look closely, you'll find that all the ideas in "Freud's
Megalomania" are quite seriously presented.
All in all, a
brilliant intellectual tour de force. Don't be fooled by critics who
think the novel is meant to deflate or ridicule Freud's ideas.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Thank You Israel Rosenfield! March 24 2001
This reimagining of Freud's last days and his lately discovered "Megalomania Manuscript" is an electric gem that spins off sparks that flash on Adorno, Reich, Fromm, Szasz, Bateson, Watzlawick, Hofsteader, and dozens of other twenthieth century thinkers who would likely shudder to find their names in a sentence with Freud. Oh and there's W.H.R. Rivers and the war poets too (check out Pat Barker). What a fun and fertile imaginative stroll. Thanks.
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2.0 out of 5 stars fluff May 17 2001
By A Customer
The theory's sort of cute, albeit reductive, and I understand why Rosenfield wanted to use Freud for it -- but it's silly, the book, overall. It's neither great fiction nor great philosophy (let alone science). I found it entertaining, but if a book like this is really to succeed, it should also be enlightening. It is not.
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4.0 out of 5 stars best freud yet July 16 2000
By greg
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