Tuesday 1 January 2013

Frank Cioffi’s ‘Was Freud a Liar?’ Inner Circle Seminar 196 (20 October 2013)

Frank Cioffi

Frank Cioffi

‘Was Freud a Liar?’
(20 October 1973)

A re-reading on the 40th anniversary
of Cioffi’s seminal radio talk
on sexual abuse and Freud’s ‘seduction theory’

Towards existential seduction theory

Anthony Stadlen
Inner Circle Seminar No. 196
Sunday 20 October 2013
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Forty years ago today, on Saturday 20 October 1973, a provocatively titled short talk on BBC Radio 3 at 7.05 p.m. was followed by an interlude before the concert at 7.30 p.m. Radio Times announced the talk thus:
Was Freud a Liar?
‘Frank Cioffi, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Kent at Canterbury, examines Freud’s account of how he arrived at his theory of infantile seduction, and finds grounds for much disquiet. Did Freud deliberately distort the story, or did he merely forget certain parts of it? He [Cioffi] argues that whatever the answer, the scientific claims of psychoanalysis must be affected by it.’
This twenty-minute talk by Frank Cioffi (11 January 1928 – 1 January 2012) was published in The Listener on 7 February 1974. After some weeks, a critical letter from Dr James Hopkins was published, and subsequently Cioffi responded. Otherwise the talk seems to have received little attention at the time. But, despite its imperfections, it revealed contradictions in Freud’s explanation of why he first advocated then retracted what is usually called his seduction theory his dramatic claim that in every case of hysteria the patienthad been sexually abused in childhood. On the talk’s fortieth anniversary, we explore how reading it can help psychotherapists today non-seductively help clients to recall and revalue childhood seduction, mystification and abuse, whether sexual or existential; to distinguish memory and phantasy; and to free themselves from the paralysing influence of the past. Professor James Hopkins (as he now is) will himself participate in the seminar during the afternoon to debate and defend, almost forty years on, his critique of Cioffi's talk. 

We shall see that psychotherapists of all schools have been confused not only by the claims of Freud and the psychoanalytic establishment that his patients were phantasizing, but also by the claims of feminists and other writers who argue that the  seduction theory was essentially correct, and by the claims of those who argue that it was a question of Freuds inducing false memories in his  patients.

What all these writers miss is that Freud was claiming to have discovered the specific aetiology of the supposed mental illness, hysteria. This means a causative factor which he claimed was present in every case of hysteria. If a single hysteric  were to be proved (somehow) not to have been sexually abused as a child, then what we now call his seduction theory would have been not just a little bit wrong but totally wrong. Freud explicitly wanted to become as famous for discovering this supposed specific aetiology of a supposed mental illness as Robert Koch, the previous decade, had become for his discovery of what is still recognised today as the real specific aetiology of the real illness tuberculosis. This aspiration to universality, rather than to careful phenomenological evaluation of each case, corrupted not only Freud's own thinking but also the thinking of these late twentieth-century writers who proposed competing universalising claims.

Returning to the unique history of each individual client, in the spirit of Cioffi’s paper and Sartre’s existential psychoanalysis, then reveals sexual abuse and incestuous phantasy as merely two of the many ways in which the client may be mystified by ‘the past’. You are invited to join the discussion of the possibility of a general existential seduction theory which Anthony Stadlen proposed in the very first Inner Circle Seminar on 21 April 1996 (the centenary of Freud’s presentation of his so-called ‘seduction theory’ in Vienna on 21 April 1896).

‘The authority on Freud’s original “seduction” theory, its genesis and its ultimate fate, is surely Anthony Stadlen.’
John Kerr (1993) A Most Dangerous Method

Venue: ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Cost: Psychotherapy trainees £116, others £145, some bursaries; coffee, tea, biscuits, mineral water included; payable in advance; no refunds or transfers unless seminar cancelled
Apply to: Anthony Stadlen, ‘Oakleigh’, 2A Alexandra Avenue, London N22 7XE
Tel: +44 (0) 20 8888 6857 E-mail: stadlen@aol.com 

For further information on seminars, visit: http://anthonystadlen.blogspot.com./

The Inner Circle Seminars were founded by Anthony Stadlen in 1996 as an ethical, existential, phenomenological search for truth in psychotherapy. They have been kindly described by Thomas Szasz as ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Moral Foundations of Human Decency and Helpfulness’. But they are independent of all institutes, schools and colleges.

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