Anthony Stadlen seminar on ‘Intellectuals and Sexual Abuse’. By Frank Schiphorst (16 May 2023)


Anthony Stadlen

 seminar on

Intellectuals and Sexual Abuse

Frank Schiphorst

16 May 2023

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Do you remember? Professor Dr. Edward Brongersma, Master of Law, member of the Dutch House of Lords, Knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion, who died at the age of 87 with the help of his GP? It was he who, in 1974, successfully championed the liberalisation of morality laws (lowering of the criminalization of homosexual relations from 21 to 16 years of age) and of the right of paedophiles, and of children, to have sexual relations.

Not just in the Netherlands, but also in France and the United Kingdom, doctors, writers and philosophers fought for more intergenerational sexual freedom. Intellectual heavyweights like Michel Foucault, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir in 1977 signed a petition to French Parliament to acknowledge the right of adults to have sexual relations with consenting children, and the right of children to consent. In 1974 psychiatrist Dr. David Cooper, a British friend of Foucault’s, wrote: “Initiation of young children into orgasmic experiences, in spontaneous body-exploration and play within their peer-group, will become, I believe, part of a full education towards the end of this century.” (The Grammar of Living, p. 50).

The prevalence and the impact of sexual violence against children only became common knowledge in 1982, with special thanks to feminist activists (the ‘VSK’ in the Netherlands). And this despite the fact that 86 years before one Sigmund Freud proclaimed that the neuroses of his adult patients had been caused by sexual violence against them as children (the ‘Seduction Theory’, as it was called later). For some reason Freud later displaced his attention to the -repressed- childish sexual fantasies as source of their psychopathology.

Anthony Stadlen, existential psychotherapist and former Research Fellow of the Freud Museum in London (and Advanced Practitioner of the Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan), has shaped his great interest in the history of psychiatry, psychotherapy and especially of psychoanalysis, into an extraordinary project. Ever since 1996 he has invited colleagues and students to his Sunday “Inner Circle Seminars” to participate in exploring and discussing important and relevant themes. The first of these now 282 gatherings was called, not by chance, on April 21st 1996, to the day exactly 100 years after Freud’s proclamation of his ‘seduction theory’ and of his new method, psychoanalysis.

Anthony Stadlen, at the age of 82 still going strong, not only looks like a Jewish ‘scribe’ (Dutch: ‘schriftgeleerde’), he is a Jewish scribe. Formulating slowly, very precise he quotes as literally as possible the relevant texts and utterances of the authors to be discussed; he asks razor sharp questions of his guest speakers and students alike, in a friendly tone yet always with superior knowledge.

Stadlen, it seems, knows everything about Freud, anyway he read everything Freud ever wrote.  Freud fascinates and irritates Stadlen, who may fervently defend the Viennese ‘inventor of psychoanalysis’ and just as mercilessly criticize him. (Stadlen’s critical discussion of one of Freud’s cases was published in Holland [“Was Dora wel ziek?”, Vrij Nederland, 2/11/1985]).

Analyst Stadlen is faithful to the true meaning of the word analysis (‘αναλυσις’: “to loosen, of shackles; hence liberation ATT.”). He aims to free ‘the truth’ from the tangle of lies and confusion, for the promotion of ‘the good and the beautiful’. Not surprising that in 1977 Stadlen’s curiosity was provoked by the impact of the history of Freud’s ideas, especially the caesura in his thinking about infantile sexuality, apparent in the contemporary views about intergenerational sex. In the same year Stadlen started his decades-long research on the foundations of psychoanalysis. In his words: “[my] initial stimulus and focus was, specifically, the attitude in the 1970s of a preponderance of intellectuals – including philosophers, psychoanalysts, writers, feminists – to so called ‘paedophilia’, childhood sexuality, and sexual abuse of children. This entailed [...] historical research into more than eighty years of psychoanalytic mystification, starting with Sigmund Freud’s so-called ‘seduction theory’ (1896) and his retraction of it.”

“In the one hundred and twenty-seven years since then, there have been the wildest swings in the attitude of intellectuals, including psychoanalysts, psychotherapists, philosophers and others, to the sexual abuse of children. They saw it where it wasn’t and failed to see it where it was.”

In short, the seduction theory may have been no good, the explanation for and the direction of Freuds change of course certainly wasn’t ‘kosher’. Both lines of thought helped to mystify the discourse on the sexual abuse of children.

Stadlen proposes to formulate an existential seduction theory, in which facts will be differentiated from a discussion about the ethics of sexual relations between adults and children.

Because of the absence of consensus, also in The Netherlands, about the prevalence of (sexual) violence against children and about -the possible treatment of- the psychological long-term consequences, the seminar will be of immediate interest for our Dutch colleagues as well.

Frank Schiphorst

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