Final Analysis, by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson has lived much of his adult life in the spotlight, enmeshed in controversy. He is an erstwhile professor of Sanskrit who became a psychoanalyst, and who shortly thereafter caught the eye of Kurt Eissler, a man deeply learned in and devoted to the psychoanalytic movement and its history. Eissler was taken by him—taken in, many say—and saw to it that Masson was appointed to succeed him in directing the Freud Archives, the ultimate repository of Freudian documents. Masson, naturally enough, jumped at the chance, severed his academic ties, and set about his new work energetically. A certain brashness seems to have irritated many of those in the movement. But more serious problems emerged when his study of some early correspondence convinced him that Freud had deliberately concealed important findings, to the effect that many of his early patients had been sexually seduced as children, and that their “fantasies” of such had not been fantasies at all. In Masson’s view, furthermore, Freud had carried out this deception in order to curry favor with respectable opinion.
Masson felt he had made a great discovery and was determined to publicize it. He agreed to (or arranged for) an interview with the New York Times, where his provocative conclusions were reported in a lengthy two-part story. Needless to say, that did not sit well with the elders of psychoanalysis. They did not accept Masson’s “evidence” or his interpretation of it, and they were especially indignant at his rushing to the newspapers. They discharged him as director of the archives. Ordinarily that would be that, a tempest in a teapot, of little interest to anyone except those absorbed in Freudian arcana. But then Janet Malcolm, a New Yorker critic who had earlier written an excellent book on the psychoanalytic profession, heard about what had happened, saw its journalistic possibilities, interviewed Masson and many others, and wrote a cool, clever account of the episode, initially for the magazine and later as a book. It made Masson a household name among those interested in psychoanalysis and its gossip and at the same time it demolished whatever reputation he might have aspired to. To most readers he came across as vain, opportunistic, self-seeking, boastful—a hustler, a Donald Trump of the psychoanalytic scene. Masson then sued Malcolm, claiming she had maligned him by various forms of misquotation. She replied that she might have condensed and paraphrased but had captured his meanings accurately. The first rulings were in her favor, but the case has now been accepted for hearing by the Supreme Court.
About the Author