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An Autobiographical Study

Freud, Sigmund 1925d [1924], An Autobiographical Study, SE 20: 1-70. Postscript, 1935a, SE 20: 71-4.

[GMG:] He was inspired at an early age by an essay by Goethe on Nature; but he was also interested from the first in culture: 'by a sort of curiosity, which was, however, directed more towards human concerns than towards natural objects.' 8

Before going further into the question of infantile sexuality I must mention an error into which I fell for a while and which might well have had fatal consequences for the whole of my work. Under the influence of the technical procedure which I used at that time, the majority of my patients reproduced from their childhood scenes in which they were sexually seduced by some grown-up person. … I believed these stories, and consequently supposed that I had discovered the roots of the subsequent neurosis in these experiences of sexual seduction in childhood. If the reader feels inclined to shake his head at my credulity, I cannot altogether blame him. … When, however, I was at last obliged to recognize that these scenes of seduction had never taken place, and that they were only phantasies which my patients had made up or which I myself had perhaps forced on them, I was for some time completely a loss. … When I had pulled myself together, I was able to draw the right conclusions from my discovery: namely, that the neurotic symptoms were not related directly to actual events but to wishful phantasies, and that as far as the neurosis was concerned psychical reality was of more importance than material reality. 33-4

My interest, after making a lifelong détour through the natural sciences, medicine, and psychotherapy, returned to the cultural problems which had fascinated me long before, when I was a youth scarcely old enough for thinking. At the very climax of my psycho-analytic work, in 1912, I had already attempted in Totem and Taboo to make use of the newly discovered findings of analysis in order to investigate the origins of religion and morality. I now carried this work a stage further in two later essays, The Future of an Illusion (1927c) and Civilization and its Discontents (1930a). I perceived ever more clearly that the events of human history, the interactions between human nature, cultural development and the precipitates of primæval experience (the most prominent of which is religion) are no more than a reflection of the dynamic conflicts between the ego, the id and the super-ego, which psycho-analysis studies in the individual—are the very same processes repeated upon a wider stage. 72

[The above is the Strachey translation; what follows is from Bettelheim.]

"After a lifelong detour over the natural sciences, medicine, and psychotherapy, my interest returned to those cultural problems which had once captivated the youth who had barely awakened to deeper thought." These interests had centred on "the events of the history of man, the mutual influences between man's nature, the development of culture, and those residues of prehistoric events of which religion is the foremost representation … studies which originate in psychoanalysis but go way beyond it." 72


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