Thursday, September 29, 2011

On Mysterious Forces and Feelings

At one time, Max Graf (Sigmund Freud’s friend) expressed doubt concerning the wisdom of raising his infant son as a Jew, for the child had been born in the midst of an anti-Semitic ferment whipped up by the Viennese demagogue. Freud said to him: “If you do not let your son grow up as a Jew, you will deprive him of those sources of energy which cannot be replaced by anything else. He will have to struggle as a Jew and you ought to develop in him all the energy he will need for the struggle. Do not deprive him of that advantage.”

"In my opinion, we as Jews, if we want to cooperate with other people must develop a little masochism and be prepared to endure a certain amount of injustice. There is no other way. You may be sure that if I were called Oberhuber my new ideas would, despite all the other factors, have met with far less resistance." --Sigmund Freud

“I must admit that I share neither Jewish faith nor national pride … but there are other qualities that endowed Jews and Judaism with an irresistible attraction. This attraction is rooted in mysterious forces and feelings which draw their power from an inexplicable source that defies definition”. --Sigmund Freud

Preface to the Hebrew Edition of Totem and Taboo 

No reader of [the Hebrew version of] this book will find it easy to put himself in the emotional position of an author who is ignorant of the language of holy writ, who is completely estranged from the religion of his fathers — as well as from every other religion — and who cannot take a share in nationalist ideals, but who has yet never repudiated his people, who feels that he is in his essential nature a Jew and who has no desire to alter that nature. If the question were put to him: 'Since you have abandoned all these common characteristics of your countrymen, what is there left to you that is Jewish?' he would reply: 'A very great deal, and probably its very essence.' He could not now express that essence clearly in words; but some day, no doubt, it will become accessible to the scientific mind.

Thus it is an experience of a quite special kind for such an author when a book of his is translated into the Hebrew language and put into the hands of readers for whom that historic idiom is a living tongue: a book, moreover, which deals with the origin of religion and morality, though it adopts no Jewish standpoint and makes no exceptions in favour of Jewry. The author hopes, however, that he will be at one with his readers in the conviction that unprejudiced science cannot remain a stranger to the spirit of the new Jewry. --Sigmund Freud: Vienna, December 1930.

Speech to the B'nai Brith on his seventieth birthday. May 6, 1926

Right Honorable Grand President, honorable President, dear Brothers:

Thank you for the honor you have done me today. You know why I cannot answer in my own voice. You have heard one of my friends and followers speak of my scientific work-but the verdict on these things is difficult to pronounce and perhaps will not be pronounced with any certainty for a long time to come. Permit me to add something to the remark of the other speaker, who is also my friend as well as my solicitous physician. I would like to tell you briefly how I became one of the B'nai B'rith, and what I sought among you.

In the years following 1895 two strong impressions were made upon me that combined to leave the same effect. On the one hand, I had won my first insight into the depth of the instinctive life of a human being, had seen much that was sobering and even frightening. On the other hand, the communication of my unpleasant discoveries resulted in the loss of what were then the greatest part of my personal relationships. It seemed to me that I was like a man outlawed, shunned by everyone. In my isolation, the longing arose in me for a circle of chosen, high-minded men who, regardless of the audacity of what I had done, would receive me with friendliness. Your society was pointed out to me as the place where such men were to be found.

That you were Jews only suited me the more, for I myself was a Jew, and it always seemed to me to be not only shameful but downright senseless to deny it. That which bound me to Judaism--I am obliged to admit it--was not my faith, nor was it national pride; for I was always an unbeliever, raised without religion, although not without respect for the so-called "ethical" demands of human civilization. And I always tried to suppress nationalistic ardor, whenever I felt any inclination thereto, as something pernicious and unjust, frightened as I was by the warning example of the peoples among whom we Jews live. But there remained enough other things to make the attraction of Judaism and Jews irresistible -many dark emotional forces, all the more potent for being so hard to grasp in words, as well as the clear consciousness of an inner identity, the intimacy that comes from the same psychic structure .

And to that was soon added the insight that it was my Jewish nature alone that I had to thank for two characteristics that proved indispensable to me in my life's difficult course. Because I was a Jew I found myself free from many prejudices that hampered others in the use of their intellects; and as a Jew I was prepared to take my place on the side of the opposition and renounce being on good terms with the "compact majority." And therefore I became one of you, took part in your humanitarian and national interests, made friends among you, and persuaded the few friends remaining to me to join our society. There was no question whatsoever of convincing you of my theories, but at a time when no one in Europe listened to me and I had not a single follower even in Vienna you granted me your benevolent attention. You were my first audience.

For some two thirds of the long period of time since my admission I came to you conscientiously, gaining recreation and stimulation from my intercourse with you. Today you were kind enough not to reproach me for having stayed away from you the last third of this time. My work piled up over my head; the demands connected with it mounted; my day could not be prolonged enough to permit me to attend your sessions; my body soon after could no longer endure the delayed mealtime. And finally there came years of illness, the illness that today too prevents me from putting in an appearance among you. you conscientiously, gaining recreation and stimulation from my intercourse with you. Today you were kind enough not to reproach me for having stayed away from you the last third of this time.

I do not know whether I was a regular B'nai B'rith in your sense. I am almost ready to doubt it; too many special conditions came up in my case. But I can assure you that you meant much to me and did much for me during the years I belonged to you. And so accept my warmest thanks for the past, as well as for the present. -- Sigmund Freud, Speech to the B'nai Brith on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday, May 6, 1926

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