If we had to name the one cultural current that most characterizes America in the twentieth century, it might be the work of Freud and the disciplines that grew out of it. There is no one who remains unexposed to his vision of human life,, whether through courses in it (“psych”); through personal therapy, a common cultural experience for children of the middle class; or generally, through its pervasion of popular culture. The new vocabulary has crept into our – everyday speech, so that the ordinary man thinks in terms of being “sick,” “neurotic,” or “psy­cho”; he checks his “id” periodically for a “death wish,” and his “ego” for “weakness”; people who reject him are “egocentric”; he takes for granted that he has a “castration complex,” that he has “repressed” a desire to sleep with his mother, that he was and maybe still is engaged in “sibling rivalry,” that women “envy” his penis; he is likely to see every banana or hotdog as a “phallic symbol.” His marital arguments and divorce-court proceedings are con­ducted in this psychoanalese. Most of the time he is unclear about what these terms mean, but if he doesn’t know, at least he is certain that his “shrink” does. The spectacled and goateed little Viennese dozing in his arm­chair is a cliche of (nervous) modern humor. It would take some time to tabulate the number of cartoons that refer to psychoanalysis. We have built a whole new sym­bology around the couch alone.

Freudianism has become, with its confessionals and penance, its proselytes and converts, with the millions spent on its upkeep, our modern Church. We attack it only uneasily, for you never know, on the day of final judgment, whether they might be right. Who can be sure that he is as healthy as he can get? Who is functioning at his highest capacity? And who not scared out of his wits? Who doesn’t hate his mother and father? Who doesn’t compete with his brother? What girl at some time did not wish she were a boy? And for those hardy souls who persist in their skepticism, there is always that dreadful word resistance. They are the ones who are sickest: it’s obvious, they fight it so much.

There has been a backlash. Books have been written, careers have bloomed, on the contradictions within Freud’s work alone: some have made a name for them­selves simply on one small section of his work (e. g., by disproving the death wish, or penis envy), and others, braver, or more ambitious, have attacked the absurdities of the whole. Critical theories abound at every cocktail party: some intellectuals go so far as to relate the demise of the intellectual community in America to the importa­tion of psychoanalysis. In opposition to the religiosity of Freudianism, a whole empirical school of behaviorism has been founded (though experimental psychology suffers from its oWn kind of bias). And gradually, with all this, Freudian thought has been unwound, its most essential tenets sloughed off one by one until there is nothing left to attack.

And yet it does not die. Though psychoanalytic therapy has been proven ineffective, and Freud’s ideas about women’s sexuality literally proven wrong (e. g., Masters and Johnson on the myth of the double orgasm), the old conceptions stiff circulate. The doctors go on practicing.

And at the end of each new critique we find a guilty paean to the Great Father who started it ай. They can’t quite do him in.

But I don’t think it is solely a lack of courage to admit after ай these years that the emperor had no clothes on. I don’t think it is entirely because they might work themselves out of a job. I think that in most cases it is the same integrity that made them question it all that keeps them from destroying it all. “Intuitively” their “con­science” tells them they dare not drop that final ax.

For while it is true that Freud’s theories are not verifi­able empirically, that Freudianism in clinical practice has led to real absurdities, that in fact as early as 1913 it was noted that psychoanalysis itself is the disease it purports to cure, creating a new neurosis in place of the old— we have ай observed that those undergoing therapy seem more preoccupied with themselves than ever before, hav­ing advanced to a state of “perceptive” neurosis now, replete with “regressions,” lovesick “transferences,” and agonized soliloquies—stiH we sense there is something to it. Though those undergoing therapy are overcome with confusion when asked pointblank “Does it help?” or “Is it worth it?” it can’t be dismissed entirely.

Freud captured the imagination of a whole continent and civilization for a good reason. Though on the surface inconsistent, illogical, or “way out,” his fofiowers, with their cautious logic, their experiments and revisions have nothing comparable to say. Freudianism is so charged, so impossible to repudiate because Freud grasped the cru­cial problem of modern life: Sexuality.