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This review is taken from PN Review 52, Volume 13 Number 2, November - December 1986.

DEATH OF FATHERS Jean-Paul Sartre, The Freud Scenario, edited by J.- B. Pontalis, translated by Quintin Hoare (Verso) £16.95

In 1985, director John Huston asked Jean-Paul Sartre to write the screenplay for a film about Freud. Huston felt Sartre was the 'ideal man' for the job: 'he knew Freud's work intimately and would have an objective and logical approach'. It was an odd judgement. Sartre's relationship with psychoanalytic ideas had in fact been characterized by dissent, challenge and perhaps partial ignorance. In particular, he had been consistently concerned to explain 'neurosis' in terms of freedom rather than of drives and complexes. His difference from Freud is exemplified in the analysis, in his early work The Transcendence of the Ego (1937), of the case of a young, respectable married woman alarmed by an urge to display herself at her window, like a prostitute. Sartre interpreted this, not in a Freudian perspective, but as a 'vertigo of freedom': a dizzying awareness that one's identity, one's destiny (as, say, 'respectable') is not fixed, that one is, at any moment, free to do otherwise. In Being and Nothingness (1943), he offers 'bad faith', the conscious denial of one's freedom, as a replacement for the concept of 'repression', and advocates an 'existential' rather than an 'empirical' psychoanalysis of the Freudian or Adlerian kind. Both existential and empirical psycho-analysis, Sartre affirms, reject such notions as 'heredity' and 'character'; both regard all the actions of an individual, even the smallest, apparently most trivial ones, as significant; both see individuals as constantly making their histories in specific circumstances. But the Freudian libido and the Adlerian will-to-power ...


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