It is a paradox of some interest that though psychoanalysis was, from the beginning, about the relationship between justice and love, there is no explicit description in Freud's work of what constitutes a good life. And this is one of the many things that distinguish him from his followers and critics. It was also, of course, part of Freud's disingenuous rationalism to assert that psychoanalysis could never be any kind of weltanschauung, that it was exempt from traditional moral questions like whether virtue can be taught, or whether we need to know what we are doing in order to be good. Confronted, however, with patients who claimed to have been seduced as children by parents or other adults, Freud very quickly came up against his own personal preferences - which he would later call resistances - and the normative standards of his culture. There were clearly certain things which were deemed absolutely unacceptable for adults to do to children and these could only be adequately described in terms of sexuality. Freud's first patients, though, were mostly women who claimed to have been seduced by their fathers. It is Estela Welldon's point in this often sympathetic book that maternal incest may be more pervasive than Freud was able to recognise.
LRB 2 February 1989 | PDF Download