Please begin reading from PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLERS: THE CURIOUS CASE OF PROFESSOR SIGMUND FREUD AND DETECTIVE FICTION, or continue from part 2.
Since Hitchcock's time, authors and screenwriters have had much fun playing with the resonances that exist between psychoanalysis and detection. This kind of writing reached its apotheosis in 1975 with the publication of Nicholas Meyer's The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, a novel in which Freud and Sherlock Holmes are brought together to solve the same case.
The relationship between psychoanalysis and detection was not lost on Freud. In his Introductory Lectures, for example, there is a passage in which he stresses how both the detective and the psychoanalyst depend on accumulating piecemeal evidence that usually arrives in the form of small and apparently inconsequential clues. If you were a detective engaged in tracing a murder, would you expect to find that the murderer had left his photograph behind at the place of the crime, with his address attached? Or would you not necessarily have to be satisfied with comparatively slight and obscure traces of the person you were in search of? So do not let us underestimate small indications; by their help we may succeed in getting on the track of something bigger.
Later in the same series of lectures, Freud blurs the boundary between psychoanalysis and detection even further. He goes beyond pointing out that psychoanalysis and detection are similar enterprises and suggests that psychoanalytic techniques might actually be used to aid detection. Freud describes the case of a real murderer who acquired highly dangerous pathogenic organisms from scientific institutes by pretending to be a bacteriologist. The murderer then used these stolen cultures to fatally infect his victims. On one occasion, he audaciously wrote a letter to the director of one of these scientific institutes, complaining that the cultures he had been given were ineffective. But the letter contained a Freudian slip-an unconsciously performed blunder. Instead of writing in my experiments on mice or guinea pigs, the murderer wrote in my experiments on men. Freud notes that the institute director- not being conversant with psychoanalysis-was happy to overlook such a telling error.
In a little-known paper called Psychoanalysis and the Ascertaining of Truth in Courts of Law, Freud is even more confident that psychoanalytic techniques might be used in the service of detection. He writes: In both [psychoanalysis and law] we are concerned with a secret, with something hidden. . . . In the case of the criminal it is a secret which he knows he hides from you, but in the case of the hysteric it is a secret hidden from himself. . . . The task of the therapeutist is, however, the same as the task of the judge; he must discover the hidden psychic material. To do this we have invented various methods of detection, some of which lawyers are now going to imitate.
It is interesting that criminology and forensic science emerged at exactly the same time as psychoanalysis. In 1893, Professor Hans Gross (also Viennese) published the first handbook of criminal investigation, a manual for detectives. It was the same year that Freud published (with Josef Breuer) his first work on psychoanalysis: a "Preliminary Communication," On the Psychical Mechanism of Hysterical Phenomena. Freud, largely via Hollywood, wielded an extraordinary influence on detective fiction. But to what extent is the reverse true? We know that Freud was very widely read-and that he had lished a memoir in 1971, which contains a very interesting aside. The two men had been discussing literature, and Freud had expressed his admiration for several writers, most of them acknowledged masters and writers of the first magnitude, such as Dostoevsky. However, by the Wolfman's reckoning at least, a lesser talent seemed to have gatecrashed Freud's literary pantheon.
Once we happened to speak of Conan Doyle and his creation, Sherlock Holmes. I had thought that Freud would have no use for this type of light reading matter, and was surprised to find that this was not at all the case and that Freud had read this author attentively. The fact that circumstantial evidence is useful in psychoanalysis when reconstructing a childhood history may explain Freud's interest in this type of literature. The Wolfman's final observation is clearly correct. Crimes are like symptoms, and the psychoanalyst and detective are similar creatures. Both scrutinize circumstantial evidence, both reconstruct histories, and both seek to establish an ultimate cause.
If we broaden our definition of what might legitimately be called detective fiction and permit ourselves to consider works written even before Hoffmann's Mademoiselle de Scudéry, then we encounter a story that, without doubt, exerted a profound influence on Freud and the development of psychoanalysis. It is a story that British writer Christopher Booker has called the greatest "whodunit" in all literature. It is one of the earliest stories of murder and detection ever recorded and has a twist in the tale that still has the power to shock: Oedipus Rex by Sophocles.
When we meet Oedipus, there is a curse on his country. He is told that this curse will not be lifted until he has discovered the identity of the man who murdered his predecessor: King Laius, the former husband of Oedipus's new wife, Jocasta. Oedipus follows clue after clue until his investigation leads him inexorably to a terrible conclusion. It was he, Oedipus, who killed the king. Laius was his father and Oedipus is now married to his own mother.
This classic tragedy is also an ancient detective story and gave its name to the cornerstone of psychoanalytic theory-the much mooted (and even more misunderstood) Oedipus complex-a group of largely unconscious ideas and feelings concerning wishes to possess the parent of the opposite sex and eliminate the parent of the same sex. I think there is something very satisfying about the relationship between psychoanalysis and detective fiction. Freud influenced the course of detective fiction, but by the same token, detective fiction (in its broadest possible sense) also influenced Freud. And at a deeper level, psychoanalysis-a process that resembles detective work-discovers a "whodunit" buried in the depths of every human psyche.
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