email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
A Basic Theory of NeuropsychoanalysisA Cursing Brain?A Dream of Undying FameA Map of the MindAfter LacanAgainst AdaptationAgainst FreudAn Anatomy of AddictionAnalytic FreudAndré Green at the Squiggle FoundationAnger, Madness, and the DaimonicAnna FreudAnna Freud: A BiographyApproaching PsychoanalysisAttachment and PsychoanalysisBadiouBecoming a SubjectBefore ForgivingBerlin PsychoanalyticBetween Emotion and CognitionBeyond GenderBeyond SexualityBeyond the Pleasure PrincipleBiology of FreedomBoundaries and Boundary Violations in PsychoanalysisBuilding on BionCare of the PsycheCarl JungCassandra's DaughterCherishmentConfusion of TonguesContemporary Psychoanalysis and the Legacy of the Third ReichCrucial Choices, Crucial ChangesCulture and Conflict in Child and Adolescent Mental HealthDarwin's WormsDesert Islands and Other Texts (1953-1974)Dispatches from the Freud WarsDoes the Woman Exist?Doing Psychoanalysis in TehranDreaming and Other Involuntary MentationDreaming by the BookEnergy Psychology InteractiveEqualsErrant SelvesEthics and the Discovery of the UnconsciousEthics Case Book of the American Psychoanalytic AssociationFairbairn's Object Relations Theory in the Clinical SettingFed with Tears -- Poisoned with MilkFeminism and Its DiscontentsForms of Intersubjectivity in Infant Reasearch and Adult TreatmentFour Lessons of PsychoanalysisFratricide in the Holy LandFreudFreudFreudFreudFreudFreudFreud and the Question of PseudoscienceFreud As PhilosopherFreud at 150Freud's AnswerFreud's WizardFreud, the Reluctant PhilosopherFrom Classical to Contemporary PsychoanalysisFundamentals of Psychoanalytic TechniqueGenes on the CouchGoing SaneHans BellmerHappiness, Death, and the Remainder of LifeHate and Love in Psychoanalytical InstitutionsHatred and ForgivenessHealing the Soul in the Age of the BrainHeinz KohutHeinz KohutHidden MindsHistory of ShitHope and Dread in PsychoanalysisImagination and Its PathologiesImagine There's No WomanIn Freud's TracksIn SessionIn the Floyd ArchivesIntimaciesIntimate RevoltIrrationalityIs Oedipus Online?Jacques LacanJacques Lacan and the Freudian Practice of PsychoanalysisJung and the Making of Modern PsychologyJung Stripped BareKilling FreudLacanLacanLacanLacan and Contemporary FilmLacan at the SceneLacan For BeginnersLacan in AmericaLacan TodayLacan's Seminar on AnxietyLawLearning from Our MistakesLove's ExecutionerMad Men and MedusasMale Female EmailMelanie KleinMemoirs of My Nervous IllnessMental SlaveryMind to MindMixing MindsMoral StealthMourning and ModernityMovies and the MindMurder in ByzantiumNew Studies of Old VillainsNocturnesNoir AnxietyOn Being Normal and Other DisordersOn BeliefOn IncestOn Not Being Able to SleepOn the Freud WatchOn the Way HomeOpen MindedOpera's Second DeathOvercoming Destructive Beliefs, Feelings, and BehaviorsPhenomology & Lacan on Schizophrenia, After the Decade of the BrainPhilosophical Counselling and the UnconsciousPractical Psychoanalysis for Therapists and PatientsPsychiatry, Psychoanalysis, And The New Biology Of MindPsychoanalysisPsychoanalysisPsychoanalysis and Narrative MedicinePsychoanalysis and NeurosciencePsychoanalysis and the Philosophy of SciencePsychoanalysis as Biological SciencePsychoanalysis at the MarginsPsychoanalysis at the MarginsPsychoanalysis in a New LightPsychoanalysis in FocusPsychology, Psychotherapy, Psychoanalysis, and the Politics of Human RelationshipsPsychotherapy As PraxisPutnam CampQuestions for FreudRe-Inventing the SymptomReading Seminar XXReinventing the SoulRelational Theory and the Practice of PsychotherapyRelationalityRepressed SpacesRevolt, She SaidSecrets of the SoulSerious ShoppingSex on the CouchSexuationSigmund FreudSoul Murder RevisitedSpectral EvidenceSpirit, Mind, and BrainStrangers to OurselvesSubjective Experience and the Logic of the OtherSubjectivity and OthernessSubstance Abuse As SymptomSurrealist Painters and PoetsTaboo SubjectsTalk is Not EnoughThe Arabic FreudThe Art of the SubjectThe Brain and the Inner WorldThe Brain, the Mind and the SelfThe Cambridge Companion to LacanThe Challenge for Psychoanalysis and PsychotherapyThe Clinical LacanThe Colonization Of Psychic SpaceThe Condition of MadnessThe Couch and the TreeThe Cruelty of DepressionThe Dissociative Mind in PsychoanalysisThe Dreams of InterpretationThe Examined LifeThe Fall Of An IconThe Freud EncyclopediaThe Freud FilesThe Freud WarsThe Fright of Real TearsThe Future of PsychoanalysisThe Gift of TherapyThe Heart & Soul of ChangeThe Knotted SubjectThe Last Good FreudianThe Late Sigmund FreudThe Letters of Sigmund Freud and Otto RankThe Mind According to ShakespeareThe Mystery of PersonalityThe Mythological UnconsciousThe Neuropsychology of the UnconsciousThe New PsychoanalysisThe Power of FeelingsThe Psychoanalytic MovementThe Psychoanalytic MysticThe Psychoanalytic Study of the ChildThe Psychoanalytic Study of the ChildThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Puppet and the DwarfThe Real World Guide to Psychotherapy PracticeThe Revolt of the PrimitiveThe Seminar of Moustafa SafouanThe Sense and Non-Sense of RevoltThe Shortest ShadowThe Social History of the UnconsciousThe Surface EffectThe Symmetry of GodThe Tragedy of the SelfThe Trainings of the PsychoanalystThe UnsayableThe World of PerversionTherapeutic ActionTherapy's DelusionsThis Incredible Need to BelieveThoughts Without A ThinkerTo Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the WorldTrauma and Human ExistenceTraumatizing TheoryUmbr(a)Unconscious knowing and other essays in psycho-philosophical analysisUnderstanding Dissidence and Controversy in the History of PsychoanalysisUnderstanding PsychoanalysisUnfree AssociationsWalking HeadsWay Beyond FreudWhat Does a Woman Want?What Freud Really MeantWhen the Body SpeaksWhere Do We Fall When We Fall in Love?Whose Freud?Why Psychoanalysis?Wilhelm ReichWinnicottWinnicott On the ChildWisdom Won from IllnessWittgenstein on Freud and FrazerWittgenstein Reads FreudWorld, Affectivity, TraumaZizek
Why is a raven like a writing-desk? (asked Lewis Carroll). Poe wrote on both (answered Sam Loyd). Is what Sigmund Freud and James Frazer have in common is that Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote on both? Not exactly. Wittgenstein undertook to criticize the founder of psychoanalysis and the author of The Golden Bough, as well as the practitioners of philosophical aesthetics, for committing essentially the same sort of mistake. It is easy to be puzzled by the supposed affinity, to be sure. G. E. Moore, who was there, complained that Wittgensteins "discussion of Aesthetics, however, was mingled in a curious way with criticism of assumptions which he said were constantly made by Frazer in the Golden Bough, and also with criticism of Freud."
In the essays collected in Wittgenstein on Freud and Frazer, however, Frank Cioffi attempts to explain what the mistake committed by Freud and by Frazer was: roughly, Wittgenstein regarded it as inappropriate to investigate the phenomena they studied in Freuds case, the mental; in Frazers case, the ritual empirically. Cioffis expository task is made difficult by the fragmentary, unsystematic, and at times internally inconsistent nature of his subjects remarks, which survive only in manuscripts not intended for publication and in the notes of his students. (As the old joke has it, Wittgenstein controverted the academic slogan by perishing then publishing.) Nevertheless Cioffi succeeds admirably, not only in explaining what Wittgensteins criticisms were, but also in judiciously assessing their soundness. In passing, he provides incisive commentary both on commentators who find nothing of worth in Wittgensteins criticisms and on commentators whose respect for Wittgenstein verges on the idolatrous.
Exegetically, Cioffis main contribution is to distinguish two distinct sorts of Wittgensteinian reasons for thinking that empirical considerations are irrelevant to understanding the phenomena in question. Take, for the sake of concreteness, Frazers discussion of the fire-festivals of Europe, in which "the pretence of burning people is sometimes carried so far that it seems reasonable to regard it as a mitigated survival of an older custom of actually burning them" (The Golden Bough, ch. 64, quoted by Cioffi, pp. 80-81). Wittgenstein sometimes talks as though Frazers mistake is to propose any sort of explanatory story at all: "the very idea of wanting to explain a practice," he writes, "seems wrong to me." In asking questions about the origin of the fire-festivals, Frazer is asking questions that are conceptually inappropriate. Clarification, not explanation, is what is necessary to understand the phenomena. Sometimes, however, Frazers mistake is represented as his failure to ask the right question: his explanations of the fire-festivals are unsatisfactory because they fail to clarify what interests us, namely the impressions we have of the fire-festivals as "deep and sinister."
Cioffis attitude toward Wittgensteins criticisms of Frazer is mixed. In response to the first sort of criticism, he trenchantly argues that there is nothing misconceived about Frazers attempt to explain the distinctive features of present ritual practices by appealing to features of the ancient rituals from which they developed. He concludes that "it is in reminding us that there is an alternative direction of interest to that of explanation, and not in demonstrating its intrinsic priority, that the value of Wittgensteins objections to Frazers empirical procedure lies" (p. 263). As for Frazers supposed failure to ask the right sort of question about the fire-festivals, he remarks that "there are no substantial textual grounds for holding that Frazer was subliminally preoccupied with this question. But this need not absolve Frazer from error" (p. 4), for perhaps Frazer ought to have considered it. His ultimate conclusion here is disappointingly tinged with relativism: "The value of Wittgensteins remarks on the limits of the problem-solving potentials of science, and of knowledge in general, depends on whether those who come to them are startled into an awareness that the consummation of the project of knowledge cannot do for them what they always try to make it do" (p. 18).
What about Freud? Cioffi is perhaps best known for his own assiduous and acute criticisms of Freud, which were recently collected in Freud and the Question of Pseudoscience (Open Court 1998), also reviewed on Metapsychology. (It is regrettable, but not calamitous, that his 1969 essay "Wittgensteins Freud" appears there and not in Wittgenstein on Freud and Frazer.) While traces of Cioffis critique appear in the relevant essays, the main focus is appropriately on Wittgensteins criticism of Freud. Again Cioffi distinguishes two sorts of criticism to be found in Wittgenstein. Sometimes the complaint is that Freuds mistake is to propose any sort of explanatory story at all in his study of various mental phenomena. While Cioffi rejects the complaint in the case of Frazer, he says that it is not entirely inappropriate in the case of Freud, particularly the Freud of Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious. Sometimes, however, the complaint is that Freuds mistake is to provide explanatory answers to questions that require clarification instead. Here Cioffi is sympathetic. "There are occasions," he explains, "on which the self we are attempting to fathom or its products, like dreams does not figure as merely a datum for causal explanation but as a complex intentional object whose multiple aspects we are striving to discriminate, articulate and arrange and towards which we are trying to clarify our feelings" (p. 13). A further attraction of Cioffis discussion, by the way, is the careful manner in which he relates it to Wittgensteins oracular formula "Freud confuses reasons and causes."
Wittgenstein on Freud and Frazer is not without its irritations for the bibliographical rigorist. Although most of the essays appeared originally elsewhere, the details of the original publications are not provided. The system of bibliographic reference is not at all uniform: citations are given variously in parentheses, in footnotes, and in endnotes. There are quoted passages for which no citation at all is provided. Especially annoying is the reference (on p. 302) to the 1987 essay "Qualia and materialism: closing the explanatory gap," which omits not only the reference (viz. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 48, pp. 281-98) but also the name of the author (viz. C. L. Hardin, who might well feel insulted). In addition, there is no bibliography for the whole book. Reproaches are in order for Cambridge University Press.
There are also the two problems that inevitably beset collections of essays on any narrowly circumscribed topic: redundancy and discrepancy. For example, in the introduction, Cioffi describes two classes of Wittgensteinian reasons for thinking empirical considerations to be irrelevant, listing two reasons for each class. In the afterword, he again describes two such classes, but here the second class contains only one reason, while the two reasons contained in the first class are not the same as in the introduction. It is clear that Cioffi is neither confused nor inconsistent; it is clear that he is simply dividing the same conceptual space differently; but the discrepancy is not conducive to clarity. To be fair, it is entirely possible that only by starting afresh could Cioffi have avoided these problems.
Considerable pertinacity is necessary to extract the full benefit from the essays contained in Wittgenstein on Freud and Frazer. Only readers with strong antecedent interest in Cioffis topic are likely to think the effort to be wholly worthwhile. The difficulty is in part due to the cryptic nature of Wittgensteins remarks and in part due to the intrinsic obscurity of the topic. Compounding the difficulty, however, is Cioffis penchant for allusion. His essays teem with references to novels, poetry, plays, paintings, biographies and autobiographies, works of literary criticism and art criticism, works of history, newspaper articles, and so on running the gamut from Henry Adams to Mikhail Zoshchenko (whoever he may be). The effect is at times appealing and useful, even perhaps necessary, as in his attempt to discuss the ineffable attitude of what Santayana called congenital transcendentalism. At other times it is overwhelming. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Wittgenstein on Freud and Frazer is essential reading for those interested in its topic.
Glenn Branch received his BA in philosophy from Brandeis University and is presently on leave from the PhD program in philosophy at UCLA. Among his philosophical interests are the philosophy of mind, evolutionary psychology, and the scientific status of psychoanalysis.