io9 did this interesting article about Freud, and why he remains stubbornly, and maybe regrettably, important:
“Freud is truly in a class of his own,” writes Todd Dufresne, an outspoken critic. “Arguably no other notable figure in history was so fantastically wrong about nearly every important thing he had to say. But, luckily for him, academics have been — and still are — infinitely creative in their efforts to whitewash his errors, even as lay readers grow increasingly dumbfounded by the entire mess.”
It’s not so much whitewashing as having to teach him in order to teach a bunch of other things that reference his works. As someone who teaches, it’s hard not to notice how much of what we read and discuss has been written in response to Freud, but no one really assigns him anymore, either. So much of French feminism, feminist film theory, and post modern theory, rely on a basic working knowledge of some of his concepts, like Oedipal complex and castration anxiety and his ideas about the family’s role in the sex and gender roles, for that matter. (If anyone knows of a useful compendium of some of these major concepts, I’d love to know about it.)
But I was, also, reminded of his remarkable letter to the mother of a gay man who was worried about her son. He wrote:
Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation; it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function, produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them. (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime – and a cruelty, too. If you do not believe me, read the books of Havelock Ellis.
That’s often the context I teach him in – as part of the movement of turn of the last century sexologists, some of whom, like Freud, were essentially compassionate if also paternalistic. That is definitely not true of all of them – Kraft-Ebing was a pathologizing asshole, for instance – but Ellis, who he mentions, wrote the introduction to the lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness, which was, in turn, brought up on obscenity charges only for portraying lesbian existence.
Bathwater maybe, but not the baby.