Sigmund Freud, father of modern psychiatry and psycho-analysis (from http://www.wikipedia.com)
Sigmund Freud is to psychiatry, what Newton is to physics or what Darwin is to biology. Freud was a doctor of medicine and is considered the founding father of psychoanalysis and modern psychiatry. He was born in 1856 and died in 1939 so his life overlapped quite a bit with HPL (1890 – 1937). Unlike Newton and Darwin who both died before HPL was born, but similar to Einstein, HPL was more critical of Freud’s ideas. However, like many new and emerging scientific ideas of his time, HPL does appear to keep a somewhat open mind in the consideration of some of these ideas. It is interesting that HPL appeared to be more critical of living scientists in his time and their newly developed hypotheses and theories (i.e. Freud and Einstein) than scientists who were dead. More than likely this was the “scientist” in HPL, keeping an open, yet objectively critical, mind when presented with new ideas. Obviously the hypotheses of Freud and Einstein did not have a large amount of empirical data to support them and it was not until these hypotheses could be tested that HPL (as well as the scientific communities in general) could begin to find some validity associated with them.
What is interesting is that HPL cites Freud’s work in some of his early fiction but not in his later work. For example, Freud is mentioned in both “Beyond the Walls of Sleep” and in “From Beyond” but not in his later work. However, Freud’s ideas are briefly mentioned in some of his revision work such as “The Electric Executioner” (co-written with Adolphe de Castro) and “The Trap” (co-written with Henry S. Whitehead).
Such references of Freud in HPL’s early work and its general absence in his later work make complete sense. Many of his early stories are included in his “Dream Cycle” and dreams were an important component of Freud’s psychoanalysis. Later stories focus and emphasize humanity’s insignificance in the Universe and Cosmos at large. Thus, if the entire species of Homo sapiens is insignificant, how significant can the mental health of an individual human be? Yet, in spite of this, eroding mental health and insanity is an important and sometime inevitable outcome of being exposed to outer cosmic or inter-dimensional beings. However, is the insanity due to the individual being exposed to these “things from outside” or are they society’s response to an individual trying to reveal the truth of reality (lock them up and drug them)? More than likely it’s a combination of both.
Lovecraft’s Dreams and Nightmares (art by Michal Oracz; moraczart.blogspot.com)
The first time HPL mentions Freud in his stories is in fact in “Beyond the Wall of Sleep.” To discuss this reference I think it best to include the first paragraph of that story in its entirety.
“I have often wondered if the majority of mankind ever pause to reflect upon the occasional titanic significance of dreams, and of the obscure world to which they belong. Whilst the greater number of our nocturnal visions are perhaps no more than faint and fantastic reflections of our waking experiences – Freud to the contrary with his puerile symbolism – there are still a certain remainder whose immundane and ethereal character permit of no ordinary interpretation, and whose vaguely exciting and disquieting effect suggests possible minute glimpses into a sphere of mental existence no less important than physical life, yet separated from that life by an all but impassable barrier.”
– From H.P. Lovecraft’s “Beyond the Wall of Sleep”
In this quote HPL seems very dismissive of Freud and as S.T. Joshi cites in his annotated notes to the story in H.P. Lovecraft: The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories (Penguin Classics 2001), HPL added the clause that refers to Freud in a later version of the story. As Joshi also notes HPL’s phase “puerile symbolism” probably refers to Freud’s emphasis on the sexual nature of many of his dream-imagery interpretations, something HPL would find difficult to comprehend (Joshi, 2001).
However, HPL did not have a one-sided, simplified view of Freud. In I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft (S.T. Joshi, 2013), HPL thought that Freud’s work of psycho-analysis would prove an end to idealistic thought in humanity’s march toward scientific objectivity. In another passage HPL noted that while he feels many of Freud’s ideas were erroneous, he “nevertheless opened up a new path in psychology, devising a system whose doctrines more nearly approximate the real workings of the mind than any heretofore entertained. We may not like to accept Freud, but I fear we shall have to do so” (Joshi, 2013). I think this last sentence says quite a bit about what HPL thought of Freud and the advancements he made in the field of psychology. Next time we will talk about Joe Slater and his journeys beyond the walls of sleep. Thank you – Fred.