Freud despised music. He actively avoided it. He never wrote a single article about it, so why is that?
Alright, alright. This might be the 2020 version of the actual quote he said some hundred (and plus) years ago. And I’ll get back to it in just a sec (1 minute tops, I promise!).
While I was getting my major in psychology back in the day, I had to learn quite a lot about Freud (of course). It was fascinating to learn how the unconscious mind worked and how it controls so much of our daily conscious life. He was responsible for shattering one of the great misconceptions we had of ourselves as the mighty rationale creatures we are so proud of being.
Just a quick recap of those 3 big historical discoveries:
· When we discovered we were not the center of the solar system (Copernicus)
· When we discovered we were not the center of God’s creation (Darwin)
· When we discovered we were not the center of our own selves (Freud)
Evidently, he is a big name in history and for him to say that he despised music, an art I just couldn’t live without, was shocking. Why would this great thinker of humankind hate music so much? I wanted to learn more on his views, and this lead me to some interesting thoughts about it.
Now here’s the actual quote he said in 1914 (I hope it wasn’t longer than a minute!).
“…as for instance with music, I am almost incapable of obtaining any pleasure. Some rationalistic, or perhaps analytic, turn of mind in me rebels against being moved by a thing without knowing why I am thus affected and what it is that affects me”
Music is too abstract as an art form for him. He can’t understand the effects of music on his feelings so he flees from its influence. It seems like a fear of not being in control, so he might actually be scared of music!
I checked the scientific term, it’s called Melophobia. You learn something every day!
It’s interesting to learn how he reacted when listening to music. He could enjoy going to the opera (maybe because it wasn’t pure music but mixed with words) but the more the emotional effect of music appeared to him, the more he despised it, as one of his students and friend (Theodor Reik) wrote.
Note aside, if you are fond of opera you might enjoy Freud’s top 5 favorites: Mozart’s Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute, Bizet’s Carmen, and Wagner’s Die Meistersinger (Gay, 1988).
It might even be the case that Freud was so sensible to its effects that he couldn’t stand what music was doing to him. We know that he abused cocaine and tobacco and he had some symptoms of an obsessive-compulsive disorder, so you might think that the emotional realm was a heavy burden on him. He couldn’t cope with what music arose in him, so why play with fire in the first place?
Conclusion: stay away from music’s power!
That would be Freud’s own reasoning (to which he abode throughout his life). He wouldn’t surrend to music, so he avoided it. He never wrote a single article about it, even though he went into detail with other art forms such as painting, theater or sculpture. So the guy just maintained himself as far from music as he possibly could.
But there’s another interesting acknowledgment here. Music really has a powerful effect. And to put a little bit of controversy here, one might ask if Freud had been unsettled with the fact that music therapy could replace psychoanalysis?
Okay, too much gossip here, but let’s stay with music’s potential. There’s so many scientifical studies on music these days and how it affects us that we shouldn’t fear it but embrace it! So let’s cast aside Freud’s melophobia, and see music for what it’s worth.
By Pavle Marinkovic on April 4, 2020
Cheshire, N. M. (1996). The empire of the ear: Freud’s problem with music. International journal of psycho-analysis, 77, 1127–1168.
Diamond, S. (2012). Why We Love Music — and Freud Despised It. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evil-deeds/201211/why-we-love-music-and-freud-despised-it on the 4th of April 2020.
Meyerhofer, W. (2011). Dr. Joy. Dr. Dream. Retrieved from https://thepeoplestherapist.com/tag/sigmund-freud/ on the 4th of April 2020.
Peter Gay, Freud: A Life for Our Time (New York, 1988), 168.
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