Phillips writes: “Our vision, Freud showed us, what we are able to see, is sponsored by our blind spots; what we are determined not to know frees us and forces us to know something else.” Phillips doesn’t give us the whole Freud, but, if Freud is to be believed, you can never see the whole person anyway. We see what we need to see.
In fact, in Phillips’s view, the story of psychoanalysis has a tragic end. He thinks Freud was a victim of his own success. In the beginning, like a good critic, Freud let his patients own their mysteries. But, as psychoanalysis became an institution unto itself and developed its own rules and dogmas, analysts began to talk over their patients. “Once Freud had discovered what he called the unconscious it was never clear how unconscious the unconscious would be allowed to be (at least by the owners of psychoanalysis). What would it be to be an expert or a specialist of the unconscious?” Phillips writes. “Do psychoanalysts know what people are talking about or just know how to let people speak for themselves?” An enterprise that was characterized, at first, by uncertainty became too certain. Although Phillips discusses Freud’s later books throughout “Becoming Freud”—books like “Civilization and Its Discontents” and “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”—the narration itself stops, rather abruptly, when Freud is fifty. That, he seems to say, is when the psychoanalytic enterprise began to grow claustrophobic and controlling.