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The Intellectual Odyssey of Former Rolling Stones Promoter Peter Swales

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Over a period of many months, during which Masson failed to produce a single restricted letter, Swales came to his own realization about the man. "Masson wanted to usurp my reputation as a 'dogged Freud sleuth' and to arrogate it to himself," Swales claims. "He's an impostor trying to pass himself off as a brilliant archival historian."

In the spring of 1981, Masson sent Swales a copy of a lecture that he had recently delivered. Swales considered the work a disgusting piece of trash and he decided to denounce the man to Eissler; an ensuing telephone conversation terminated the Masson-Swales relationship. It was at this juncture that Swales spent three days writing a forty-five-page single-spaced letter — a masterpiece of invective recounting the panorama of Masson's sins. "The narrative sweep, the energy, the intelligence and the high spirits of Swales' writing," wrote Malcolm, "outweigh the triviality of much of what he says and the lunacy of the lengths to which he goes to say it."

A copy of this diatribe came into the hands of a New York Times reporter, Ralph Blumenthal, who contacted Swales, hoping to get him to talk about his Minna thesis and the Freud-Fliess murder "plot." Swales declined. Blumenthal suggested that he would talk to Masson instead, and Swales told him to go ahead. With his talent for media manipulation, Swales knew that Blumenthal would so flatter Masson that he would blab his eccentric theory on why Freud had repudiated his "seduction" theory of 1897, which had traced hysteria to sexual abuse in childhood rather than to unconscious fantasy, as later Freudian theory insisted. The would-be director of the Freud Archives considered that Freud's change of heart had much to do with peer pressure and the need to preserve his faltering career. Sure enough, Masson blabbed his head off, the article appeared in the New York Times in the summer of 1981, and Masson's goose was cooked. His association with the archives was terminated for his use of restricted material to further his own idiosyncratic theories. If he had only controlled himself, he would have had access to enough unknown Freud material to last him a lifetime.

Swales suspects that certain aspects of his own findings will be altered only when the Freud Archives finally opens its stacks or new information appears from some other quarter. Until then, he eagerly waits for factually grounded counterattacks and refutations of his work, although few have come along; usually he must settle for ad hominem expressions of distaste or a general uneasiness about the almost perverse subtlety of his arguments, many of which are indeed constructed around what he calls "an uncanny ubiquity of coincidences." Janet Malcolm called his NYU lecture on Freud's Minna affair "a dazzling tour de force": "The whole thing is immensely satisfying to contemplate as a piece of intellectual work; there are no loose ends, all the pieces fit, the joints are elegant. But it's all wrong. It's like a Van Meegeren forgery of Vermeer, in which all the pieces fit, too, but from which the soul of the original is entirely, almost absurdly, missing." Malcolm's substantive reservation proved to be the fact that she could not imagine that Freud sat down a few months after Minna's abortion "and cheerfully worked these miserable and sordid events into his clever and light-hearted Aliquis analysis. How callous can a man get?"

Six months after his triumph at NYU, Swales wrote an even more outrageous paper, suggesting that callousness is hardly the word. Swales argued that Freud was determined to seduce his sister-in-law as early as 1897, at around the time he first conceived of using the Oedipus myth as a motif to reflect infantile sexual dynamics. Two colleagues were nominating Freud for a full professorship, but Vienna was seething with anti-Semitism at the time, and Freud felt unwilling to "crawl to the cross" in order to receive such an appointment. That September, he journeyed deep into Italy and was confronted by the oppressive yet magnificent Christian culture all around him. He viewed the murals of the Renaissance painter Signorelli, which depicted the theme of the coming of the Antichrist and the end of the world.

A year later, Freud wrote his first self-analysis, about his forgetting the name Signorelli. Swales argued that Freud's conscious identification with the Antichrist was the most passionate fantasy of his life, that Freud had seen his own reflected image in Signorelli's frescoes and, further, that Freud's entire self-analysis was actually a disguised Christ burlesque, conjuring the memory of his imagined infantile sexual feelings for his Catholic nursemaid as a mask for Minna, with himself at her Madonna-like breast.

The inevitable conclusion: that Freud in his fantasy life transformed Minna into the reincarnation of his childhood Madonna, only to seduce rather than venerate her; that his self-analysis became his crucifixion and resurrection; and that the resulting doctrine of Freudian psychoanalysis became his cathedral — where he was to be worshiped as both the Messiah and the Antichrist.

"By the turn of the century, Freud was completely possessed of the Devil," Swales says. "He had graduated from the role of Faust to Mephistopheles, whereupon all these new Fausts come into the picture — his early disciples — each of whom makes his own pact with Mephistopheles-Freud."

But isn't this a bit . . . mad?

Swales opens a book, turning the pages to Freud's own words: "You do not know that I am the Devil? I have had to play the Devil all my life, so that others could build the most beautiful cathedral with the material I produced."

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