The Case for Rhetoric | Letters | Chicago Reader

The Case for Rhetoric 

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To the editors:

No, we're all too jaded these days to find it ironic that one of our great demystifiers himself, Sigmund Freud, is in need of a little demystification himself. . . .

No, the value of Jeffrey Masson's work [December 2] lies not so much in the way it argues the case against therapy, but in the implicit way it argues the case for rhetoric--i.e., the open discussion of truth seekers.

For Masson, "a lot of the issues [calling for the abolition of therapy] revolve around the issue of informed consent." So he informs us: of the games analysts play (e.g., the insincere personae they put on), of the character flaws of the leading theorists of psychoanalysis (Freud's questionable treatment of data, Jung's narcissism and opportunism, Campbell's self-aggrandizing pedantry), of the debilitating, but well concealed, personal limitations of most analysts (their hang-ups, self-interests, prejudices--not to mention the troubling ways the demons of misogyny and racism have lingered about the very core of the discipline. But this is not a kiss and tell expose of scandalous hypocrisy. The book is about authority and truth. Should truth be imposed from on high, the expert's utterance of the Word, or should it be established--agreed upon is a better term--rhetorically, where it has to be argued on its merits before critical minds? Specifically, does therapy maintain its legitimacy through secrecy and oppression? Are analysts all members in a Club that sees what a good thing it has going and is quite competent at keeping it going, with all its secret rules and Machiavellian opportunism?

Whether or not Masson's more lurid depictions of analyst exploitation are true, whether his judgments of the dishonesty and inhumanity of analysts are fair, whether or not, in a word, therapy should be abolished, Masson should be listened to. For his opening up of the discussion qualifies him as a true rhetorician, a term best defined by that remarkable American philosopher, critic, and counter-arguer at large, Kenneth Burke: "A rhetorician, I take it, is like one voice in a dialogue. Put several such voices together, with each voicing its own special assertion, let them act upon one another in co-operative competition, and you get a dialectic that, properly developed, can lead to views transcending the limitations of each."

Angelo Bonadonna

Berwyn

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