Frank Cioffi

Frank Cioffi’s books include Wittgenstein on Freud and Frazer.

Blather

Frank Cioffi, 22 June 2000

The first problem which besets an attempt to assess a cultural history of rumour is to determine what the cultural history is a cultural history of. Hans-Joachim Neubauer seems uncertain. Sometimes he follows the convention according to which what constitutes a rumour is its baselessness, if not its falsity; at others its mode of transmission via anonymous and multiple sources, irrespective of the truth or warrantability of its content, is his criterion. This ambiguity is implied by the prominence given to Virgil’s account of Fama from Book 4 of the Aeneid, which provided the epigraph for Gordon Allport’s The Psychology of Rumour (1947), one of the foundation works in this area. The rumour about Dido’s consummation of her love for Aeneas was not only correct, however, it was precipitated by the event itself. Neubauer also treats the beacon flares which proclaimed the sacking of Troy and the impending return of Agamemnon as rumour – though it was not a rumour but a prearranged signal.

Yakety-Yak

Frank Cioffi, 8 May 1997

An unfortunate student who had been attempting to attract Harvey Sacks’s attention:

Through the Psychoanalytoscope

Frank Cioffi, 25 January 1996

Jacques Bouveresse has attempted the arduous and risky task not only of construing and assessing Wittgenstein’s scattered, largely unflattering remarks on Freud but of relating them to current issues in Freud studies. The result is a valuable exercise in itself but I am not sure that this strategy was the best one for expounding and assessing Wittgenstein’s views in all their idiosyncratic splendour. Though Bouveresse says much that is illuminating, several important ambiguities are left unresolved and one major misgiving is unallayed.

If Goofy Could Talk

Frank Cioffi, 6 April 1995

Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy’s book is a collection of anecdotes, arguments and exhortations which insists on the analogies between human and animal being. The rationale given for this enterprise in Masson’s Preface is implausible: it is to bridge the ‘tremendous gap between the common sense view (that “animals have such feelings as happiness, anger and fear”) and that of official science … the feelings of animals are a topic forbidden to scientific discourse.’ But the authors offer little evidence for their dubious claims. Behavioural scientists are not often permitted to speak for themselves and when they are what they say does not support the views imputed to them. The author of the entry on animals in the Oxford Companion to the Mind, the ethologist Robert Hinde, writes that ‘chimpanzees have a conception of the self and can dissemble and deceive others,’ and that there is strong evidence that ‘dogs have pleasant and unpleasant dreams.’ Someone must have forgotten to warn Hinde that such discourse is forbidden.…

Porky-Talky

Frank Cioffi, 22 September 1994

To lie or not to lie, that is the question. But is it, when couched in such global terms, a sensible or well-formed one? Can we really make sense of the justification, not of this or that particular lie or genre of lies, but of our capacity for deception itself? Barnes thinks so; though he admits that ‘attempts to determine the optimal point on the continuum stretching from no lies to ubiquitous lying have so far had only limited success.’ His subtitle – ‘Towards a Sociology of Lying’ – is not auspicious but he has much of interest to say and our worst fears are only intermittently realised. One such occasion is when he reminds us of T.S. Eliot’s view that ‘human beings can tolerate only a limited exposure to reality’, and though he does not urge researchers to get to work on it (‘How much reality do you think human beings can stand – 1. not much. 2. enough. 3. lots?’), nevertheless feels it appropriate to point out that ‘Eliot’s caveat may apply to honesty in the marriage relation but rock-climbers would opt for complete trust and truthfulness.’

Psychoapologetics

Frank Cioffi, 2 June 1983

Wittgenstein, whose conversations with Rush Rhees lead off these philosophical Essays on Freud, once wrote to a friend: ‘I, too, was greatly impressed when I first read Freud. He’s extraordinary – of course he is full of fishy thinking and his charm and the charm of the subject is so great that you may easily be fooled … so hang on to your brains.’ This is not a piece of advice that all the contributors to this volume have been willing to follow. And though this is compensated for by the distinction of many of the papers it is unfortunately true of those contributions which deal with that question which has the most general claim to interest: how has it come about that little more than a decade short of its centenary the most fundamental and distinctive claims of psychoanalysis should still be the subject of radical scepticism.–

Honours for Craziness

Frank Cioffi, 17 June 1982

Peter Sedgwick has given us an informative, penetrating, witty and critical account of anti-psychiatry as represented by Laing, Szasz, Goffman and Foucault. The central ambition of anti-psychiatry has been to replace the so-called medical model of mental illness by a ‘labelling’ one, according to which the behaviours which provoked diagnoses of psychopathology were not manifestations of some underlying pathology but merely conduct found obnoxious by the labellers. Sedgwick counters anti-psychiatry’s startling claim that mental illness is just deviancy with the apparently paradoxical one that illness of any kind is deviancy: ‘The attribution of illness always proceeds from the computation of a gap between presented behaviour (or feeling) and some norm.’

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences