Freud today seems both archaic and persistent. His art of therapy ebbs away, replaced by psychic chemistry; and psychoanalysis is a conceptual concern largely to social scientists and to whatever few humanists still huddle among us. Freud liked to joke that he had invented psychoanalysis because it had no literature, but literature itself clearly informed Freud. He owed Shakespeare so much that he fiercely adopted the lunatic thesis that the Earl of Oxford had written all of Shakespeare. Only a great nobleman could have conceived Hamlet and Macbeth, who haunt all of Freud’s work. It was unacceptable that the son of a Stratford glovemaker should have been Freud’s authentic forerunner. Prestige, both social and professional, mattered immensely to Freud.
Sigmund Freud persists today, but not as a scientist or even as a healer. The late Francis Crick observed that Freud was a Viennese physician who wrote a very good prose style, but while funny enough that is hardly adequate. Freud matters because he shares in the qualities of Proust and Joyce: cognitive insight, stylistic splendor, wisdom. That remains all on earth we can hope to study and to know.