Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Conversation Between Freud and C.S. Lewis

Last week, my mom came to the city from Ohio to visit me. We went to a play that she had read about, Freud's Last Session, which is playing off-Broadway on the West Side at the Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater. Inspired by the book The Question of God by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi Jr., the play is a hypothetical meeting and conversation on September 3, 1939 (the day England enters World War II) between C.S. Lewis, a 41-year-old Oxford professor (he wouldn't write his most famous books The Chronicles of Narnia and The Screwtape Letters until later in his life) and an 83-year-old Freud at the end of his illustrious career, who has been driven from Vienna by the Nazis and is suffering from cancer of the jaw. Lewis had converted to Christianity when he was 33-years-old while Freud, an atheist Jew, remained committed to science until the end of his life. Freud and Lewis clash on the existence of God, love, sex and the meaning of life—only two weeks before Freud chooses to take his own.

The play made me curious to read a few books that are obliquely referenced. First, I think that many of the arguments that Lewis makes in the play come from one of his early books, Surprised by Joy, (the title comes from the first line of a Wordsworth poem), which is an autobiography about his spiritual journey. In the play, Lewis mentions that he was influenced by arguments with his Oxford colleague and friend J. R. R. Tolkien, and by the book The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton. The other book that isn't mentioned by name, but is still alluded to in the play is Freud's work on humor: Jokes and their Relationship to the Unconscience.

I thoroughly enjoyed the play, and liked how the intellectual sparring was interspersed with interesting insights into each character's life. They not only discuss and debate God’s existence, but also, and perhaps more importantly, emphasize the importance of debate.

Interview with actors Martin Rayner (Dr. Sigmund Freud) and Mark H. Dold (C.S. Lewis).

You think shame is a good thing?— Freud
I'd love to see more of it! Admitting to bad behavior doesn't excuse it.— Lewis
If only we had met years ago! I would have listened to my patient's sins, then told them to fall to their knees and beg absolution. Psychoanalysis doesn't profess the arrogance of religion, thank God.—Freud

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