Harvard University granted Masson a B.A. in 1964 and a Ph.D. with Honors in 1970. His degrees were in Sanskrit and Indian Studies. While undertaking his Ph.D., Masson also studied, supported by fellowships, at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, the University of Calcutta, and the University of Poona. He taught Sanskrit and Indian Studies at the University of Toronto, 1969-80, reaching the rank of Professor. He has also held short term appointments at Brown University, the University of California, and the University of Michigan. From 1981 to 1992, he was a Research Associate, Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, at the University of California at Berkeley. He is currently an Honorary Fellow in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.
In 1970, Masson began studying to become a psychoanalyst at the Toronto Psychoanalytic Institute, completing a full clinical training course in 1978. During this time, he befriended the psychoanalyst Kurt Eissler and became acquainted with Sigmund Freud's daughter Anna Freud. Eissler designated Masson to succeed him as Director of the Sigmund Freud Archives after his and Anna Freud's death. Masson learned German and studied the history of psychoanalysis. In 1980 Masson was appointed Projects Director of the Freud Archives, with full access to Freud's correspondence and other unpublished papers. While perusing this material, Masson concluded that Freud might have rejected his so-called seduction theory in order to advance the cause of psychoanalysis and to maintain his own place within the psychoanalytic inner circle. Masson's actions, along with those of Kurt Eissler and Peter Swales, form the subject of In the Freud Archives, an article in the New Yorker by Janet Malcolm, which she expanded into a book.
In 1981, Masson's controversial conclusions were discussed in a series of New York Times articles by Ralph Blumenthal, to the dismay of the psychoanalytic establishment. Masson was subsequently dismissed from his position as project director of the Freud Archives and stripped of his membership in psychoanalytic professional societies. Masson was helped by Alice Miller.
He later wrote several books critical of psychoanalysis, psychotherapy and psychiatry, including The Assault on Truth: Freud's Suppression of the Seduction Theory. In the introduction to The Assault on Truth, Masson admitted that, "My pessimistic conclusions may possibly be wrong. The documents may in fact allow a very different reading." Janet Malcolm interviewed Masson at length when writing her long New Yorker article on this controversy. Masson sued the New Yorker for defamation, claiming that Malcolm had misquoted him. The ensuing trial drew considerable attention.The decade-long, $US10 million lawsuit came to a close when the court ruled in Malcolm's favour.
In 1985 Masson edited the complete letters between Freud and Fliess after having convinced Anna Freud to make all of them available (and after having done the translation by himself). He also looked up the original places and documents in Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, where Freud had studied with Charcot. Masson wrote in his 1990 book Final Analysis: The Making and Unmaking of a Psychoanalyst that people used to be very interested in himself, but as far as the cause was concerned there is silence from the scientific community.
In 1998, Masson published a revised edition of The Assault on Truth, containing a new postscript. The postscript discussed what Masson saw as a transformation of attitudes toward child sexual abuse. Masson expressed his concern that some of the therapists now claiming to be experts in healing its effects had previously denied that it existed. Masson mentioned the retrieval of memories in therapy, writing that he regarded false memories as rare but not non-existent. Masson pointed to media attention given to this phenomenon. Masson wrote that, "Too many people writing about this state of affairs have blamed Freud for creating the climate in which these false memories can proliferate, because he believed throughought his life in the reality of the repression of memories, and because for a brief period of his life, he believed in the reality of child sexual abuse."
Masson declared that he considered this criticism of the early Freud wrong, and selected Richard Webster's Why Freud Was Wrong as a representative example to which to respond, addressing the comments in its afterword Freud's False Memories: Psychoanalysis and the Recovered Memory Movement. Masson criticised Webster for placing the blame for the interest in recovered memory primarily on him and Judith Herman. Masson wrote that, "...my interest in writing The Assault on Truth had nothing to do with the recovery of memories." Masson then criticised Webster for unjustifiably concluding that there is no evidence that Freud's patients had been abused, and that Freud had in fact forced memories of abuse on them. Masson countered this by pointing out that there was not enough evidence of precisely how Freud conducted his therapy between 1895 and 1900 to draw this conclusion.
Masson criticised Webster's statement that "there is no evidence that any of the patients who came to Freud without memories of sexual abuse had ever suffered from such abuse", by pointing to evidence in Freud's 1896 paper "The Aetiology of Hysteria". The paper included a passage which Masson quoted to show that Freud believed he did have objective proof of sexual abuse. Masson then accused Webster of making a logical error, moving from the claim that there was no evidence of abuse to the claim that abuse had not occurred.
In Why Freud Was Wrong Webster's comments refer specifically to Freud's claims in his 1896 papers, in which Freud writes that for every one of his current patients he had uncovered unconscious memories of infantile sexual abuse occurring mostly below the age of four. Webster does not argue that Freud forced memories of abuse on the patients in question: rather he writes that, with the aid of the clinical procedure he was using at that time, Freud endeavoured to induce his patients to "reproduce" scenes of early childhood sexual abuse which "he himself had reconstructed from their symptoms or their associations".
Webster writes that there is a great deal of evidence, "most of it in Freud's own frank and astonishing words", that he used coercion to try to induce the patients in question to "reproduce" sexual "scenes" from their infancy, and notes that Freud himself referred to "the strongest compulsion of the treatment", while the patients continued to assure him "emphatically" of their "unbelief" that they had experienced sexual abuse in infancy. In relation to Masson's quoting as evidence against Webster that Freud believed he had been able to obtain an objective confirmation in two instances, this claim has been criticised on the grounds that no data are provided by Freud to justify what are described as contentions the reader must take on faith. Webster does not say either as a generality, or unequivocally, that no abuse had occurred for Freud's early patients. He notes that Freud's seduction theory required that the patients had no conscious recollection of early childhood sexual abuse and that for those patients in the short period during which he held the theory there is strong evidence from Freud's own words that the "actual material" of the analyses (which he never published) which he thought provided support for his claim to have uncovered infantile sexual abuse "scenes" was obtained by means of coercive clinical procedures.
Masson was once engaged to the feminist legal scholar Catharine A. MacKinnon, who wrote the preface to A Dark Science: Women, Sexuality and Psychiatry in the Nineteenth Century. Masson explains why he changed so radically the subject of his writing career:
I'd written a whole series of books about psychiatry, and nobody bought them. Nobody liked them. Nobody. Psychiatrists hated them, and they were much too abstruse for the general public. It was very hard to make a living, and I thought, As long as I'm not making a living, I may as well write about something I really love: animals.
In his Note on U.G. Masson shows that besides animals, he loves wise human beings.
The main reason for this fascination is the person in front of me, U.G. Krishnamurti himself. For while he abjures every single attribute of the guru, he also speaks of a strange life. Bizarre things have happened to him that have not happened to other ordinary people (but are strangely parallel to mystic experiences in reverse): he had a "catastrophe" that nearly killed him physically. He speaks of it obscurely. Other mystics are "illuminated". He is anti-illuminated, powerfully. Everything he is is calculated to be as unlike the traditional guru as possible. And yet, even if for the opposite reason, he, too, has no desires, he does not sleep, he does not dream, he eats no meat. There is some compelling purity about him, some way in which he captures a kind of longing that we all seem to have for a genuinely wise human being. I would not be afraid to characterize U.G. as a man of wisdom, not quite like the one described in the Bhagavadgita (the Sthitaprajña) but not entirely unlike him either. A paradox, a wonder, a marvel, a fine human being.|A note on U.G.
In an interview, "Doctor Jeffrey Masson", he said:
I haven't lost my interest in trauma, in poverty, social justice, in human rights. These things are all important to me. And they all feel to me part of the same thing - it's the ability to see through the way we've been acculturated, usually to believe some lie or other that gets us by. It's that desire to penetrate that lie, to go beyond that barrier and discover what is the case. Whatever it's about there are no end to things that if you look behind and you think about them more deeply, you eventually reach a truth . That is what I believe. The problem is my truth is not your truth. It's very difficult, but I think we must spend our life searching for that truth.|
HERETIC IN THE CHURCH OF FREUD JEFFREY MOUSSAIEFF MASSON RELISHES HIS FIGHT AGAINST PSYCHOANALYSIS AND ITS ADHERENTS
Nov 28, 1990; Somehow, one expects Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson to be as large and formidable as his name, or perhaps as overbearing -- after all,...