After my first shitty reading, two main topics have made me restless.
The first one is the fact that many ideas in the text are highly ideological and historically contingent (eg. how some of his ideas reflect the knowledge we had at that time regarding science and history) and what that means to the "validity" of Freudian psychoanalysis today. Some terms are still being used, such as ego, id, death drive, anal fixation, and "talk therapy" is still the main form of psychological therapy. Is it time to re-engage in the same process Freud did to "discover" these behavioral patterns and to do away with the old ones?
The other question that has made me restless is somewhat related to the first, but it's about the marxist reading itself of Freud. Marxists tend to reduce things to the economical and the collective, this is a trend that even Marx criticized in other marxists of his time. Emma Goldman remarked about how the marxists kill the individual and cannot conceive of an autonomous entity. I think it's true to a large degree, because marxism is in large part a theory of the collective, not of the individual. This, in a way, makes marxists blind to the individual motivations when they depart too much from the typical motivators of profit and power (power for profit).
Freud fills this gap somehow and reveals a way in which materialist dialectics can be applied to the human psyche to perhaps discover patterns that make it useful to understand the individual, and provide a framework that might help to understand humanity at the level of individuals as they relate to the collective, hence provide a more complete vision of Marxism. But then that raises the question of how reliable can these mental investigations be. Freud was not a marxist, but he did employ some form of materialist dialectics, however crude. The open-ness of his investigations are respectable of course, but in the honest process of scientific open-ness some concepts became essential characteristics of humanity, such as the libidinal, the death drive, the anal retentiveness. The problem here being that the way concepts are framed set the structure of how the content (the psyche) will be interpreted, and historically contingent concepts to describe wildly different states of mind are no doubt problematic and could become counter-productive.
To further complicate things, to make this analysis I am relying upon the critique of ideology made by psychoanalytic marxist philosophers such as Zizek. Like a ouroboros I have bitten my own tail. Marxist analysis isn't ideology-free either, how can we claim to free ourselves from the baggage of the past with concepts that were developed in a specific historical period, namely marxism and psychoanalytic theory in the 18th and 19th century respectively? But then we are left with nothing. Even if we accept a contemporary interpretation of marxism, we are left without a theory of the individual, except the clinical and vulgar empirical psychology of academia, poster child of the reproducibility crisis and of missing the forest for the trees.
The main mistake of the psychological research of academia is the same that is criticized by Hegel way back; it assumes that human behavior can be studied in isolation. Our scientific understanding is woefully inadequate to understand something as complex as the psyche. There are too many variables, from culture, to age, to genetics, to sugar levels, to beliefs, and psychology pretends to isolate them all when the subjects are placed in a plain room with minimal stimuli.
A truly marxist psychoanalysis must start at the assumption that the individual does not exist in a vacuum, but that they are embedded in their context. It must also integrate the latest information we have about neurology and other fields of biology. And of course, must derive its study of the individual as individuals exist in the world, taking into consideration the effect of ideology and historically contingent phenomena. But even after applying the most marxist analysis, we're still left short with an explanation on why people develop fetishes, why people develop anxieties, etc. Something like Freud's original analysis is still necessary.
And thus I arrive back to where I started. At this point, I see no escape but to wrangle with Freud. Perhaps his ideas will (or have) set the stage for a more concrete form of the study of the psyche, after all he is considered the "father of psychology", and perhaps it is useful to study in the same way Darwin is in the study of evolutionary biology.