Psychoanalysis, Anti-Semitism and the Miser

By Frosh, Stephen | New Formations, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Psychoanalysis, Anti-Semitism and the Miser


Frosh, Stephen, New Formations


JEWISH HISTORY

It is an old quip that books on psychoanalysis might be catalogued by publishers under the title 'Jewish studies', and it is certainly the case that whilst the numerical domination of the psychoanalytic movement by Jews may have shifted significantly--and may never, since the very early years, have been as great as is often imagined--the symbolic resonance of psychoanalysis as in some ways 'Jewish' has never let up. This chapter takes this resonance seriously and places it in contact with discussions of psychoanalysis and money, specifically in relation to an intriguing reading of psychoanalysis as being based on the model of 'miserly exchange'. The general argument is that psychoanalysis retains its association with Jewishness and that this has resulted in a legacy of unworked-through anti-Semitism, which is precipitated under various circumstances, including when considerations of money come to the fore. It may even be that the juxtaposition of the 'Jewish science' with the deep-rooted anti-semitic imagery of the money-grabbing Jew is a particularly potent reminder of just how much work remains to be done if psychoanalysis is to come to terms with its own conditions of emergence and its own unresolved anti-Jewish complexes.

The 'Jewish heritage' of psychoanalysis has been deeply mined, particularly in work on Freud, which has convincingly shown the extent to which his 'Jewish identity' was an active force in the construction of his psychoanalytic thinking. (1) To cut a very long story short, it is no accident that his closing words to the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society on the occasion of its dissolution echoed a passage in Moses and Monotheism that explicitly invoked psychoanalysis as a continuation of Jewish tradition. 'After the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by Titus,' he said, 'Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai asked for permission to open a school at Yavneh for the study of Torah. We are going to do the same. We are, after all, used to persecution by our history, tradition and some of us by personal experience'. (2) Here, the identification between psychoanalysis and Jewish thought is absolutely explicit, as is the link between the psychoanalytic movement and the Jews, and the focus on the pursuit of knowledge as a distinctive Jewish concern. It is as if Jewish history has translated directly into psychoanalytic history, the latter being the continuation of the former. This is, of course, something that could be contested both by Jews and by psychoanalysts; but it has not stopped the continuing identification of one with another.

But what is the nature of this 'Jewish' link? For Freud personally, it had to do with criticality, with a resilience and distance that enabled him to stand in an unprejudiced space immune to 'influence': he was already excluded, as a Jew, so it mattered little if his truth-telling as a psychoanalyst led to more exclusion still. 'And before long', he famously wrote to the Vienna B'nai Brith in 1926:

   there followed the realisation that it was only to my Jewish nature
   that I owed the two qualities that have become indispensable to me
   throughout my difficult life. Because I was a Jew, I found myself
   free of many prejudices which restrict others in the use of the
   intellect; as a Jew I was prepared to be in the opposition and to
   renounce agreement with the 'compact majority'. (3)

Slightly less famously, he had previously written, in his 1925 piece on Resistances to Psychoanalysis:

   Nor is it perhaps entirely a matter of chance that the first
   advocate of psychoanalysis was a Jew. To profess belief in this new
   theory called for a certain degree of readiness to accept a
   situation of solitary opposition--a situation with which no one is
   more familiar than a Jew. (4)

So, oppositional positions are taken up, abuse suffered and survived, all fuelled by a stubbornness that is ingrained from the historical circumstances of the Jews and also their freedom from the 'prejudices' maintaining the status quo. …

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