Eros of the Impossible: The History of Psychoanalysis in Russia

Eros of the Impossible: The History of Psychoanalysis in Russia

Eros of the Impossible: The History of Psychoanalysis in Russia

Eros of the Impossible: The History of Psychoanalysis in Russia

Synopsis

Marxism was not the only Western idea to influence the course of Russian history. In the early decades of this century, psychoanalysis was one of the most important components of Russian intellectual life. But until Alexander Etkind's Eros of the Impossible, the hidden history of Russian involvement in psychoanalysis has gone largely unnoticed & untold.

Excerpt

This is a book about Russia and written in Russia. It is a sad society whose truth is told by others, for such a tale tends to be incomplete and one-sided. History written from within a society is likewise inevitably subjective, particularly when it is written in the depths of a crisis of historic proportions; but it is just this subjectivity that is needed in a period of change. The perspective of those who have experienced any historical process directly is distorted, but it is also enriched by the wisdom of those who know where history has led.

Culture in Russia generally has not been so divided and particularized according to professional pursuit and academic discipline as it has been in the West. In Russia, concurrent academic and artistic cultures have always been infused with the same trends and political ideas. Thus, decadent poets, moral philosophers, and professional revolutionaries have played as great a role in the history of psychoanalysis in Russia as have physicians and psychologists.

Russian culture thrived in the decade and a half between the beginning of this century and World War I, giving rise to a stunning topography of ideas that was repeated with variations across the humanities, politics, social thought, the visual arts, and literature (particularly poetry). Russia at this time was still one of the centers of European high civilization: Although the prophets of modernist culture included those who predicted an impending decline into barbarism, Russian cities large and small were witnessing a flowering of the modern arts and sciences, as Slavophilic argumentation gradually gave way before the press of Westernization. However, the belated attempt to modernize the empire would ultimately fail. A series of military defeats, the czar's endless blundering, and popular skepticism about the possibility of real change, combined with a general premonition of catastrophe, inspired a keen interest in the esoteric and mystical and compelled people to place their faith in romantic dreams. The "eros of the impossible" was how Vyacheslav Ivanov, the leading theorist of Russian symbolism, described the mood of this age. The roiling life of the intelligentsia was a source of continual surprises, from table-raising seances to Masonic rites, from the rumors of court orgies to the ever more public and more extreme political acts of Socialist Revolutionaries.

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