Academic journal article New Formations

Are Your Dreams Wishes or Desires? Hysteria as Distraction and Character in the Work of Siegfried Kracauer

Academic journal article New Formations

Are Your Dreams Wishes or Desires? Hysteria as Distraction and Character in the Work of Siegfried Kracauer

Article excerpt

Psychoanalysis, especially early Marxist psychoanalysis, is rooted in early Weimar culture. Weimar society was dominated by a discussion of both the intellectual and the cultural aspects of Freud and psychoanalysis. People were both suspicious and ardently excited by this new psychology. Yet Kracauer makes little reference to psychoanalysis in his writing. In fact, he makes only one reference to Freud in his famous psychological history of Weimar film and culture, From Caligari To Hitler, where he critiques Pabst's film secrets of The Soul, which portrays a psychoanalytic case of a mentally unbalanced professor being successfully analysed, through the cool interpretations and dream analysis of the expert psychoanalyst.1 The film was made in collaboration with two famous analysts from the Berlin Institute of Psychoanalysis, Karl Abraham and Hanns Sachs. Kracauer was critical of how Pabst's psychological frame in the film and his enthusiasm for 'artistry' and melodrama refused to root the individual's psychological dilemma within wider social concerns. Pabst it seems was guilty of psychologism whereas Kracauer sought the wider dreams of society to make up his theory of a more cultural unconscious.

The debate between Marxism and Psychoanalysis was at its height in Berlin in the 1920s. In 1918 at the fifth international congress for psychoanalysts at Budapest, Freud made an important speech prevailing on his audience for the necessity of free psychoanalytic clinics for the poor. Freud was speaking from the perspective of Viennese social democracy, a perspective that had become more urgent after the First World War. As Elizabeth Danto notes, Freud's a-historical theory was at odds with the socialism of his practice.2 Free clinics offering psychoanalysis began to spring up in Europe and New York, with the most famous polyclinic, originated by Max Eitingon and Ernst Simmel, opening in Berlin in 1920. Freud's son Ernst Ludwig, trained by the famous architect Adolf Loos, designed the new clinic in the experimental modernist style of New Objectivity. Out of the clinic grew the Berlin Psychoanalytic Society and the Institute. Many famous psychoanalysts, such as Otto Fenichel, Wilheim and Annie Reich, Melanie Klein and Erich Fromm, were associated with the clinic and with what later became known as the Berlin School. Debates on psychoanalysis, socialism, health reform and child psychoanalysis were at the forefront of discussion, and of course the ideological relations between Marx and Freud. Interest in Berlin, from some of the members, particularly from Simmel, became directed towards the social psychology of the Frankfurt School. In 1929 Erich Fromm joined the Frankfurt Psychoanalytic Institute which was attached to the School. Fromm's idea was to organise psychoanalytic treatment in tune with the needs of working people in Frankfurt. He lectured at the Institute on the close relation between psychoanalysis and sociology, disciplines which he saw as being the same, just owning different methodologies. Like so many analysts before him, Fromm was to become very critical of Freud's theories, arguing that he was blind to a social unconscious. Psychoanalysts from an international arena were invited to speak at an opening series of lectures for the Frankfurt Psychoanalytic Clinic, and these ideas attracted the attention of the Berlin press. The Frankfurter Zeitung, of which Kracauer was an editor, devoted a special issue of its supplement on College and Youth to these lectures. The Frankfurt Institute, like the Berlin School, mixed politics, sociology and economics with therapy. Some of its members were interested in using it to study the roots and rise of Nazi power, while others linked the humanism of the young Marx to a progressive theory and practice of psychoanalysis. This might seem very far away from the rather conservative and apolitical stance of psychoanalysis today, but it's important to remember that in Freud's time, this was not the case, and social politics were seen as the necessary partner to new psychoanalytic ideas and techniques. …

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