Magazine article Tablet Magazine

In Treatment

Magazine article Tablet Magazine

In Treatment

Article excerpt

Freud & Fahler, an airy, elegant cafe in Buenos Aires' chic Palermo Soho neighborhood, is named for the original owner's two greatest loves. Fahler, my waitress tells me, was the woman's husband. And Freud? Well, that's obviousthe whole city, it seems, is in love with the father of psychoanalysis. Indeed, just a few blocks away from Freud & Fahler is a neighborhood popularly known as Villa Freud because of all the psychoanalysts practicing out of the Spanish-style buildings that line its leafy avenues. Until recently, there was a restaurant there called Bar Sigi, a diminutive, of course, of Sigmund.

Argentina has more shrinks per capita than any other country in the worldaround 120 for every 100,000 people, according to the World Health Organization, nearly four times as many as in the United States. In Buenos Aires, the Wall Street Journal reported last year, there are 789 therapists per 100,000 people. While Freud's theories have fallen out of fashion in other countries, "in Argentina Freud's works are still gospel," wrote historian Mariano Ben Plotkin in his book about the country's psychoanalytic culture, Freud in the Pampas. Plotkin's own parents sent him to psychoanalysis four times a week, starting when he was 6 years old, something not uncommon in his upper-middle-class Jewish milieu. Kids "would go to football, they would go to swimming, and they go to analysis," he told me. He, his family, and many other Argentines took it for granted, he wrote, "that lying on an analyst's couch four times a week at great financial sacrifice was one of any normal human being's activities." It wasn't until he left for graduate school in Berkeley in 1986 that he realized that outside of Argentina, this wasn't very normal at all.

No one has a definitive explanation for the Argentine obsession with the unconscious. Like New Yorkers, Portenos, as Buenos Aires natives are called, have a reputation for anxiety, introspection, and gloom, but there's no evidence that they're more neurotic than residents of other metropolises. They are, however, certainly beset by complicated questions about identity. Argentina is a country of immigrantsin 1914, more than a third of the population was foreign-bornand many, particularly in the middle class, see themselves as more European than Latin American. For them, the years following World War II have been a series of shocks. "Argentines," wrote Plotkin, "who were accustomed to believe that their country was a European enclave and therefore was immune to the problems that affected the rest of Latin America, suffered dictatorship, exclusion, violence, war and poverty. In the 1970s Argentina was ruled by one of the most murderous military regimes on the continent."

Psychoanalysis in Argentina, not surprisingly, has been deeply rooted in the country's Jewish community, the largest in Latin America. Ironically, though, it became entrenched in the broader society at times when Jews themselves were embattled. For Jews, Argentina can be a paradoxical place. It has Jewish gauchos and Hasidic barrios and even a town in the Pampas called Moises Ville, settled by Jews from Eastern Europe at the end of the 19th century. It also famously offered sanctuary to Nazis after World War II, and it has a history of intense, sometimes homicidal anti-Semitism. (As the Buenos Aires Herald lamented in 1977, "[I]t is not easy to explain why such un-Argentine attitudes as anti-Semitism and xenophobia should continue to exist with such virulence.") But none of this has affected Freud's standing. Indeed, psychoanalysis in Argentina is so mainstream that it's "not perceived as a Jewish discipline, a Jewish science," says Plotkin.

Still, to walk into the chambers of some Buenos Aires analysts is to step back in time to an earlier era in Jewish culture. …

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