Analyzing Influence of Sigmund Freud: Library of Congress' Upcoming Exhibit Looks at `Conflict, Culture'

By Geracimos, Ann | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 22, 1998 | Go to article overview

Analyzing Influence of Sigmund Freud: Library of Congress' Upcoming Exhibit Looks at `Conflict, Culture'


Geracimos, Ann, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


"Freud is fun to read," says historian Michael Roth - and he means that literally.

The assistant director of the Research Institute for the History of Art and the Humanities at the Getty Center in Los Angeles enjoys reading Freud's writings without necessarily subscribing to all his theories.

As curator of the upcoming Sigmund Freud exhibit at the Library of Congress, Mr. Roth had the responsibility of finding fresh and accessible ways of illustrating the influence of the Viennese doctor who founded psychoanalysis.

It wasn't an easy task, considering the critics who feared such a show would be too complimentary. Freud's theories are still being debated nearly 60 years after his death.

"It's characteristic of the field that there are people who act out the roles given them, feeling strongly on one side or the other," Mr. Roth says by telephone from his Los Angles office.

"The sharpest critics, however, were very nice when I was given the assignment," he adds. "They are still critical and disagree but are grown-up about it. I haven't spent my life in the Freud industry, so I was somewhat surprised by that."

Four years in the planning, "Sigmund Freud: Conflict and Culture" will open Oct. 15 in the Jefferson Building, where it will stay for three months before traveling to New York and Vienna.

It draws largely on the library's archives, which constitute the largest collection of "Freudiana" in the world - about 80,000 items donated over the past four decades.

Since much of the emphasis in the show is on Freud's influence on popular culture, Mr. Roth used scenes from television and films to illustrate Freud's concept of repression in everyday life.

Included among some 170 objects on view will be a reproduction of Freud's couch for his analysands. There is even a recording of Freud's voice.

"The biggest challenge was making it visual and engag[ing] the exhibit-goer," Mr. Roth says. "I hope the exhibition is thought-provoking. If no one is critical, I think it is a pretty bad show."

"The idea was to bring out key concepts and articulate them in such a way you get Freud's perspective but make it clear why certain of his ideas became so influential. Using film and popular-culture materials is to remind people they know a lot about this already," he adds.

"Freud is a teacher about whom we also have to be critical. There is no point in making him a hero," Mr. Roth says. "He asks questions that are so interesting - about character, about independence, about how to be free and still relate to another person, and how to relate to death. The great question is how we come to have the desires we have and how that is related to the people who brought us up."

Freud wasn't the only one to tackle such subjects, he says, only "he did it in compelling and fruitful ways."

Mr. Roth says Freud enjoyed writing for a popular audience and would not have rejected modern miracle drugs such as Prozac to alleviate mental distress. …

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