The Freud Files: An Inquiry into the History of Psychoanalysis/After Freud Left: A Century of Psychoanalysis in America

By Gilman, Sander L. | International Journal of Psychoanalysis, October 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

The Freud Files: An Inquiry into the History of Psychoanalysis/After Freud Left: A Century of Psychoanalysis in America


Gilman, Sander L., International Journal of Psychoanalysis


The Freud Files: An Inquiry into the History of Psychoanalysis by Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen, Sonu Shamdasani Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2012; 404 pp; $95.00 hardback

After Freud Left: A Century of Psychoanalysis in America edited by John Burnham University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2012; 274 pp; $35.00 hardback

The history of psychoanalysis has become an industry. And in a complex way an industry that is amazingly self-reflexive. Historians of psychoanaly- sis become obsessed with the history of psychoanalysis and the end result can be productive or it can be simply a form of what is usually called 'Whig' history - the assumption that the historian knows better than the subject of his or her history and that there is an upward trajectory of knowledge, culminating in the present stance of the author. No modesty here. The insights of the present trump everything else.

Thus we are confronted with two very considerably different volumes of the history of psychoanalysis. Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen is the co-author of Le Livre noir de la psychanalyse (2005, The Black Book of Psychoanalysis) and Sonu Shamdasani, the editor and commentator of C. G. Jung's Red Book: Liber Novus (2009). Borch-Jacobsen's position has been and remains a radical critique of psychoanalysis and thus forms a pair with Shamdasani, whose critical suspicions, at least of Jungian psychoanalysis, have colored his work since his Cult Fictions: C. G. Jung and the Founding of Analytical Psychology (1998). First appearing in French as Le Dossier Freud. Enque^te sur l'histoire de la psychanalyse (2006), this volume is an attempt to plumb the early history of psychoanalysis as a covert attempt to shape and create a Freud legend. The claim of this volume is that there was a general white- washing of Freud, his actions and motivations, by Freud himself, his heirs and those who protect the Freud legacy. This debunking has ranged from the hidden family secrets of the Freud family (much made of by Peter Swales in the 1980s and others recounted in this volume) and the suppres- sion of material sources for any history of early psychoanalysis. Now, this is an old and rather worn claim. It first appears in the very earliest Freud biography from 1924 by Fritz Wittels, a volume that Freud angrily anno- tated with corrections and comments after it had appeared. (Wittels's mem- oir of that episode, posthumously entitled Freud and the Child Woman by the editor, Edward Timms, was only published in 1995.)

The account in the book under review, The Freud Files: An Inquiry into the History of Psychoanalysis, is of a conspiracy: there was much to hide, say the authors, and our task, seen from the insights of the 21st century, is to ferret out these hidden things for, if they were hidden, Billy Bones says, there must be a map to find them. And what was hidden must be a source of shame, a rather crude reductionism of the very claims of psychoanalysis itself. And this map is our book.

Let me digress for a moment and provide an anecdote. When in the 1970s I began to work on interwar Vienna, one of the sources that seemed most important to me simply because it was unavailable were the diaries of Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Brought to the United States during the 1930s by his daughter Christiana Zimmer, the widow of the great Indologist Heinrich Zimmer, they resided at Harvard and were restricted from public use. So I, like everyone else of the day, paid court to Frau Zimmer, seeking permis- sion for access to no avail. We all imagined what was hidden in the diaries. After Frau Zimmer's death in 1987, her son Michael opened access to the diaries and ... while interesting, all our conspiracy theories came to naught. Sadly, families have secrets but heirs too love to be courted and the secrets turn out to be mostly banal.

In the case of Sigmund Freud, the banalities from the perspective of Whig history seem devastating: Peter Swales's claim in Freud, Cocaine and Sexual Chemistry (1983) about Freud as a cocaine addict and his theory of the libido as merely a drug-infused nightmare has now been shown by Howard Markel in An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted and the Miracle Drug, Cocaine (2011) to be part of a general, medi- cal discussion about anesthetic and the professions. …

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