"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Russian Freud

We seem to be in the midst of a sustained period of re-evaluation of Freud and the psychoanalytic movement he founded. I have myself reviewed some of those efforts, and contributed to them also, as you can see beginning here. After its fortunes clearly began to flounder in the latter decades of the 20th century (the history of which is discussed here), and psychoanalysis seemed to reach its nadir, the first decades of this still-young century have seen a number of books published re-evaluating and re-assessing not only the great man and his life, but any number of other protagonists--Fromm, Erickson, Jung, and many others. (So too have we been seeing evidence that the efficacy of psychoanalysis has been greatly underestimated by those eager to seek faster and cheaper alternatives.)

One thing we have not seen until now is an exploration of Freud's interactions with the country, church, and culture that figures so large in so many of his writings: Freud's Russia: National Identity in the Evolution of Psychoanalysis by James L. Rice (Transaction, 2017), 298pp.

About this book we are told:
Freud's lifelong involvement with the Russian national character and culture is examined in James Rice's imaginative combination of history, literary analysis, and psychoanalysis. Freud's Russia opens up the neglected "Eastern Front" of Freud's world—the Russian roots of his parents, colleagues, and patients. He reveals that the psychoanalyst was vitally concerned with the events in Russian history and its nineteenth-century cultural greats. Rice explores how this intense interest contributed to the evolution of psychoanalysis at every critical stage.
Freud's mentor Charcot was a physician to the Tsar; his best friends in Paris were gifted Russian doctors; and some of his most valued colleagues (Max Eitingon, Moshe Wulff, Sabina Spielrein, and Lou Andreas-Salome) were also from Russia. These acquaintances intrigued Freud and precipitated his inquiry into the Russian psyche. Rice shows how Freud's major works incorporate elements, overtly and covertly, from his Russia. He describes Freud's most famous case, the Wolf-Man (Sergei Pankeev), and traces how his personality fused, in Freud's imagination, with that of Feodor Dostoevsky. Beyond this, Rice reveals the remarkable influence Dostoevsky had on Freud, surveying Freud's extensive library holdings and sources of biographical information on the Russian novelist.
Initially inspired by the Freud-Jung letters that appeared in 1974, Freud's Russia breaks new ground. Its fresh perspective will be of significant interest to psychoanalysts, historians of European culture, biographers of Freud, and students of Dostoevsky in comparative literature. It is a major work in fusing European intellectual history with the founding father of psychoanalysis.

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