- The Case of Sigmund Freud: Medicine and Identity at the Fin de Siècle (review)
- Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies
- Purdue University Press
- Volume 13, Number 4, Summer 1995
- pp. 103-104
- View Citation
Book Reviews 103 The Case of Sigmund Freud: Medicine and Identity at the Fin de Sii~cle, by Sander 1. Gilman. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993. 298 pp. $31.95. How might a scientist react when the official science of his day denigrates the ethnic group of which he is a part? This is the question Sander Gilman poses in regard to Sigmund Freud. In so doing, Gilman paints an exceptionally vivid picture of the antisemitism prevailing in the scientific and medical literature at the turn of the century. He also offers a theory on the origins of some fundamental psychoanalytic thought. late nineteenth-century scientists argued that Jews had a diseased nature that was immutable; no matter what they did, they remained "identifiable and different" (p. 18). Even religious conversion, formerly accepted as a "solution," would not work because Jews were identified as a separate race. Many Jewish physicians and social scientists were themselves influenced by these racial arguments and put forth a variety of environmental and biological explanations for what they regarded as problematic aspects of the Jewish character and physical being. Assimilated Jews were particularly likely to find disease among the so-called Ostjuden crews from the eastern parts of the Austrian Empire and Russia). The establishment scientific community was explicit in its cataloguing ofJewish physical, social, and psychological deficiencies. Perhaps the one trait that was emphasized more than any other as illustrating the Jews' ineradicable difference was their Mauscbeln, the alleged particular accent used byJews in speaking the dominant language where they lived. Another inescapable and negative aspect the scientists found was the Jew's face; his Jewishness was written all over. Jews were also said to have traits that showed them to be degenerate. These were their flat feet (making them unfit for military duty, hence unfit to be citizens) and their criminality. In Jews, criminality was also specifically linked to sexual crimes because Jews were hypersexual. Additionally, Jews were compared to women, whose inferiority they shared. (Associated with this was the belief that Jewish men menstruated.) And generally it was agreed that the Ostjuden had a high rate of hysteria. Gilman postulates that as a Jew, Freud sought to deal with these formulations, which, after all, also referred to him, by universalizing the neurotic pathology he found in himself and in his patients, who in the beginning were almost entirely Jewish. In this way he would refute the supposed inherent inferiority of Jews. This "is one of the underlying 104 SHOFAR Summer 1995 Vol. 13, No.4 mechanisms in the establishment of the discourse of psychoanalysis" (p. 25). So, for example, when Freud discovered his early childhood love of his mother and jealousy of his father, he decided that it was "a general phenomenon of early childhood" (p. 76), and thus was born the Oedipus complex. Sexual perversity-an antisemitic charge against the Jews-was also universalized in the theory of the polymorphous perversity (multi-form infantile sexuality) of all children. The imputation of heightened sexuality, inbreeding, and criminality to the Jews was made a universal phenomenon by Freud in his theories of incest and parricide which appeared in Totem and Taboo. All these were Freud's "creative responses to the constitution of the world in which he found himself" (p. 226). Albeit unnecessarily repetitive, Gilman displays considerable erudition on the subject ofantisemitism at the turn of the century, and is imaginative and provocative in his theories on the origins of psychoanalysis. Yet he treads on dangerous ground. He writes that "the origin of a theory does not vitiate its ultimate validity" (p. 218). But by arguing that certain psychoanalytic theories stem from fin-de-siecle scientific views about Jews, which Freud then universalized, Gilman appears to support those who reject psychoanalysis on the grounds that it only applied to Freud's Viennese patients and did not have wider relevance. Judging by the tone throughout Gilman's book, I do not think he means to give aid to these critics, but it can certainly be contended that he does. In recent years a lot of attention has been focused on why Freud paid such little attention to countertransference (the feelings aroused in the...