- Editor’s Introduction
The following papers are the proceedings of a symposium entitled “Psychoanalysis and Power” that was held at The New School for Social Research on December 10th and 11th 1994. The event was co-sponsored by the Goethe House New York and the New School. The occasion for the symposium was the opening of a photographic exhibition on the history of psychoanalysis in Germany, which had originally been assembled for the 1983 International Psycho-Analytical Association Congress in Hamburg—the first on German soil since the Second World War—and which had subsequently toured to Paris and London. And, in keeping with the theme of the exhibition, the topic of the symposium was also the history of psychoanalysis in Germany.
However, while the basic orientation event was historical, the content of the presentations was by no means merely archival. How could it have been, given the volatile nature of that history and the significance of its after-effects in the contemporary world? Indeed, as psychoanalysts, we need hardly point out that the past can have powerful effects in the present, especially one as traumatic and insufficiently mastered as this.
All the papers are, then, to one extent or another, related to urgent political issues in Germany today. In his keynote address, Martin Bergmann—who himself has roots in the German Cultural orbit of Central Europe as well as in Israel—discusses Freud’s own dual German and Jewish Heritage and the impact of the Holocaust on psychoanalysis. In a candid and highly personal presentation, Volker Friedrich describes the struggle to lift the prohibition on confronting the Nazi years in German psychoanalysis and its effect on his colleagues and himself.
Perhaps the most controversial exchange of the proceedings concerns the legacy of Alexander Mitscherlich, one of the [End Page 237] major figures not only in postwar German Psychoanalysis but in the political and cultural upheavals of the sixties as well. Whereas Karen Brecht, in her paper, seeks to de-idealize Mitscherlich and provide a more balanced assessment of his role in psychoanalysis, in his discussion, Anson Rabinbach tries to locate this debunking of the Mitscherlich myth in its broader political context. He argues that, whatever shortcomings Mitscherlich had, the attempt to diminish his stature—which has been relatively widespread in the past several years—must also be seen as part of the larger nationalist and neo-conservative attempt to undo the political and cultural transformations of the 1960s, which were especially profound in Germany.
Finally, Werner Bohleber, who has done extensive research in this area, brings psychoanalytic concepts to bear on the disturbing resurgence of Xenophobia and Righting extremism in Germany since the fall of the Berlin Wall. More specifically, he uses the theories of preoedipal development to elucidate Germany’s hostility to strangers.
It is the hope of the organizers of the symposium and the editors of this special issue of American Imago that these papers will not only help to illuminate the timely and pressing topics they address, but will also make a contribution to the tradition of psychoanalytically informed social and political thought. We are still of the conviction that psychoanalysis can have something to say to a troubled world.