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  • Shadow of a Couch
  • Andreas Mayer

In June 1938, a few weeks after the Nazis took power in Austria, Sigmund Freud and his family left their Vienna apartment in Berggasse 19 to go into exile. After the books, furniture, and the collection of antiquities had been packed up, the photographer Edmund Engelman returned for a moment to the empty rooms. He had just taken a series of pictures that would provide a precious visual testimony in years to come, but at this moment, he was most struck by a feature of the vacated space: a dark spot on the parquet floor where the famous psychoanalytic couch had stood.

Many years later, a young historian was intrigued by this "shadow" of the couch, a memory image invoked in a conversation she had with the photographer. She had come from the Eastern part of Tyrol to Vienna for her studies and decided to specialize in the history of psychoanalysis—an uncommon and, at least from an academic point of view, quite risky choice. When she met Engelman in 1995, Lydia Marinelli already worked at Berggasse 19, a place which had since 1971 become the address of a museum and of a research library. Within the following decade she took up the challenge radically to transform a "site stripped of its material core" (Marinelli and Traska 2002, 3). The quasi-magical effect of an address and a name alone had turned the Freud Museum into one of Vienna's most popular tourist attractions. Through Marinelli's efforts it was soon known as well for some of the most inventive intellectual work in the history of psychoanalysis. In a city where Sigmund Freud had been turned, as had so many other great figures of Austria's glorious past, into a piece of merchandise, a set of highly original [End Page 137] exhibitions, film and lecture series, and conferences would set a new and refreshing tone.

Marinelli always understood her own work as a truly historical undertaking, largely untouched by the conventions and boundaries of the academic profession. Self-definitions in terms of disciplines were of no interest to her. Her position as a curator and, from 1999, as scientific director of the Sigmund Freud Museum allowed her to keep a certain distance from the sometimes highly specialized discussions of university research. When, in the early 1990s, she turned to the history of psychoanalysis, the skills acquired during her studies at the University of Vienna, her practical experience in the co-direction of the newly founded publishing house Turia + Kant, and her knowledge about new approaches, most notably in the domains of the history of the book and of visual media, served her well. Within Austrian academic discourse, this history of the psychoanalytic movement was largely unexplored apart from a few studies that traced the destinies of the movement's members from a biographical or sociohistorical perspective (e.g., Huber 1977; Mühlleitner 1992; Reichmayr 1990).

Under these circumstances, Marinelli started her own independent investigation of the ways psychoanalytic knowledge had been transmitted in the first decades of the twentieth century. On the one hand, she followed the lead of studies on the history of the book and other print media that had focused on the period between Gutenberg's invention and the production and diffusion of Diderot's and d'Alembert's Encyclopedia (see Eisenstein 1980; Chartier 1987; Darnton 1979). On the other, she was inspired by an emerging literature that took an anthropological approach to the study of scientific knowledge production, particularly in the laboratory (Latour and Woolgar 1979; Knorr-Cetina 1999). But whereas these studies dealt exclusively with the natural sciences, Lydia Marinelli ventured into the uncharted terrain of the practices of knowledge production and transmission within the human sciences. The reading of Michel de Certeau's last works proved to be the most essential inspiration in this respect. Not unlike Foucault, but with a set of different references, Certeau had at first made an attempt (1975) to place psychoanalysis within an archaeology of the human sciences. Later he revised and expanded his original [End Page 138] formulations (1987) in a way that asked for a more critical historical elucidation of psychoanalytic...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1085-7931
Print ISSN
0065-860X
Pages
pp. 137-147
Launched on MUSE
2009-08-07
Open Access
No
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