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Reviewed by:
  • Freud’s Mexico
  • Susan Antebi
Gallo, Rubén. Freud’s Mexico. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2010. 389 pp.

If Freud had traveled to Mexico, what would he have thought and written about the country and its people? What kinds of conversations might he have had with Octavio Paz, or for that matter, with Frida Kahlo? Such speculative questions offer an imaginative framework through which to creatively reconstruct and interpret a series of ties, some hypothetical, others grounded in archival evidence, between the father of psychoanalysis and Mexico: its history, cultural production, collective social imagination, and the circulating refractions of its image in European (especially Viennese) culture. In this unusual and highly entertaining book, Rubén Gallo posits such a framework in order to read both the impact of Freudian theory on Mexican writers and artists of the twentieth century, and Freud’s own perceptions of Mexico. Those wary of the notoriously dense prose of psychoanalytic criticism need not fear, as the book is written in an accessible, engaging style, drawing the reader into a fascinating cultural history of an unexpectedly transatlantic Freud, and the Mexico he never visited.

Freud’s Mexico is divided into two sections. The first part, “Freud in Mexico,” considers Freud’s influence on figures such as Salvador Novo, Samuel Ramos, and Octavio Paz. In the second part, “Freud’s Mexico,” Gallo explores how Freud himself might have perceived or imagined Mexico; readings here are based primarily on the analysis of books and antiquities from Freud’s collections, and on the interpretation of three “Mexican” dreams. In addition to the eight central chapters, Gallo includes several shorter sections he calls “free associations,” in which he reflects on additional links between Freud and Mexico. The free association sections are more speculative than the longer chapters; readings here are playful, freed from the goal of sustaining a fully fleshed out argument, they instead present the reader with material for imaginative hypotheses. In one, titled “Plastic Surgery,” Gallo reads two paintings by Remedios Varo, “Visit to the plastic surgeon” and “Woman leaving the psychoanalyst” alongside one another, and notes that by the 1960s in Mexico, psychoanalysis had become “plastic surgery for the psyche” (114). In a second text, “Rockefeller,” the author speculates on how Freud might have acquired a Mexican antiquity, from Mezcala, noting that Miguel Covarrubias, who had created a cartoon of Freud analyzing Jean Harlow, was, like Freud, interested in Mezcala art, and was friends with Nelson Rockefeller, also an aficionado of pre-Columbian art. And Rockefeller’s younger brother, David, visited Freud one summer in Vienna. In the context of Gallo’s study, these “clues” do not offer a definitive story behind the Mexican piece, but rather become part of an interpretive strategy, in which the author presents a richly detailed scenario, occasionally punctuated with intriguing bits of evidence, or gaps where the reader grasps for an answer to the enigma at hand. Here, as elsewhere in the text, the author uses elements of Freudian psychoanalytic technique, thus allowing the book to perform what it studies, and to actively generate scenes of encounter between Mexico and Freud, or as in the last chapter, visions of Freud’s Mexican unconscious.

In chapter one, Gallo presents an account of Salvador Novo and the young poet’s fascination with Freud. The reading is based largely on Novo’s notes in [End Page 137] the margins of his copies of works such as Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. We then learn of Novo’s work as contributor to El Chafirete, a periodical for Mexico City bus and taxi drivers, and for his proclivity for sexual adventures with these drivers. Gallo links these activities as elements of Novo’s “will to be modern” (37) and sense of liberation as a sexually active gay man, and extends his reading to a brief analysis of Novo’s autobiographical Estatua de Sal as a variation on Freudian self-analysis. As Gallo notes in his introduction to the book, this kind of reading runs counter to the notion that psychoanalysis functioned in twentieth-century Mexican culture as part of a conservative ideology, one that helped to impose sexual normativity...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2164-9308
Print ISSN
0034-818X
Pages
pp. 137-139
Launched on MUSE
2012-03-13
Open Access
No
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