- Teaching Freud Today?
In 2017, the United States Library of Congress announced that it had completed, with the support of The Polonsky Foundation and with assistance from the Sigmund Freud Archives, the digitization of the Sigmund Freud Papers. The Library houses the most extensive collection of Freud’s psychoanalytic and personal papers. Its digital collection includes Freud’s handwritten manuscripts, his correspondence with family, friends, and colleagues, his notes and memorabilia, related biographical records, and hundreds of interviews and recollections. It is now fully available to scholars and teachers of Freud at the Library’s website.
The creation of the digital Freud Papers at the Library of Congress seemed a propitious moment to consider Freud’s place in contemporary psychoanalytic scholarship and education. With this event as immediate inspiration and bearing in mind a context of cultural and scholarly ambivalence toward Freud, the Sigmund Freud Archives organized the symposium “Teaching Freud Today” at the American Psychoanalytic Association’s National Meeting in January 2017. Two considerations motivated the choice of topic. First, although psychoanalysis began as the creation of a single visionary, Freud’s ideas have become so deeply ingrained in our culture and practice that their influence can be overlooked. Second, Freud’s place in education—both within our institutes and beyond—has been in dispute for years, perhaps never more so than in the present. The panelists whose contributions are published in this issue of American Imago therefore addressed several timely questions: What elements of Freud’s thinking remain vital today, for psychoanalytic clinical training, and for scholarship in other fields of study? How might the clinical application and academic [End Page 287] exploration of Freud’s ideas inform each other? How might we help students of Freud to develop their own attitudes, both appreciative and critical, toward his work? What does Freud’s vision of humankind have to offer, as we move through the twenty-first century?
Each contributor to the symposium has taught Freud in multiple settings, both within and outside psychoanalytic training institutes. Each believes in the possibility of a mutually productive exchange between clinical psychoanalysis and adjacent fields of study. Though there is currently much interest in the juncture between psychoanalysis and neuroscience, we confined our focus to neighboring disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. It is in these fields that most of us—and many of our students—first encountered and formed opinions of Freud’s work. Some have been urged to dismiss Freud wholesale. More fortunately, some have learned to appreciate the power of unconscious motivation in shaping literature, arts, and politics. As contributors to this symposium, we were united in feeling that current scholarship in the humanities and social sciences should inform how Freud is taught in our institutes and that balanced, clinically informed, contemporary presentations of Freud should be of interest to academics. We believe it is essential—both for practicing psychoanalysts and for scholars across disciplines—to read Freud in cultural and historical context, and to consider what in Freud’s work remains eternally true, what must be adapted for a new place and time, and what is perhaps best left behind.
As practicing clinicians, we have found that teaching Freud (like any other topic) in a classroom setting requires a stance different from what is usual in clinical practice for many psychoanalysts. Just as a clinician must form a “working alliance” with a patient, a classroom instructor must form a “teaching alliance” with students.1 Toward this end, several of us have found it useful to engage students through our own, evolving relationship to Freud and his ideas. In evaluating Freud’s work, we bring personal experience to bear; by making ourselves available to students in this way, we invite them to engage Freud on their own, experiential terms. Some of us explicitly invite students to identify with Freud, to join him as [End Page 288] he sets about making theory from what he observes of his patients’ lives and his own life. Freud wrote not only with conscious aims—to make specific arguments—but also (like any author) with unconscious motives. He wrote, at least in part, to work through personal conflicts and to...