[lg policy] Freud addressed audience at Clark U. in German; no translation provided!

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at GMAIL.COM
Fri Sep 25 18:56:23 UTC 2009

When Freud Came to America

By Russell Jacoby

[image: Freud's Visit to Clark U. 1]
At Clark U. in 1909, from left (front): Sigmund Freud, G. Stanley Hall, Carl
Jung; (back): Abraham A. Brill, Ernest Jones, and Sandor Ferenczi.

One hundred years ago, Sigmund Freud arrived in the United States on his
first and only visit. As the George Washington pulled into New York Harbor,
he supposedly remarked to Carl Jung, who accompanied him, "They don't
realize that we are bringing them the plague." His more vociferous
contemporary critics would probably agree.

Freud came to deliver five lectures over five days in September 1909 at
Clark University. Its president, G. Stanley Hall, had invited a number of
leading thinkers to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Clark. Clark? For our
rank-obsessed society, that might seem surprising. Not Chicago or Princeton
or Columbia but a small Massachusetts university with just 16 faculty
members had invited one of the pivotal thinkers of the 20th century. Indeed,
William James came over from Harvard to listen to the lectures. Perhaps we
overlook the role of the smaller and less flashy schools in American
cultural life. Twenty-four years later a small outfit on West 12th Street in
Manhattan hired many more refugees from Nazism than more celebrated
institutions. In its housing of exiled scholars, the New School far eclipsed
grander universities.

Perhaps the balance of wealth in the early part of the century was not as
skewed as it is nowadays; or at least Hall's invitation to Freud opens a
small window into a neglected question of the economics of writing and
lecturing. Hall first offered Freud an "honorarium" of $400 to cover
expenses to lecture in July. Freud declined because he would lose too much
income by canceling three weeks of private consultations. Hall upped the
honorarium to $750, and the lectures were shifted to September, when Freud
had no appointments.

An honorarium of $750 is roughly in the league of what might be paid a
professor nowadays to fly across the country and give a lecture, if he or
she is lucky. Of course a 1909 greenback is not a 2009 greenback. Various
indexes exist to update past prices. Readjusted in current dollars, $750 in
1909 computes out to something between $18,000 and $36,000 in 2009—not a bad
piece of change! Few writers or professors would turn down an offer nowadays
to give some lectures if the invitation came with a $20,000 honorarium. The
amount not only suggests the relative wealth of Clark—Hall had $10,000, or
half a million in current dollars, to spend on the anniversary—but the
generous remuneration for independent lectures in the early part of the 20th

Freud spoke off the cuff from notes to a good crowd. Yet contemporary
observers of the Clark lectures did not mention what today would be
extraordinary. Freud spoke in German with no translation provided. Today if
Jürgen Habermas lectured in German at an American university, the audience
could comfortably sit around a small table. But a century ago, a series of
lectures in German neither diminished the audience nor elicited disapproval.
In 1909 advanced study usually meant study in Germany. It was assumed the
professoriate knew German. Today the opposite is true. That might not be a
reason for dismay, if other languages have replaced German, but that has not
happened. The din about globalization evades the reality of the decline of
serious language study among American students. Globalization spells
"English Spoken Here."

Freud suspected that American prudishness would curtail the reception of his
ideas. I think, he wrote to Jung before they departed, that once the
Americans "discover the sexual core of our psychological theories they will
drop us." Later critics of Freud, especially feminist critics, forget to
what extent he showed up as a militant sexual reformer. He wanted to be able
to talk about sexual desire and liberalize sexual practices. He made no
effort to mute that message. Freud's five lectures closed with a call to
allow greater sexual freedom. He said civilization demands "excessive"
sexual repression. "We ought not to aim so high that we completely neglect
the original animality of our nature." He cautioned that it was not possible
to "sublimate" all sexual impulses into cultural accomplishments.


To drive his point home, Freud closed with an analogy and recounted a folk
tale about the foolish residents of Schilda. They owned a strong and
productive horse with one flaw, its need for expensive oats. The thrifty
citizens decided to gradually cut down its ration until the horse grew
accustomed to "complete abstinence." The plan of action went well until one
day the townspeople woke up and found the horse had died. This perplexed
them. Freud closed his last lecture and formal visit to the United States
with the following sentence: "We are inclined to believe that the horse had
died of starvation and that without a certain ration of oats, no work can
indeed be expected from an animal."

In the first rows of the audience sat Emma Goldman, the anarchist and sexual
reformer, with her lover Ben Reitman. She was "deeply impressed" by Freud's
"lucidity" and "the simplicity of his delivery." (She did not comment that
he lectured in German.) She also attended the ceremony where Freud received
an honorary degree. The other professors appeared "stiff and important in
their university caps and gowns," but Freud looked "unassuming" in his
ordinary attire. She called him a "giant among pygmies."

If he needed it, a reference from Emma Goldman could burnish Freud's
credentials as a sexual reformer. Yet an opening and incidental sentence to
his five lectures may prove more prescient than his last: "I have discovered
with satisfaction that the majority of my audience are not of the medical
profession." The observation seems trivial, but much turned on it. With
virtually no success in the United States, Freud fought what might be called
the monopolization of psychoanalysis by medical doctors. He wanted
nonmedical or lay people to practice psychoanalysis, if they were properly
trained. This was no minor issue to Freud. He distrusted the medical
profession. He feared that doctors would turn psychoanalysis into a
subfield, a narrow therapy. I do not "consider it at all desirable for
psychoanalysis to be swallowed up by medicine," he wrote, "and to find its
last resting place in a textbook of psychiatry under the heading, 'Methods
of Treatment.'"

In fact, that more or less happened. American doctors banished lay
practition-ers and made psychoanalysis into a medical speciality. For
decades psychoanalysis prospered as psychiatrists embraced it, but more
recently the doctors have moved on. Psychoanalysis was too slow, too
expensive, too uncertain, and too unscientific. Along with academic
psychologists, psychiatrists adopted chemical, behavioral, and
pharmaceutical approaches.

But Freud did not defend psychoanalysis on the basis of its therapeutic
effectiveness; he had other, perhaps more imperial ambitions. ("Somewhere in
my soul," he admitted, "I am a fanatical Jew.") He wanted psychoanalysis to
contribute to literature and culture, even reform society. He invoked the
possibility of "combating the neuroses of civilization." He wrote smaller
and smaller books on bigger and bigger subjects, such as The Future of an
Illusion (on religion) and Civilization and Its Discontents (on happiness
and aggression).

This may be the "plague" that Freud brought to the New World: uninhibited
thinking. To be sure, the molecular, genetic, or chemical perspective may be
perfectly suitable for treating many ailments or behaviors. Yet the
clamorous effort to rid the world of Freud is misguided. Psychology
departments may relegate psychoanalysis to phrenology and other quackeries
as they seek testable results, but Freud's thought lives on in the
humanities—or wherever scholars and students contemplate the vagaries of
desire, morality, and religion. In the name of reason, Freud challenged the
veneer of reason. He dug to uncover the forces that make us not only loving
but also odd, hateful, and violent. Even when he was wrong, a boldness
infused his thinking. He remains a tonic for a cautious age. The epigram
that Freud chose for The Interpretation of Dreams—a line from Virgil—has not
lost its appeal: "If I cannot bend the higher powers, I shall stir up hell."

Russell Jacoby is a professor in residence in the history department at the
University of California at Los Angeles. A columnist for The Chronicle
Review, he is author, most recently, of Picture Imperfect: Utopian Thought
for an Anti-Utopian Age (Columbia University Press, 2005).


Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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