Anthony Kauders discusses the reception of ‘Der Freud Komplex’

Freud Komplex book coverUsually it is literary theorists who concern themselves with the reception of texts: how they are constructed, reconstructed and deconstructed, how there is no stable meaning, how readers ignore, question, and undermine the author’s intentions (whatever these may be). “Is there a text in this class?”, Stanley Fish famously asked, and I myself had to ask a similar question in the course of three book presentations in Frankfurt, Vienna and Berlin this summer. The text in question was The Freud Complex. A History of Psychoanalysis in Germany, which I had recently published. As a historian, I used the encounter with Freud in the 20th century as a backdrop to examine the way in which Germans (psychiatrists, anarchists, expressionists, students, philosophers, pedagogues, lawyers, politicians) wrote about sexuality, the unconscious, childhood and history, amongst other things. But during my talks, I noticed that “my” Freud Complex was not “their” Freud Complex. They (by and large psychoanalysts) were primarily interested in the present—not the past: Would psychoanalysis survive in Germany? How did our current economic system create psychic problems? Was I going to offer a new “critical theory”? Why did so many people persist in their hatred of Freud? I came to realize (not for the first time, really) that many psychologists have an altogether different approach to the “psyche” than most historians. Whereas the former tend to search for laws and regularities, the latter tend to call these into question in an attempt to historicize the past. In Frankfurt, Vienna and Berlin I learned to appreciate once more how what we as historians consider to be obvious—context, being in time, relativity—is an interpretation others are likely to deny.

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