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Freud, Moses, and the intifada.

Freud and the Non-European. By EDWARD SAID. London, New York: Verso, 2003.

In the ominous spring of 1938, a young photographer made his way through Vienna's cobblestone streets to Berggasse 19, the private and professional residence of Dr. Sigmund Freud. Hired by a Freud confidante just days before the doctor's flight to England and exile, the thirty-one year old Edmund Engelman had been asked to make a permanent photographic record of psychoanalysis' inner sanctum. Thankfully, he would not disappoint. Taken without a flash so as not to alert the Gestapo, Engelman's elegant prints of Freud's consulting room, study, and family apartment are true works of art, which hold enormous riches for the cultural historian. Not only do they provide a rare glimpse into the lost world of that nineteenth-century icon-the Central European Gelehrter-they present us with fascinating clues as to the very nature of psychoanalytic theory and practice. (1)

Most conspicuously, they reveal the extent and visual impact of Freud's beloved collection of antiquities. No visual tabula rasa this, a patient reclining on the famous couch, would have found him or herself literally surrounded by hundreds of objects from ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Recognizable symbols from the ancient Mediterranean abounded, including a small print of Ingres' Oedipus and the Sphinx hanging suggestively just above couch and patient. Although unique in Western medicine in its almost complete lack of stimuli during treatment, psychoanalysis (at least, as practiced at Berggasse 19) openly embraced the dramatic visual intrusion of the ancient world. During analytical sessions, Freud was known to jump from his chair and grab a statue or other object from his colection in order to illustrate a particular point. (2) Indeed, Freud actually encouraged patients to give him antiquities as gifts. Apparently, it lessened their feelings of dependence on him once analysis was over-or so he argued. (3)

However, as he prepared to leave his home and country during this particularly dark hour in the history of the West, Freud must have drawn a decreasing amount of comfort and cultural reassurance from his collection. Still, he continued heroically on with his work, intent on finding ways that psychoanalysis could be used to unlock the secrets of the great formative epochs of prehistory-and in doing so shed light on modern problems and predicaments. Begun in Vienna and completed in London, Freud's final work-Moses and Monotheism (1939)-represents nothing less than an attempt to bridge the gap between prehistory and the present, civilization and barbarism-even Jew and Gentile. As racial and national disputes threatened to tear his twentieth-century world apart, the wise (and infamous) doctor looked to the ancient Middle East for answers.

It therefore must have seemed a flash of inspiration when the Freud Museum of London asked Edward Said to participate in its ongoing lecture series on Freud's life and legacy. The esteemed literary critic and author of the landmark Orientalism (1978), was an obvious, if provocative, choice to weigh the words of that great Viennese prose stylist, speculative ethnologist, cultural detective, and fellow refugee. After all, Said has written extensively not only on Freud but issues of nationalism, war, cultural studies, the Middle East, as well as political identity and the use of theory in history and criticism. And while many believe his strident political championing of the Palestinian cause has made him a divisive figure in the humanities, most of these critics would nevertheless have to concede that he has single-handedly defined and shaped some of the central scholarly debates involving the nexus between East and West.

Unfortunately, Said's Freud Museum lecture (published as Freud and the Non-European) is more tepid than thought provoking, more cliched than incisive. Sadly, the whole performance resembles an old card trick in which the well-rehearsed flourishes of hands, cards, and banter are followed by an obligatory and predictable sleight of hand (or, in this case, politics). One learns little new about Freud-and, instead, is left with the lingering suspicion that the whole production is a mere advertisement for Said's political views. This is a shame, because the topics discussed are so rich and compelling--and the intellectual and moral stakes so very high.

Throughout the lecture, Said conveys a deep (and undoubtedly sincere) respect for Freud and Freudian thought--particularly his writings on ancient history and civilization. Singling out Moses and Monotheism-in which Freud makes bold and contentious claims for the Egyptian origins of Moses, the idea of monotheism, and circumcision-Said goes to great lengths to remind us of Freud's famous ambivalence towards Judaism. How difficult it truly must have been for Freud to assert hypotheses that might alienate his fellow Jews during their darkest hour-or be exploited by their enemies.

To be sure, Moses and Monotheism has not enjoyed the highest of reputations among classical scholars. Indeed, one might have expected Said to discuss this fact--perhaps mentioning that Freud originally conceived of the work as "a kind of historical novel." (4) Yet Said is ultimately not interested in judging Freud (other than to label him "Eurocentric") for the same reason that he is not overly interested in presenting a penetrating and nuanced appraisal of his work. Freud is useful because he provides an inclusive and cosmopolitan vision of the ancient Middle East that Said can contrast with what he sees as Israeli politics of exclusion. In Said's words:
 Quite differently from the spirit of Freud's deliberately
 provocative reminders that Judaism's founder was a non-Jew, and that
 Judaism begins in the realm of Egyptian, non-Jewish monotheism,
 Israeli legislation countervenes, represses, and even cancels
 Freud's carefully maintained opening out of Jewish identity toward
 its non-Jewish background. (5)

Said goes on to compare the goals of Israeli archaeology, which he believes is obsessively interested in proving Jewish claims to Israel's soil, with its Palestinian counterpart, which, he asserts, is primarily concerned with uncovering that land's diverse past.

The cleverness of this argumentative twist-turning the Jewish icon against the Jewish state-is obvious. Yet one comes away feeling more than a little manipulated by the whole performance. Hoping for (even expecting) a serious analysis of Freud's thought, one must instead sadly concede that Said's "reading" was undertaken primarily to fulfill his anti-Israeli agenda. Unfortunately, his foray into the political inevitably works to blur any legitimate insights he may have made-and renders him vulnerable (or at least exposed) to a whole host of pointed questions. For example, does Said really believe (or expect his readers to believe) that the Palestinian posture towards Israel is one of open-minded accommodation? For that matter, are Palestinian leaders ever accommodating to their own people?

In his zeal to associate Freud with the Palestinian cause, Said makes the further mistake of confusing Freud's acceptance of ancient diversity with a belief in the possibility of peace and understanding in the modern world. This is a regrettable misreading. For although Freud revised his theories numerous times over the decades, he never let go of his essential pessimism. The Freud of 1938-39 still believed, as he had years earlier, that human society was born of a brutal act of parricide and cannibalism and that mankind was best described in the epigram from Plautus: Homo Homini Lupus (Man is a wolf to man). (6) Although Freud personally may have been the epitome of the civilized and urbane man, he was under no illusions about the violent and aggressive urges that lay just below the surface of society. Read closely (or even casually), Moses and Monotheism offers no prescription for social harmony but rather describes how a religion and a civilization (and, indeed, all religions and civilizations) were built upon an unstable foundation of violence and guilt.

Ultimately, politically motivated scholarship risks simplifying (or even distorting) its subject in order to fulfill its pre-determined ends. One of the inevitable results of the post-modern assault on the Author has been to make the Critic sovereign over the text. Indeed, Said makes much here of his interest in the way texts are reread and reinterpreted by subsequent generations. Works that are truly timeless, he believes, are those that continue to be interesting and useful for readers years after they are written. With this, few would disagree. But if taken too far, if texts are allowed to be completely disengaged from the intentions of their authors, then they become vulnerable to the clever and the ambitious. It would certainly be wonderful if, as Said believes, Dr. Freud could show us the way to peace and harmony in the Middle East. But, alas, hope was never much in evidence among the ancient busts and statutuettes of Berggasse 19.


1. Edward Engelman, Berggasse 19: Sigmund Freud's Home and Offices, Vienna 1938 (New York: Basic Books Inc., 1976), "A Memoir," pp. 131-43.

2. Joseph Wortis, "Fragments of a Freudian Analysis," The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 10, no. 4 (Menasha, Wisconsin: George Banta, October 1940) p. 847. John Forrester, "Mille e tre': Freud and Collecting," in The Cultures of Collecting, edited by John Elsner and Roger Cardinal (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981) p. 224.

3. "My Recollections of Sigmund Freud," in The Wolf-Man and Sigmund Freud, edited by Muriel Gardiner (London: The Hogarth Press, 1972), pp. 149-50. Also see Karin Obholzer, The Wolf-Man Sixty Years Later: Conversations With Freud's Controversial Patient (London: Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1982) p. 42.

4. Sigmund Freud, Letter from Freud to Lou Andreas-SalomE, January 6, 1935, in Freud-SalomE Briefwechsel, edited by Ernst Pfeiffer (Frankfurt am Main, S. Fischer, 1966), pp. 222-23 (#204).

5. Edward Said, Freud and the Non-European (London, New York: Verso, 2003), p. 44.

6. Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1961), p. 65.

Reviewed by MARK C. MOLESKY

MARK C. MOLESKY teaches in the Department of History at Harvard University, where he earned his Ph.D. (2000). His book, Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America's Disastrous Relationship with France (co-authored with John J. Miller), will be published by Doubleday in 2004
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Title Annotation:"Freud and the Non-European"
Author:Molesky, Mark C.
Publication:Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2003
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