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September 29, 2007, 2:30 PM

Freud and the Historical Imagination

Participants: Richard Armstrong (moderator), Diane O'Donoghue, George Prochnik, Peter Rudnytsky, Joel Whitebook

Psychoanalysis has brought about a revolution in how historical narratives can be conceived, constructed, and construed. Freud's discoveries about the mechanisms involved in the creation of dreams, in particular the distinction between manifest and latent content in dreams, and his later work on the psychopathologies of everyday life, paved the way for an understanding of the process of distortion in memory about the self. His work also led to insights into the formation of screen memories and the role of fantasy as a motivator of behavior. Freud applied these findings not only to the clinical situation but also to a far broader arena, attempting to utilize the explanatory powers of psychoanalysis to understand biography, art, religion and the origins of the mind. Through more precise application of the analytic method and access to a far greater store of clinical data than was available to pioneers in the field, modern psychoanalysis has raised questions about the accuracy of Freud's speculations in works like A Childhood Memory of Leonardo da Vinci, Totem and Taboo, Moses and Monotheism, and other of his excursions into areas removed from clinical findings. To what extent did Freudian psychoanalysis liberate the historical imagination, and to what extent did it merely create a theater of novel and interesting projections? The roundtable will visit these questions and attempt to clarify the limits and the relevance of applying psychoanalytic speculation to history.

Richard Armstrong is Associate Professor of Classical Studies and Fellow in the Honors College, University of Houston. He is the author of A Compulsion for Antiquity: Freud and the Ancient World. He has also published articles and book chapters on classical studies and psychoanalysis, including "Last Words: Said, Freud, and Traveling Theory," in Alif; "Theory and Theatricality: Classical Drama and the Formation of Early Psychoanalysis," in Classical and Modern Literature; "Being Mr. Somebody: Freud and Classical Education," forthcoming in Freud's Jewish World; and "Marooned Mandarins: Freud, Classical Education and the Jews of Vienna," forthcoming in Classics and National Culture.

Diane O'Donoghue is Chair of the Department of Visual and Critical Studies at Tufts University, in affiliation with the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and is a member of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, where she has been a Silberger Scholar. She was the Fulbright/Freud Scholar of Psychoanalysis (2001) and Visiting Fulbright Professor at the Academy of Fine Arts (2006), both in Vienna, and received the CORST Prize from the American Psychoanalytic Association in 2002. Her most recent publications include articles in the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, American Imago, and Visual Resources: An International Journal of Documentation.

George Prochnik is the author of Putnam Camp: Sigmund Freud, James Jackson Putnam & The Purpose of American Psychology. His most recent essays have been published in The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Cabinet magazine.

Peter Rudnytsky is Professor of English at the University of Florida, editor of American Imago, and an Honorary Member of the American Psychoanalytic Association. In 2004, he was the Fulbright/Freud Society Scholar of Psychoanalysis in Vienna. He is the author of Freud and Oedipus, The Psychoanalytic Vocation: Rank, Winnicott, and the Legacy of Freud, Psychoanalytic Conversations: Interviews with Clinicians, Commentators, and Critics, and Reading Psychoanalysis: Freud, Rank, Ferenczi, Groddeck, for which he received the Gradiva Award in 2003. He is editor of numerous books, including Psychoanalysis and Narrative Medicine, with Rita Charon.

Joel Whitebook is a philosopher and practicing psychoanalyst. He is on the faculty of the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research and is writing an intellectual biography of Freud for Cambridge University Press.


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