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Demos, J. (1978). Oedipus and America: Historical Perspectives on the Reception of Psychoanalysis in the United States. Ann. Psychoanal., 6:23-39.

(1978). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 6:23-39

Oedipus and America: Historical Perspectives on the Reception of Psychoanalysis in the United States

John Demos

There is a famous remark attributed to Freud by Ernest Jones: “America is a mistake: a gigantic mistake, it is true, but nonetheless a mistake” (Jones, 1955, p. 60). Jones does not say when the remark was made, or in what specific context; however, Freud's skepticism about most things American is well known. It is tempting to think that the founder of psychoanalysis referred, perhaps just half-consciously, to the reception accorded his ideas in the early decades of this century. The issue, in that case, was the very success achieved by psychoanalysis in the United States—a success which seemed to Freud surprising, ill-founded, and in some ways quite unwelcome. Eager as he clearly was to associate himself with the finest traditions of scientific and humanitarian concern in Europe, he saw his ideas criticized or (worse) ignored by the great majority of his cultural peers. And yet, an ocean away, psychoanalysis was taking firm root in the shallow cultural soil of upstart, bourgeois America. There was indeed a “mistake” here—and of quite unsettling proportions.

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