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Modena, E. (1986). A chance for psychoanalysis to change: the Zürich Psychoanalytical Seminar as an Example. Free Associations, 1(5):7-22.

(1986). Free Associations, 1(5):7-22

A chance for psychoanalysis to change: the Zürich Psychoanalytical Seminar as an Example

Emilio Modena

We know that general social-political changes leave their traces in the psychoanalytic movement and the formulation of theory: that history expresses itself in the history of ideas. Mario Erdheim showed, for example, how the specific cultural background of the ‘Wiener Décadence’ stimulated Sigmund Freud to investigate the unconscious and to discover its sexual implications (Erdheim, 1984). Johannes Reichmayr was able to demonstrate that, by their better understanding of war neurosis in comparison to traditional psychiatry, the Freudians obtained a social acceptance in Vienna they lacked before. Psychoanalysis belonged, indeed, to the winners of World War 1 (Reichmayr, 1983). Quite the contrary occurred with the rise of the fascist movement and World War 2, when the psychoanalysts, who were forced to emigrate, adapted themselves more and more to the psychiatric institutions. The predominance of American ‘ego-psychology’ in post-war psychoanalysis, with its typical shift away from drive theory and towards an adaptational point of view (Hartmann), was the consequence of the ‘Repression of Psychoanalysis’ (investigated by Russell Jacoby, 1983).

In what follows I will not discuss macro-social developments in Switzerland, such as the ‘68 political movement, the ‘psycho-boom’, the plethora of students, etc., all of which did obviously contribute to creating an objective situation favourable to change for Swiss psychoanalysis. I will stress the subjective factors instead. I would like to show that novelty takes form from a latent social readiness for change only through political action: the leap from quantity — discontent, registered in the old Zürich Psychoanalytical Seminar for a long time as a diffuse ‘uneasiness’ — to a new quality could never have occurred automatically.

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