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Gedo, J.E. (1995). The Case Of Sigmund Freud: Medicine And Identity At The Fin De Siècle. By Sander L. Gilman. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1993, xiii + 298 pp., $31.95 (hard cover), $15.95 (paperback).. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 43:889-890.

(1995). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 43:889-890

The Case Of Sigmund Freud: Medicine And Identity At The Fin De Siècle. By Sander L. Gilman. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1993, xiii + 298 pp., $31.95 (hard cover), $15.95 (paperback).

Review by:
John E. Gedo

This interesting and well-written book contains a plethora of information about the contamination of late 19th and early 20th century scholarship and medicine by crude anti-Semitic prejudice; by contrast, it has relatively little to say about Sigmund Freud. Professor Gilman reviews the evidence about Freud's lifelong struggle to come to terms with his Jewishness and with the sociopolitical vicissitudes of Central European Jews; beyond these biographical data, he assumes that such an unavoidable problem must have had an important bearing on Freud's development of psychoanalysis-as-science. In my judgment, Gilman does not succeed in demonstrating such a connection.

The book begins with a convincing thesis about the pernicious misuse of the concept of “race” in the public discourse of Freud's era. Gilman shows that, in parallel with the civic emancipation of the Jews, in the German-speaking lands they ceased being regarded as a religious group: they were looked upon instead as members of a biologically distinct racial entity that was arbitrarily regarded as inferior. Such a bias was often rationalized on the basis of fantastic misinformation (such as the canard of some characteristic Jewish gaze or body odor); just as often, prejudice was justified by attributing the behaviors of disadvantaged subgroups (such as the accent of Yiddish speakers or the criminality of particular individuals) to biological predispositions. Moreover, the concept of heredity was widely misused to claim that the offspring of marriages between Jews and Gentiles were in perpetuity tainted with these undesirable “Jewish” characteristics. Finally, matters now understood as functions of cultural transmission (let us say, the financial prudence of Jewish businessmen) were then arbitrarily assigned biological causes by anti-Semitic commentators.


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