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Schirmeister, P. (2004). Freud in America. Psychoanal. Dial., 14(2):265-286.

(2004). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 14(2):265-286

Freud in America

Pamela Schirmeister, Ph.D.

Taking the lectures that Freud delivered at Clark University in 1909 as a starting point, this paper explores the features of the American cultural psyche that share deep affinities with some of the assumptions that underlie Freudian psychoanalysis. Using a variety of literary texts, the author locates two central points at which a strain of the American imagination intersects with psychoanalysis. The first is the belief that there is sense in everything, a belief that can be traced back to Puritan theology and that is secularized but not lost in the 19th century and beyond. According to this belief, the world is a text calling to be interpreted. The interpretation of this text may not be historically guided, as it is in psychoanalysis; it is, however, an interpretation that can only come through experience. An epistemology grounded in experience also develops out of Puritan theology, with its insistence on the individual's unmediated relation to the Creator. The author then considers the ways in which certain 19th-century literary texts employ a performative rhetoric that insists on the centrality of experience as the means to knowledge by forcing the reader into transformative acts of interpretation. This activity mimics what psychoanalysis calls transference, which itself insists that experience is the ground of knowledge. The emphasis on experience that emerges in the literary texts and in the transference leads to a pronounced split between the private and public aspects of the individual. In conclusion, the author examines the different ways in which psychoanalysis and American culture have negotiated that split.

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