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Zaretsky, E. (2013). After Freud Left: A Century of Psychoanalysis in America, by John Burnham (Ed.), Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012, 280 pp., $35.00 (cloth); $7.00-$30.00 (eBook). Psychoanal. Psychol., 30(1):116-119.

(2013). Psychoanalytic Psychology, 30(1):116-119

After Freud Left: A Century of Psychoanalysis in America, by John Burnham (Ed.), Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012, 280 pp., $35.00 (cloth); $7.00-$30.00 (eBook)

Review by:
Eli Zaretsky, Ph.D.

The place of the United States in the overall history of psychoanalysis is a vast but ambivalent one. On the one hand, Freud would likely have constituted a relatively interesting, but minor, subcurrent of 20th-century European thought, had he not visited the United States in 1909. It was America that turned psychoanalysis into a global phenomenon, closely linked to democracy and modern notions of “empowerment.” Having bestowed such a favor on the Viennese-Jewish orphan, America just as easily dropped analysis, giving birth to the Freud haters, to a feminist therapeutic culture, and to an ideology of scientism, which was then exported throughout the world. If, on the one hand, analysis can almost be understood as an incident in American cultural history, it is also the case that it is hard to understand 20th-century American culture without considering analysis.

The reason for the deep affinity between American culture and psychoanalysis is that both were descendants of Calvinism. Calvinism rested on a particular conception of the self, namely, as sinful and pathetically dependent on God's unsentimental and inscrutable will. This conception was always at odds with American individualism in the Emersonian or Tocquevillean sense. Calvinism gave way to two heresies: antinomianism, which claimed to know God through direct experience, and Arminianism, which claimed to reach salvation through works. These heresies, in turn, took a secular form shaped by the relative absence of strong class barriers and the relatively large economic opportunities. Antinomianism gave way to boundlessness, as suggested by the frontier, nature, and landscape, and by revivalism, evangelism, and transcendentalism. Arminianism translated into self-assertion, as expressed in such slogans as “Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men,” which far transcended the idea of economic man. America welcomed psychoanalysis then, but not so much as a theory of the unconscious, but rather as a theory of the boundless and/or assertive self.

When this is grasped, it becomes easier to plot the relations between psychoanalysis and American culture. These relations went through three phases.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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