Perhaps most of us interested in psychoanalysis in the United States have the idea that, in 1909, when Freud lectured at Clark University, his first and only visit to this country, the profession was launched. That Freud was perhaps an afterthought to a larger celebration at the school may stun us, but truth be told that appears to be the case.
In After Freud Left: A Century of Psychoanalysis in America (University of Chicago Press, 2012)–part of what John Burnham calls “The New Freud Studies”–we encounter scholars looking closely at the way in which American culture interfaced with psychoanalytic thinking. During the mid-twentieth century, for myriad reasons, (the Cold War among them), psychoanalysis was a force to be reckoned with in the States. The book, which includes essays by historians of medicine and of culture, among them Elizabeth Lunbeck, George Makari, Louis Menand, and Dorothy Ross, tells a tale of how psychoanalysis resonated with some of the major thinkers of the time–including Lionel Trilling, Herbert Marcuse, and Norman O. Brown to name but a few.
Given the contemporary context, aka today, in which psychoanalysis is not currying much favor as a mode of treatment or as a system of ideas, looking at the profession in its hey day will give one cause to pause. These historians argue that cultural shifts, among them the advent of psychopharmeceuticals coupled with new ideas about the self that do not consider the unconscious, have placed psychoanalysis on the sidelines.
Dr. Burnham was a pleasure to interview and, as an historian, has been studying all things psychoanalytic since the 1950s. What we love to consider is that he has seen, in his lifetime, many of the changes that the book he has edited chronicles. That he has been writing about psychoanalysis, beginning with the completion of his doctorate in 1958 on the early origins of this profession, only makes this interview more compelling. Something prompted him to take notice then and it is an abiding interest that he has cultivated ever since. We were so pleased to have him with us as a result.
In assembling an illustrious group of historians to write about this topic, Dr. Burnham has done a terrific service to a profession that might well want to reflect on its origins.