“I ask your indulgence if I close on a personal, existential note. We live in a time when we are flooded with information in every field of endeavor, a deluge from which Freud scholarship is not exempt. It has has become a veritable industry over which it is difficult to maintain even bibliographical control. The amount of sheer information increases incessantly. I confess that I have reached an age when I am haunted by the question of when information becomes knowledge. What I have presented here is only a special instance of that larger Angst. I am perhaps not yet old enough to seek the further line where knowledge becomes wisdom (Yerushalmi Series Z 1997).”
Derrida’s presentation Archive Fever at the 1994 conference “Memory: The Question of Archives” was dedicated to Yerushalmi whose book Freud’s Moses had moved him. The conference was hosted by the Freud Museum and the Société Internationale d’Histoire de la Psychanalyse, London, June 3-5, 1994 and organized by Elisabeth Roudinesco. [Y.H.Y.]
Yerushalmi began his text with a Kakfaesque description of the archives’ doorkeeper. It is a thinly disquised reproach for the exclusivity of access to Freud’s archives, particularly to series Z. Yerushalmi was dismayed to find that access to Series Z, Freud’s archives in Washington, was severely limited to a group of insider scholars.
Yerushalmi notes the unique published citation by Freud where he used the term ‘archives,’ in an early paper (1898) on “The Psychical Mechanism of Forgetfulness” (Zum Psychischen Mechanismus der Vergesslichkeit). He writes:
Thus the function of memory, which we like to imagine as an archive open to any who is curious, is in this way subjected to restriction by a trend of the will…
Yerushalmi chose to focus his discussion only on archives. An archive is not a memory bank nor are the documents in an archive part of memory; “…if they were, we should have no need to retrieve them; once retrieved, they are often at odds with memory.”
Although Yerushami, the historian, has done research in archives in Lisbon, Madrid, Valladolid, Salamanca, Venice, Verona and Jerusalem but rarely in the Freud Archives.
Yerushalmi illustrated the persistence and continuity of the archivist as gatekeeper through the 1909 case of Robert Ross. Ross presented Oscar Wilde’s original manuscript of De Profundis to the British Museum on condition that it be sealed for sixty years to prevent it from falling into the hands of Lord Alfred Douglas, the agent of Wilde’s ruin. Through a 1913 libel suit Douglas, received a copy which he intended to publish. Ross speedily had his own copy published in New York which secured copyright. In 1949 Wilde’s son published the full and correct text but the British Museum respected Ross’ agreement and access is still denied.
Yerushalmi questions the logic behind restricting or forbidding access to certain documents well into the 21st century! He was not alone. Janet Malcolm’s 1984 publication “In the Freud Archives” made the inaccessibility une cause celebre.
Meanwhile, attacks against psychoanalysis, fused with assaults against the personal integrity of Freud himself, have by now reached an unprecedented crescendo of vilification. One result is a widespread belief that the real truth, for better or worse, is in the Archives, and that once they are fully accessible the truth will out. What both attackers and defenders of Freud have in common is a faith in the facticity of archives, in the archival document as somehow the ultimate arbiter of historical truth.
Yerushalmi traced the cult of the archive to the 1830′s and especially after 1860, when national governments eager to protect their collective histories, opened their archives to research. Lord Acton put the reason succinctly:
“To keep one’s archives barred against the historians was tantamount to leaving one’s history to one’s enemies.” Lord Acton
“The historians came, the writing of history (at least political history) was put on a firmer basis than ever before. It was the heyday of scientific history, full of optimism. The crisis of historicism was not yet on the horizon and the archival document seemed to herald a historiographical millennium. Paleography became a science and the archivist a professional, nowhere more superbly trained than at the École des Chartes, established in Paris in 1821. By the end of the century one spoke somewhat bemusedly in France of la fureur de l’inédit, the furor to publish the unpublished document.”
In “Monologue with Freud” Yerushalmi calls Freud’s archivists “zealous epigoni [who] have stationed themselves, like gnostic archons, to bar the way to the hidden knowledge.” (FM 1991:81)
By the late 20th century historians were more sophisticated; recognized the limitations of archival documents. And at that time series Z is unlocked. leading to anothfureur de l’inédit’. Yerushalmi questioned what that will change.
He described the ideal archival material:
- It should be naive, created for other purposes than research: the production, storage and maintenance of personal correspondence, tax records, contracts, deeds.
- It should be dusty from lack of handling. Half a century after the French Revolution a Prussian historian finally opened the dust-laden papers regarding the Reign of Terror, a proof of their legitimacy.
- The researcher recognizes that all archives are incomplete: not all documents are collected, archived and/or preserved. And any document requires contextualization by data both in and outside the archives and even the field of study.
- The “…archive is not a repository of the past, only of certain artifacts that have survived from the past, and we encounter them in the present. The contents of archival documents are not historical facts except on the most primitive level dates, names, places. The truly vital data in these documents do not become historical until, filtered through the mind and the imagination of the historian, they are interpreted and articulated.”
The zealous guardians of The Freud Archives including Anna Freud, Freud’s devoted daughter protected Freud’s reputation in the creation and maintenance of the archives. Yerushalmi compares these documents to “… André Gide’s journals, where one senses that as he writes one eye is gazing at posterity.” This contrasts with Kafka’s diaries, whose publication he never dreamed.
Freud’s papers have been handled regularly. Yerushalmi cites examples of discrepancies between Freud’s correspondance with Fliess and actual publications in which passages were excluded. “The most significant and irremediable gap in the Freud Archives is the result of Freud’s own doing. On two occasions [in 1885 and 1907], Ernest Jones observed, he completely destroyed all his correspondence, notes, diaries and manuscripts. The letter of April 28, 1885 to Martha, announcing his determination to thereby frustrate his future biographers, is too well-known to be quoted yet again.”
Yerushalmi concludes that “[n]othing in the Freud Collection nor in any other archive can possibly decide any of the major scientific or philosophical issues that have arisen in the ongoing controversies over Freud. No document can prove or disprove the validity of Freudian psychoanalytic theory nor the efficacy of psychoanalytic therapy. Infantile sexuality, the existence of the unconscious, the mechanisms of repression, and other central tenets of Freudian theory, are not subject to archival arbitration.”
“What do we really want to know, and how can the Archives be of help? My own order of priority would be: To understand Freud’s teaching; to understand the history of the psychoanalytic movement; to understand Freud’s life insofar as it relates to the first two goals.” “…[I]t entails coming as close as possible to his own intentions. This, as I have argued elsewhere must take pride of place. At least in his published works Freud was consciously trying to communicate various ideas to his readers. That these works, like all texts, also contain latent meanings of which he was unaware, that they can be approached with a variety of hermeneutic strategies, does not absolve us from rigorously seeking their conscious intentionality which, alone, can keep us from flying off the deep end. For that, not only is the value of a correct text self-evident, but any information relevant to its evolution, whether through variants or revisions, or through letters in which Freud discusses work in progress. It is in this sense that the letters in Series Z may make their most important contribution. But even then the archives are only an aid. Ultimately the student must bring to an understanding of Freud’s work his or her philological, literary, and historical instincts, and an entire culture derived from other fields. Philip Rieff’s Freud: The Mind of the Moralist (1959) remains, in my opinion, one of the most penetrating explorations of Freud’s thought. And Rieff never even consulted an archive. “
The history of the psychoanalytic movement (I have in mind only Freudian psychoanalysis). Here, surely, our men and women from many countries will have reaped abundant harvests. But how much wheat and how much chaff? Any history of the psychoanalytic movement cannot ignore the archives, but it must also transcend them. Once again all depends on how we conceptualize the problem. If we have in mind a historical narrative of its leading personalities, its congresses and schisms, its dispersal after the German catastrophe of 1933 and the Austrian of 1938, then certainly these and many other aspects will have been fleshed out by Series Z. But this kind of history remains business as usual. I shall take as an instance Phyllis Grosskurth’s The Secret Ring: Freud’s Inner Circle and the Politics of Psychoanalysis published three years ago to considerable acclaim. Assuredly the book contains new and sometimes vivid details Ms. Grosskurth had spent time in several archives, including the Rank papers at my own university, and she writes well. For me, however, the book, like so many others in the genre, represents yet another missed opportunity. That Freud’s secret entourage, the Committee was racked by dissentions, backbiting, competition for Freud’s imperious favor, was essentially known. The issue that is never addressed, is how this group of quite imperfect and in many ways incompatible men were able to sustain and propogate not only a therapy, but a teaching that became a vital component of Modernism around the globe. And, in a larger sense, is this not the issue for any history of the psychoanalytic movement worthy of itself not merely to describe its inner workings or proselytizing activities, but to ask what prior spiritual or cultural needs did Freud’s teaching fulfill that enabled it to spread from a small group of Jews meeting in 1902 at Berggasse 19, to become what W.H. Auden called after Freud’s death a whole climate of opinion?”
I come finally to the vexing question of Freud’s biography and here I am prepared to abandon my parable. I am only certain that the men and women from many countries will not find anything of significance about Freud’s childhood and adolescence. That stumbling block to biographers, especially those who are psychoanalytically oriented, will remain. Some information about Freud’s parents may perhaps yet be found in Moravian and Viennese archives. As for Freud’s mature life, for reasons already given I doubt that very much of a sensational nature will be found in Series Z, though of course one cannot be sure. Once again, however, I feel that the really important issues extend beyond the archives.
“The other issue is so vital and so complex as to require a conference of its own. I have in mind the relation between biography and a person’s achievement. How much of the former do we need to know in order to understand the latter?[...] How much about Freud’s life must we know in order to interpret The Interpretation of Dreams? Or would our interpretation simply be different, with less ferreting for biographical links and more concentration on what he was trying to teach us? [...]Ironically, it may have been Freud himself who first opened this Pandora’s Box, but let’s not hold this against him. Rather, let us ask must we really know whether Freud slept with Minna? Those who want to discover that he really did, are gripped by an unstated and faulty syllogism: a) Freud presented a public image of a devoted husband; b) Freud comitted incest with his sister-in-law; ergo Freud is not to be trusted, and so neither should his work… “
“I ask your indulgence if I close on a personal, existential note. We live in a time when we are flooded with information in every field of endeavor, a deluge from which Freud scholarship is not exempt. It has has become a veritable industry over which it is difficult to maintain even bibliographical control. The amount of sheer information increases incessantly. I confess that I have reached an age when I am haunted by the question of when information becomes knowledge. What I have presented here is only a special instance of that larger Angst. I am perhaps not yet old enough to seek the further line where knowledge becomes wisdom.”
Contact � Maureen Flynn-Burhoe 2000 for comments, corrections and copyright concerns.
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