Letter to the editor response to Jim Anderson by Arnold Richards

Dropped on:October 15, 2013
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Anderson Discussion Paper by Arnold Richards

Dr. Anderson has offered a convincing argument that Freud’s Judaism was central to his creation of psychoanalysis. His perceptions that the difference between Jewish and Christian attitudes toward pleasure and sexuality, and between Jewish and Christian views about the moral weight of thoughts versus actions, had much to do with the way the young science developed, are especially on the mark. In that spirit, I would like to add another aspect of Freud’s Judaism that also influenced his work — that is, his ambivalence about it, about his own Jewishness, and about his Galician shtetl forbears (including his parents).

Freud was proud of his sense of himself as a cosmopolitan German Jew, but he was uncomfortable with the Jews who had come to Vienna from Galicia to escape the pogroms there, and embarrassed by too close an association with them. He wasn’t alone in this. Many other Viennese Jews felt the same way, and in fact the Galician Jews themselves were ashamed of their origins. When a Jew from Galicia was asked where he came from he would say “fun Wien: from Vienna. I remember this from my childhood.  And certainly in the Enlightenment years during which Freud came to maturity, that old chestnut took on the ring of truth. *Every one of Freud’s original followers (there were 18 before the first non-Jew appeared) were Galitzianers, or their
parents were. But at the same time, insofar as they could make it possible, they were “from Vienna.” Freud himself would have been born in Galicia if his father for years before his birth had not moved to Freiburg Moravia for business reasons. And if the railroad had not passed by Freiburg when he was a child, his father  would not have moved to Vienna because he could no longer make a living as a wool merchant and Freud would likely have lived a very different life. But it did pass by Freiburg, and Freud did become the “Viennese” Freud we
know so well **

In his own story of his family origins, Freud too distanced himself as  much as he could from his Galitzianer roots; he insisted that his family was originally from Cologne, and had traveled from there to Lithuania, only then passing through Galicia in their return to western Europe:  I have reason to believe that my father’s family were for a long time in Rhineland (later Cologne), that in the fourteenth or fifteenth century they  fled east from anti-Semitic persecution and in the course of the nineteenth century they retraced their steps from Lithuania through Galicia to German Austria” (Freud,
1925, p. 7-8)  

Furthermore, he maintained that he had forgotten the Hebrew he had learned as a child; this seems to me unlikely Freud’s father gave him a copy of the Phillipson bible inscribed in Hebrew. Freud’s father must have expected that Freud would understand the Hebrew inscription.  It seems even more unlikely in light of his denial that he knew Yiddish. Freud grew up in a Yiddish-speaking home; his mother spoke no German. Yiddish was the only language his parents spoke to each other, and it’s hard not to conclude that it was the
language Freud used with her as well, both in childhood and as the man
who visited her every Sunday morning until she died in 1930.

In 1941 a Dr. M. Grinwald, a Jew from Buczech, Galicia (the birthplace of Freud’s paternal grandfather Schlomo) wrote a piece for Haaretz in which he told of visiting Vienna and lecturing to Freud’s group about a controversial popular play. It was called Yochanan the Prophet. After the talk, Grinwald and his audience had a friendly luncheon. Freud made several jokes related to religion, and pointed out how many Jews resembled Yochanan with his mysterious face, his unkempt hair, and his shaggy coat. He commented that he himself preferred to be the
Jewish man in an elegant tuxedo rather than one dressed like a prophet.

*Even the Jewish jokes that Freud valued so highly were Germanized. Originally Yiddish jokes, made up by Yiddish speakers and informed by a Yiddish sensibility, they circulated among Austrian Jews like Freud in German. Intent on joining the Viennese intelligentsia, even their traditional humor was translated out of its provincial tongue of origin into the language of non-Jewish European society.*
It has always seemed to me that Freud’s last work, Moses and Monotheism, was written to develop an origination myth for himself and all Jews. Moses was an Egyptian — in fact a member of an Egyptian royal family. That may account for the appeal of the joke with which Dr. Anderson begins his paper. On the other side of the balance, James Murray Cuddihy contends in The Ordeal of Civility, a book about the struggle with Jewish modernity, that Freud’s intent in defining a
universal unconscious filled with base sexual stuff was part of his effort to achieve equality in polite Viennese society by demonstrating that the minds of the goyim were just as schmutzig as the minds of the Jews.
So I would like to add to Dr. Anderson’s paper only this brief addendum: that as deeply influenced as Freud was by his Jewishness, it was an ambivalent influence. On the one hand, Freud was proud of, and attracted to, some aspects of his Jewish heritage, which was for goodor ill very much an inescapable factor in the Vienna  of his time. On the other hand, in some ways he experienced it as deeply shameful, and tried hard to put it aside. Perhaps this conflict is yet another way that his experience of Judaism influenced his great creation

I want to thank Dr. Anderson for a very interesting paper. The philosopher of science Ludwig Fleck contends that the advancements of scientists are influenced by cultural, historical and personal determinants. The development of Freud’s psychoanalysis is a good case in point, and Dr. Anderson has demonstrated that vividly.

Cuddihy, John (1974). The ordeal of civility: Freud, Marx, Levi-Strauss, and the struggle with Jewish modernity. New York: Basic Books.

Fleck, L. (1935). Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact, ed. T.J. Trenn
and R.K. Merton, transl. F. Bradley and T.J. Trenn. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.

Freud, S.  (1925).  An Autobiographical Study. Standard Edition 20:3-70.

Grinwald, M. (1941). Haaretz September 21st, 1941.

Richards, A. (2009). The Need Not to Believe: Freud’s Godlessness
Reconsidered. The Psychoanalytic Review: Vol. 96, No. 4, pp. 561-578

Richards, A.  Freud’s Jewish Identity. May 11, 2010.

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