für jüdische Geschichte und Kultur an der universität Leipzig

Eran Rolnik

Post-Doc/Tel Aviv (Israel)

Forschungsaufenthalt: 5. August bis 5. September 2005


Migration and Interpretation: The Migration of Psychoanalysis from Central Europe and the Reception of the Freudian Paradigm in Jewish Palestine/Israel


The twentieth century presents historians of science and ideas, with myriad of opportunities to examine the interrelations between changing political-ideological climates and changing scientific-intellectual sensitivities. The evolution of the theory of psychoanalysis, and the fate of Freud's disciples in various countries outside the German cultural-sphere, served as a template on which much of Modern European self-understanding has been inscribed.

My Ph.D. research reconstructs and examines the migration of German-speaking psychoanalysts from Central Europe. It follows the reception (and perception) of the Freudian paradigm in mandatory Jewish Palestine. Based on primary archival sources the study aims at locating the reception of the Freudian paradigm in various intellectual circles in mandatory Palestine in the context of the cultural and ideological climate that shaped the Zionist endeavor. The research points out the elective affinity which early Zionists professed to find in psychoanalysis’ revolutionary nature. While juxtaposing the »New Man« of Zionist ideology and the »Freudian Man,« Hebrew nation builders developed a particular image, which shaped the reception of Freud's followers in pedagogic, medical and scientific circles in Palestine. The image of the Jewish emigrant to Palestine itself served this purpose: the image was of a newcomer who had freed himself from the chains of an oppressive past––one presented in terms that were abstract and mythic––and who could thus henceforth determine his own fate. The relation of Jewish particularism to European Enlightenment universalism here also gained expression in that Freud's early positivist ideas were welcomed as support for Zionism's Romantic endeavor to reconstruct a unified national past. In its initial period, the theory of psychoanalysis––its subjection of the life of the human soul to specific rules, its working to the surface of suppressed material, and its grounding of action and experience in an unconscious determinism––was in many respects especially attractive for those circles convinced of the human propensity to repeat the past. In addition, the Freudian texts constituted an intellectual playground on which the meeting between east European and central European intellectual traditions could take place. Hebrew culture facilitated a particular hybridization of the »Russian Freud« – marked by his utopian constructivist-collectivistic aspirations – with the original »German Freud« – notorious for his individualistic and pessimistic Weltanschauung.

By placing the history of Palestine's psychoanalytic movement in a broader context – the emigration of German-speaking intellectuals in general and that of Central European emigration to Palestine in particular – the research throws light and recovers the European past that shaped Israeli self-undestanding.

The main objective of my post-doctoral research is twofold: To publish my dissertation and to expand and deepen our understanding of the perception of psychoanalysis in the years that followed its migration from Central Europe. This unwritten chapter in the history of ideas will complement my doctoral thesis where I focused on the particular migration of Freud's disciples to mandatory Palestine – a place that albeit remote from Europe can not be said to have been indifferent to European cultural and intellectual traditions.

Whereas few would fail to appreciate the impact of late nineteen-century Vienna on the inception and the evolution of psychoanalysis, very little work has been done on the impact of World War 2 on the course which post-Freudian psychoanalysis has taken. The search for the European pulse that beats beneath contemporary psychoanalytic discourse will be carried out by applying a comparative and prosopographic approach. The contributions of British, French and American German-speaking migre' analysts, who shaped late twentieth century psychoanalysis will be critically examined within the context of their personal biographies and the specific scientific-ideological climate to which they have been exposed to. I wish to explore the repercussions of the catastrophic events of the Second World War in psychoanalytic theory and to provide a historical understanding to the paradigmatic shifts that took place within it. Parallel to its forced migration from Central Europe the psychoanalytic theory underwent a paradigmatic shift that should be historicized and contextualized. To what extent did psychoanalytic theory »migrate« from its central European roots, and under what historical conditions did the expansion of the psychoanalytic conception of the Human mind become possible?

Some Historians of psychoanalysis tend to view post-Freudian theory as a reflection of the internal disputes and rivalries within the psychoanalytic movement. For their part, most psychoanalysts tend to present their clinical-theoretical innovations as reflecting the progress in their Knowledge of the Human psyche and of the psychoanalytic process. I believe that Scientific changes in social and behavioral sciences should be examined from within the particular discipline in which they occur and from without i.e. they should be regarded as reflecting both clinical and historical transformations. It seems to me that the so called »hermeneutic turn« in psychoanalysis – characterized by a move from positivism to postmodern relativism and from objectivity to intersubjectivity – is closely intertwined with late twentieth century European history. My post doctoral research will thus give much emphasis on the fate of psychoanalysis, at the theoretical and institutional level, since the Nazi rise to power. It will seek an integration of the clinical and the political dimension in the Freudian paradigm and serve as a prism through which some aspects of modern and post-modern European self-understanding could be illuminated.