In 1909, Sigmund Freud wrote, “half in jest, but really quite seriously,” that psychoanalysis “requires a state of normality for its application,” so that it meets the “optimum of favorable conditions when its practice is not needed–i.e., among the healthy.” Almost a decade later, at the close of the First World War, however, these “favorable conditions” had all but vanished and nothing resembling a “state of normality"–psychic or social–could be discerned. Having emerged and matured in a staid upper-middle class milieu within a traditional, hierarchical society, psychoanalysis was plunged into a volatile era of mass democracy amid the social collapse and political disintegration that marked the war’s end. In this new and threatening landscape, psychoanalysts were confronted by an expanding array of disorders that flagrantly transgressed Freud’s earlier criteria of normalcy and bore little resemblance to the “good bourgeois” disorders of “classical” psychoanalysis. The exception had become the norm.
This lecture explores how Freudians responded to this transformed psychosocial environment–how they revised their models of the mind and mental disorder and recast the politics of analytic therapy, all while struggling to preserve the identity of their theory and practice. Beginning with the encounter with the war neuroses, it explores how the confrontation with these mass disorders informed novel approaches to a range of psychosocial problems that lay beyond the purview of “classical” analytic therapy. By way of conclusion, the lecture considers how these revisions, in turn, gave rise to a series of controversies that would redefine the psychoanalytic profession over the coming decades.
Phillip Henry received his PhD in History from the University of Chicago in 2018. His current project–provisionally titled, Freudian Revolutions: States of Exception and the Remaking of Psychoanalysis, 1918-1950–explores the recasting of Freudian theory and practice in Europe and America in response to the social and political crises that defined the decades following the First World War. His work has appeared in the journals Modern Intellectual History, Critical Historical Studies, and Contemporary Austrian Studies. Currently, he is a lecturer in the College at the University of Chicago and a research assistant for the Journal of Modern History.
A part of the series on psychoanalysis & society, sponsored by the Leo Rangell Professorial Endowment at the Semel Institute Center for Social Medicine & Humanities, with the support of the Psychiatric Clinical Faculty Association.