The Freud Museum

Events Archive

30 June 1994

Memory - The Question of Archives

Conference Report

The question in this title is central to the very existence of the Freud Museum - firstly because the conference emerged from the Freud Museum's fund-raising campaign, in collaboration with the Société Internationale de l'Histoire de la Psychiatrie et de la Psychanalyse; and secondly because preservation of memory and historical records is the duty of a museum.

The organizing committe consisted of René Major and Elisabeth Roudinesco of the S.I.H.P.P., Peter Hildebrand of the British Psycho-Analytical Society and Michael Molnar, Erica Davies, Ivan Ward and Susan O'Cleary for the Freud Museum. Theme and venue were well-matched, since the conference took place in Somerset House, where British social records are stored, and under the auspices of the Courtauld Institute of Art. The organizers are especially grateful to the Courtauld, its director Dr Michael Kauffman, and Dr Sarah Wilson for their hospitality and assistance.

For the two days of the event the Kenneth Clarke auditorium was filled with an audience from as far afield as Russia and the United States, Japan and Brazil. The opening session was chaired by Pearl King, Honorary Secretary of the Archives of the British Psycho-Analytical Society, and the first speaker, Ilse Grubrich-Simitis, set the tone in a fine paper entitled "Nothing about the Totem Meal!" On Freud's Notes, in which she critically re-evaluated Freud's own methods of writing. Close examination of his manuscript notes and corrections provides insights into his attitude towards composition and scotches the myth that he 'never blotted a line'. Riccardo Steiner then provided a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of history in the paper that followed - "Et in Arcadia Ego." Freud in the Archives of the British Psycho-Analytical Society - a witty comment on the distortions that personal differences inflict upon the production of history, epitomised in this instance by the relationships between Ernest Jones, John Strachey and Anna Freud. André Haynal followed with a paper on the keystone of biography, namely correspondence, which in Freud's case is a source still not fully exploited, and one which he, as an editor of the Ferenczi correspondence, is well qualified to assess.

The Saturday afternoon session, chaired by René Major, opened dramatically with Patrick Mahony's paper, "Freud Overwhelmed", an impassioned denunciation of the cowardice that he feels has characterized certain aspects of the Freudian inheritance and its historical record. The day closed with a truly memorable tour de force - "The Concept of the Archive: A Freudian Impression" by Jacques Derrida. For three and a half hours Derrida engaged the audience in a scintillating play of reflections around the idea of a historical record. One source of his inspiration lay in a recent reading of Yerushalmi's recent book, "Freud's 'Moses'", and part of his paper questioned the notions of inscription, circumcision and judaism. (Since an adequate characterization of this - or indeed any other - paper would be impossible in the few sentences allotted here, we look forward to the eventual book of the conference to do them justice.)

On Sunday Elisabeth Roudinesco and Malcolm Pines jointly chaired and the first speaker was Per Magnus Johansson, whose paper - "Ola Andersson, Pioneer of the history of Freudism" - revealed an aspect of Freudian history unknown to many participants, namely the research of the Swedish historian Andersson. Malcolm Bowies's paper, "Memory and Desire in 'Civilization and its Discontents'", returned us to Freud's literary activity as trace of an interplay between psychic drives and their cultural deformation. Here history appears as a question, or questioning, of literary style. The final speaker of the conference, already part of the proceedings through his interpellation in Derrida's paper, was to remain an absent presence. Laid low on arrival in London by a British bronchitis, Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi had to delegate Malcolm Pines to give a very able reading of his amusing and subtle paper "Series Z - An Archival Fantasy". This ironic glance at the speculations and phantasms engendered by censorship returned us to the wider issues at stake - the use to be made of the archival material in the historical construct, and the question of how information is transformed into knowledge, and, finally, (this query was left open), whether knowledge can be transmuted into wisdom.

Perhaps the two days of the conference constituted a practical exercise aimed at demonstrating these questions. The Museum was privileged to be able to give this important debate a focus and owes thanks to all the speakers, organizers, participants and institutions involved.

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