The Freud Museum

Events Archive

5 May 2011

Talk - A Citation of Two Tails: A Freudian Parapraxis and the Jewish Origins of Sublimation

Jay Geller

Freud claimed that he conceived his idea of sublimation while reading about the youthful dog-tail-cutting adventures of the future surgeon J. F. Dieffenbach in Heinrich Heine’s Harz Journey. Although Heine does mention a prohibition against docking dog tails in the work, the Dieffenbach anecdote actually appears in Heine’s memorial to Ludwig Börne. This lecture argues that Freud’s parapraxis is entwined with an irony that, if recognized, might undermine the general approbation given by Gentiles to his notion of sublimation. After mapping the two passages that converge upon Freud’s errant account of the origin of his concept, this investigation sniffs out a third dog-wagging tail in the work of Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, an author Freud closely associated with Heine. The trail then doggedly leads to Freud’s earliest formulations of sublimation, which betray further associations with matters Jewish. In the end [Cutting to the chase?], this tale of tails suggests that what may be most sublimated by Freud’s notion of “sublimation” is the correlation between psychoanalytic discourse and Freud’s Jewish identifications.

Jay Geller is Associate Professor of Modern Jewish Culture at Vanderbilt University, former Fulbright/Sigmund Freud Society Visiting Scholar of Psychoanalysis (Vienna), and currently Visiting Fellow at the Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations (Cambridge, UK). He is the author of On Freud’s Jewish Body: Mitigating Circumcisions (Fordham, 2007) and The Other Jewish Question: Identifying the Jew and Making Sense of Modernity (Fordham, June 2011). He also co-edited Reading Freud’s Reading (NYU, 1994), a collection that grew out of an NEH Summer Seminar conducted at the Freud Museum.

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