The great-grandson of James Jackson Putnam explores the relationship between his ancestor and Freud, as revealed in family archives, in published correspondence and other writings by the principals and in existing biographies and commentaries.
Debut author Prochnik begins with a rather imaginative description of the arrival of the Viennese psychoanalyst and his colleagues, Sandor Ferenczi and Carl Jung, at Putnam’s Adirondack retreat in September 1909. Clearly out of his element in this rustic setting, where an earnest athleticism prevailed, Freud, who had just delivered his famous series of lectures on psychoanalysis at Clark University, was nevertheless eager to spread his ideas to America, and Putnam, a prominent Boston psychologist who was disenchanted with the professional practice of psychology in America, was just the man to help him do it. After their brief time together at the retreat, Freud returned to Vienna, and Putnam to Boston, where he set up his clinic as a psychoanalytic laboratory, started a program of self-analysis and began writing and lecturing widely on Freud’s ideas. The two men met again in Europe in 1911, when Freud gave Putnam a brief, intense analysis and Putnam delivered a paper at the Weimar Congress. They corresponded regularly, until Putnam’s death in 1918. The time at Putnam Camp occupies a tiny part of this dense and overwritten account, but it is the most enjoyable, vivid portion. Prochnik tries to render Putnam, the upstanding New England blue blood, interesting by revealing his long relationship with a female ex-patient—was it or wasn’t it an affair?—but the intellectual debate between Freud and Putnam is heavy going. Putnam, who had faith in God and in the good will of humanity, argued (while Freud skillfully resisted) the idea that psychoanalysis should be linked with a philosophical system and with a particular set of ethical values. Prochnik argues that Putnam’s influence is still felt today, e.g., in the popularity of M. Scott Peck’s blend of theology and psychology. Somewhat outside Prochnik’s purported scope and covered extensively by other writers are Freud’s differences with his European colleagues in the psychoanalytic movement; nevertheless, they are discussed here at considerable length.
A sprawling, unwieldy and uneven work.