The final shaping of the Promethean psychoanalyst’s work amid the opening clashes of war and forebodings of holocaust.
Previously acclaimed for his literary and cultural criticism, Edmundson (English/Univ. of Virginia; Why Read?, 2004, etc.) uses Hitler’s forced annexation of Austria in March 1938 as a matrix for assembling and framing the thought of Vienna resident Freud. The “action” part of the story is minimal. Ailing, 82-year-old Freud confronted and held off local Nazis attempting to loot his home along with those of other Jews as the Anschluss unfolded. A few months later, he decided to escape with his extended family, got on the Orient Express and, after a Channel ferry trip, got off a train at Victoria Station and moved to his new home in a quiet section of London. Edmundson stresses the areas of Freud’s work that pertain to sources of human conflict, both personal and collective. Nothing could be more hideously apt in the age of fascism than the analyst’s theory regarding humankind’s infantile and, he believed, eternal psychological yearning for authority figures. “Freud pointed to the twofold horror of…the Patriarchal Complex, tyrannical governments and tyrannical religions,” Edmundson writes, “and began to explain why they will probably be with us forever.” Hitler himself was the perfect foil for this intellectual exercise, someone who despised the Viennese Jew while unwittingly confirming his tenets in both word and deed; Freud found the Führer not a monstrous anomaly but totally predictable. Assisted by morphine doses administered by a doctor who promised to help when the pain from his cancer became intolerable, Freud died on September 23, 1939. His lessons live on, Edmundson avers: “When religious fundamentalism crosses national borders and aligns itself with authoritarian politics, nations that aspire to democracy must deal with an enormous threat.”
Brilliantly buttressed plea for reconsideration of Freud as philosopher and shrink.