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Freud wrote little about history, in the sense that professional historians understand that term, or about its relationship to psychoanalysis. Nevertheless, three remarks are in order. From the outset, Freud posited psychoanalytic investigation as being linked to the reconstitution of the patient's personal history. The aim was to restore this history to patients, with the goal of helping individuals emerge as the subject and agent of their own history through the lifting of the repressions that weighed it down, and breaking the pattern of repetitions that resulted from it. Initially Freud conceived of this process as a restitution of buried traces in their entirety; he thus readily compared it with the task of the archaeologist who brings to light the strata of a buried past layer by layer. Although he always maintained his fundamental hypothesis—that the psyche forgets nothing—he came to believe that these "traces" undergo constant change as they are reshaped through deferred action and that they can therefore only be known through analysis in this reworked form, as he explained in "Constructions in Analysis" (1937). If Freud showed little interest in History as it is written by historians, by contrast he took a great interest in the prehistory and anthropology of so-called primitive peoples, above all at the time when he was seeking to substantiate his views on phylogenesis as the basis for individual psychogenesis. This was the period when he wrote Totem and Taboo (1912-13a) and A Phylogenetic Fantasy: Overview of the Transference Neuroses (1987 [1915]). Finally, on several occasions Freud undertook a psychoanalytic interpretation of significant personalities from both the past, such as Leonardo da Vinci ("Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood," 1910), and the present, such as President Woodrow Wilson (Thomas Woodrow Wilson, Twenty-Eighth President of the United States: A Psychological Study, with W. C. Bullitt, 1966). Returning to the story of Moses in Moses and Monotheism: Three Essays (1939a), he sought to show that the theory that Moses was an Egyptian would account for his mythical role of founder of a monotheistic religion. It was this type of work, known as psychobiographical studies, that was most influential on certain of his successors. Notably, in this regard, reinterpretations of Nazism in terms of Adolf Hitler's personality and psychopathology can be cited; see, for example, Saul Friedländer's History and Psychoanalysis: An Inquiry into the Possibilities and Limits of Psychohistory (1975/1978). These studies have often drawn criticism (for example, from Alain Besançon, after a 1974 work in which he tried this approach) for the reductionist tendency of some authors to overlook factors (cultural, economic, social, etc.) operating outside of individual psychic functioning. The historian and the psychoanalyst would seem to have common interests: both work on memory, forgetting, and the restitution of traces; for both, the temporal dimension is essential. Both admit that they construct their object of study through the combined use of techniques for gathering factual data and the work of interpretation that endows these data with meaning by fitting them together; moreover, both use narratives as their starting point, and they accept that these narratives come to them constructed through meaning and must be deconstructed and reconstructed within the framework of their discipline. One difference between them is the fact that while the historian focuses on the effects of time in the collective memory, the psychoanalyst focuses on these effects in the case of an individual person considered as such. This difference might seem to be a minor one, were it not for the substantial difficulties in assessing how these two levels of analysis are connected: How do collective history and individual history fit together? To what extent does History depend on the contingencies of individual fates, and to what extent are these fates shaped by History? The main difficulties, however, are epistemological in nature. These difficulties have to do with methods: While the historian is at leisure to verify and tally sources using every means at his or her disposal, the analyst is, as a matter of principle—within the framework of "classical" treatment—limited to only what the patient says in the analytic setting. It is impossible to establish whether a given event in the past actually took place as the patient says it did. It has been argued, justifiably, that this is a moot question, that the only event that is certain is that something has been said this way in the here and now, and that therein lies all the "material" of the analysis (see Viderman, 1970, 1977). The divergence between history and psychoanalysis exists also, and perhaps above all, at the theoretical level. Time does not have the same status in the two disciplines. The psychoanalyst, who can only know past events through their narration in the present, is led to accept two temporalities: a one-directional, linear time in which the narrated events, with their possibility causality, are ordered; and another, two-directional time, in which an event has modified, sometimes profoundly, an earlier event that is thus reshaped. This means accepting a principle of "antero-grade" causality that has no analogue in the study of history or, perhaps, in any other discipline.

See Also


58, 73,92, 125, 133, 141, 162 personal, 7,8,48,62,72,74,75,81, [1]


  1. Muller, John P. and William J. Richardson. Lacan and Language: A Reader's Guide to Ecrits. New York: International Universiites Press, Inc., 1982.