Freud beyond images


For its twenty years, the Museum of Art and History of Judaism (MAHJ) devotes an exhibition to the father of psychoanalysis, questioning his relationship to the image, the word and Judaism.

Freud had never been "exposed" in Paris. This is a first that the Museum of Art and History of Judaism (MAHJ) offers on the occasion of its 20e anniversary. A first that was also a challenge, because to make an exhibition on the founder of psychoanalysis was not easy.

The first pitfall is not unique to Freud: an exhibition devoted to a thinker always risks ending up in an alignment of books, manuscripts or papers … It is therefore necessary " make visible A work, but how? The difficulty is that Freud was not the most knowledgeable about art. Of course, he collected ancient statuettes, but his tastes were rather conventional, far from the Viennese avant-garde of his time (Klimt, Schiele, Kokoschka …).

Sigmund Freud in his places

" The idea would be attractive of a Freud in dialogue with an artistic Vienna in full boiling, but it is false, says Daniela Finzi, research director at the Freud Foundation in Vienna. Freud stood apart from artists and philosophers, because he considered that psychoanalysis was science. Freud even confessed a difficulty with art and aesthetics. " Unfortunately, it is on Beauty that psychoanalysis has the least to say to us "He writes in Malaise in civilization (1930).

Embracing this complexity, Jean Clair, curator of the exhibition, did not shrink from the obstacle. In Freud's gaze tuned, the art historian offers an original reading of the Freudian work by questioning his relationship to the image, a theme that inevitably crosses the question of Judaism and its prohibition of the representation of God. Freud would thus have passed from the gaze – that of the doctor observing the symptoms to decrypt them – to listening, that of the analyst gathering the words of the patient lying on the couch.

A medicine that seeks to see …

The course evokes first the scientific universe, very "visual", in which bathes the young Freud. During the winter of 1885-1886, he came to Paris to follow the classes of Jean-Martin Charcot who practices hypnosis in public on hysterical patients. The big canvas A clinical lesson at the Salpêtrière André Brouillet, of which Freud will acquire an engraved reproduction which he will place in his Viennese cabinet, reminds him in opening.

The predominance of the image is that of a medicine that seeks to see to understand, to represent to explain. The drawings of Paul Richer (1849-1933), assistant to Charcot, draw a documented picture of a hysteria with elusive contours, manifesting in contortions, twists, spasms or swoons. Black and white photographs try to capture the irruptions. Very beautiful plates of the zoologist Haeckel, testify to the scientistic and Darwinian atmosphere of the time.

In the wake of dreams

Freud, however, will turn away from these too fixed images, to prefer more moving, more elusive … In July 1897, he undertakes to self-analyze by deciphering his dreams. In 1900, The interpretation of dreams, founding work of psychoanalysis, makes interpretation of the dream " the royal way » which leads to the knowledge of the unconscious.

At the same time, Freud develops the cure by the word. He makes available to his patients the couch, from the East, here evoked in several paintings. By lying down, he hopes to encourage abandonment and allow the emergence of repressed memories. Freed from the games of glances, the patient can let his speech unfold freely, while the psychoanalyst can concentrate on his listening.

A return to Jewish sources?

Does the Freud who turns away from the image to privilege the word finally reconnect with his Jewish sources? The exhibition makes this proposal in its last part. Admittedly, Freud said to himself unbeliever And has long held his work apart from his Jewish ancestry. Heir of the Enlightenment, materialist and positivist, he wanted to make psychoanalysis a " universal science ". But in Totem and Taboo (1930), he questioned his connection to Judaism in these terms: " What is still Jewish about you, when you have renounced all this heritage? – A lot of things and probably the essential. "

The last room evokes this link with finesse. Between Michelangelo's idol-breaking Moses and Rothko's abstract red and black canvas, Jean Clair links psychoanalysis to the mystery of an ineffable presence. We would have liked that this demonstration in images unfolds even more …


The big dates of a life

1856 Freud's birth in Freiberg (currently in the Czech Republic)

1860 Arrival in Vienna (Austria)

1873-1883: Medical studies (neurology). Cocaine research.

1896: Freud abandons the technique of hypnosis. First use of the word psychoanalysis.

1900: Dora treatment. "The interpretation of dreams"

1909 Foundation of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. «An infantile phobia (the little Hans)»: «The rat man», «Five lessons on psychoanalysis»

1927: "The future of an illusion"

May 10, 1933: Freud's writings are burned by the Nazis.

1938 After the Anschluss, Freud leaves Vienna for London.

1939: " The Moses man and the monotheistic religion ". Freud died on September 23rd.

Elodie Maurot



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