"Psychology has stepped down from the university chair into the marketplace" was how the New York Times put it in 1926. Another commentator in 1929 was more biting. Psychoanalysis, he said, had over a generation, "converted the human scene into a neurotic." Freud first used the word around 1895, and by the 1920s psychoanalysis was a phenomenon to be reckoned with in the United States.Read more...
"Psychology has stepped down from the university chair into the marketplace" was how the New York Times put it in 1926. Another commentator in 1929 was more biting. Psychoanalysis, he said, had over a generation, "converted the human scene into a neurotic." Freud first used the word around 1895, and by the 1920s psychoanalysis was a phenomenon to be reckoned with in the United States. How it gained such purchase, taking hold in virtually every aspect of American culture, is the story Lawrence R. Samuel tells in Shrink, the first comprehensive popular history of psychoanalysis in America.
Arriving on the scene at around the same time as the modern idea of the self, psychoanalysis has both shaped and reflected the ascent of individualism in American society. Samuel traces its path from the theories of Freud and Jung to the innermost reaches of our current me-based, narcissistic culture. Along the way he shows how the arbiters of culture, high and low, from public intellectuals, novelists, and filmmakers to Good Housekeeping and the Cosmo girl, mediated or embraced psychoanalysis (or some version of it), until it could be legitimately viewed as an integral feature of American consciousness.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-02-11
- Reviewer: Staff
Samuel (The American Dream: A Cultural History) takes psychoanalysis off the couch in this fascinating history of the growth of Freud’s brainchild. Significantly, the author moves the discussion away from the discipline’s effectiveness, and focuses instead on its endurance in the collective not-so-sub-consciousness. Analysts may counsel in private, Samuel argues, but their presence permeates pop culture, from film to art to literature. He claims that psychoanalysis possesses a unique disciplinary versatility that, along with our collective preoccupation with the self, affords the profession a longstanding place in our cultural landscape. The book is organized chronologically as Samuel takes readers on a tour of psychoanalysis’s history, one decade at a time: from Freud’s initial philosophy regarding the treatment of nervous disorders to a movement with followers whose numbers have, at times, rivaled those of organized religions. But its reputation is inconstant—over time, the practice has counted as many foes as fervent followers: accusations of fraudulence, the opposition of religious groups (including, most notoriously, Scientologists), and competing fields of psychology have all threatened the movement. Samuel’s narrative is clear and consistently engaging, and while some of his evidence for psychoanalysis’s prominence is debatable (e.g., the frequent appearance of psychoanalysts in the New York Times obituaries), this compelling study will appeal both to proponents and detractors. (Apr.)