Jean-Paul Riopelle, Nouvelles Impressions no. 78

The Late Freud: Psychoanalysis and Civilization

Instructor: Patrick Blanchfield
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

By 1914, institutional psychoanalysis had collapsed, riven by theoretical disagreement, political maneuvering, and personal betrayal. Once united in its adherence to Freud’s initial theory of unconscious psychosexuality, the discipline was fractured at nearly every conceivable point. For Freud, musing on a movement in disarray, the future of psychoanalysis appeared “desperately dark.” Yet, spurred to defend and develop his ideas, and awed by the calamity of World War I, Freud embarked on project to rebuild and reorient psychoanalysis, publishing over the remaining 25 years of his life original and landmark work on narcissism, trauma, myth, the death drive, culture formation, and mass psychology—contributions that succeeded in cementing psychoanalysis as a discourse and field of inquiry in the 20th century and beyond. Indeed, the questions raised by the late Freud have only grown more urgent today: What are the constraints on individual happiness in modern society—and are they a necessary evil? How can we understand “civilization” as simultaneously a source of sublime works of art, dazzling technological advances, and nightmarish war? Must our future always be haunted by the return of the past, or can we learn from its traumas?

In this course, we will consider the trajectory of Freud’s thought from 1914–1939, During this period, Freud not only dramatically revised his models of psychology, pathology, and individual development, but also pursued a radically original, interdisciplinary series of interventions that questioned the origins, shortcomings, and future of human civilization itself. Considering classic texts including Civilization and its Discontents, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, Totem and Taboo, The Future of an Illusion, Moses and Monotheism, and Beyond the Pleasure Principle, we will track Freud’s critical interrogations of anthropology, religion, politics, and the arts. We will situate his thoughts on mass psychology, sublimation, aggression, trauma, and more within the broad historical context that prompted them, as well as the latter half of Freud’s own biography and the evolution of the psychoanalytic movement as a properly global phenomenon.

Course Schedule

Saturday, 2:00-5:00pm ET
May 14 — June 04, 2022
4 weeks


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