"The Feudal Unconscious:
Capitalism and the Family Romance"

October 159 (Winter 2017)
MIT Press

Now Available

Portuguese translation of THE MYTH OF POPULAR CULTURE (Blackwell Manifestos, 2010) now available from Tinta Negra (Rio de Janeiro, 2015)


O renomado crítico cultural americano Perry Meisel detona as noções convencionais sobre a divisão entre “alta” e “baixa” cultura.

O autor transita pela provocante teoria de que a cultura pop experimentou ritmos dialéticos. A hábil análise que o livro apresenta de três tradições culturais duradouras – o romance norte-americano, Hollywood, e o rock inglês e americano – nos leva a um ciclo histórico da cultura pop que tem Dante como ponto de partida e revisita ícones como Wahrol, Melville, Hemingway, Twain, Eisenstein, Benjamin, Scorsese e Sinatra.


The Myth of Popular Culture discusses the dialectic of "highbrow" and "lowbrow" in popular culture through an examination of literature, film, and popular music. With topics ranging from John Keats to John Ford, the book responds to Adorno's theory that popular culture is not dialectical by showing that it is.

Available as eBooks

COURSE IN GENERAL LINGUISTICS. Trans. Wade Baskin. Co-ed. with Haun Saussy. By Ferdinand de Saussure (Columbia University Press, 2011)

THE LITERARY FREUD (Routledge, 2007)




Freudian Trip

by Perry Meisel

Freud, Jung, and Hall the King-Maker: The Historic Expedition to America (1909). By Saul Rosenzweig. Illustrated. 477 pp. Seattle. Hogrefe & Huber Publishers. $27.50.

Among the few official distinctions awarded Sigmund Freud during his lifetime was an honorary degree from Clark University in Worcester, Mass. in 1909. The occasion was the 20th anniversary of Clark's opening, a celebration for which the university's president, G. Stanley Hall, had organized an international scientific conference and invited Freud as a speaker. It was a landmark event not only for Freud but also for Carl Jung, who was given an honorary degree, too.
For Hall, a pioneer of American psychology and an early enthusiast of psychoanalysis who was designated the "kingmaker" by Freud himself, it meant being host to a historical figure, "the source of it all," as he later put it. For the embattled Freud, who was then 53 years old, it meant vindication. After facing years of criticism, he had gained some form of world recognition. "As I stepped onto the platform at Worcester to deliver my 'Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis,'" he wrote in his Autobiographical Study in 1925, "it seemed like the realization of some incredible daydream; psychoanalysis was no longer a product of delusion. It had become a valuable part of reality." For Jung, who was only 34 at the time, the conference confirmed his status as Freud's presumable heir; on returning to Zurich he changed his stationery to reflect his honorary degree.
Saul Rosenzweig, a professor emeritus of psychology and psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis, has written an extraordinarily rich and absorbing account of Freud's only American trip that reveals unexpected patterns in the history of both psychoanalysis and American psychology. For Freud, Jung, and Hall the King-Maker, Mr. Rosenzweig not only did 40 years of research but also edited the correspondence between Freud and Hall and retranslated the five lectures that Freud gave at Clark.

Freud arrived in New York Harbor by steamship on Aug. 29, 1909, accompanied by two of his disciples, Jung together with Sandor Ferenczi. Although the exact details of the invitations are irretrievable, even to Mr. Rosenzweig, we do know that Hall invited Freud twice before he accepted, that Freud himself asked Ferenczi to join him, and that Hall invited Jung only after he had already invited Freud - not simultaneously, as Jung maintained in his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963). While the weeklong event at Clark did not focus on psychology alone (there were 27 other guest speakers and degree recipients besides Freud and Jung, including two Nobel laureates, the physicists A. A. Michelson and Ernest Rutherford), Mr. Rosenzweig says that "Freud was to Hall the leading light of the celebration."
Beneath the manifest camaraderie, however, an unconscious storm between Freud and Jung was gathering. With a candor refreshing in psychoanalytic studies, Mr. Rosenzweig shows that even in 1909, when their mutual opportunism kept them friendly, the differences that would drive the two men apart by 1913 were already emerging.
In 1906, three years before the Clark visit, Freud, who was then often lampooned as a Jew bent on corrupting Aryan ideals, welcomed Jung's eager and appreciative response to his theories. Indeed, he prized the pastor's son from Zurich as his potential successor - his "crown's prince," as he began to call him in 1909 - largely because Jung was not Jewish.
But if Freud "overvalued" Jung's "non-Jewishness," so did Jung. Although Jung's "Aryan sympathies during the Hitler regime" are well known, says Mr. Rosenzweig, he demonstrates just how early what he calls Jung's "Aryan bias" really was, and how central it turned out to be in his thinking. In a stunning set piece, he also shows that the rise and fall of Freud and Jung's friendship, from 1906 to 1913, roughly coincided with the years of Adolf Hitler's residence in Vienna; he also compares prose passages from Hitler and Jung, with provocative success.
The book's key dramatic moment is the walk Freud and Jung took in Central Park on Aug. 30, 1909, the day after they landed in New York and a few days before they set off for Worcester. Freud reported to his wife that they had observed the city's ethnic mix, including signs in the park in German, Italian and Yiddish as well as English. But Jung reported to his wife that they had talked about "Jews and Aryans," and how "one of my dreams clearly pointed up the difference." Jung's Aryan bias, his love of the occult and his belief that the unconscious was a spiritual rather than a sexual or social realm all put him at odds with Freud's fierce secularity and historicism. So did Jung's constitutional inability to play the role of follower.
The power struggle is certainly evident in a story Jung related to Mr. Rosenzweig with "special satisfaction" in 1951, about a mishap he saw Freud suffer while in New York on Sept. 2, just before leaving for Worcester: Freud, while gazing at the Palisades across the river from the city, accidentally wet his pants. He told Jung he was afraid he would wet himself during his upcoming lectures and agreed to let Jung analyze the event. But when Freud produced a telling dream, and Jung, who had already interpreted Freud's pants-wetting as a need to draw attention to himself whatever the cost, pressed Freud for more intimate details, Freud declined and said he could not "risk his authority."
The differences between Freud and Jung are remarkably similar to those between Hall and his principal American rival, the psychologist and philosopher William James. Once again, Mr. Rosenzweig's historiography is both sound and ingenious. James and Hall - "the two great pioneers of early American psychology," as he calls them - were old friends, and represented the two opposing directions of the young science in the United States. James, like Jung, favored psychical research, whereas Hall favored earthly experimentalism.
Hall, who received the first American doctorate in psychology in 1878, from Harvard, was an avid Freudian. His correspondence with Freud shows a genuine devotion. Originally trained as a minister, he concluded that "spiritism," as he called the belief in a spiritual realm, was "ruck and muck." He was, however, fascinated by the experimental verification of psychological concepts.
James, on the other hand, was, like Jung, searching for a "cosmic consciousness" or the sort of "universal spiritual realm" that Freudian thinking prohibited as a wish fulfillment. Despite, or perhaps because of, pragmatism, James, like Jung, wanted something "larger than the mundane individual life that Freud invoked." And, like Jung, James took a momentous walk with Freud in 1909.
James came to Clark for the conference "to see," as he put it, "what Freud was like." This is Freud's recollection of their private meeting: "I shall never forget one little scene that occurred as we were on a walk together. He stopped suddenly, handed me a bag he was carrying and asked me to walk on, saying that he would catch up with me as soon as he had got through an attack of angina pectoris which was just coming on." Mr. Rosenzweig interprets this famous attack as an unconscious response to Freud's theory - an anxiety attack over an extramarital affair, stirred up by one of Freud's lectures.

Although much of the drama of Freud's visit to America seems to have taken place outside the conference, Freud's lectures - delivered more or less extemporaneously, in German - were a delightful performance. The Boston press covered them; Emma Goldman attended them; Hall described them as "masterpieces of simplification, directness, and comprehensiveness."
The lectures, the first popular exposition of Freud's theories, are luminous largely because of the marvelous images and metaphors that Freud employed to dramatize his concepts. Mr. Rosenzweig says that "they still represent the best available outline by Freud of his theory in its essence." Unfortunately, though, Mr. Rosenzweig's new translation of the lectures loses some of the linguistic specificity of James Strachey's translation in the Standard Edition, which captured both the cohesiveness and the extravagance of Freud's narrative devices. Perhaps Mr. Rosenzweig retranslated the lectures in order to include them legally in the present volume. If that is so it was well worth the effort, since the inclusion of the lectures lends his book poetic unity and makes it a pleasure to read.

Originally published in The New York Times Book Review, January 24, 1993.

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