Freud Collection: The Opening of the Eissler Interviews

A menu featuring autographs by fans of Sigmund Freud

Menu with signatures of friends and admirers of Sigmund Freud. Sigmund Freud Archives, Library of Congress

(The following post is by Louis Rose, executive director of the Sigmund Freud Archives since 2015. It is the last of three weekly guest blogs by current and former executive directors of the Sigmund Freud Archives (SFA), an independent organization founded in 1951 to collect and preserve for scholarly use Sigmund Freud’s personal papers. The collection, assembled by SFA and others, has resided at the Library of Congress since 1952 and is now available online.)

The Sigmund Freud Archives has now opened all materials in the Sigmund Freud Papers allowable under the current copyright law and consistent with medical confidentiality and donor restrictions. Thus, the Library of Congress’s digital collection of the Freud Papers contains nearly all of the more than 270 interviews that Kurt R. Eissler recorded with Sigmund Freud’s colleagues, friends, family, and patients are open to the public. Of those, 150 were already available; now all but five of the transcripts are open to listeners and readers. Researchers now have access, for example, to all of Eissler’s extensive interviews with Freud’s patient Sergius Pankejeff, the “Wolf Man.” The availability of the Eissler Interviews is a noteworthy event for which the Sigmund Freud Archives expresses its gratitude to Emanuel E. Garcia, literary executor of the Eissler estate.  As scholars explore these materials, new educational sources and new lines of research will emerge, yielding more finely grained interpretations and insights regarding Freud’s work, the psychoanalytic movement, and the historical times that confronted them.

Kurt R. Eissler was a committed and painstaking psychoanalytic practitioner and biographer. He sought to interview as many individuals who knew Freud as was possible. The energies he poured into this task were remarkable, as was the scholarly preparation behind it.

His questions expressed his own research interest: first and foremost, to add detail to our knowledge of Freud’s biography and clinical practice. His interviews, however, depended also upon interviewees’ separate concerns and upon the nature and boundaries of their memories. Thus one finds interviews in which Eissler gives explicit direction to the course of discussion, pressing with varying degrees of success for information about those elements of Freud’s thinking, methods, and cases for which he wanted to collect more details. Other interviews utilize a far more open process in which the interviewee introduces subjects for discussion more freely. Here those interviewed might focus not only on Freud’s biography and career but also on their own lives and activities, and on the circumstances, reasons, and motivations that brought Freud and the interviewees into contact or collaboration with each other.

These discussions and recollections of the interactions between Freud and the interviewees, as recounted in the Eissler Interviews, shed new light on how psychoanalysis developed as both a scientific and cultural movement. For example, Ernst Kris recalled that when Freud asked him in 1932 to become editor of Imago, he—Kris—laid down certain “conditions.”  A key condition was that the journal would relinquish its early focus on so-called applied psychoanalysis, which at that time was still associated chiefly with psychobiography.  Kris maintained that there existed no such field as applied psychoanalysis, but only clinical psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychology. Freud agreed to Kris’s condition without question. Later, Kris’s commitment to building psychoanalysis into a general psychology remained crucial to his career in both Vienna and New York, in particular to his studies of ego development and child psychology and to his researches into image making, language, and memory.

Insight into the intellectual interaction between Freud and Kris, its role within the movement, and its historical background, gives but one example of the knowledge that can be gained from the Eissler Interviews. By providing a new comprehension of Freud’s professional and intellectual development and by highlighting those who worked with him and after him, the interviews significantly expand the story of how Freud’s theory, method, and practice grew and transformed under the conditions of twentieth-century history into a broadly based, multidisciplinary psychoanalytic psychology, a psychology that revolutionized our understanding of the mind.

Rare Book of the Month: W.E.B. Du Bois’ Brownies

(This is a guest post by Elizabeth Gettins of the Library’s Digital Conversion Team.) This month’s rare book honors William Edward Burghardt (W.E.B.) Du Bois, born Feb. 23, 1868. It features one of his most beloved creations, The Brownies’ Book, a serial published in 1920 and 1921. It is digitally presented here—22 back-to-back chronological issues. […]

Highlights of the Sigmund Freud Papers

(The following post is by Harold P. Blum, M.D., executive director of the Sigmund Freud Archives 1986-2013. It is the second in a series of three weekly guest blogs by current and former executive directors of the Sigmund Freud Archives (SFA), an independent organization founded in 1951 to collect and preserve for scholarly use Sigmund […]

World War I: Online Offerings

(The following was written for the March/April 2017 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. You can read editions of past issues here.) With the most comprehensive World War I collections in the nation, we are uniquely equipped to tell the story of America’s involvement in the Great War through our website. Today we launched a […]

Literacy Award Winner First Book CEO Discusses Marketplace Innovation

(The following is a guest post by Guy Lamolinara, communications officer in the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress.) Demonstrating a pioneering approach to increasing literacy levels is a key component in a successful application for a Library of Congress Literacy Award, and First Book fulfills that criterion through its marketplace innovation. […]

Kurt R. Eissler and the Sigmund Freud Archives

(The following post is by Anton O. Kris, M.D., 2014 executive director of the Sigmund Freud Archives and a professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School. It is the first in a series of three weekly guest blogs by current and former executive directors of the Sigmund Freud Archives (SFA), an independent organization founded […]

Literacy Awards: Thomas Jefferson Would Have Approved

(The following is a guest post by Guy Lamolinara, communications officer in the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress.) Thomas Jefferson, the Library of Congress’s spiritual founder, wrote about the pursuit of happiness. “I like to think that literacy is fundamental to that pursuit. So many doors are closed to those who […]

Pic of the Week: Saturdays at the Young Readers Center

The Young Readers Center in the Library of Congress hosted a series of events Jan. 28 to celebrate its new Saturday hours of operation, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The center, which opened in October 2009, will offer more young people and their families the opportunity to experience the wonders and resources of the nation’s library. “It […]

Stephen King Joins Library in Announcing Applications for the 2017 Literacy Awards

Award-winning author and literacy advocate Stephen King helped the Library of Congress today launch its call for nominations for the 2017 Library of Congress Literacy Awards. The annual awards support organizations working to promote literacy, both in the United States and worldwide, and are made possible through the generosity of David M. Rubenstein, co-founder and […]