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.

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