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Putnam CampReview - Putnam Camp
Sigmund Freud, James Jackson Putnam, and the Purpose of American Psychology
by George Prochnik
Other Press, 2006
Review by Aleksandar Dimitrijevic
Aug 14th 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 33)

The purpose of George Prochnik's book is manifold. On the first level, it is a history of Freud's travel to America and his life-long ambivalence to the New World. Next, it deals with several important figures of the pre-1914 American psychology and their role in the installment of psychoanalysis in the US. Finally, this is an important personal story: the author is James Jackson Putnam's great-grandson, so he writes history with the insight into a long-lost family correspondence.

The first level of the story opens with Stanley Hall's invitation to Freud to give five lectures at Clark University. Prochnik follows Freud's journey from the money negotiations with Hall and preparations for a travel with Jung and Ferenczi, to the actual lectures to large audiences and in German, to his reception of honorary degree. I find Prochnik's thought original when he discusses Freud's influence on his American contemporaries: "Freud made America see the human mind as its own true wilderness. The image of the American mind as Wild Nature, mysterious, sublime, teeming with resources, danger, and romantic potential proved, in fact, a far more tenacious legacy of Freud's in this country than did any kind of purely sexual unleashing" (p. 41).

As the very title announces, the second leading role is relegated to J. J. Putnam. At the moment when he attended Freud's lectures, Putnam was one of the most eminent neurologists and psychotherapists in Boston, educated in France in Germany, close friend of William James, and influenced by R. W. Emerson. Putnam had a reputation throughout the US, so in 1874 he became a founding member of the American Neurological Association, and in 1910 of the American Psycho-pathological Association.

Putnam set stage for one of the strangest scenes in the early history of psychoanalysis: the Viennese doctor at visit to the Adirondack Mountains of New England. But, although Freud would not climb mountain tops, play children games, or sing or dance, this gave Putnam an opportunity to discuss with him the topics he found important in Freud's work. This proved to give momentum to two facets of the relationship between them.

On the one hand, Putnam is directly responsible for the birth of American psychoanalysis. He was the first president of the American Psychoanalytic Association, founded in Baltimore in 1911. And in the 1921 obituary, Freud wrote that Putnam was "not only the first American to interest himself in psychoanalysis [but he] soon became its most decided supporter and its most influential representative in America" (p. 376).

But, on the other hand, the relationship between Putnam and Freud was deeply ambivalent, and on both sides: "[...] throughout the years of their correspondence, the two men were engaged in a zealous intellectual debate that counterpointed the expression of their mutual good will. They were at odds over everything from the purpose of psychology and human potential to the nature of the Creator and ultimate meaning in the universe" (pp. 7-8).

On his part, Putnam emphasized the role of sublimation and the teleological dimension of psychoanalysis, hoping that through it he could be "[...] catalyzing the evolution of the species itself" (p. 244). Furthermore, he believed that psychoanalysis alone was insufficient, that "[...] to denude the troubled patient of his or her delusions, he or she had to be given some higher motivation to live as well [...] The psychologist was ethically bound to help patients discover their 'best selves' and then use the innate impulses of that self to aim toward the ideals of communal obligations and self-transcendence" (pp. 9-10). For all these reasons, he intended to complement psychoanalysis with a kind of metaphysical education: "Not only do people have to be analyzed in their bodies and minds, they have to be psychoanalyzed body, mind, and soul -- which is to say, as creatures coextensive with the cosmos. 'The mind contains a real, permanently abiding energy, of which the life of the universe itself is made'" (p. 276).

One can easily predict Freud's reaction to statements of this kind (at least, by judging from his reactions to Jung and later to Groddeck). He admitted a direct influence of Putnam's work on Totem and Taboo, and then on Beyond the Pleasure Principle. However, this influence was mainly a provocation for Freud to dispute Putnam's conceptions.

The third main character of the story was most often present implicitly. Susan Blow, now remembered as a founder of the America's first kindergarten, was at one time Putnam's patient. The two later developed a friendship and Blow introduced Putnam to the work of "St. Louis Hegelians." She held that psychoanalysis may be only preliminary to cure and had even more serious objections to it: "I am inclined to believe that [the effort to form character through suggestion] is an assault upon freedom and I react with indignation at all efforts of another person to use his Consciousness to influence my subconsciousness [...] Let me make over my subconscious self by thinking true thoughts and willing true deeds. If there is a muddy reservoir somewhere in me let me send into it constantly pure stream from the fountain of my self activity" (p. 194). Prochnik claims that "Putnam's perspective on the psychoanalytic mission filtered through Blow: the justification for the focus on individual psychology and personal history is as a prelude to enabling individuals to fulfill their profound social duty" (p. 199).

Unfortunately, the story ended abruptly. First, the war broke out in 1914, so the correspondence between Putnam and Freud was disrupted. Then, Putnam died suddenly in December 1917. The book, however, ends in the epilogue, where Prochnik tries to show Putnam's, and his daughter Molly's, influence on contemporary science, specifically to the works of Karl Menninger, T. Berry Brazelton, and even Eric Kandel.

 

© 2007 Aleksandar Dimitrijevic

Aleksandar Dimitrijevic, Faculty of Philosophy, Department of Psychology, Belgrade, Yugoslavia


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