Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Freud’s Publish-and-Perish Religion

Maya Balakirsky Katz

Issues of the first psychoanalytic journals. Collection of Maya Balakirsky Katz

I set out to write a book on Freud’s enduring legacy on religion and ended up writing one on the founding years of psychoanalytic journals. I recall this transition as marked by the dawning awareness that my own writing and research processes were often shaped by what felt like utterly irrelevant but highly consequential considerations of publication. Perhaps because psychoanalysis takes the fictions produced by the creative drive and its censor-evading symbolizations as part of its own theoretical framework, I found myself thinking as much about the despotism of publishing conventions as the psychoanalytic ideation of religion. The twin consciousness between my subject and the public engagement with the subject of religion resulted in a pair of realizations that wholly transformed the book I ended up writing. I realized:

Psychoanalysis first emerged as a literary movement.

The first psychoanalytic movement was a media community.

Issues of the first psychoanalytic journals. Collection of Maya Balakirsky Katz
Credit: Issues of the first psychoanalytic journals. Collection of Maya Balakirsky Katz

These realities are not exactly groundbreaking discoveries. All new disciplines emerge in a “publish-or-perish” market, a formula we tend to forget has always applied, even to—especially to—the “Fathers” of our disciplines whose publishing feats far exceeded those simply trying to break into already established fields.

However mundane my hard-earned observations, they revealed totally different research paths than those on which I had initially embarked. I turned resolutely away from my beloved Freud anthology and headed towards more unfamiliar territory of the first psychoanalytic journals. These ground-breaking periodicals caught on like wildfire soon after the debut of the first one in 1907 and petered out in an anticlimactic emphysema in the first year of the First World War. These forgotten publishing tracks tread by the pioneers of psychoanalysis generated exciting discoveries, albeit seemingly far from my original field of scholarly inquiry on Freud and religion. First one and then one at a time. A thousand little discoveries piled on top of a crumbling edifice of what we thought we knew about psychoanalysis and religion but turned out to be another castle in the sky of modernism.

I found an entire slew of contributors, many of them forgotten, in heated discourse with the “Father” and with each other on subjects seemingly unrelated to religious topics but that read as “rough drafts” of Freud’s iconic essays on religion. And, it was not only Freud. Iconic texts on religious subjects that we thought belonged to a single author, such as C.G. Jung or Theodor Reik, were the products of multi-authored conversations composed by multiple authors under a lead byline. And then there were other finds that seemed unrelated to either psychoanalytic thought or religion, such as my discovery that long-standing rumors in the psychoanalytic movement—such as Freud’s relationship with his sister-in-law Minna and Jung’s relationship with Sabina Spielrein—appeared on the pages of those journals for everyone to see. Rediscovering that these so-called “secrets” were in fact objects of public scrutiny led me to rethink what sort of periodical culture the first psychoanalytic journals participated in and permanently disrupted.

As the highly specific conditions of early twentieth-century scientific publication anchored my research, I came to see the early psychoanalytic corpus on religion as a critical catapult for the small and tightly-wound group of men (and later the occasional woman) facing the publish-or-perish scenario. Publishers were finding that the interdisciplinary application of psychology to religion could sustain indefinite serial issues, and were more willing to take a bet on a new science when religion was at stake. Indeed, Freud found his first periodical publisher when he dedicated his first journal to “applied psychoanalysis.”

Religion caught the attention of medical men and women the world over in its first years, bringing Freud and Jung together and sustaining their relationship for the duration of the founding years of specialized journals. Indeed, the subject of religion was a vital discursive force for the social organization of its first “specialists” into a cohesive scientific society. In cheaply-printed, ephemeral issues whose content no one could have predicted would go viral, religion brought together a new band of sex researchers and sold it to a small but influential subscriber list. Even rumor-mill disclosures were delivered most emphatically in texts devoted to religious themes.

As I came to understand how the pioneers of psychoanalysis theorized the intra-psychic approach in a relational field, I saw a new parallel between psychoanalytic theory and the history of religion in the form of periodical publication. Academic periodicals, with their consecutive issues accountable to various censors and its contents in the processes of constant revision, reflected unconscious memory functions. At the same time, the collaborative design of content read as part of a whole issue in which any one contribution is contingent on meanings created by surrounding content reflects inter-relational dynamics. Even after Freud expanded his focus from periodicals to his own publishing house, he nonetheless continued to analogize religion to the serial, ephemeral nature of periodical publication: “It is a most remarkable experience to see morality, which is supposed to have been given us by God and thus deeply implanted in us, functioning as a periodic phenomenon. For after a certain number of months the whole moral fuss is over, the criticism of the super-ego is silent, the ego is rehabilitated and again enjoys all the rights of man till the next attack.” In this view, religion is thus not only a pawn in a publish-or-perish scenario but itself a publish-AND-perish phenomenon predicated on and shaped by sustained serial publications.

Freud, Jung, and Jonah by Maya Balakirsky Katz

Title: Freud, Jung, and Jonah

Author: Maya Balakirsky Katz

ISBN: 9781009100007

About The Author

Maya Balakirsky Katz

Maya Balakirsky Katz is a clinical psychoanalyst and an Associate Professor of Jewish Art at Bar-Ilan University, Israel. She is the author of The Visual Culture of Chabad (Cambrid...

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