20,000 Letters, Manuscripts & Artifacts From Sigmund Freud Get Digitized and Made Available Online

In his intro­duc­tion to the 2010 essay col­lec­tion Freud and Fun­da­men­tal­ism, Stathis Gour­gouris defines fun­da­men­tal­ism as “thought that dis­avows mul­ti­plic­i­ties of mean­ing, abhors alle­gor­i­cal ele­ments, and strives toward an exclu­sion­ary ortho­doxy.” While there may be both reli­gious and sec­u­lar ver­sions of such ide­olo­gies world­wide, we can trace the word itself to an Evan­gel­i­cal move­ment in the U.S., and to a set of beliefs that endures today among around a third of all Amer­i­cans and has “ani­mat­ed America’s cul­ture wars for over eighty years,” writes David Adams. The fun­da­men­tal­ist move­ment first took shape in 1920, just as Sig­mund Freud wrote and pub­lished his Beyond the Plea­sure Prin­ci­ple.

It was in that book that Freud intro­duced the con­cept of the “death dri­ve.” Adams argues that “the ‘fun­da­men­tal­ist’ and the ‘death dri­ve,’ are twins: they came into being simul­ta­ne­ous­ly,” and “their simul­tane­ity is not mere­ly an acci­dent. Both of these con­cepts are respond­ing to the pro­found cul­tur­al and psy­cho­log­i­cal cri­sis result­ing from the First World War.” Every calami­ty since World War I has seemed to rean­i­mate that ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry strug­gle between modernism—with its plu­ral­ist val­ues and empha­sis on cre­ativ­i­ty and experiment—and fun­da­men­tal­ism, with its com­pul­sion for rigid hier­ar­chy and destruc­tion. And we might see, as Adams does, such cul­tur­al con­flicts as anal­o­gous to those Freud wrote of between Eros—the plea­sure principle—and the dri­ve toward death.

The Great War turned Freud’s thoughts in this direc­tion, as did the racism and anti-Semi­tism tak­ing hold in both Europe and the U.S. His the­o­ry of an instinc­tu­al dri­ve toward the destruc­tion of self and oth­ers seemed to antic­i­pate the hor­ror of the World War yet to come. Freud inte­grat­ed the con­cept into his social the­o­ry ten years lat­er in Civ­i­liza­tion and its Dis­con­tentsin which he wrote that “the incli­na­tion to aggres­sion” was “the great­est imped­i­ment to civ­i­liza­tion.” While med­i­tat­ing on the death instinct as a psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic and social con­cept, Freud also pon­dered his own mor­tal­i­ty. Just above, you can see the draft of a death notice that he wrote for him­self dur­ing the 1920s. This comes to us from the Library of Congress’s new col­lec­tion of Sig­mund Freud papers, which con­tains arti­facts and man­u­scripts dat­ing from the 6th cen­tu­ry B.C.E. (a Greek stat­ue) to cor­re­spon­dence dis­cov­ered in the late 90s.

The “bulk of the mate­r­i­al,” writes the LoC, dates “from 1891 to 1939,” and the “dig­i­tized col­lec­tion doc­u­ments Freud’s found­ing of psy­cho­analy­sis, the mat­u­ra­tion of psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic the­o­ry, the refine­ment of its clin­i­cal tech­nique, and the pro­lif­er­a­tion of its adher­ents and crit­ics.” Much of this archive may be of inter­est only to the spe­cial­ist schol­ar of Freud’s life and work, with “legal doc­u­ments, estate records… school records” of the Freud chil­dren, and oth­er mun­dane bureau­crat­ic paper­work. But there are also let­ters rep­re­sent­ing “near­ly six hun­dred cor­re­spon­dents,” such as Freud’s one­time pro­tégé Carl Jung and Albert Ein­stein, with whom Freud cor­re­spond­ed in 1932 on the sub­ject of “Why war?” (See Freud’s let­ter to Ein­stein above.)

The doc­u­ments are near­ly all in Ger­man and the hand­writ­ten let­ters, notes, and drafts will be dif­fi­cult to read even for speak­ers of the lan­guage. Yet, there are also arti­facts like the 1936 por­trait of Freud at the top, by Vic­tor Krausz, the pock­et note­book Freud car­ried between 1907 and 1908, just above, and—below—a pic­ture of a pock­et watch giv­en to Freud by physi­cian Max Schur, whose fam­i­ly left Aus­tria with Freud’s in 1938. You can browse the online col­lec­tion of over 20,000 items by date, name, loca­tion, and oth­er indices, and all images are down­load­able in high res­o­lu­tion scans. 

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Sig­mund Freud Speaks: The Only Known Record­ing of His Voice, 1938

The Famous Let­ter Where Freud Breaks His Rela­tion­ship with Jung (1913)

Albert Einstein​ & Sig­mund Freud​ Exchange Let­ters and Debate How to Make the World Free from War (1932)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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