The Freudian Orient: Early Psychoanalysis, Anti-Semitic Challenge, and the Vicissitudes of Orientalist Discourse



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This study consists of a twofold, interrelated enquiry: the Orientalism of psychoanalysis and the psychoanalysis of Orientalism – bringing into conversation Sigmund Freud and Edward Said and, thereby, the founding texts of psychoanalysis and postcolonial studies. The immediate object of this exploration is the “Freudian Orient” and we thus begin by tracing the strong Orientalist presence in Freud’s writings with examples from his early as well as later correspondence, his diaries, and his psychological works.

Following these examples of “manifest” Orientalism, we will pursue more “latent” meanings by engaging two of Freud’s favorite metaphors: archaeology and travel. Whereas the former soon uncovers a veritable porta Orientis, conducting to an external Orient, the latter reveals an internalised Orient traversed by Jewishness, anti-Semitism and the Bible.

Unveiling the figure of Moses shows how Freud’s strategy to resist anti-Semitic Orientalism by way of universalist reversal is only partially successful as he cannot extricate himself from the historical assumptions of that discourse. Nonetheless, it is the revolutionary concept of the unstable subject posited by Freudian psychoanalysis which enables a more nuanced understanding of the vicissitudes of Freud’s own Orientalist discourse.

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