To the editors:
Today’s anti-Utopian Zeitgeist certainly moves in mysterious ways. Thus the usually reliable J. Rosenbaum, from his April 5 notice for A. Zagdansky’s Interpretation of Dreams [Reader’s Guide to the Silver Screen]: “most of [Sigmund Freud’s] work was virtually banned in the Soviet Union between 1917 and glasnost.” One might assume from this that Czarist Russia was a thriving mecca of psychoanalytical discourse. It was not –pre-1917 Russia’s encounter with Freud came largely through the activities of a group of Russian medical students studying abroad in Zurich. It was in fact after the revolution that their efforts to popularize Freud’s work found its widest exposure within what was now the Soviet Union. Indeed, Freudian ideas, such as they were understood, were to become a staple of the heady Soviet avant-garde cultural scene during the early 1920s. Representative of the trend was Sergei Eisenstein, who considered Freud and Marx the twin prophets of modernity and liberation.
This intellectual state of affairs would pass, of course–in the study of human behavior, Freudian “subjectivity” shortly gave way to the clocklike behavioral mechanics of Pavlov, best known to American schoolchildren as the man who rang the bell. The latter paradigm proved far more congenial to the regulating designs of Stalin, designs which of course cast increasingly dark shadows across the Soviet intellectual and political landscape from the late 1920s onwards.
But to predate this clampdown to 1917 is to strike from the historical record a period rich in vibrant experimentation, cultural creativity and intellectual ferment, if in the end something other than the golden road to unlimited happiness. No doubt this was not Rosenbaum’s intention, yet his amnesia is symptomatic of a creeping post-Utopianism afoot in the land, marked by casual dismissal of all past (or present) liberatory attempts and milieus. As though our present circumstances–in which Pavlovian principles, from political discourse to commodity culture, reign supreme–were anything to brag about.
All of which is a lot to say about a small distortion found inside a capsule film notice buried deep within a fairly marginal paper, but your letters section seems forever disposed to this kind of thing.
Jonathan Rosenbaum replies:
Thanks for the fascinating clarification. My misinformation came from the press release offered by Facets, and I regret having passed it along without question.