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Composite Formations: Sigmund Freud’s Picture of Rome

Wednesday 21 October 2020, 4.00PM

Speaker(s): Whitney Davis

Sigmund Freud was fascinated by the archaeology and history of the ancient city of Rome, though he only visited the modern city a handful of times. Aside from his general interest in the classical tradition as a reservoir of mythic and moral symbols and his personal interest in antiquities as evidence of the “survival” of prehistoric beliefs into modern times, “Rome” and its stratigraphy came to serve, it’s often said, as a “master metaphor” for psychoanalysis itself. Actually, Freud’s comparison between Rome and the psyche was more complicated—enabling Freud to pinpoint what distinguishes psychoanalysis from archaeology. This lecture explores Freud’s visual sources for “Rome” and especially his paradoxical account of its spatiotemporal structure and pictorial representations. In the end, “Rome” was Freud’s image for the most fundamental and most bizarre act of psychoanalysis—the psychoanalyst’s “self-analysis” (Selbstanalyse) as its founding moment.