Negotiations of surface: archaeology within the early strata of psychoanalysis

J Am Psychoanal Assoc. 2004 Summer;52(3):653-71. doi: 10.1177/00030651040520031701.


Freud's "The Aetiology of Hysteria" (1896) begins with the description of an excavation. With this passage as a point of departure, the role of archaeology in Freud's early psychoanalytic formulations is examined. The archaeological imagery in his later writings and the collection of ancient objects that came to fill his consulting room and library are well known, but the passage must be contextualized in its own moment to show the influences that led Freud to articulate an "expanse of ruins" at this particular time. In the late nineteenth century, archaeology provided an innovative representation of "topography"--one that exceeded the limitations of this concept in neuroanatomical visualizations and that offered the layered site as an analogy for psychic processes. Schliemann's highly publicized excavations of Troy are recognized as an important but not exclusive source for Freud's narrative of 1896. The additional, perhaps dominant, impact of Austrian archaeological projects in the 1880s and 1890s is noted. These enjoyed considerable visibility in Vienna, and were used by Freud to symbolize the processes of destruction and rebuilding in the city itself. The excavation imagery in "Aetiology" is thus posited as the continuation of a complexity of meanings that Freud brought early on to his engagement with acts of unearthing.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Archaeology*
  • Austria
  • Freudian Theory*
  • History, 19th Century
  • Imagination
  • Psychoanalysis / history*

Personal name as subject

  • S Freud