The Freud House
|The Freud House|
I would never have known about the Freud House if it hadn't been for a girl from California named Diana. One cold winter night she regaled me with a tale of her journey there, complete with her near-illegal photo opportunity on the famous couch, which Freud had taken to London with him while fleeing the Nazis. To be honest, I hadn't even known that Sigmund and his daughter had ever fled the continent, and certainly not to London, which I had visited before without any notion of the situation. I found out that the famous psychoanalyst moved to the foggiest of cities on September 27, 1938 and remained there until he died a year later.
I had never participated in psychoanalysis from either side, having merely studied the subject briefly in college. My knowledge of this brilliant man's thinking was generally limited to movies and pop culture references, to jokes about Oedipal complexes and dreams about giant caves that swallow us whole. Nevertheless, this seemed like a unique place to visit and I marked it on my itinerary for a winter trip to England I was taking with two friends.
On our third day in London, Jeremiah, Subhash, and I took the underground tube north. After disembarking, we stopped at a local drugstore, where Jeremiah bought cigars. As we walked up the long street to the Freud House address, the three of us chuckled and planned how we would jump the rope and take pictures on the couch, as my friend Diana had failed to do so long ago. And then it appeared, an unremarkable, modern-looking house with no particular charm or class. Freud had only been at this address for a year, not nearly enough time to really saturate the house with ghosts. Nevertheless, as we entered, evidence of his interests abounded: the strange African fetishes, rows of dusty books, and the famous couch.
Our dream of pictures on that plush, pillowed couch were quickly shattered. The room was a labyrinth of electric eyes and lasers, far more than in any single room I had ever seen. In fact, the alarm went off while we poked around in the gift shop, sending the gift shop attendant charging out. But it was only someone leaning too far over the museum rope to snap a photo. My friends gave me wry grins, but we quickly adapted, snapping photos of each of us standing, cigars in hand, with the couch as a backdrop. Subhash took long, imaginary puffs on his. Jeremiah's broke and he held it out in front of him with a look of dismay and horror.
|Salvador Dali's "Freud" sketch|
Then, we explored the rest of the house. Dali's pencil sketch of Freud hung in the hall. A half-chewed cigar hunched under a bell jar, causing us to raise our eyebrows and nod. We found out that he lived in the house with his daughter, often sleeping in the same room. These sorts of opportunities were too good to pass up, and we made light of not only Freud, but the whole enterprise of psychology: the strange ideas of its infancy, the madness of so many of its practitioners, the hubris of imagining we are anywhere close to understanding the complexities of the human mind.
On the tube back to central London, my friend Subhash fell asleep, leaning his head against the cool pane of glass behind him. Jeremiah and I chatted about what girl or power fantasy he might be dreaming about. That night, we all discussed our individual troubles over glasses of beer and the next day we went to Amsterdam, to continue our vacation, to "make memories." Later, it dawned on me what we were consistently doing: the modern perceiving of our selves as psychological organisms.
Of course, Freud didn't invent this idea, but he certainly brought it to the forefront of culture, situating every person on that holy couch ever since. He clarified and championed a worldwide paradigm shift that is still taking place today and his way of looking at and talking about human beings has saturated every corner of culture. In some very important and undeniable ways, we are all living in the Freud House, whether we like it or not.