For anyone interested in the history of psychoanalysis, or indeed, in how people start having new kinds of conversation, The Minutes of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society are an inexhaustible source of amusement and instruction. From 1906 to 1915, in his role as official secretary to the Society, Freud's keen and earnest young student, Otto Rank, recorded the first formal psychoanalytic discussions by the first men who thought of themselves as psychoanalysts. A surprisingly wide range of topics is covered in the three hefty volumes published in America in the early Sixties: from, as perhaps one might expect, masturbation and female assassins - 'Federn comments that to slips of the tongue and the hand, we must now add slips of shooting' - to works of philosophy, psychology and literature. There are early moments of what would become an influential new genre, psychoanalytic seriousness - 'According to Bölsche, clothes are the cause of nudity' - and glimpses of esoteric romance: 'the genitalia are said to be the first gods, and religious feeling is derived from the ecstasies of intercourse.' It is clear, despite the almost palpable presence of Freud in these pages - 'our great father in Vienna', as Wittels calls him in his memoirs, 'the greatest psychological genius of all time' - that a lot of these people were relishing the demand that they speak their minds, and on such diverse topics. A profession that encouraged people to say whatever occurred to them is bound to be interesting to observe when it wants to keep to the point.
LRB 4 January 1996 | PDF Download