On Wednesday and Thursday June 23–24, the Academy hosted a fast-moving international conference, “Freud’s Rome—Phobia and Phantasy”. After an introductory session at the Academy’s Villa Aurelia, the conference took the form of a peripatetic group seminar, with excursions to several of the major Freud sites in the city: the “Gradiva” sculpture in the Vatican’s Museo Chiaramonti, Michelangelo’s “Moses” in San Pietro in Vincoli, and various points in and above the Forum. Each location saw a dialogue between two historians followed by a group discussion.
Andreas Mayer of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin conceived of the conference, which he organized in collaboration with AAR Andrew Heiskell Arts Director Martin Brody (RAAR’02) and Andrew W. Mellon Professor Corey Brennan (FAAR’88).
In a summary of the aims of the conference, Andreas Mayer explains that “the sources of Freud’s lifelong fascination with the city of Rome and its multi-layered history date back to a strange phobia which haunted him during the formative period of psychoanalysis. When stuck during the writing of his book on dreams [The Interpretation of Dreams, first published in November 1899], Freud turned repeatedly to the study of the topography of Rome. Despite this strong desire to travel to Rome, he did not manage to reach the eternal city during his first Italian journeys.” In the event, Freud’s first visit to Rome was only in September in 1901—but with six sojourns to follow.
Mayer continues, “Whereas the biographical and sociological dimensions of Freud’s Roman phobia have been extensively studied and commented upon by historians and psychoanalysts, the epistemological aspects of his engagement with art, literature and architecture on Roman soil have received less attention. Instead of further dramatizing Freud’s own encounter with Rome, this will entail studying more closely the extent to which his repeated inspection of the city’s architecture and some of its monuments found its way into the psychoanalytic practice.”
And that is precisely what the conference participants set out to do. These included Gerd Blum (Münster and Heidelberg), John Forrester (Cambridge University), Elizabeth Lunbeck (Vanderbilt University), Andreas Mayer, and Nathalie Richard (Paris 1—Panthéon—Sorbonne), with additional presentations by Martin Brody and Corey Brennan.
Sadly, Francesco Orlando, who was scheduled to appear at the conference, died just a day before it was to start. He was professor emeritus of theory of literature at the University of Pisa and is widely regarded as one of Europe’s foremost literary critics.