A Dedication From Freud’s Father To His Son

Training for Vietnamese Translators in Social Sciences and Humanities,
a project funded by EUNIC Global.


A review of Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, University Of Chicago Press, 1997.

By Etienne Rolland-Piègue, Director of Institut français du Vietnam

Originally published in French as: Jacques Derrida, Mal d’archive : Une impression freudienne, Editions Galilée, 2008.

Archive Fever – A Freudian Impression is the text of a lecture given by Jacques Derrida at the Freud Museum in London during an international colloquium entitled « Memory: The Question of Archives » organized by the Société Internationale d’Histoire de la Psychiatrie et de la Psychanalyse. The location, the theme of the conference, the title of the lecture, the list of persons present and absent: all matters enormously for the understanding of this text, which highlights a decisive aspect of Derrida’s thought.

Freud’s last house after he flew to London in 1938 became a museum after his daughter Anna passed away in 1982. It shelters part of Freud’s personal archives, his library, his daughter’s papers, and a research center on the history of psychoanalysis.

The House of Freud

To paraphrase Derrida, Freud’s house is used as a scene of domiciliation: it gives shelter, it assigns to residence, and it consigns, as it gathers together signs. As a place for archives [the word comes from the Greek arkheion, the residence of the superior magistrate], it is at once institutive and conservative. « It has the force of law, of a law which is the law of the house, » writes Derrida. The archivization produces as much as it records the event. It opens « the question of the future itself, the question of a response, of a promise and of a responsibility for tomorrow ». In the case of psychoanalysis, the conservation of archives raises specific questions: « What is this new science of which the institutional and theoretical archive ought by rights to comprise the most private documents, sometimes secret? » asks Derrida.

But the House of Freud is also the place of a lineage: that of the father of psychoanalysis, whom all analysts claim as ancestor, and also the lineage of an individual who was taken in his own web of kinship relationships, in particular with his father Jakob and with his daughter Anna. The private library contains a Philippsohn Bible that Sigmund Freud had studied in his youth and that his father, having rebound the volume in « a new skin », gave him back on his thirty-fifth birthday, inscribed with a personal dedication in Hebrew.

It may be possible to read into the text of the dedication an allusion to Freud’s circumcision, although the point is a matter of debate. But the gift of the father refers unambiguously to Freud’s Jewish heritage: as a child Sigmund Freud had been « deeply engrossed » in the reading of the Bible, and as an adult he was still able to decipher his father’s handwritten inscription in Hebrew, which renewed the covenant passed when the Book was first given.

This question of deferred obedience to the father, and of allegiance to the Law, was also taken up by Freud’s daughter Anna. In 1977, she was invited by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to inaugurate an endowed chair carrying the name of her long dead father. Unable to go, she sent a written statement which acknowledges, among other things, that the accusation according to which psychoanalysis is a « Jewish science », « under present circumstances, can serve as a title of honor. »

Psychoanalysis and Judaism

This is the main point Derrida wants to get at. It has now become difficult to discuss Freud and psychoanalysis without any reference to Judaism. Freud, of course, vehemently denied the notion of a Jewish science, and he emphasized the universal (non-Jewish) essence of psychoanalysis, although he sometimes hinted–in the private archives unearthed by historians–the influence of his Judaism or Jewishness over the elaboration of the new science.

This debate was forcefully addressed by the historian Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi in his Freud’s Moses: Judaism Terminable and Interminable. Yerushalmi, who « discovered » the Hebrew dedication in Freud’s Bible, is the absentee to which Derrida’s lecture is addressed. Indeed, the whole text could have been condensed in the two words of a dedication, a « To Yerushalmi » that would also have echoed the greetings that Jews exchange at the Passover Seder and at Yom Kippur.

As Yerushalmi himself notes, the notion of a Jewish science will very much depend on how the very terms Jewish and science are to be defined. Derrida remarks that « only the future of science, in particular that of psychoanalysis, will say whether this science is Jewish, because it will tell us what science is and what Jewishness is. » Following Yerushalmi, Derrida posits that if Judaism is terminable, Jewishness is interminable: it is « precisely the waiting of the future, the opening of a relation to the future, the experience of the future » as an event radically to come. In other words, it is « the affirmation of affirmation, the yes to the originary yes » that deconstructionist theologians like John Caputo sum up as a double « oui-oui ».

But to Derrida the question of Freud’s relation to Judaism also covers a more personal aspect. He refers in a parenthesis to himself as « I who have not only a father named Hayim, but also, as if by chance, a grandfather named Moses. And another, Abraham. » He mentions several times the issue of circumcision, « that singular and immemorial archive called circumcision », adding that « this is not just any example for me ». And he confesses that in addressing a colleague on the issue of Freud and Judaism, « I am speaking of myself. »

There are other themes addressed in the text: the issue of ghosts, addressed at length in Specters of Marx but that Derrida revisits by noting that Freud also « had his ghosts »; the link between history and psychoanalysis, or between psychoanalysis and any discipline, as no discipline can escape, deny or repress the « Freudian impression ». We even learn in passing that Derrida was the proud owner of a portable Macintosh computer. And of course, there is the style, the inimitable verb of Derrida, which is beautifully rendered by the translator. This short volume is a worthwhile addition to the Derridean corpus.

Catégories : Book reviews