In 1925, Anita Loos introduced America to gold-digger Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the wildly successful book Edith Wharton called “the great American novel.” Modern psychology was so much a part of the popular discourse of the moment, so much a part of the Jazz Age rejection of Victorian sensibilities and social mores, that free-spirited Lorelei’s trip across Europe would have been incomplete without a visit to “a famous doctor in Vienna called Dr. Froyd.” The doctor, Lorelei writes, “could stop all my worrying because he does not give a girl medicine but he talks you out of it by psychoanalysis.” When she tells Dr. Froyd, “I really never wanted to do a thing I did not do,” his advice is simple: “Dr. Froyd said that all I needed was to cultivate a few inhibitions and get some sleep.”
From Sigmund Freud’s time to the present, writers, artists, and entertainers have used their work to consider and critique the man and his ideas; psychoanalysis and its founder have been the subject of everything from novels and popular songs to works of conceptual art. Simplified or exaggerated, praised or reviled, psychoanalytic theory and therapy have been and yet remain fascinating areas of inquiry for producers, critics, and consumers of popular culture.
During the last century, psychoanalysis has been approached in popular formats with various intentions. In the 1920s, the silent film Flaming Youth and song “Don’t Tell Me What You Dreamed Last Night (Cause I’ve Been Reading Freud)” incorporated references to then-surprising Freudian ideas that were the source of much contemporary discussion and controversy. Decades later, in the 1950s, a comic book series, “Psychoanalysis,” and television program, You Are There: January 2, 1900—The Secret of Sigmund Freud, intended to educate the general public about psychoanalytic theories and treatments. More recently, the novels of Israel Rosenfield and Matt Cohen satirize Freud and his ideas. Where artist Robert Longo’s project “The Freud Drawings” reverently considers Freud and his legacy in enormous drawings of the objects and furnishings that filled his Vienna consulting room, conceptual artist Simon Morris has engaged Freud’s work with both seriousness and wit, literally reconfiguring the text of The Interpretation of Dreams—by computer algorithm or by cutting the text to pieces—to explore the possibilities of making new meaning from existing narratives.
Dr. Froyd: Psychoanalysis in the Popular Imagination features a sample of works from the Beinecke Library collections, including critical and creative treatments of Freud and psychoanalysis throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries: works of visual and textual punning, do-it-yourself guides to therapy, children’s books, songs, poetry, plays, and novels. These works explore and document the ongoing cultural significance of Freud and his ideas, as well as the controversy that has surrounded both man and method for more than a hundred years. Ongoing popular engagements with psychoanalysis stand in stark contrast to late twentieth-century claims against Freud’s theories and clinical practices, condemnation of psychoanalysis as a pseudoscience, and waning significance among professionals in clinical and research psychology. Dr. Froyd: Psychoanalysis in the Popular Imagination suggests, perhaps, that it is in the imagination of the writer and artist, in popular language and iconography, in threads of the cultural fabric that Freud’s legacy can be most clearly recognized.
—Nancy Kuhl, Curator of Poetry-Yale Collection of American Literature
Images: Anita Loos, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, illustrated by Ralph Barton, New York: Boni & Liveright, 1925. Presented in the form of a diary, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes tells of American gold-digger Lorelei Lee’s adventures in Europe, including a meeting with the great “Dr. Froyd.” When it was published in 1925, Anita Loos’s novel was a phenomenal bestseller; today, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is known mainly as the 1953 film adaptation starring Marilyn Monroe.