Frei Sprechen - Speak Freely

Haim Steinbach, AHA!, 1997


Monika Pessler, Director

The activities of the Sigmund Freud Museum will explore the leitmotif SPEAK FREELY in the years 2021–2025. Inherent in the ambiguity of this topic are two aspects that are just as relevant to modern discourse as they were to the early historical development of psychoanalysis: On the one hand, it recalls Josef Breuer’s “cathartic method,” which preceded psychoanalysis and was intended to allow patients to SPEAK FREELY, to free themselves of their (unconscious) concerns (for which reason the future women’s rights activist Bertha Pappenheim also spoke of “chimney-sweeping”). On the other hand, the call to SPEAK FREELY forms the foundation and the objective of every psychotherapeutic dialogue. Jointly developed by Freud and his patients, the aim of this “talking cure” was and is to identify the causes of the symptoms and behaviors that complicate or even endanger individual or social existence. Only on the basis of insights gained through constant communication and in-depth analysis can as yet unknown ways to deal with crises be discovered and tested.

Another reason for looking at the tasks, projects, and series of talks at the Sigmund Freud Museum from the perspective of the leitmotif SPEAK FREELY can be found in psychoanalytic cultural theory. In numerous texts,[1] Freud focused on topics that still shape our society (or societies) today: the issue of identity and freedom, which is becoming ever more volatile due to social and economic divides, the propensity for paranoia and denial, which have been intensified by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as aggressions and defense mechanisms motivated by religion, racism, sexism, or homophobia.

The importance of long-established value systems—as formulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and ratified by 171 member states of the United Nations in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action in 1993—seems to be diminishing. Contrary to the teachings we once tried to learn from history, not only are the debasement and violation of fundamental human rights as a result of national and/or pan-European exclusion policies increasing but the demand for authoritarian systems of government is also growing louder.

In an attempt to find, revise, and work toward constructive responses to these virulent issues of our age, another factor that has always been intrinsic to psychoanalytical communication strategies proves helpful: its inter- or rather transdisciplinarity. Since its very beginnings, psychoanalysis has been an inherently interdisciplinary enterprise, as Freud said: “Any estimate of psycho-analysis would be incomplete if it failed to make clear that, alone among the medical disciplines, it has the most extensive relations with the mental sciences, and that it is in a position to play a part of the same importance in the studies of religious and cultural history and in the sciences of mythology and literature as it is in psychiatry.”[2]

Just as other disciplines avail themselves of psychoanalytical explanatory models, so too does psychoanalysis continue to benefit from the expertise of various branches of knowledge and integrates approaches and hypotheses from the natural and social sciences and the humanities in its own research agenda. Simply think of Freud’s use of “archeological metaphors” whose “architectural dimension” also helped Freud to arrive at the “representative form of psychic reality,” the topography of the “psychic apparatus.”[3]

Therefore, in both theory and practice the psychological dialogue calls for a continuous change in perspective to which inestimable importance is attached for the success of reality reconstruction and its interpretation—as not least the phenomenon of “transference and countertransference” so impressively proves.

From a psychoanalytical viewpoint, the correlating relationship between the individual and the collective psyche is also based primarily on a change in perspective, because the “contrast” between individual and social psychology only seems significant at first glance, writes Freud as early as 1921, and “loses a great deal of its sharpness when it is examined more closely,” as “[i]n the individual’s mental life someone else is invariably involved, as a model, as an object, as a helper, as an opponent; and so from the very first individual psychology, in its extended but entirely justifiable sense of the words, is at the same time social psychology as well.”[4]

Consequently, psychoanalytical concepts can also soon be found in social science analyses and descriptions: in the reformative social pedagogy of the 1920s or contemporary art movements like Dadaism and Surrealism.

The subsequent developments in the second half of the twentieth century may have been encouraged by Freud himself as a result of his description of the relationship and interaction between the analysist and analysand in his late work as a process of “transformation”—an assessment that calls to mind more recent disciplines in the history of psychosocial sciences.

In numerous disciplines, methodically engaging in dialogue and the act of transformation it launches and accompanies evolves into a preferred procedural step: from the mid-1940s in group dynamics, for example, for which Kurt Lewin had already created the foundations with his experimental social psychology in the 1930s.

From the 1950s Ruth Cohn, the daughter of an assimilated Jewish family in Germany who emigrated from Switzerland to the USA as a student in 1941, went from psychoanalysis to theme-centered interaction[5]: "I became a psychoanalyst at a time when humane values fell victim to a ‘philosophy of exclusivity.’ What resulted from this has happened again and again in the course of history and is still happening today,” writes Cohn in the foreword to her collection of texts in 1975. She responds to the past and contemporary developments she describes with an extended process of psychodynamic dialogue, which focuses on a balanced and "deepened understanding of the individual, group, and thematic task and their mutual relationships.”[6]

In the late 1960s Gregory Bateson’s and Heinz von Foerster’s considerations led to a broader questioning of self-organized, biological, and social systems—which can mean both the human system and a system animated by people, like an organization.[7]

Foerster bases his epistemological and communication theoretical analyses on, among other things, the observational method and calls for a “second-order observation” in addition to conventional observation: the observation of the observer. As every way of seeing and explaining depends on the perceiver, their experiences and prejudices, the understanding of the cybernetician and the constructivist, just like the psychoanalyst, is based on there being no “objective reality.” Yet in a dialogue on the observed and the observer, the factors can at least be voiced that underlie their respective assessments and analyses—the construction of the status quo.

Dirk Baecker, a sociologist and cultural theorist, says of second-order observers that in our society it is predominantly “intellectuals, critics, psychoanalysts, and now increasingly artists who are surprised by what others find self-evident […].”[8]

In recent decades, the growing technologization and globalization of financial and commercial markets have given rise to ever-more complex labor and production conditions, which could not fail to have an impact on the structures of their systems. Therefore, from the 1990s the increase in resilience has become vacant not only in the realm of private living conditions but also for operational systems. It is futhermore necessary to research the “nature” of operational structures in professionalized management, to observe and strengthen their communication skills and responsiveness.

If Niklas Luhmann takes another, closer look at Foerster’s cybernetics in reference to the work of the neurobiologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela and describes systems as strictly separate units defined by the distinction between system and environment alone, then in line with transdisciplinarity SPEAK FREELY keeps in sight the evidence of the mutual conditionality of individual and society above all.

For this reason, the attempt will once more be made at Vienna’s Berggasse 19 to establish a connection between the historical and current significance of this place and to recall those aspects that have proven to be “history in a fruitful sense” (Ernst Bloch).

Instead of conceiving of the symptoms of our society as merely “adjustment disorders,” they will be granted “individual knowledge, almost a character”[9] and the “other” (Jacques Lacan) will be given a voice in order to establish a meaningful and shared narrative.

In the SPEAK FREELY format, the criteria that characterize the psychoanalytical dialogue according to Joachim Küchenhoff can be taken into consideration alongside "the way that words can move us, but also the productivity of a conversation, which not only reproduces previous considerations but is also productive.”[10]

Just as the provision of such a “speaking space” is one of the most important tasks of psychoanalysis according to André Michels and Claus Dieter Roth, so too is it essential in the educational work of the Sigmund Freud Museum: here the content likewise shapes the form—and vice versa.

Not as an exclusive community of psychoanalysts but with them and with others, SPEAK FREELY additionally promotes the multiple perspectives cultivated in the arts in support of a system-wide dialogue. Because what applies to systems theory has long applied to psychoanalysis and the museum housed in its birthplace: It “does not lend itself to forbidding others from speaking. In contrast, there is nothing about which it is more curious than hearing others speak.”[11]



[1] Sigmund Freud, “On Narcissism” (1914); Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921); Civilization and Its Discontents (1930); and his correspondence with Albert Einstein Why War? (1933).

[2] Sigmund Freud, "Two Encyclopaedia Articles (1923 [1922]): (A) Psycho-Analysis," in The Standard Edition of the Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 18, edited and translated by J. Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, (1955) 2001, 235–254.

[3] Karl Stockreiter, “Am Rand der Aufklärungsmetapher. Korrespondenzen zwischen Archäologie und Psychoanalyse,” in: Lydia Marinelli / Sigmund Freud Museum (eds.): “Meine alten und dreckigen Götter” – Aus Sigmund Freuds Sammlung. Frankfurt am Main: Stromfeld Verlag 1998, 81–93, 81 ff.

[4] Sigmund Freud, "Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego” in The Standard Edition of the Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 18, edited and translated by J. Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, (1955) 2001, 69–144.

[5] Ruth Cohn, Von der Psychoanalyse zur Themenzentrierten Interaktion (1st ed. 1975), Klett-Cotta, 2009.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Cf. Heinz von Foerster, “On Self-Organizing Systems and Their Environments,” in: M. C. Yovits and S. Cameron (eds.), Self-Organizing Systems, Pergamon Press, London 1960. Heinz von Foerster, “On Constructing a Reality,” in: F. E. Preiser (ed.), Environmental Design Research, vol. 2, Stroudberg: Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross 1973.

[8] Dirk Baecker, Form der Kultur [Form of Culture],, S.7

[9] Moritz Senarclens de Grancy: Claus Dieter Rath, Der Rede Wert. Psychoanalyse als Kulturarbeit (Turia + Kant, Wien 2013), Rezension, in: Psyche – Z Psychoanal 69, 2015, 293-294.

[10] Joachim Küchenhoff, “Das analytische Gespräch auf der Suche nach dem Sinn,” in: Der Sinn im Nein und die Gabe des Gesprächs. Psychoanalytisches Verstehen zwischen Philosophie und Klinik, Weilerswist: Velbrück Wissenschaft 2013, 88.

[11] Dirk Baecker, Schlüsselwerke der Systemtheorie (2nd ed.), Springer Verlag 2016, 7.