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Freud in the world: psychoanalysis, literary writing and the legacies of history


Module description

Can psychoanalysis help us to understand the most intractable dilemmas of our time? What part does the unconscious play in our political lives? Starting with those texts by Freud which engage with civilisation and culture, this module aims to examine the place and impact of psychoanalysis on our conception of the modern world. Freud is famous for his controversial views on sexuality but less so for his equally challenging engagement with the concerns of war, ethics and faith which were also at the heart of his work.

Psychoanalysis was born at the start of the twentieth century. Freud died as it ushered in the Second World War. In the second part of the course we will choose literary and other works which engage with some of the most troubling political moments of that history and its legacy in modern times: the Balkans in the 1930s, totalitarianism and World War II. We will focus in depth on the political and literary writing of Israel/Palestine, as the situation in the Middle East deteriorates and the question of antisemitism in relation to Israel and British political life is once again in the public eye. Our main questions throughout will be: how far can psychoanalysis be seen as a critique of Western civilisation; what does it have to say about human destructiveness; where should we look for the expression of dissent in modern times; how to understand the links between inner and outer reality, between private and public worlds.

You need no previous knowledge of Freud, or indeed of any of these issues and histories, to take this module.


  • Psychoanalysis and ethics I: On war
  • What is civilisation?
  • Psychoanalysis and ethics II: What is a group?
  • On being Jewish?
  • Women Writing War I: Nazism
  • Women Writing War II: Yugoslavia
  • Memory
  • Palestine/Israel I: Writing as Chronicle and Dissent
  • Palestine/Israel II: Thinking Against the Grain
  • Palestine/Israel III: Poetic Voices