The Freud Museum


20 June 2018
7pm - 8.30pm

On the Couch: A Repressed History of the Analytic Couch from Plato to Freud

Nathan Kravis & Panel Discussion

The Freud Museum London's most iconic item is undoubtedly Freud's famous psychoanalytic couch, but where did the couch originate? And why did it play such an important role in the history of psychoanalysis? Author and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Nathan Kravis will explore these themes alongside a panel of academics as they discuss his latest publication, “On the Couch: A Repressed History of the Analytic Couch from Plato to Freud” (2017).

About the Book
The peculiar arrangement of the psychoanalyst’s office for an analytic session seems inexplicable. The analyst sits in a chair out of sight while the patient lies on a couch facing away. It has been this way since Freud, although, as Kravis points out in On the Couch, this practice is grounded more in the cultural history of reclining posture than in empirical research. Kravis, himself a practicing psychoanalyst, tells how the couch became an icon of self-knowledge and self-reflection as well as a site for pleasure, privacy, transgression, and healing.

Kravis draws on sources that range from ancient funerary monuments to furniture history to early photography, as well as histories of medicine, fashion, and interior decoration, and he deploys an astonishing array of images—of paintings, monuments, sculpture, photographs, illustrations, New Yorker cartoons, and advertisements.

Kravis deftly shows that, despite the ambivalence of today’s psychoanalysts—some of whom regard it as “infantilizing”—the couch continues to be the emblem of a narrative of self-discovery. Recumbent speech represents the affirmation in the presence of another of having a mind of one’s own.

Nathan Kravis is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, where he is also Associate Director of the DeWitt Wallace Institute for the History of Psychiatry, and Training and Supervising Analyst at the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research.

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