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Library of Congress Puts Off Freud Exhibit

December 5, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Library of Congress put off a major exhibit on Sigmund Freud and promptly found itself on the couch.

Critics of the exhibit originally planned for next year said library officials’ motives were obvious _ they was embarrassed to be under attack by angry scholars.

They’re dreaming, library officials responded.

It was budget worries that forced at least a year’s delay of the show, library spokeswoman Jill Brett said Tuesday. Fund-raising efforts fell $352,000 short of the exhibit’s $1 million cost, she said.

``If the controversy were driving this decision, we would have canceled it, not postponed it,″ Brett said.

The show on the father of psychoanalysis and his impact on 20th-century thought was pushed back to late 1997, and possibly later, she said. Librarian James Billington made the decision late Monday, she said.

The exhibit was meant to show off the library’s wealth of Freud papers and artifacts.

The Freud feud has raised comparisons to the Enola Gay controversy earlier this year, which pushed the Smithsonian to scale back its exhibit on the use of nuclear weapons against Japan in World War II.

``How can they be so disingenuous as to say this is about money?″ said Peter Swales, a historian of psychoanalysis who organized a petition signed by about 50 academics who were concerned about the exhibit. It was sent to the library in July.

The library had to be worried about a group of scholars would publicly ridicule its exhibit when it opened, Swales said.

``This would have created a great crisis of confidence on the part of the general public,″ Swales said. ``What they’ve done was the only tenable thing to do at this point.″

Critics say the exhibit would glorify a man whose scientific claims have been discredited and whose ideas have been rejected.

But the exhibit’s guest curator, Michael Roth, says he plans to neither exalt nor diminish Freud. His focus, Roth said, is Freud’s sweeping and undeniable influence on 20th century ideas _ not whether he was right or wrong, genius or hack.

The library controversy magnifies a bitter, longstanding feud between Freud’s admirers and his detractors. The depth of those emotions should be part of the show, said Roth, who is director of European studies at Claremont Graduate School in California.

But the controversy, coming on the heels of the Enola Gay dispute, raises other questions. Public museums face dwindling funds and increased competition for donations, which may make them more vulnerable to pressure.

``In a period when money is hard to come by, the idea that groups would try to shut down an exhibit because of something they don’t agree with is very frightening to me,″ Roth said.

It’s an issue causing debate and worry within the academic community, said Daniel Zalewski, who is following the Freud dispute as associate editor of the journal Lingua Franca.

``In the future, people who feel frustrated by an exhibition will feel they can use their clout to shut it down,″ Zalewski said. ``They see it’s possible to throw your weight around.″

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