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Freudian Slip? Library of Congress Puts Off Exhibit

December 6, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Library of Congress postponed a major exhibit on Sigmund Freud, but insists it won’t shrink from the subject.

Library officials say a shortage of money forced them to put off an exhibit on the father of psychoanalysis planned for late next year.

But critics of the exhibit _ mostly academics who disagree with Freud’s theories _ say the library is giving in to their pressure to kill or overhaul the exhibit.

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.

Library officials say the Freud critics are over-analyzing things.

``There’s just not enough money to keep it on schedule,″ said spokeswoman Jill Brett. The library relies heavily on donations, and fund-raising efforts fell $352,000 short of the Freud exhibit’s $1 million cost, she said.

The show will be delayed from December 1996 to late 1997 or beyond, she said. Librarian James Billington made the decision late Monday.

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

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

The federally funded library, which serves researchers and the public, as well as Congress, holds the world’s largest collection of Freud papers, artifacts and photographs.

Freud revisionists have clashed with the library before, complaining that it has withheld important documents from researchers. A small part of the Freud collection will remain sealed for several more years under agreements made with donors, Brett said.

Swales said the Freud Archive is controlled by ``Freud fundamentalists, the true believers,″ bent on protecting and promoting Freud’s reputation.

But the exhibit’s guest curator, Michael Roth, says he plans to neither exalt nor diminish Freud. He said his focus 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, from the 1890s to the present, should be part of the show, said Roth, who is director of European studies at Claremont Graduate School in California.

The controversy raises other questions. Public museums face dwindling funds and increased competition for donations, which may make them more vulnerable to pressure.

``In the future, people who feel frustrated by an exhibition will feel they can use their clout to shut it down,″ said Daniel Zalewski, associate editor of Lingua Franca, a journal for academics.

There’s nothing wrong with that, argues Swales, if it stops the government from misusing tax dollars and promoting wrongheaded ideas.

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