The American Historical Review

Book Review; Caribbean and Latin America; Vol 107, Nº2. April 2002Mariano Ben Plotkin. Freud in the Pampas: The Emergence and Development of a Psychoanalytic Culture in Argentina. Stanford: Stanford University Press. 2001. Pp. xiii, 314.

In recent decades, psychoanalysis has not fared well in most parts of the world. Heavily organic and biologic approaches to the human mind and psyche have secured hegemony over psychoanalytic probing of the largely concealed inner psyche. Whereas psychoanalytic insights continue to garner limited interest in study of the humanities, they have hardly represented a growth industry in intellectual and academic discourse. Argentina has been different, and this book is the first detailed study of how clinical work, literary and cultural movements, and even intellectual and political discourse have been and continue to be profoundly shaped by psychoanalytic premises.
Mariano Ben Plotkin details how psychoanalysis emerged as a significant force owing to a crisis of positivism that often centered on the problematic hereditary degeneracy paradigm in Argentine psychiatry during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Stressing more than surface symptoms, psychoanalysis accompanied other elements in what might be called a late-coming social and economic modernization of Argentine life. It helped to explain-and at a seemingly complex level-what mental moods were and how they evolved. Upper-class and educated elites were particularly drawn to popularized versions of Freudian theories of the dynamic inner psyche. As well, psychoanalysis appealed to some on the political Left, but it also had resonance to others on the Right within the military and the Roman Catholic Church.
By 1942, the Argentine Psychoanalytic Association (APA) was founded. Spanish-speaking emigrés like Maria Langer and Angel Garma, who had been trained in Vienna and Berlin and who had escaped as the Holocaust emerged, played central roles in establishing it. But most of the founders were locals from Buenos Aires, and they adapted psychoanalysis to the particulars of Argentine culture. A wealthy psychoanalytic patient created a foundation to fund APA training, and by the late 1940s Argentina had become the major psychoanalytic training center in Latin America. Society leaders were judicious, after World War II, not to inflame a hostile Perón government. With important exceptions, they stayed out of the tug and pull of Argentine politics and thus maintained a measure of autonomy. Most eagerly embraced the theories of Melanie Klein and her British-based psychoanalytic movement, with its stress on subjective «object relations» between the very young infant and small fragments of the world he/she perceived. But on translating British Kleinians into Spanish and elaborating Kleinian formulations, the APA founding generation tended to give object relations theory several significant homegrown twists.
With a secure institutional and doctrinal base, psychoanalysis quickly proliferated throughout Argentine society. Psychoanalytically informed group therapy and psychodrama arrived in the 1950s, pressing Sigmund Freud’s «science» beyond its professional and middle-class margins. An APA founder, Arnaldo Rascovsky, routinely appeared on radio and television and in popular magazines with messages that combined psychoanalytic modernity and starkness (e.g. he proposed a proclivity in parents to hurt children) with conservative prescriptions for women to fulfill their missions primarily through motherhood. By the 1960s, another APA founder, Enrique Pinchón Rivière, wrote a regular newspaper column on problems of adaptation to the environment in everyday life that resonated with a Marxist-sympathizing Left. Eva Giberti’s Escuela para Padres (1968) on psychoanalytically informed child rearing techniques became a best seller. Gradually psychoanalytically informed expression became a primary way to talk of one’s discontentedness, neuroses, and therapeutic needs. Even more than men, women embraced this means to communicate their feelings and often discovered that their personal psychoanalytically guided therapist was in many ways replacing the influence of their priest.

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