Thursday, May 5, 2011

Freud's Moravia (allegedly) or infiltration of my own subconscious

Tomorrow is Sigmund Freud's birthday... his 155th. Rather than being cliché and focusing tomorrow's theme on Freud (when, in fact, our modern world is probably over-saturated with his influence), I thought it might be interesting to consider Freud's birthplace... Moravia, Austria.

Moravian herald since 1292, chequered eagle
Freud was born in Freidberg, Moravia. Now part of the Czech Republic, Freidberg (and Moravia) were once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In fact, it was not until Freud was 62 that Moravia became a part of Czechoslovakia and finally, in 1993, as part of the Czech Republic.

Like many Eastern European regions, this swatch of land has been well traversed. The Celts ceded the region to Germanic tribes early in the 1st century B.C. Slavic peoples came into the region 600 years or so later and the land passed back and forth between Slavic and Germanic principalities, kingdoms, influences, and invaders. Great Moravia was established by the Slavs in 9th century. This empire covered the following large part of Europe.

Apparently, though we call these people Slavs, there is no consistency between their culture, language, or politics and modern Slavic nations. During the years 883-894 A.D., Moravia annexed Bohemia, with Bohemia finally pulling away to successfully establish its independence in 895.

It is an odd fact to think that the so-very Austrian Freud was perhaps actually Czech, anciently Slav, and even more anciently Celtic.

Further, perhaps this closeness of Moravia with Bohemia is more significant than mere proximity. Freidberg is considered part of southern Bohemian region of the current Czech Republic.

Saint Bartholomew Church, in market town of Frymburk (Freidberg)
And while Bohemia may be a region, it is perhaps better known as the unconventional lifestyle that artists (or Williamsburg residents) lead, or the type of clothing that celebrates free love, a wandering spirit, adventure, and the "appearance" of voluntary poverty.

Nicole Ritchie in her own ad campaign for House of Harlow, a boho chic line selling at current Boho style does NOT come cheap...
The term evolved when Romani people (a.k.a. gypsies) arrived in France and lived as outsiders. They were called Bohemians as it was assumed that they had come from the aforementioned region. It was rather a pejorative term at first, despite our modern usage, and the life of a genuine Bohemian was most likely quite difficult and often unpleasant.

William Bouguereau, The Bohemian, 1890
The modern romanticized and coddled version
It was through art that the Bohemian and his alternate lifestyle were ultimately romanticized and reimagined -- through Puccini's La Boheme, Henri Murger's short story collection Scenes of Bohemian Life, and ultimately even Broadway musicals such as "Rent" (with its famous number, "La vie Boheme.") And nowadays, the phrase has made a complete 180 from its origins so that there are "Bobos" (David Brook's term for bourgeouis bohemians). To be bohemian is cool, counter- and sub-culture, avant-garde, post-Beat, hipster, post-modern, zen, and epitomized in events like Burning Man.

We came, we saw, we burned the man.
So, how can we circle around back to Freud? It's his birthday for gosh sakes!! Well, Freud himself was a sort of bohemian... in the outcast sense. Like any innovative agitator, his theories were not comfortably incorporated into Viennese and Austrian (and worldwide) society... at first... until they were. Freud now exists as so much a part of our very own subconscious, the subconscious of which he made us so aware in the first place. He sits as a ''founding father" to our modern way of thinking and being -- along with other luminaries such as Einstein, Marx, and Darwin. I often talk to my students, when we read Romeo and Juliet, about how Mercutio was a proto-Freudian... believing that dreams reflected inner anxieties and instincts and dark desires rather than falling in line with the rest of his era in believing that they possessed predictive abilities.

"This is that very Mab
That plats the manes of horses in the night
And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,
Which once untangled much misfortune bodes.
This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
That presses them and learns them first to bear,
Making them women of good carriage.
This is she!" (Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, scene i)

Freud's concept of the unconscious
Freud's view of truth and reality so dominates and infiltrates our way of thinking and being that it is perhaps difficult to disentangle ourselves enough to recognize the influence. Dr. John Cash (I know! the other man in black...) of the University of Melbourne in Australia speaks of how Freud devised of an internal division within each of us, a split between desire and authority. Not only did Freud develop theories of the mind, theories of repressed conflicts, theories of how we dream and how we act, but he "explored how groups, institutions and cultures mark themselves upon the psyche and how, as human subjects, we relate to such social demands. Freud developed the complex account we have of both human subjectivity and human connectedness -- of our being a self with others; and the internal division and discontent that such a cultural achievement, such a self-civilizing project involves." (Dr. Cash, 2009)

You see! Freud does insidiously infiltrate the modern world and our modern selves and minds! I had intended for this entire blog entry to delve into the interesting and unusual history of Moravia and where do I end up? Back with Freud... myself always internally divided, always subconsciously motivated... just like the rest of you.

1 comment:

  1. Freud was likely a Germanic Moravian, which made him one of the many Sudeten Germans that Hitler was worried about when he annexed portions of Bohemia and Moravia. See

    At some point, Moravia became subsumed under the amorphous and ever-changing label Silesia, which is how the region is labeled in the epic game Diplomacy (and Silesia is part of Germany in the game):

    Interestingly, the Czech soccer federation is known Českomoravský fotbalový svaz, which is often literally translated as the Bohemian-Moravian Football Association ():

    What's my main point? Everything I have ever learned I learned playing soccer or Diplomacy.