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Edmund Engelman. Photograph of Sigmund Freud's Desk. 1938.

Freud’s Mexican Antiquities: Psychoanalysis and Human Sacrifice*


Sigmund Freud was an avid collector of antiquities, and over the course of his life he acquired over 2,000 archeological pieces: Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and other objects purchased from Viennese dealers who Freud visited during his daily walks or acquired during his trips to Italy and Greece. Like smoking cigars, collecting was a guilty pleasure, one that Freud playfully described as an addiction in light of the considerable financial and psychological resources it demanded.1 Unlike most collectors, Freud invested his objects not only with exhibition value, but also with use value: his antiquities became instruments for writing, thinking, and even analyzing patients. He placed his most treasured purchases on his desk so he could face them as he wrote, turning them into a captive audience of sorts.2 Freud spoke to his antiquities, used them as paperweights, and would occasionally rub the head of a statuette. In a letter to Wilhelm Fleiss, he referred to these objects as his gods—albeit “old and grubby gods.”3 During analytic sessions, he would sometimes point to one of his ancient artifacts to illustrate the workings of the unconscious.4 Freud even traveled with his antiquities: every summer the family moved to the country for several weeks, and the figurines had to be carefully packed, unpacked, and reinstalled in the new domicile. And when Freud left Vienna for good in 1938, he made the necessary arrangements—including securing the
* The material from this article is taken from Freud’s Mexico: Into the Wilds of Psychoanalysis (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2010). I thank Roger Conover for granting permission to publish an abridged version of the chapter. 1. Max Schur, Freud: Living and Dying (New York: International Universities Press, 1972), p. 547. 2. Lynn Gamwell, “A Collector Analyses Collecting: Sigmund Freud on the Passion to Possess,” Excavations and Their Objects: Freud’s Collection of Antiquity, ed. Stephen Barker (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), pp. 1–12. See also Lynn Gamwell, Sigmund Freud and Art (London: Thames and Hudson, 1989). 3. Freud to Fliess, August 1, 1899, The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887–1904, ed. and trans. Jeffrey M. Masson (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985), p. 363. 4. R.E. Money-Kyrle, “Looking Backwards—And Forwards,” International Review of Psycho-Analysis 6 (1979), pp. 265–72. See also H. D., Tribute to Freud (New York: Pantheon, 1956).

OCTOBER 135, Winter 2011, pp. 70–92. © 2011 October Magazine, Ltd. and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

5 The cover of Sigmund Freud and Art—the first major catalogue of Freud’s holdings—for instance. those with no obvious counterpart in Freud’s theories? How are we to read the African. West Mexico. and Egyptian pieces—objects belonging to three cultures the analyst admired and about which he wrote extensively in his essays. but scholars have tended to focus on Freud’s Greek. necessary permits from the Nazi authorities—so his collection could accompany him to London. Mezcala. 1200–1500 CE. his patroness and one-time analysand. Princess Marie Bonaparte. features a winged sphinx. “The Image in Psychoanalysis and the Archaeological Metaphor. How are we to make sense of the antiquities from other cultures. and Chinese artifacts in his collection? These objects came from places Freud never visited or discussed in his work. See. West Mexico. pp. Far right: Anthropomorphic idol.72 OCTOBER Left: Vase depicting a dignitary. 350 CE. for instance. 100 BCE–250 CE. Much has been written about Freud’s collection. and their presence in the collection raises an important question: what role did cultural alterity play in Freud’s practice of collecting? And how did he perceive the difference between the various cultures—Greek and Egyptian. Peru. Chinese and Roman—represented in his collection? The question becomes even more complex when it comes to Freud’s pre5. smuggled one of the most prized pieces—a statuette of Athena—out of Austria. Freud’s ashes were deposited in a Greek urn at London’s Golders Green Crematorium. assuming that he acquired pieces that illustrated elements of his arguments. ca. 1–29. . a piece directly related to one of the central theories of psychoanalysis: the Oedipus complex. Griselda Pollock. 2006). Mochica. And when the end came. Critics have tended to read Freud’s antiquities as companion pieces to his writings. Indian. Roman.” in Psychoanalysis and the Image (New York: Blackwell. Near right: Kneeling figure.

ed. nor do they seem to have a connection to places. regardless of how small or insignificant it appears. . 7. 174.7 In the pages that follow. But Freud himself taught us that every detail. . can be interpreted to uncover a web of unsuspected associations. I propose to interpret these pieces with the following questions in mind: where did these objects come from? What role did pre-Columbian art play in Freud’s collection? How did these objects influence Freud’s perception of the Americas in general and of Mexico in particular? 6.Freud’s Mexican Antiquities 73 Columbian holdings.6 These objects have drawn little attention from scholars: they have not been included in most exhibitions of Freud’s antiquities—including a show of Freud’s antiquities held in a museum in Mexico City! The three pre-Columbian objects have never been published together or analyzed as a group. Freud’s pre-Columbian holdings consist of a Moche figure from Peru that has been described as “vase depicting a dignitary” and two Mexican objects: a kneeling figure from West Mexico and an anthropomorphic stone object from Mezcala. the West Mexican figure was published in Le Sphinx de Vienne: Sigmund Freud. alten und dreckigen Götter”: Aus Sigmund Freud’s Sammlung (Vienna: Strömfeld. “Meine . 147. which Freud had invested with special significance. . p.. like Greece or Rome. One might be tempted to dismiss these pieces as anomalies in a collection that is otherwise coherent and unified. 1998). l’art et l’archéologie. The Moche piece and the Mezcala object were published in Meine alten und dreckigen Götter. Freud owned three pieces from American civilizations that do not fit into any of the schemas used to interpret the collection: they are—at least at first sight—not related to psychoanalytic texts or concepts. 1993). 147. p. Lydia Marinelli. p. Eric Gubel (Brussels: Ludion. ed.

Freud never wrote about pre-Columbian Mexico. perhaps more importantly. . They were made by peoples who had no writing. 9. and no documents have survived that could explain how these objects arrived at Berggasse 19. and French intellectuals. which some have related to Freud’s early work on cocaine. pp. Freud’s objects were not created by any of these empires but by the relatively marginal peoples of West Mexico and the Moche. Freud’s Viennese address for the last decades of his life. Walter Benjamin moved to Munich to attend a series of seminars. See Rubén Gallo. With the exception of a footnote on the Aztecs. German. The two Mexican objects pose a much greater challenge for the scholar than the Peruvian piece. But how did these pre-Columbian artifacts make their way from the Americas to Vienna? Freud purchased most of his antiquities from local dealers. In 1916. and vanished well before the arrival of the Spaniards. the three pre-Columbian pieces fit perfectly in a collection that included many other examples of tomb art. 139. “Freud’s Mexican Books. including one given by the Americanist 8. Totem and Taboo: The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (London: The Hogarth Press. Interestingly. home of the Inca Empire. Freud might have acquired them on his own. left no record of their history or beliefs. In this respect. but he also received some as presents from patients and friends. the land of the Maya and the Aztecs. designed to be buried alongside the dead in tombs that were looted long before archaeologists had the opportunity to explore them. Freud did not keep any records on the pre-Columbian pieces. p.9 How are we to interpret them? How do they relate to the other objects in Freud’s collection? Could there be any unsuspected links between these objects and Freud’s theories? Could they provide some clues about the analyst’s perception of Mexico? Freud’s Mexican Library Freud’s life coincided with an explosion of interest in Aztec Mexico among Austrian.” in Freud’s Mexico: Into the Wilds of Psychoanalysis. Freud. and Mexico. The Mexican pieces thus occupy a place in the collection of antiquities that is as eccentric—and as puzzling—as that of the single Mexican book in Freud’s library. but there was virtually no market for American antiquities in Vienna before World War II.74 OCTOBER The Objects Freud’s American pieces come from two countries that gave birth to the great pre-Columbian civilizations: Peru. 1978).8 And he never had a Mexican disciple who could have sent the pieces as presents. from fragments of Egyptian mummies to fragments of Roman sarcophagi. 198–234. Freud’s pre-Columbian objects share a number of attributes: all three pieces originated in remote areas far from the powerful urban centers of the Inca and the Aztecs. all three were funerary objects. And.

12 Two year s later. Andrew Benjamin and Peter Osborne (London: Routledge. 139–54. . Even Oswald Spengler succumbed to the lure of the Aztecs: his archive at the Munich State Library includes an unpublished play titled Montezuma: ein Trauerspiel. Münchner Staatsbibliothek. Though Freud did not own a copy of Die weissen Götter.” trans. 1984). Walter Benjamin. 13.15 In 1935.” remarks the character. terrifying phantasms. 51. In France.animism. trans. in 1920. Annette Michelson. Ibid. see John Kraniauskas. with much fanfare. p. Gerhart Hauptmann wrote a play based on Stucken’s novel: Der weisse Heiland (The white savior) was staged. One-Way Street.”10 and in the other he encounters “a priest rais[ing] a Mexican fetish. Benjamin. from the Anaquivitlzi. “One-Way Street. October 36 (Spring 1986).Freud’s Mexican Antiquities 75 Walter Lehmann. on the language and culture of ancient Mexico. with the “white gods” denot ing the Spanish conquist ador s. Oswald Spengler. Edmund Jephcott and Kingsley Shorter (London: New Left Books. he argued.13 The Aztec-mania caught on in other European countries. 12.” Cahiers de la République des Lettres. New York: Farrar. For the French see “L’Amérique disparue. pp. Georges Bataille devoted his 1928 essay “Extinct America” to analyzing the Aztecs’s “demented violence. 15.” and their pantheon of anthropophagic gods. Continuous crime committed in broad daylight for the mere satisfaction of deified nightmares. 16. the Aztecs were very much à la mode among 10. books flow from the victim’s open chest: “Human sacrifices he had heard of. 1907). unpublished manuscript. 11. Montezuma: ein Trauerspiel. books!”16 Even French cinema participated in this excitement: Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game (1939) features an elegant woman named Jackie who announces to her aristocratic friends that she has taken up the study of pre-Columbian art only to be derided as an intellectual fashion victim by the other guests. Georges Bataille. 40. Germany. p. p. which included a nightmare sequence of Aztec human sacrifice: instead of blood. Auto-da-Fé (1935. 14. Bataille painted the Aztec rituals as a “bloody eccentricity. Straus and Giroux. 1994). a novel about the conquest of Mexico. Benjamin was fascinated by the Aztecs and recorded two dreams about them in One-Way Street : in one. surely the most extreme ever conceived by an aberrant mind. Elias Canetti published Auto-da-Fé. As these examples reveal. p. pp. Oswald Spengler Papers. 5. Eduard Stucken (an author Freud had in his library) published Die weissen Götter. I thank Anke Birkenmeier for this information. 60.”14 Bataille—who would revisit the theme of Aztec sacrifice in his novels and essays of the 1920s and ’30s—provided one of the most original explanations to the mystery of how the Spaniards conquered Mexico with only a few hundred men: the Aztecs. his library includes another text by Stucken: (Leipzig: Eduard Pfeiffer. 3–9. chose to die in a massive human sacrifice.”11 In 1918. “but books. 1979). Elias Canetti. he sees a “Mexican shr ine from the t ime of pre. One of the productions featured a replica of “Moctezuma’s headdresss” held in the collections of the Museum of Natural History. “Beware Mexican Ruins!: ‘One-Way Street’ and the Colonial Unconscious. des Sciences et des Arts (1928). “Extinct America.” in Walter Benjamin’s Philosophy: Destruction and Experience. On Benjamin’s Mexican studies. ed. throughout Germany and Austria.” in One-Way Street and Other Writings.

. p. encyclopedic. and then fed it to the worshippers in [the] manner of a communion. Robertson Smith only mentioned the Aztecs in a footnote.” analyzes “the custom of eating bread sacramentally as the body of a god” as part of a wider discussion about “spirits of the corn and the wild. women. Heinrich Heine’s Romanzero. wherewith they grieved. 88. and reverence as it was an admirable thing. p. carried it to the top of a pyramid. Frazer’s Mexico The eleven volumes of Frazer’s The Golden Bough constitute the most ambitious. who received it with such tears. Frazer was especially interested in the Aztec practice of ritual sacrifice—a topic he explores in depth in two chapters of The Golden Bough: “Eating the God among the Aztecs” (in the volume Spirits of the Corn and the Wild ) and “Killing the God in Mexico” (a section of The Scapegoat ). and controversial collection of worldwide myths ever published. VIII. and Heine is cited frequently in Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious—and their views on Aztec culture would have influenced Freud’s ideas about Mexico . Frazer.17 These are authors Freud knew well—Frazer and Smith are the main sources for Totem and Taboo. Robertson Smith’s Lectures on the Religions of the Semites.”18 He noted that in pre-Columbian Mexico “more people used to be sacrificed on the altar than died a natural death. 1911–15). The Golden Bough. both men. 2. 19.20 17. and continuing unto the rest. 20. 295 fn. Pre-Columbian Mexico is an important reference throughout this monumental study: Frazer writes at length about the Aztecs and. to a lesser degree. . Frazer was both fascinated and horrified by this ritual. and. Perhaps the horrors experienced by Europe during World War I had made the theme of human sacrifice particularly relevant to intellectuals. saying that they did eat the flesh and bones of God. 1896). p. Frazer. about other Indian groups in Mexico. IX.” Priests made a likeness of the god out of maize and honey paste. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (London: Macmillan and Co. The Golden Bough. 315. 297.”19 The first of these chapters.76 OCTOBER European intellectuals of the 1920s and ’30s. quoted by both Frazer and Freud. . 18. But the library does include three books that include lengthy discussions of Ancient Mexico: Sir James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough . fear. See Smith. Alas. and about the pre-Columbian objects in his collection. VI. and little children. none of these Aztec-philic authors are represented in Freud’s library. Lectures on the Religion of the Semites (London: Adam and Charles. which he called “the most monstrous on record. beginning with the greater. p.” Frazer describes the ritual of solemnly ingesting an edible image of “Huitzilopochtli or Vitzliputzli. to a lesser extent. James Frazer. “Eating the God in Mexico.

”28 Through these rituals. p. The Golden Bough. was distributed among the priests and nobles as a blessed food.25 Frazer merely touched on sacrificial rituals in Spirits of the Corn and the Wild. were fully acquainted with the theological doctrine of transubstantiation and acted upon it in the solemn rites of their religion. 257. from which they must have suffered if the deity had been allowed to die a natural death. 22.. p. pp.” he wrote. IX. “did not always content themselves with eating their gods in the outward and visible shape of bread or grain.”23 Frazer saw these ceremonies as exemplifying “the custom of entering into communion with a god by eating his effigy. a volume that devotes an entire chapter to the practice of “killing the god in Mexico.” Once dead. 28. 26. p. 296. even before the arrival of Christian missionaries. Frazer.Freud’s Mexican Antiquities 77 Frazer comments that “from this interesting passage we learn that the ancient Mexicans. 86–90.22 Frazer theorized that the practice of ingesting a divine likeness was closely related to human sacrifice. 27.” even in cases when the dough was “kneaded and fortified with human blood. Ibid. in gruesome detail. 25.” “Among no other people. pp. chopped up small. Ibid. who. but he presented a more elaborate discussion in The Scapegoat. “the priests attempted not merely to revive the gods whom they had just slain in the 21. Ibid. Frazer. p.”24 He believed that the intention of these rituals was two-fold: to keep the corn spirits alive and to allow the worshippers to partake—by eating a likeness—in a portion of the god’s divinity.. after he had paraded for a time in the trappings and received the honors of a god. . Ibid. Freud’s copy of The Golden Bough is kept at the Freud Museum London.” But the people aspired for “a closer union with the living god. Ibid.”21 Freud seemed especially interested in this idea: he marked the passage on “the doctrine of transubstantiation or the magical conversion of bread into flesh recognized by the ancient Aztecs and Brahmans”—one of only two pages annotated by Freud in The Golden Bough. but he was even more disturbed by another Aztec practice: cannibalism. 92. the anthropophagic rituals involving prisoners captured in warfare.”26 Frazer found these sacrificial rituals shocking..” he writes.. untainted by the weakness and frailty of age. p. 283.27 Frazer concludes that the sacrifice of these human deities constituted “a means of perpetuating the divine energies in the fullness of youthful vigour. He describes.. 24. p. and attained it by devouring the flesh of a real man. 138–9. “does the custom of sacrificing the human representative of a god appear to have been observed so commonly and with so much solemnity as by the Aztecs of Mexico. The Golden Bough. Spirits of the Corn and the Wild. Ibid. 89. “instead of being kicked down the staircase and sent rolling from step to step like the corpses of common victims. II. was slaughtered and eaten by his cannibal worshippers.. the body of the dead god was carried respectfully down. 93. “The Mexicans. VIII. and his flesh. 23.

beaten and demoralized. Ibid. Ibid. written in the 1840s while Heine was exiled in Paris. 35. Totem and Taboo. The poem opens with a prelude hailing America as a bright new land that “shines with sea-fresh colors” and “drips with pearls or water. but also to restore to their wasting and decaying frames all the vigour and energy of youth. 605. . 31.”33 The fir st sect ion of the poem closes with the Spaniards.. p. 34. 33.. But as we will see further on. a collection that included “Vitzliputzli. Moctezuma. Heine’s Mexico In addition to The Golden Bough.” a mock-epic about the conquest of Mexico.30 Like the English anthropologist.” 35 While the Spaniards mourn. p. 139.. Heine does not show much sympathy for the Spanish leader. pp. showering the foreigners with gifts. p. notes that “the human sacrifices of the Aztecs [which] have been reported in detail by Frazer in the fifth part of his great work.” in contrast to an old Europe that has degenerated into “a romantic’s graveyard” and an “ancient junkyard. his reaction to these practices was quite different than Frazer’s. Hal Draper (Boston: Suhrkamp/Insel. Totem and Taboo. appears as a gracious host. p. retreating from the Aztec city. Heinrich Heine. His death ignites a violent war. 602.78 OCTOBER persons of their human representatives. ed. This mischievous poem.” in The Complete Poems of Heinrich Heine: A Modern English Version. the Aztec emperor. the only work in which Freud refers to ancient Mexico. and trans. and we find him “weepy.”29 Frazer’s analysis of Aztec religion emphasized two themes that were of fundamental importance in Freud’s work: human sacrifice and cannibalism. “Vitzliputzli” recasts the story of the conquest of Mexico as a German Romantic tale. 304–5. the Aztecs prepare to celebrate their 29. Freud associated pre-Columbian Mexico with the bloody rituals of killing and eating sacrificial victims. 30. whom he calls “a bandit” and “a robber captain. 1982). 603. Heine paints this scene with all the pathos characteristic of Romantic poetry: “Blood flowed red in streaming torrents/And the bold carousers struggled. Ibid. Freud.. only to be kidnapped and murdered by them. and the Mexicans turn all their rage against the conquistadors: “a stormy tide of terror/mounted like a savage ocean.”31 The action begins with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in Mexico and their first encounter with the Aztecs. 599. p. Freud owned another book that dwelt at length on Aztec rituals: Heinrich Heine’s Romanzero (1851). 608. under weeping willows. Ibid. 32.”32 In contrast.” 34 Even the mighty Cortés breaks down at the sight of the carnage. “Vitzliputlzi.. Ibid. Hernán Cortés.” constitute a good example of the sacramental nature of sacrificial rituals. p. could not be more different in tone and spirit from Frazer’s anthropological texts.

fresh land. and other sensations. pp.”38 Heine’s portrayal of Ancient Mexico foregrounds the same two themes Frazer presented in The Golden Bough: cannibalism and human sacrifice. p. Ibid. Ibid. gracious hosts and courageous fighters.” he laments. At the summit of t his “Red-br ick st ronghold of t he idol—/St range reminder of Egyptian/Babylonic and Assyrian/Buildings. he will survive the mayhem: following the destruction of the Aztec city. and since gods are immortal. Ibid. smells.” in Studien zu Heine’s Romanzero.37 After a sacrificial banquet. pp. Heine makes it clear that his sympathies lie with the Aztecs and not with the Europeans: America is a new. “Vitzliputlzi. takes place on a pyramid. Mexico’s bloodthirsty war god. “I myself will fall and founder/In the ruins—dust and ashes—. like those described by Frazer in The Golden Bough. p. bursting with colors. see “Vitzliputzli. 605. 38. He’s an evil looking monster. Indeed “Vitzliputzli” focuses on the same rituals discussed in Frazer’s study. 1906). The ceremony. 613–14. But so droll is his exterior. monstrous and colossal. the collapse of Aztec civilization. the Aztecs.. where he will devote his endless life to terrorizing his foes “with torments/Frighten them with ghostly phantoms. while Europe has become an “ancient junkyard. Ibid. and the twilight of its gods: “Smashed to bits will be my temple. the land of his enemies. Heine.”36 we catch the first glimpse of the “bloodthirsty” god Vitzliputztli: There..”40 Cortés is a bandit. p. . 37. 599. That in spite of inward shudders Yet he tickles us to laughter. Vitzliputzli will flee his homeland and seek refuge in Europe. On Heine’s sources. 40. Viztliputzli’s mood turns somber: he predicts an imminent Spanish victory followed by the destruction of his city.41 36. From the very first lines of the poem.” But Vitzliputzli is a god. 41. Helene Herrmann (Berlin: Weidmannische Buchhandlung. upon his altar-throneseat Sits the mighty Vitzliputlzi. and the two authors consulted the same sources on Aztec religious ceremonies. 12–41. ed..” in The Complete Poems of Heinrich Heine.39 Heine’s descriptions of Aztec priests offering the aroma of human blood to their deities while feasting on the flesh of eighty Spaniards would be entirely at home in the catalogue of pre-Columbian atrocities compiled by Frazer.Freud’s Mexican Antiquities 79 victory by offering a sacrifice to the god Vitzliputzli. So bedizened and so childish. 39. 607. But Heine’s attitude towards ancient Mexico could not be more different from Frazer’s.

rob.”45 The analyst was referr ing to Heine’s Die Götter im Exil .”43 In the end. after the collapse of their religion. “The Uncanny. p. 45. 17 The Standard Edition.44 Heine turns the Aztec priest into a Romantic hero and human sacrifice into a poetic model. like libidinal flows. Mexican Taboos The Golden Bough and Romanzero present two very different models for thinking about the pre-Columbian objects in Freud’s collection of antiquities. including The Golden Bough. and ultimately adopt a watered-down version of human sacrifice because they cannot stomach the real thing. .” Heine likens them to Spanish customs and draws a parallel between communion and sacrificial slaying. Among so many other things. Complete Poems. 612. while the Aztecs are noble. given to the most extravagant acts of cruelty—rituals that would send 42.” Freud invoked another one of Heine’s poems to explain the workings of unconscious repression: in uncanny experiences. and in touch with the true nature of sacrificial rituals.” he exclaims in disgust. he wrote. steal. is never destroyed.” but this translation introduces the negative connotations of savagery. Heine’s “Vitzliputzli” subverts the opposition between savage and civilized—an opposition that structures most European accounts of Aztec civilization. 42 Heine’s Aztec priest offers an even more heretical comparison of Christian and Mexican sacrificial rituals. Though Heine introduces the Aztecs as “savage. 43. His Aztecs are not only civilized. 609. Hal Draper renders “bei den Wilden” as “savage Indians. 44. unlike the pale simulacrum practiced by the Christians. he would have been particularly attentive to the ending: Vitzliputzli. Heine. 236. When Freud read Heine’s Romanzero.” he ultimately presents them as more civilized than the Spaniards: it is the Spanish Christians who backstab. Freud. he was an exile condemned to live far away from his native land and lament its fate. “the ‘double’ has become a thing of terror. but their rituals surpass those of the Spaniards in theological complexity: Mexican sacrifice is authentic. He calls the Spaniards “morally ugly” and views their religion with contempt. p. while Heine identified with Vitzliputzli: like the Mexican god. a poem devoted to the same topic as “Vitzliputzli”: the exile of deities after the collapse of their cultures. “Vitzliputzli” is a parable about the return of the repressed. just as. dismissing the foreigners as “god-devourers.” vol. Frazer imagined himself as a potential victim of Aztec sacrifice. Frazer’s account would have led Freud to perceive the ancient Mexicans as a barbarous and bloodthirsty bunch. In “The Uncanny. “They’re even wont to/munch upon their own gods’ bodies.80 OCTOBER And if Frazer deplored the Aztec sacrificial rituals as “the most monstrous on record. p. Ibid. the gods turned into demons. courageous. He disappears from one location to reappear in another—the same procedure Freud attributed to psychic forces.

as Freud puts it. without exception. p. Ibid. or. .”50 But sacrifice. followed by the invention of the concept of god (“at bottom God is nothing other than an exalted father”46). Ibid. The horde of brothers. human sacrifice—the killing of the father by the primal horde—represents the cornerstone of civilization.. Sacrifice is a symbolically ambivalent deed: it is meant to atone for the patricide through an act that is also its symbolic repetition. sacrifice “offers satisfaction to the father for the outrage inflicted on him in the same act in which that deed is commemorated.”51 Totem and Taboo links human sacrifice to cannibalism. 151. is also a symbolic repetition of the primitive murder—the worshippers direct their murderous impulses against a paternal substitute taking the form of an animal or human. would have inspired him to imagine the Aztecs as Romantic heroes. since they found the fullest atonement for it [the murder of the father] in the sacrifice of his son. 47. p. which always involves the slaying of animals or humans. Unlike Frazer. the father” 47). He spent many years thinking about the role of these two practices in the evolution of civilization. Freud. At its origin. 154. that is to say. 147.”49 Freud is especially interested in the emergence of sacrifice as an integral element of religious practice. p. . what is now worshipped as God.. But for Freud. Ibid. Freud explains. Heine’s poetry. 50. as passionate warriors whose practice of human sacrifice was merely a more honest version of the Christian sacrament of communion. went from crime to anthropophagic feast: “Cannibal savages as they 46. Ibid. it was offered directly to God—a paternal substitute—as a way of atoning for the killing: “The importance which is everywhere. Even the rise of Christianity was merely a sophisticated variation on the primitive crime: “In the Christian doctrine . one of the practices both Frazer and Heine associated with Mexico. Freud was not easily shocked by either human sacrifice or cannibalism. which eventually led to the generalized practice of sacrifice (“The object of an act of sacrifice has always been the same—namely. have been attempts to atone for the brothers’ deed: first came totemic religion (with its two taboos designed to prevent further killings). Human sacrifice and cannibalism play a crucial role in the tale of a primeval parricide told in Totem and Taboo. 49. 151. on the other hand. before culminating with the appearance of kings (“father surrogates”48).. he writes. . All religious and social innovations since then. Freud argues. Totem and Taboo.Freud’s Mexican Antiquities 81 shivers up the spine of even the most sadistic of his patients. p. 51. Ibid. and he wrote at length about them in Totem and Taboo—a work that is both an elaboration of and a response to Frazer’s The Golden Bough. ascribed to sacrifice lies in the fact that it offers satisfaction to the father for the outrage inflicted on him. men were acknowledging in the most undisguised manner the guilty primeval deed. 48.

”54 Freud stresses that Christianity. each of them would be able to carry with him a piece— a good piece—of the father. in which a father substitute. After his death. features as its most important sacrament a symbolic repetition of the cannibalistic feast celebrated by the primal horde. Unlike Frazer. the anthropophagic rituals practiced by “primitive” peoples. Freud considered cannibalism a primitive—perhaps the most primitive—expression of love. in which the company of brothers consumed the flesh and blood of the son—no longer the father—obtained sanctity thereby and identified themselves with him. The father might have been a ruthless tyrant. his power. And since they had no more complex mechanisms at their disposal. 142.55 Freud’s argument turned his readers—at least the Christians among them—into cannibals of sorts who continued to symbolically eat the flesh of a paternal figure even while condemning. Totem and Taboo. and each of them acquired a portion of his strength. the totem animal. was eaten by the group. they ate him out of love. p. it goes without saying that they devoured their victim as well as killing him. a fundamental psychoanalytic concept. emphasizing how the most refined accomplishments of civilization—including the institutions of religion and the law—are built on a foundation of anthropophagic sacrifice. Or. this primitive act of cannibalism underwent a series of transformations through the ages: it was first commemorated by the totem meal. The poet’s comparison of Christian communion and Mexican theanthropic sacrifice fits within the elegant scheme 52. the brothers yearned to become like him—or at least like the portion of his personality they respected and admired. between rational Europeans and cannibalistic Indians. 53.”53 Cannibalism is the cornerstone of identification. 55. 154. If the brothers killed their father out of hatred. Ibid. but there were many aspects of him that the brothers admired: his strength. like Frazer. with time the ritual became more abstract.. the religion of civilized Europe. Ibid. 54. We can thus see how greatly Freud’s views on human sacrifice and cannibalism differed from those expressed by Frazer and Heine. p.82 OCTOBER were.”52 But if the murder was sparked by an irruption of hostile impulses. his sex appeal. until the advent of Christianity. to put it in slightly different terms. Freud insisted on the continuity of these violent impulses from the primal horde to the present. If Frazer established a rigid distinction between civilization and barbarism. they decided to eat him: by incorporating a portion of the dead body. Freud did not believe that these practices were the exclusive domain of savages living in far-away lands. the act of cannibalism stemmed from more complex feelings: “The violent primal father had doubtless been the feared and envied model of each one of the company of brothers: and in the act of devouring him they accomplished their identification with him. Ibid. Freud is closer in spirit to Heine. . Freud. a religion in which “the ancient totem meal was revived in the form of communion. Like sacrifice.

. . our supposedly civilized world is ever on the brink of sliding back into barbarism. Ibid. “the identity of the totem meal with animal sacrifice. solid social institutions. . Freud believes that the impulse to kill and eat the father has not been extinguished. Freud’s schema can account 56. the Aztecs commemorated literally. and had moved beyond the totem meal and animal sacrifices—the Aztecs were still practicing the kind of theanthropic sacrifices cataloged by Frazer. Freud refuses to idealize either savages . and with the Christian Eucharist. but he would have perhaps interpreted it as a classic example of the uncanny: an overwhelming sense of anxiety experienced at the sight of an act repressed from conscious memory. Freud would have considered them simply as a people who openly displayed the hostile impulses that are part and parcel of human nature. they had not yet elevated sacrificial cannibalism into a symbolic ritual.”56 Freud does not comment on the horror experienced by the Spaniards at the discovery of Aztec religion. or his contemporaries. Taboo. He actually places the Aztecs within the historical overview presented in Totem and Taboo : more advanced than the primal horde—they had developed a sophisticated religion. as he would later argue in Civilization and Its Discontents. it has merely undergone a series of transformations and developments through the ages. “We can trace through the ages. with theanthropic human sacrifice. and Multiculturalism One remarkable feature of the historical account presented in Totem and Taboo is its capacity to accommodate every culture and religious system. and we can recognize in all these rituals the effect of the crime by which men were so deeply weighed down but of which they must none the less feel so proud. by selecting a father figure to sacrifice and devour. While most European intellectuals in the early twentieth century saw the Aztecs as cruel practitioners of human sacrifice and cannibalism. modern man differs very little from the murderous horde of brothers. from animism to Judaism and from Aboriginal totemism to Christianity. literal repetition of the primeval killing of the father. Our civilization might have developed institutions to keep violent impulses at bay.” writes Freud. And. Unlike the Spaniards. but at bottom. and thus they remained bound to a recurring. But there is an important difference between the analyst and the poet: while Heine falls under the sway of the Romantic myth of the noble savage and renders his Aztecs more authentic and more passionate than their Spanish counterparts. What had been repressed from civilized Europe—the killing that was the founding act of civilization—returned with shocking literalism in Aztec sacrifice: what the Spaniards repeated metaphorically in the ritual of the Eucharist.Freud’s Mexican Antiquities 83 presented in Totem and Taboo. The anxiety produced by this déjà vu would explain the violence with which Europeans reacted to Aztec sacrificial ceremonies. Totem.

In his view. Hinduism. contemporary Africa. 1913. Edward Said posits Freud’s Moses and Monotheism as a model for thinking about national and ethnic identity. Islam. or medieval Spain. a brilliant little book. and no one culture can lay claim to them. and political borders. other hand. Said notes that Freud’s inquiry into the origins of Judaism opens with a shocking hypothesis: Moses was an Egyptian. as mere illusions. while psychoanalysis treats national and ethnic differences. But if Frazer proceeds like an encyclopedist. Cultures and religions might undergo radical transformations across time and space. The schema presented in Totem and Taboo can be applied to the belief systems of ancient Peru. The approaches taken by Freud and Frazer correspond to the differences between their disciplines: anthropology highlights cultural differences. Freud. European and non-European peoples. Psychoanalytic theory emphasizes the universality of unconscious structures— complexes. Totem and Taboo aspires to universality. focuses on the shared psychic traits linking civilization and barbarism. And if the founding father of Judaism is not Jewish. cataloguing the world’s myriad myths and rituals. Freud acts as a theorist. desires—and the shared psychic traits among people of different cultures. Totem and Taboo. In Freud and the Non-European. and even pre-Columbian belief systems. on the at His Desk. for instance. linguistic. insists on the Oedipus complex as a fundamental structure of the human psyche. religious. “In . and thus the founder of the Jewish religion was a non-Jew. then Jewish identity is predicated on alterity. Frazer assumes a complete discontinuity between European civilizaMax Pollack. found alike in Aborigines. Freud was a multiculturalist avant la lettre : Rather than stressing national specificities. Freud’s inquiry into the identity of his people places the Other at its center. fears. Freud t ion and savage peoples.84 OCTOBER for Buddhism. and Europeans. like religion. but the essential component of the Oedipus complex remains constant. devising a single schema to account for the totality of religious beliefs. as many of his contemporaries did. preColumbians. Freud emphasizes the common traits linking peoples and cultures across geographical. Like The Golden Bough . the unconscious—as well as the structures of the psychic apparatus—are universal attributes of humankind. Formulated in slightly different terms. In his conception. In this sense. all of these religions worship a god that functions as a father substitute and stage rituals that are symbolic repetitions of the primal killing. anxieties.

or even to submit them to the logic of chronological ordering. Freud selected a handful of prized objects for this privileged spot: these were his most treasured pieces.. p. and cannibalistic feasts. 1976). 58. Out of the hundreds of pieces he owned. see Edmund Engelman. Examining the antiquities on Freud’s desk. And all pieces shared the same space: Freud refused to segregate them according to national or geographic origin. Freud and the Non-European (New York: Verso. and Roman figures. Freud’s egalitarian museography is all the more striking if we consider that in the early decades of the twentieth century—the period in which Freud devoted the most energy to his collection—most museums moved in the opposite direction. Mesopotamian. 1938 (New York: Basic Books. 60. the vitrines in his study and consulting room held other objects from Africa.”58 And it is precisely this construction of identity as a dialectical oscillation between self and Other that Freud’s museography sets into motion.59 In addition. . Freud’s collecting was characterized by a Franciscanism of cultures—to paraphrase Roland Barthes’ assessment of Severo Sarduy’s narrative technique. For a full image of the antiquities on Freud’s desk. the “gods” who kept him company as he wrote in his study. when Edmund Engelman photographed the interior of Berggasse 19. Edward W. the Americas. His desk and vitrines became egalitarian territories in which Greek and Roman antiquities—longstanding symbols of European high culture—rubbed shoulders with North-African and Asian figures. and the Far East. Umbrian. Berggasse 19: Sigmund Freud’s Home and Offices. p. Southern and Northern. 44. 1973). Freud’s private pantheon was truly multicultural: a veritable sampling of civilizations ranging from Southern Europe to the Far East. his eyes would have wandered from the paper to the antiquities on his desk.60 He opened the door of Berggasse 19 to representatives from every imaginable ancient civilization.”57 This analysis “mobilized the non-European past in order to undermine any doctrinal attempt that might be made to put Jewish identity on a sound foundational basis. human sacrifices. the viewer is struck by their diversity: there are Egyptian. As Freud worked on Totem and Taboo between 1912 and 1913. and from the Americas to Oceania. and the figurines accompanied him as he meditated on primal hordes. Said. whether religious or secular. carving out separate spaces for European and non-European antiquities. In Freud’s 57. 64. 2004). just before Freud left Vienna. the collection on the desk had grown to encompass Chinese. but rather with other ident it ies (Eg ypt ian and Arabian). Ibid. 59. Vienna. Roland Barthes. 45. What I have called Freud’s multicultural view—and what Said sees as an open theory of identity—is best illustrated by the arrangement of antiquities on his desk. Eastern and Western. as captured in an etching by Max Pollak from 1914. By 1938. Greek. plate 25. Le Plaisir du texte (Paris: Seuil. p. as well as more Roman and Egyptian pieces. “Freud insisted that it did not begin with it self.” Said writes.Freud’s Mexican Antiquities 85 excavating the archaeology of Jewish identity.

Mexican. Lynn Gamwell. . and Eg ypt ian antiquities at the Museum of Art History. Civilizat ion and its Discontents . where they shared gallery space with mineral collections. a Museum of the Unconscious. If Freud had opened a museum in Vienna. built on opposite sides of a plaza on the Ringstrasse and opened with great fanfare in 1891 and 1889. and Asian objects. the Palace on the Ringstrasse that lost its imperial tenants after the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918.000-year-old Egyptian masks sit next to Greek vases from the fifth century BCE and Mexican pieces from the pre-Columbian era—as if the same creative drive had remained constant through the ages. Like the unconscious. as evidence that Chinese and Egyptians. Freud Amid Moctezuma’s Treasures In addition to his readings. The cit y’s cultural officials exhibited Greek. when the city inaugurated the Museum of Ethnography. in the Hofburg. 24. nor ethnographic: it would have been a Museum des Unbewussten. the Museum of Natural History held one of Europe’s most important collections of Mexican antiquities. This collection has an unusual and fascinating history 61. where he often met Julius Banko. 1989). pre-Columbian. it would have been neither art-histor ical. on the other hand. Freud would have come into contact with an important collection of Mexican antiquities during his frequent visits to the Viennese museums of Art History and Natural History.61 Banko worked at the Museum of Art Histor y.” Sigmund Freud and Art: His Personal Collection of Antiquities (New York: Harry N. and other products of “natural” history. p. the Emperor’s meteorite samples. Roman. and African collections. Greeks and Africans shared the same complexes and fantasies. Abrams. Franz Josef inaugurated two grand institutions structured by this cultural divide: the Art History and the Natural History museums. respect ively. Like Totem and Taboo . director of the antiquities collection and an expert who authenticated some of his purchases. the antiquities grouped in Freud’s collection exist in a realm that is timeless: 4. The cultural divide separating European and non-European antiquities became even more pronounced in 1928. Freud treats antiquities as universal products of the psyche. were sent across the street. Across the street . Freud’s museography is an experiment in applied psychoanalysis. This new museum became—and continues to be—the repository of the nation’s Asian. Peruvian.86 OCTOBER Vienna. prehistoric fossils. “The Origins of Freud’s Antiquities Collection. Freud’s egalitarian arrangement seems to stress that the antiquities ultimately came from the same place: from the unconscious creative processes of artisans and artists. including several Aztec pieces sent to Europe during the first days of the conquest. and Moses and Monotheism. presenting these ancient cultures as precursors to the Italian Renaissance and Austrian baroque paintings housed under the same roof.

The first director. slate artifacts from Mezcala. The treasures sent to Charles V from the Americas included the set of objects known as “Moctezuma’s presents. Ferdinand von Hochstetter (1829–1884). Spain was ruled by a Hapsburg.” In 1519. he acquired some of the Empire’s most important American objects. The Mexican collection was among the most important in Europe. 1938. Charles V distributed them among relatives and friends. In only a few year s. Cortés accepted . including the Ambras Collection—assembled by Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol in the late sixteenth century—as well as the collection amassed by Maximilian von Hapsburg during his years in Mexico. spent the first years of his tenure enlarging the collection and purchasing important holdings of Mexican art scattered throughout the Austro -Hungar ian Empire. worth retelling. and even various codices. Charles V. Berggasse 19. and it also attested to the close historical ties that had bound Austria and Mexico since the sixteenth century: at the time of the conquest.Freud’s Mexican Antiquities 87 Edmund Engelman. when Cortés and his men disembarked on the Gulf Coast of Mexico. The Museum of Natural History (designed by Carl Hasenauer and founded in the 1870s) started with a small but valuable collection that included an Aztec headdress and other rare examples of Mexican feather art that had been sent to Europe shortly after the conquest. stone sculptures from Central Mexico. The Consulting Room. the Aztec emperor Moctezuma sent an envoy to present the newcomers with a treasure trove of gifts. By the time the Museum of Natural History opened to the public. and many of the pieces eventually wound up in Austria. its holdings had grown exponentially to include hundreds of Mexican objects: Aztec featherwork. hundreds of treasures were shipped from the Americas to Europe. an heir to the dynasty that to this day Spanish speakers call “la casa de los Austrias.” During the rule of this “Austrian” monarch.

pp. made of bright quetzal feathers. where they were seen by Albrecht Dürer—an artist Freud admired and whose engravings decorated his study. In 1908.88 OCTOBER the goods. Maximilian was a collector. . it turned the headdress into one of the museum’s main attractions. 91–105. 1. the melancholic ruler who met such a tragic fate and had inspired a long tradition of European iconography depicting him as a majestic hero in all his glory. the younger brother of Franz Josef. 63. p. ed. vol. like its Viennese model. accepted an outlandish offer concocted by Napoleon III as part of his Machiavellian designs to expand the French territories and became Emperor of Mexico. Dürer marveled at the exotic beauty of these Mexican treasures. he would have believed that it once belonged to Moctezuma. catalogued them. See Gubel. Schriftlicher Nachlass. and three at the Museum of Art History in Vienna.” Vienna’s Mexican Treasures. but at least two—a mosaic shield and a codex—surfaced in Vienna. Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. to archaeology and natural history. but it cannot be traced to Moctezuma). “Images of Amer ica in the German Renaissance. only ten are now preserved at the Museum für Völkerkunde . 32. Some scholars believe that the headdress was actually part of a Huit zilopocht li outfit worn by Aztec priests—a hypothesis that would link the celebrated object to the long tradition of Vitzliputzli imagery represented in Heine’s poetry and Frazer’s studies.62 In his diary. and sent them to the king. Maximilian. 1956).” First Images of America.64 The historical ties binding Austria to Mexico remained strong. One was a present from Emmanuel Löwy. as its first director. 62. p. Maximilian was so serious about this project that he founded an Imperial Museum in Mexico City that was devoted. ed. Freud owned three prints by Dürer. Even though this hypothesis has since been proven wrong (the object is indeed from the sixteenth century. The Emperor appointed a fellow Austrian. Charles took them to Belgium in 1520. 1976). like most of his contemporaries. 1. an American archaeologist named Zelia Nuttall traveled to Vienna to attend the International Congress of Americanists and stunned her audience with a paper arguing that the feather headdress in the Museum of Natural History had belonged to the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma and was part of the original set of gifts sent by Cortés to Charles V. a Cistercian priest named Dominik Bilimek. p. Sphinx de Vienne. Hans Rupprich (Berlin: Deutscher Verein für Kunst wissenschaft . Christian Feest writes: “Of a much larger number of Mexican objects whose presence in the sixteenth and seventeenth century Austrian collections can be documented. where they can still be seen today at the Museum of Ethnography and the Prunksaal. Freud would have most likely been impressed by the sight of it. Albrecht Dürer. 20. See also Harold Jant z. and he spent a good deal of his three years in Mexico acquiring hundreds of Aztec and Maya sculptures. But Charles V was not the last Hapsburg with a Mexican connection—or the last one to send antiquities to Vienna.63 Moctezuma’s presents were dispersed in the centuries following the conquest. . In 1864. . and. Fredi Chiappelli (Berkeley: University of California Press. 64. vol. 155.

As he contemplated these objects. Walking through the Mexican galleries. t he fat her of t he pr imal horde. since so many of its objects were the remnants of Hapsburg imperial ventures. Christ—and he would have seen Maximilian’s execution as yet another eruption of the Oedipal tensions that were part and parcel of human nature. treasures sent from New Spain to Charles V. Robertson Smith’s discussion of . Moses. and stone sculptures purchased by Bilimek for the Imperial Museum. Unlike most of his compatriots. but as a dramatic illustration of the ideas presented in Totem and Taboo. ruler s. Freud would have witnessed the evidence of Austria’s long and complicated ties to Mexico: he would have seen gifts given by Moctezuma to Cortés. Freud would have considered t he execut ion of Maximilian not as an outburst of Mexican savagery. and returned to Vienna with an extensive collection of his own that he eventually sold to the same museum. Freud would have recalled his readings on Mexico: Frazer’s hair-raising accounts of Aztec cannibalism and human sacrifice. As he strolled through Vienna’s Natural History Museum. Freud surely pondered the bloody rituals described by Frazer and Heine for which so many of the objects on display were made to serve. Freud analyzed Nineteenth-century many instances of these historical murders— engraving of Moctezuma. The Museum of Natural History not only housed an important collection of Mexikanische Kostbarkeiten—“Mexican treasures. His essay argued that one of the most primitive traits in t he human psyche involved a murderous impulse against father figures—a primal drive that had often erupted into actual killings of kings. and he must have meditated on the close ties that bound Austrians of his generation to Mexican sacrificial violence: Maximilian’s execution—one of the most traumatic events in nineteenth-century Austrian history—was perceived by his contemporaries as proof that human sacrifice per sisted in Mexico 400 year s after t he Conquest. it also doubled as a Museum of Austro-Mexican relations. or prophet s. antiquities amassed by Maximilian.Freud’s Mexican Antiquities 89 Maximilian’s reign was short lived—he was executed by firing squad in 1867—but his collection of Mexican antiquities survived: it was shipped back to Austria and eventually acquired by the Museum of Natural History. Bilimek escaped from the imperial misadventure.” as they are still known—but.

p.”65 Others argued that Mexico was settled by the lost tribes of Israel. Freud did not carve out separate spaces for his European and nonEuropean antiquities. Kircher argued that Aztec religion was simply a variant of Egyptian idolatry: like the Egyptians. Athanasius Kircher. Roman st atuettes rubbed shoulder s with Chinese animals. and Heine’s mischievous tale of a defeated Vitzliputzli who decided to spend the rest of his days tormenting Europeans to avenge the destruction of Aztec culture. Could not Freud’s refusal to allocate separate spaces to the various peoples in his collection be read as a denial of cultural difference? Doesn’t his arrangement of object s ignore the deep differences bet ween Greek and Chinese. but merely variations of civilizations that were already known. European intellectuals were baffled by the sudden emergence of a new continent inhabited by a people who were radically different from all existing cultural paradigms. In his Oedipus Aegyptiacus. Freud would have seen his own collection of antiquities as a miniature version of the imperial museums: his rooms. One of the most famous of these deniers of American originality was the German Jesuit Athanasius Kircher. Japanese figurines. Upon returning home to Berggasse. The Moche vase was stored in the same case as Greek vases. the Mexicans built pyramids. But unlike the museums on the Ringstrasse. All of these hypotheses had one element in com65. and his Chinese screens. Conclusion But perhaps Freud’s museography. . Faced with an enigmatic America. Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1652–54). separated by a nearly endless interruption of land and sea. or by Phoenicians or Carthaginians.” Kircher concluded. Greek and Roman antiquities share the same space. “It seems to surpass all marvels. we know they were housed under the same roof as the many other Western and non-Western pieces.90 OCTOBER theantropic rituals. and worshipped the sun. some argued that the cultures of the Aztecs and the Inca were not new. collapsing them all into an overarching concept of “the primitive”? Could Freud’s museography be interpreted as another instance of the many efforts by Europeans to deny the importance of American cultures? After Columbus’s discovery. 417. in which Mexican. practiced a polytheistic cult. and although we can’t be certain of the exact location of the Mexican pieces. and Hellenic figurines stood under Egyptian masks. and pre-Columbian objects echoed the much larger holdings of the Museum of Natural Histor y. Egyptian. In Freud’s home museum. calls for a slightly more pessimistic reading. “that the Egyptian rites traveled as far as the New World. Peruvian and Egyptian cultures. filled with Greek vases and Roman figurines were a small-scale recreation of the classical galleries of the Museum of Art History.

”66 Did Freud’s museography. Freud’s museum refuses all hierarchies and places European and non-European cultures on the same plane . On Freud’s American porcupine see George Prochnik. “The Porcupine Illusion. China.” Cabinet 26 (Summer 2007). we discover that Europe does not have a monopoly over the center: Greek and Roman figurines. Japan. and unlike Europhobic thinkers. Obras completas. believe that the Aztecs and the Incas were ultimately indistinguishable from the Egyptians? Would Paz have criticized Freud’s display of Mexican and Peruvian pieces as yet another example of the “coveringup” of American cultures? Kircher and his followers gave primacy of place to European civilization and considered all other cultures—from China to Mexico—as derivative. Octavio Paz. but Freud had a different set of values. “It would not be an exaggeration to conclude that the discovery of America was followed by a long period of covering-up [encubrimiento]. amount to a denial of the originality of American civilizations? Did the placement of Mexican and Peruvian antiquities in a room filled with Egyptian. Moses and Monotheism placed alterity at the center of Freud’s construction of Judaism as a polyvalent identity. and Roman antiquities serve to flatten out the differences among the people who created these objects? Did Freud.Freud’s Mexican Antiquities 91 mon: they denied the cultural originality of American civilizations by assimilating them into cultural models that were already known to the Europeans. and on the same desk. not one that can claim primacy over the rest. he did not see distant civilizations as mere copies of a superior European model. Mexico. As Octavio Paz has written. 23–27. like Kircher’s Oedipus Aegyptiacus. like Kircher. 28. Freud reached a similar conclusion through the excavation of the archaeological past represented by his collection of antiquities: digging further and further into the origins of civilization. VII (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica. We had to wait until the end of the eighteenth century for the beginning of the slow discovery of American civilizations—a process that has not yet concluded. share center stage with Chinese jades and even a newworld porcupine cast in bronze—a souvenir from Freud’s only visit to America in 1909. 1994). refusing to establish a hierarchy between European and non-European cultures. Earlier I discussed Edward Said’s claim that by making Moses into a nonJew. . . There is not a single one of these cultures that trumps the other. Los privilegios de la vista. p. in Europe. . simultaneously. longstanding symbols of European civilization. and Peru. Egypt. Greek. . he did not merely invert the equation to make Europe’s Others into noble savages. 67. . he discovered that the earliest artistic representations sprung. .67 Freud placed objects from non-European civilizations at the center of his museum. 66. Unlike ethnocentric critics. pp. To accept the originality of the two great American civilizations—Andean and Mesoamerican—was and still is difficult. If we look at Freud’s desk as the central exhibition space of his museum.

. as Said suggested.92 OCTOBER European and non-European civilizations coexist in Freud’s museum as different manifestations of the same universal human drive to make art. but he might have added that je—the “I” of every speaking subject—is not only an other but is also unconscious. identity—whether European or non-European—is built on the double pillars of the unconscious and alterity: “Je suis inconscient ” and “L’inconscient est un autre”—an otherness that Freud highlighted in his collecting practice. Freud could have taken Rimbaud’s famous utterance—“Je est un autre”—as the motto for his museum of antiquities. Or rather.