Online-Vortrag von Dr. Cristian Cercel „Of Lives and Letters: The Incomplete Story of the Incomplete Correspondence between Sigmund Freud and Eduard Silberstein“

  • 09. April 2024 08:00 - 09:30
  • Online

Of Lives and Letters: The Incomplete Story of the Incomplete Correspondence between Sigmund Freud and Eduard Silberstein.

Cristian Cercel (IDGL, Tübingen)

The originals of eighty letters addressed by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) to Eduard Silberstein (1856-1925) between 1871 and 1881, published in volume more than a century later (1989/1990), are deposited at the Library of Congress. They have been digitized and are freely available online for everyone to peruse. Bar seven of them and a postcard, the letters were bought by the Sigmund Freud Archives (SFA) in 1978 for 100,000 USD. SFA subsequently offered them to LOC. The rest was acquired in 2009 by LOC from an antiquities dealer in New York, who had in his turn acquired them from an antiquities dealer from Berlin, who had bought them from an undisclosed seller from Germany.

The person from whom the first set of letters was acquired was one Heinz Stănescu (1921-1994). Born in Vienna, Stănescu was living in Germany in 1978, after ‘defecting’ from Romania, where he had lived almost his entire life, a few years before. Stănescu was Jewish; a Holocaust survivor; homosexual; literary historian and university professor whose specialism was German-language literature from Romania; Securitate officer; Securitate informer; victim of the Securitate. He was also distantly related to Silberstein, although he was not Silberstein’s next of kin.

When the letters were published in volume in 1989/1990 (in both original and in English translation), the edition included almost no information about their provenience. The preface noted that SFA acquired the originals, but did not specify from whom. Moreover, the publication of a short appendix on Silberstein authored by his granddaughter in 1988 could make one falsely assume that the letters had actually been in the possession of Silberstein’s heirs.

The talk presents the attempt – and the difficulties one comes across in such an attempt – to reconstruct the history of the correspondence as both thing (material object) and text. The biography of the letters is placed in relationship with the biographies of those – individuals and institutions – who owned them at different moments, or who claimed to own them. In doing this, it critically engages with questions of ownership, with changing concepts and understandings of provenience, and with archival and collecting practices throughout various political systems and over a period of more than a century. Furthermore, in trying to delineate the biography and the trajectory of the letters, from Vienna and the Habsburg Empire to Brăila in eastern Romania, to Bucharest, and then to Washington, DC, via Frankfurt, Berlin, and New York, the talk invites towards a reconsideration of spatializations of German and Central European history often taken for granted.

Cristian Cercel is researcher at the Institute for Danube Swabian History and Regional Studies in Tübingen. He holds a BA in European Studies (Bucharest), an MA in Nationalism Studies (Central European University, Budapest), and a PhD in Politics (Durham). Between 2016 and 2022, Cercel was postdoctoral researcher with the Institute for Social Movements at Ruhr University Bochum. He is the author of Romania and the Quest for European Identity: Philo-Germanism without Germans (Routledge, 2019). He has published articles in Nationalities Papers (2011), East European Politics and Societies and Cultures (2015), Nationalism and Ethnic Politics (2017), History and Memory (2018), Journal of War and Culture Studies (2019), Immigrants and Minorities (2023). His research focuses on German minorities, migration studies, settler colonial studies, memory studies, nationalism and ethnic politics.

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