The Case of “Liliane W.”
and Her Class on Freud

Teaching | When Dr. Liliane Weissberg looked around Penn, she noticed that no one was teaching Sigmund Freud—not the psychology department, not Germanic languages and literature, and not history. So she decided to create a course where students could analyze their Viennese pastry and eat it, too. “I wanted to do something that was highly unusual, truly interdisciplinary, and frankly over the top,” says Weissberg, the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor in the School of Arts and Sciences and professor of German and comparative literature.

“Freud and the Invention of Psychoanalysis,” taught for the first time this past spring to 100 students, seems to have satisfied all three objectives. One moment students were engaged in “hot discussion” on Freud’s theories of hysteria; the next they were eating pastry supplied by Weissberg and imagining themselves in a Viennese coffee house.

The course delved into psychoanalytic theory, Viennese culture and urban space, medical education during Freud’s time, and psychoanalysis as a profession today. Along with a syllabus full of Freud’s writings, Weissberg captivated students’ interest with guest lecturers (including practitioners and opponents of psychoanalysis as well as the famed sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer), lively “Freud salons” held around campus, and even an orchestra outing.

“I bought tickets in February for the class to go to a Gustav Mahler concert at the Kimmel Center, so they could see Viennese music performed,” says Weissberg, who invited her students to dress up as if they were going to an opera in Vienna. “We had several people in long gowns and two who, out of a sense of Joan Crawford, came with triple eyelashes and so on. They had an absolute ball.” They also had a personal audience with Philadelphia Orchestra music director Christoph Eschenbach, who spoke about Mahler’s music.

After a visit from Dr. Joseph Turow, the Robert Lewis Shayon Professor of Communication, students had to produce a commercial or advertisement reflecting their knowledge of Freud. “There was a case study of the ‘Wolf Man’ that would keep you in stitches,” Weissberg says.

Because it covered so many areas, the class was cross-listed under several disciplines, from women’s studies to the history and sociology of science, and was offered as part of the College’s pilot curriculum. Weissberg hopes to teach it again in 2005-06.

Khalid Hadeed C’04 gave the course high marks for its stimulating discussions and guest lectures, its accessible T.A.s, and its attention to the impact of Freudian ideas on later schools of thought. “More than anything,” he added, “what made the class was [Weissberg’s] vivacious, hilarious, theatrical way of teaching.”

Weissberg describes Freud as “a figure I’ve been very much interested in, in my work. He was very eager to establish psychoanalysis as a science, and as the science of the 20th century. He published his seminal work, The Interpretation of Dreams in 1899, but he wanted to make the point that it was a new century he was starting, and so he put 1900 on the cover.”

Judith Rubin Morse Garfinkel CW’56, who audited the course on Freud, says she enjoyed learning about the “normal and endearing” side of the scientist. “I was thrilled to find out that he wasn’t a kook or a nut, but an admirable and brilliant person who discovered a theory that has, truly, changed the world. Someone I told about the course said that Freud was out of fashion. Really? Is water out of fashion? Is breathing out of fashion? That’s how important and significant is the work of Sigmund Freud,” Garfinkel says. “I doubt I would have come to realize this without Liliane Weissberg and this class.”

For her part, Weissberg was surprised at students’ engagement and their willingness to read long and difficult texts. “They had to work very hard,” she said. The pastry “was basically to keep them going.”—S.F.

2004 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 07/01/04


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