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Library of Congres Postpones Exhibit on Freud due to Scrutiny and Budget

By Marc Fisher
The Washington Post

The Library of Congress, facing budget pressures and sharp criticism from an angry faction of academics, postponed Monday night by at least a year a major exhibition examining Sigmund Freud and his sweeping impact on 20th-century society.

The library, repository of the world's largest collection of papers and artifacts from the father of psychoanalysis, had planned to open its vaults and mount "Sigmund Freud: Conflict and Culture" next winter.

But with Freud and his model of human behavior under fierce attack in academia, with psychoanalysis in decline under the new regime of managed care, and with museums facing ever-closer scrutiny of their versions of history, the library found itself accused of lending its prestige to an exhibition that, as one critic said, "promises to be uninformed, uncritical and unacceptably partisan."

Officially, the library blamed the delay on shaky funding in a difficult budget climate. But in addition to finances, Librarian James Billington and other officials Monday discussed recent reports in the academic press of protests by Freud critics.

Other library officials said criticism of the exhibit's content was the primary factor in the decision.

"We discussed everything from postponing to cancellation to going ahead as planned," said Irene Burnham, director of the library's interpretive programs. "I know the implication is that we are recasting it to meet the critics' objections, but the postponement is to give us time to develop the exhibit fully along the lines already defined."

"How can they allow themselves to be so disingenuous as to say this is about money?" said Peter Swales, a historian of psychoanalysis who is leading the opposition to the library's show. "This exhibition needed to be discredited as something conceived in bad faith. Canceling it is the only decent and honorable thing to do."

More than a year before the exhibition was to open, Swales and about 50 psychologists, historians and others - including physician and author Oliver Sacks and feminist author Gloria Steinem - signed a petition protesting it.

Swales said the exhibit was meant not to educate the general public about psychoanalysis, but "to force-feed them Freud by securing advertising space in a federal institution."