Skip to main content

Getting Alienated Freudians to Associate

The New York Times, March 25, 2000

Sometimes a bookstore is just a bookstore.

But sometimes, as today’s Freudians should know, it is also a publisher, a Web site and a gathering place for readings, lectures and book parties. At least that is the case with Other Books, on the first floor of a turn-of-the century brownstone on West 20th Street in Chelsea. The store’s window displays an Interpretation of Dreams T-shirt and a “Freudian Slips” post-it pad to “write what’s really on your mind.” Inside the front room, titles like “Before I was I” and “Ours, Yours, Mine” are packed into bursting shelves, while crammed in the back are desks and flat-screen computers for editing books and journals. And at the rear of the building is a small office (with couch, of course) where Michael Moskowitz, Other Press’s publisher, sees his patients.

An analyst, an academic and an editor, Mr. Moskowitz, 49, is a psychoanalytic entrepreneur with a mission. He wants to rescue psychoanalysis from the academic isolation and bitter scholarly skirmishes that have dogged it for the last 20 years by bridging the divide between clinicians and theorists who work in various disciplines. In the process, he hopes to turn Other Books into an intellectual center for psychoanalysis, psychology and cultural studies.

“Postwar American psychoanalysis did itself a tremendous disservice by cutting itself off from the culture at large,” he said one day recently, sipping a glass of wine over lunch at a Chelsea bistro. A compact man with shoulder-length hair and piercing eyes, Mr. Moskowitz speaks of psychoanalysis with the pained concern one might use to describe a wayward child. “On the one hand, it refused to recognize that all sorts of nonanalysts could legitimately use psychoanalytic theory. On the other hand, it cut itself off from real experimental science.

“At Other Press, we want to get scientists talking to humanists, clinicians to theorists, Lacanians to Freudians, and Americans to analysts all over the world.”

Compared with the near-glacial time frame one associates with psychoanalysis, Other Press’s progress has been extremely rapid. In less than two years, Mr. Moskowitz has opened the bookstore, published the company’s first 30 titles, acquired three journals (including Psychoanalytic Quarterly, the oldest independent journal on the topic), and founded a new interdisciplinary journal, Infant, Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy. Last fall Other Press purchased Karnac Books, Britain’s pre-eminent psychoanalytic bookseller and publisher, along with its two London bookstores and 250-title backlist.

Now Mr. Moskowitz is trying to turn his Web site into what he calls “the Amazon of psychoanalysis,” offering a psychoanalytic best-seller list and chapters from Other Press’s own books and journals.

“We want to be the destination for psychotherapists and people interested in cultural studies and related areas,” Mr. Moskowitz explained. “There are over 500,000 therapists in the U.S. and several million around the world.”

Other Press publishes widely in the field, including a series introducing the notoriously difficult ideas of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, that is being edited by Mr. Moskowitz’s business partner, Judith Fehrer-Gurewich, a Belgian psychoanalyst with a law degree and a Ph.D. in sociology. It was she who raised funds for Other Press from European investment bankers with an interest in psychoanalysis.

Other new books are John Gedo’s “Evolution of Psychoanalysis,” a comprehensive overview of the field, as well as the reissue of several psychoanalytic classics, like “The Fifty-Minute Hour” by Robert Lindner and the feminist study “The Mermaid and the Minotaur” by Dorothy Dinnerstein.

Mr. Moskowitz is embarking on his venture at a time when psychoanalysis has taken a beating in both the academic world, where there have been nasty battles over Freud’s theories and experimental practices, and the marketplace, where managed care and antidepressants have sharply curtailed the availability of therapy – especially expensive, time-consuming psychoanalysis. Leading university presses like Yale and Harvard as well as established trade houses have virtually ceased publishing psychoanalytic books.

But Mr. Moskowitz is unfazed, and to scholars and analysts who have wearied of what they call the “Freud wars,” Other Press represents a refreshingly open and nondogmatic perspective.

Jonathan Lear, a philosopher and psychoanalyst who teaches at the University of Chicago, says: “The best response to the critics of Freud is not to answer them point by point, but to do something new and interesting. And that is precisely what Michael is doing by providing a forum for the most creative work going on today.” Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, the Anna Freud biographer and co-author of “Cherishment,” a study of Eastern and Western theories of emotional attachment, says, “A wonderful rejuvenation of psychoanalysis is taking place, and Other Press is the cafe for the process.”

Despite various setbacks, Mr. Moskowitz and others are convinced that psychoanalysis is developing a broader intellectual and social significance.

“Twenty years ago, psychoanalysis was predominately white, male and middle-class,” said Kirkland Vaughns, an African-American psychoanalyst who is the editor of Infant, Child and Adolescent Psychotherapy. “A tremendous amount has been learned since then that can benefit emotionally disturbed black and Hispanic kids who are usually sent straight to the juvenile justice system.”

There are few disciplines that have not been influenced by psychoanalysis, and new programs in psychoanalytic studies have recently been founded at Emory University, Columbia University and the University of Chicago. “As a cultural phenomenon, this is the great age of psychoanalysis,” says Richard J. Bernstein, the head of the philosophy department at the New School for Social Research. “Our courses on it draw students from a greater variety of disciplines than ever before.”

The son of an immigrant Hungarian plumber, Mr. Moskowitz has always perceived himself as someone who was, as in the title of his book, “Reaching Across Boundaries of Culture and Class.” He grew up in Port Jervis, N.Y., an upstate town, and his first encounter with Freud came at age 14 when he found a copy of “The Interpretation of Dreams” his sister had brought home from college.

Arriving at Columbia in 1967, Mr. Moskowitz was shocked to find that the Psychology 101 course didn’t include Freud. “No one reads that stuff anymore,” he was told by a professor. Accordingly, in good 60’s fashion, Mr. Moskowitz took over a class and brought in an analyst from the medical school. After receiving his Ph.D. in psychology from City University and his analytic training at New York University, Mr. Moskowitz taught, worked in mental hospitals and started a community-based counseling center for traumatized Vietnam veterans in New Haven.

In 1992 he joined Jason Aronson, a publisher of books on psychology and Judaica, and for the next five years ran the psychology half of the business. In 1998 he was approached by Ms. Gurewich with a proposal to start a press of their own.

Mr. Moskowitz is determined to develop Other Press’s scope both here and abroad. He is talking to the London School of Economics about creating a think tank to analyze social issues from a psychoanalytic perspective, and he wants to start a journal in South America, where psychoanalysis seems to be thriving (“Every hill town in Argentina has an analyst,” he says).

But New York is still at the psychological heart. “What I love about the bookstore is that it is a real space, a safe community where all are welcome and ideas can be freely exchanged,” Mr. Moskowitz said. “The fact is that we are biological animals who live in culture. Psychoanalysis is the only theory I know of that tries to explain both these things.”