Setting Lincoln straight (an interview with Charles Strozier)
🖋 Arthur Eaton

credit-donnelly-marksMost biographers make psychological judgments about their subjects all the time – they simply don’t recognize them as such. Not psychohistorian Charles Strozier. A conversation.

by Arthur Eaton

Essay from dBNg 2016#6

  • Charles B. Strozier, Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln (Columbia University Press 2016), 352 blz. (bestel)

img_9202Charles B. Strozier – Chuck – lives on a leafy street in Brooklyn, New York City. My girlfriend and I visited him on a sunny morning in October. I agreed to speak with him about his latest book on the friendship between Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed – Your Friend Forever. Strozier is a psychohistorian, which means that he writes history using insights from psychology. He has written about a wide range of topics, such as Christian fundamentalism in the United States, and survivors of the 9/11 attacks. His first book, Lincoln’s Quest for Union, was an acclaimed analysis of Abraham Lincoln’s inner life. And his work has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize on two occasions. Strozier practices psychoanalysis in a second office downtown, but here in Brooklyn is “where the magic happens”. A portrait of his late father, also a well-known academic, looks out for him – and possibly down on him – from one of the walls of his otherwise book-lined study. Surrounding his father are five poster-size reproductions of the covers of his books. Whenever he mentions one of them during our conversation, he proudly points at the cover.

abraham-lincoln joshua-speed

Psychohistory has been a contested field for as long as it has existed. Historians are skeptical because psychohistorians focus on topics and questions that they consider unknowable – the subjectivity of historical figures; psychologists, in turn, have questioned the possibilities of applying psychological theories to people who cannot speak back, who are often, in fact, dead. But psychohistory has produced a number of very beautiful and sensitive works of scholarship, and Chuck is one of its greatest living representatives. By empathically engaging with his subjects, as he does with his patients in Manhattan, Strozier brings his characters to life – gives them texture and psychological depth. Strozier’s latest book, Your Friend Forever, looks into the much discussed relationship between Abraham Lincoln and his best friend, the businessman Joshua Speed. In a difficult period of his life – when he was young, poor and mourning the death of his first love, the future President spent four years of his life living in a room with Speed. This fact has spurred the imagination of many students of Lincoln’s life. Strozier’s latest book looks into this relationship closely. The following interview is a condensed version of a heavily caffeinated discussion about Abraham Lincoln, biography and psychoanalysis.

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