Writing Freud: Addenda

Doug Davis[1]
Haverford College

Response by Prof. Wyatt MacGaffey

When Freud's father died, young Sigmund bought a new lease on life which he used productively to invent a new thing — psychoanalysis — which insured his subsequent immortality. The death of S. Freud has often been announced. Only 20 years ago a number of feminists were observed dancing on his grave. Nevertheless in recent years a part of the growing Freud industry includes a whole sub-genre of feminist psychoanalysis in which the slaughtered father re-emerges as a deified totem figure, thus reenacting Freud's own paradigmatic account of the origin of civilization in his book "Totem and taboo."

Having once been given tenure and elected to Council, Douglas has overcome his own castration anxieties and is now launched upon a series of publications having to do with that archetypal father figure, Sigmund Freud. It's true however, that nobody really grows up, so it's not an accident that Douglas has this evening been smitten with what is evidently an hysterical sore throat.

I'm very impressed with the rhetorical sweep of what Douglas has to say, and I don't wish to narrow it by asking niggling questions. I would rather like to say how I've personally been touched by what I've heard in what I do myself. I am an anthropologist, and I have heard this account this evening as a kind of allegory, almost a metaphor, for my own discipline (which is anthropology) and more broadly of our own relations to the rest of the world which can be seen as covering in much the same way and approximately the same period from 1850 to 1990. 1850 is just about the period of the beginning of anthropology and the early decades of anthropology are very much the flavor of early Freud's neurotica, that is to say we're examining those people out there scientifically and we're going to explain what causes them to be as mixed up as they are. Gradually we discover that this scientific project of ours on the one hand does not have the expected benefits, because it does not result, in the 20th century, in what we used to call development, a word which now has an ironic tinge to it. Not only that but we have more and more discovered that what was supposed to be an objective account of those other people out there, turns out to be an account of ourselves, an invention of ourselves to use a term which has become fashionable lately, we have begun now in the last decade or so to see anthropology as a form of intersubjectivity in much the same way that psychoanalysis in a sense confuses the relationship between who is the problem, who is the physician. Now if that is the case, then in a sense Freud is not really the inventor of "Modernity" so much as he is the inventory of "Post-Modernity." But of course on that topic there are other people here more qualified to talk than I. I would like not to ask a question of Douglas, which I will leave to you to do, but will ask you to reflect a little bit at least, upon the fact that we are all psychologists and we are all anthropologists, in the sense that we all have comments to offer, a theory to offer of our relations to other people and why it is that other people are not what we would like them to be - why we are ourselves who we are and in that sense what is it that we learned from this particular story of Freud? What is intersubjectivity? How do we resolve the tension between the relatively comforting but in the end unprofitable assumption that we can somehow look at them as though they were a clinical problem? And the somehow more rewarding and yet baffling and anti-therapeutic kind of discovery, in the words of Pogo, that "Them is us."

D2: Thank you, Wyatt, for among other things reminding me that the last time I stood before you in a faculty research talk, I was just back from Morocco, an experience that was baffling and overwhelming, like Freud's self-analysis. There are a great many things I wished to have said, some of which I thought this morning I would in fact have said, but as you can probably detect I'm not at my rhetorical strongest today — seems to be viral but it may be a kind of hysterical aphonia in which case you ought to be asking me my opinions about Freud's treatment of Dora, which sort of rounds off the Interpretation of Dreams.

Where would you like to go? I've presumed at some points very little and at other points a good deal. I haven't told you much about the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Wilhelm Fliess, although it's quite clear that it's an essential relationship if you want to understand Freud's early work. Nor have I said much in fact about Wyatt has eluded to which is the whole vexed issue of Freudian gender psychology. A few years ago, as part of a symposium I helped to set up here titled "Complex Femininity," Carol Gilligan delivered a talk in which she suggested that the Freud of 1895 — who is roughly the Freud of 1896, that is the one who believes in the reality of abuse and traumatic experience (the later Freud, by the way, does not cease to believe that such things happen and that when they happen they can be pathological, he just no longer considers them a necessary precondition for the neurosis) — what Carol Gilligan suggested, and I think it bears repeating, is that in this earlier Freud we find a powerful empathy with victims of abuse, which she finds strikingly lacking in, among other things, the Dora case published a decade later. And her, if I can paraphrase her, her conviction seems to be that what gets in the way is Freud's theory, that something about the resolution of all of these tangles in the articulation of the psychosexual theory of development somehow blinds Freud to female experience. I think that's an argument that deserves examination, but what I'd say at the outset is, whatever it does for his ability to characterize female experience, it reorients his own experience in a striking way. It is the move that allows him to articulate a universal Oedipal fixation on fathers by little boys that also frees him to ask his mother about his early erotic life, a question that I think he never poses very directly — and if we're going to build large symbolic consequences for this move in the late 1890s, I think it is in fact the consequence of this focus on Oedipal psychology that it has fallen to the post-Freudians, many more of whom are female, to begin to articulate a pre-Oedipal psychology, a psychology which is about early mother/child relations and not about father relations.

D2: Yes, Wyatt.

(question not audible)

D2: Did I remember to tell you that Freud was 29 when he got his Assistant Professorship, and that he was 46 when he achieved the status of "Professor Extraordinarious"? There is no Freud scholarship without a transference onto Freud — that's "Point a." Point b: I used to tell the story of Freud's abandonment of the seduction theory and conclude, "At this point Freud lost the opportunity to have a chapter in the history of psychiatry devoted to him, and instead set himself on the course to have an entire curriculum devoted to him." The good news is that we have now a theory that touches everyone. We have an argument that touches all aspects of life. The bad news is that abuse occurs, and the reality of child abuse has been increasingly a matter of public concern in the last decade. We have an eerie sense that there are many neuroses which are in fact "perversions displaced by a generation." I have in fact argued — in my in-press paper on the seduction theory — that this is truly a theory for the 90s: it was a theory that made sense to Freud, characterizing the fin de siècle society of Vienna in the early 1890s, and it is a theory for fin de siècle America in the 1990s. I think that non-Freudian and non-psychoanalytic workers, even as critics, could productively go back to the papers of 1896 and see an excellent example of what a theory might look like that took seriously the possibility that there are critical periods in childhood when, if you are unlucky enough to have certain kinds of traumatic events befall you, you will develop personality characteristics that will make you subject to certain kinds of events in adulthood. But it's a different story and aside from the personal ramifications of this move that Freud makes I'm excited because it enabled him to write The Interpretation of Dreams which, as I said earlier, I think is the key psychological text.


D2: Well, I'm not sure it's psychoanalysis that I'm recommending. I leave the professional status of that enterprise to its practitioners, among whom I'm not one. It is a body of Freudian thinking about deep meanings that I'm excited by, and part of that thinking goes by the name of psychoanalysis, but I've had very little to say — I guess it's the subject of another talk in 15-20 years — about the mature aspects of Freud's theorizing: the structural theory and the details of his argument about therapy and so on. But the insight that childhood meaning can be read back into childhood just as directly as it can be percolated up from childhood is I think, fundamental.

Another piece of this story that I didn't tell you, but which I guess I can encourage you to draw me out about, is Freud's minor 1899 paper on screen memories. At a critical moment in The Interpretation of Dreams Freud is reporting as part of the interpretation of probably the thickest of all of his dreams, the Dream of the Botanical Monograph, a dream that consists of only two lines: "I had written a monograph on a species of plant, I was turning the pages which contained colored plates, in amongst the pages were pressed specimens of the plant as though taken from a herbarium." The interpretation runs half-a-dozen pages; but at least one book length monograph has been written about this dream, and it forms the quintessential evidence for what is the core psychological discovery in Freud's terms of The Interpretation of Dreams, the extent of condensation and displacement. As Freud is reporting on his associations to this dream he says, roughly, "I recalled, as I was trying to understand the dream, one of the two earliest memories from my youth, one of the first 'plastic' (that is real-seeming) memories that I can recover, of sitting with my sister Anna, two and one half years younger than I, and tearing apart a book that my father had given us ('hardly good pedagogy,' Freud says), and I can remember pulling the pages out like the leaves of an artichoke." Freud then speculates about whether these childhood memories might have been imbued with meaning because of something that's happened later, and then there's a footnote: "cf. my paper on screen memories."

In the second edition of The Interpretation of Dreams there is no reference to the screen memories paper, and in 1906 when the first volume of Freud's collected smaller works appears there is no screen memories paper. Why? Because this paper is presented by Freud as a result of analytic treatment of an intelligent patient of university education, a man aged 38 who has a vivid memory of going back to his birthplace as a boy of 17 and there falling in love with a girl. And Freud the doctor's analysis of this memory is able to link it to a memory of playing at the age of two and a half or three, in a field of yellow flowers with a little boy and a little girl. That memory was Freud's memory and that paper is another bit of concealed autobiography, and it is in the midst of this tremendously rich interpretation of the Dream of the Botanical Monograph that we suddenly get another piece of Sigmund Freud, but it's not a piece that he gives up readily. In fact it's a piece that he offers us and then withdraws again. I think there's something marvelously fascinating about that process.


D2: I may put the wrong spin on your question, but first of all, the fact that Freud does use the same word, "übersetzen," in this early letter and in his later mature writings on therapy, doesn't of course, prove that he meant the same thing by it. Freud had a tendency to use evocative normal German words which then got jargonized and translated into pseudo Greek and Latin, as Bettelheim noted, in their transmission across the Atlantic. Maybe he meant something different. The context however fits perfectly his later sense of the word "transference." Now what's the difference between transference therapy and seduction-theory-period therapy? The earlier assumption seems to be that the patient has fallen ill because an ordinary stressor — the need to establish sexual intimacy in marriage, for example — has gotten in the way of a system of pathological defense, so when the patient moves into a sexual situation it evokes unconscious memories of something that happened in childhood and those have been subject to defense. Freud's earlier assumption seems to be that that was the very core of the neurosis and that if you could bring the earlier memory out then you could eliminate the need to defend against it and it would somehow be detoxified by that process. I think that's about as complicated as his therapeutic theory was in 1896. The later Freud assumed that you had to keep working with the material, and it was the relationship with the analyst which provided a lot of the richness, because you played out, in the real relationship with the analyst, the residues of your earlier childhood fixations. Also because the power of that relationship was a sufficient draw to keep working over material that didn't magically become unproblematic because you had recovered it once into consciousness.


D2: But it didn't seem to be so in 1897. Let me add another specific detail. As Freud began to try to explain clearly to himself what it was that was causing misgivings about this [seduction] theory, I think it was a change in the sense he had in 1896 that it logically hung together — the childhood experience caused the pathological defense, which in turn was the distinctive feature in causing the neurosis. The character of the neurosis allowed you to identify the probable cause, because hysteria has different causes than obsession. Once you know what to look for, if you can keep the patient in treatment long enough you can get there; and once you get there the symptoms are likely to dissipate. That's also an argument that is more or less consonant with the therapeutic theory that Freud and Breuer advanced in 1895. Freud later was at pains to credit Breuer with the concept of catharsis, of simply getting the idea out, because he thought it was a naive theory. But it seems to have been one that he largely subscribed to in 1895. By a few years later it doesn't seem to work that simply anymore. On the evidence, for example, of his treatment of Mr. E., they'd been producing lots and lots of memories of childhood, and he's confidently predicted over and over again to himself and sometimes to Fliess that the therapy was just about over but it doesn't seem to get over. There's no simple relationship between recovering the memory and achieving a therapeutic reaction.


D2: Well I think that's a possible interpretation also, although it's not the way he represents the situation to Fliess, of course. Instead, what you get is the sense that there are only a few problems left, we'll get them cured up fast. And then he's forced to acknowledge that the same problems are still left, but maybe that's the way patients want it and maybe you've just finally got to draw a line. You might recall if you read the Dora case, that the whole issue of termination is very significant there. It doesn't become a major issue in the rat man case, but first world war intervenes, and as Freud says we never knew really what was the lasting effect of the cure because the patient didn't survive the first world war. The "Wolf Man," a really long and detailed case, seems to have become a life-long analysand, with some 35 or 40 years of total analysis with three analysts. I'm struck by the fact that the only other published mention of this patient (E.), other than in The Interpretation of Dreams, is Freud's in 1937 at the very end of his life (he dies in 1939), when he's working on one of his very last papers, "Analysis Terminable and Interminable," and Freud is struck with the question that we may never know when this process is completed. And if therapy is a metaphor for life, that becomes understandable.


D2: You do ask easy questions! When I use the term "theory" to refer to the seduction theory, I'm talking about a relatively more straightforward rendering of theory: a fairly simple "correspondence" theory. The elements of the theory refer to things that, although they may be difficult to detect — may need special instrumentation, like the probing analysis week after week after week — nonetheless will reveal specific correspondences between the current symptomatology and the infantile causes of that pathology, so that ultimately you'll be able to write cause back onto effect and draw the lines that connect them. If The Interpretation of Dreams advances a theory that is hermeneutic, well it's a "coherence" theory and not a correspondence theory. It survives because it makes sense overall, and not because you can say absolutely that any one dream element absolutely means this particular thing. In fact, the really innovative argument that Freud makes in chapter six of The Interpretation of Dreams — using evidence like the dream of the botanical monograph — is that every dream element partakes of meaning from multiple latent wishes, and every latent wish finds expression in a number of dream elements. There is no one-to-one relationship. As a matter of fact, it's quite clear that Freud recognized that many of his associations and many of his suggestions about what a dream meant were probably wrong, but the overall interpretation stands because there is extraordinary redundancy in this system. Now people get frustrated about that because it seems like you can make any interpretation work and Freud goes on some years later to say there's no No in the unconscious. But in fact he makes at least to my reading a fairly good fit. If he were wrong the patient would be unmoved by this interpretation. It would simply strike them as far-fetched, you wouldn't see any other evidence of defensiveness. The interpretation that works, works because it clearly mobilizes or captures the emotional of content of the material — whether it's symptomatology or dream material — and because the story as a whole fits.

But you're never going to be able to go back and discover — in the language of Freud's 1899 paper, which I like very much and strongly recommend to all of you — whether the "recalled" event actually happened as remembered. When we get deep down into the unconscious we're looking for gold, but when we get down there we don't know whether we've found gold or something that simply laid next to gold for a long time and acquired some of the patina of the gold. Ultimately, Sigmund Freud as patient to Sigmund Freud as doctor in that 1899 paper is forced to acknowledge that one of the most beautiful and significant memories of the first years of his life — that play in the meadow with his half-brother's children John and Pauline — probably never could have happened the way he remembered it. So the memory is pieced together from several elements, and only takes on its great significance as a symbol of his childhood thirteen years later when — as an adolescent boy — he goes back and begins to get caught up with the fantasy, "If only I'd stayed here, and not gone to the city." So past and present interlock in some complicated way, and we find, in the example I've given you, Freud as a dying man in his seventies evoking a memory of Sigmund Freud as a tiny little boy at three that is in fact a memory that takes on significance only for the Sigmund Freud of 16, and that significance only becomes explicable to adult Sigmund Freud as a man of 44 when he works it out in 1899. That's how psychic reality works, as I understand Freud understanding it.


May 22, 1991: See how the new way of looking at things is put by Freud in Chapter 5 of The Interpretation of Dreams. Freud's discussions of Oedipus (1900, pp. 261-264) and of Hamlet (1900, pp. 264-266) in the fifth chapter of The Interpretation of Dreams need especially close examination.
In my experience, which is already extensive, the chief part in the mental lives of all children who later become psychoneurotics is played by their parents. Being in love with the one parent and hating the other are among the essential constituents of the stock of psychical impulses which is formed at that time and which is of such importance in determining the symptoms of the later neurosis. It is not my belief, however, that psychoneurotics differ sharply in this respect from other human beings who remain normal — that they are able, that is, to create something absolutely new and peculiar to themselves. It is far more probable — and this is confirmed by occasional observations on normal children — that they are only distinguished by exhibiting on a magnified scale feelings of love and hatred to their parents which occur less obviously and less intensely in the minds of most children.

This discovery is confirmed by a legend that has come down to us from classical antiquity: a legend whose profound and universal power can only be understood if the hypothesis I have put forward in regard to the psychology of children has an equally universal validity. What I have in mind is the legend of King Oedipus and Sophocles' drama which bears his name. (pp. 260-261).

Oedipus, son of Laius, King of Thebes, and of Jocasta, was exposed as an infant because an oracle had warned Laius that the still unborn child would be his father's murderer (p. 261). ...

But he, where is he? Where shall now be read
The fading record of this ancient guilt (Sophocles, Oedipus Rex, Lewis Campbell's translation (1883), line 107f.).

Of course we can't know why Freud found the Oedipus myth so compelling, but try this idea:

He was the "still unborn child" of the father he would find himself having murdered in adulthood, by a woman whose relationship to him and thence to his half brother(s) Philipp and Emmanuel, to his cousin/siblings John and Pauline, haunted him throughout his childhood. Pubescent preoccupation with mythology, for Freud, was an expression of his childish fantasies of noble origin and great destiny. In his personal myth we find: poverty overcome, a great passion achieved, the assumption of a golden destiny.

As a young professional Freud will be preoccupied with abortion/infanticide, with sibling rivalry, with oedipal hatred and, (finally) with oedipal love. He will tie these together as the first psychoanalyst by developing theories of consciousness, of instinct, and of memory.

Freud's presentation of Hamlet is revealing in part for his linking of the core problem to the play's having been written "immediately after the death of Shalespeare's father" (p. 263).

This text is based on transcribed remarks delivered as a Faculty Research Talk at Haverford College on November 29, 1990. Copywrite (C) 1995, Douglas A. Davis. All rights reserved. Do not quote without permission.