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Chercher la femme, once again

In this letter, and after having remained silent on the subject for over two months, Freud comes back to the romantic torment Ferenczi disclosed. Freud congratulates him not only for the relevance of the analysis of one of his own dreams - an analysis recently presented to Freud in person (the dream is not included in the correspondence) - but also, and above all, for his attitude: the decision to be completely honest with Gizella. Freud adopts a new standpoint; he no longer draws Ferenczi’s attention to a problem that must be solved; instead, he becomes an active participant in the conjugal scenario beginning to unfold. At this point, he has not yet met Gizella, about whom he has an unfavourable opinion, as he would later admit. Thus, Freud approves of Ferenczi’s perilous decision not to hide from this woman the doubts he harbours about his love for her: “As to what is real, I have to say that you were by and large undoubtedly correct with your disclosure to the beloved woman.” Freud does not yet see a symptom in the fact that Ferenczi is tom between the woman he thinks he loves and all the other women he still desires. On the contrary, Freud seems to find justification for this ambivalence:

It belongs to the ABC of our word view that the sexual life of a man can be something different from that of a woman, and it is only a sign of respect when one does not conceal this from a woman.

As he would later admit to Gizella herself, when he had come to know her well, he had perhaps believed, secretly, that Ferenczi would make a mistake by becoming tied to a married woman with two daughters, who was, moreover, seven years older than him. Freud then moderates his views: “Whether the requirement of absolute truthfulness does not sin against the postulate of expediency and against the intentions of love I would not like to respond to in the negative without qualification [...]” Having first praised Ferenczi for his honesty, Freud now takes a different course: “Truth is only the absolute goal of science, but love is a goal of life which is totally independent of science, and conflicts between both of these major powers are certainly quite conceivable.” But he refuses the tyranny of truth: “I see no necessity for principled and regular subordination of one to the other.” Freud knows or suspects that he is speaking to a man who has long been a slave to his belief in truth and in total revelation. Perhaps this is what impels him to remind his colleague of another character trait that makes their relation to psychoanalysis profoundly different, a trait that was to play an important role in the destiny of their collaboration: Freud does not have the therapeutic passion that animates Ferenczi, who never forgets his primary vocation as a doctor.

Far from possessing any furor sanandi, Freud finds patients “disgusting,” as we have seen. So he confesses to Ferenczi: “This need to help is lacking in me. and I now see why, because I did not lose anyone whom I loved in my early years.” Made intentionally or not, does this remark have interpretative value? Freud probably knows by now that, as the eighth child in a family of 12 children, Sandor was three when his little sister Vilma died before she was one. And Ferenczi has told him that he has long been haunted by the love he did not receive from an indifferent mother. But Freud does not have this double experience of trauma.

This first confession leads Freud to make another, more intimate than it appears, and again related to a troublesome need for truth associated with a passion for healing, of which he is wary when he sees it in Ferenczi: “I found this same personal motivation in Fliess. What is both strong and pathological in him comes from this.” How might Ferenczi, a sensitive man, have reacted to this comparison between him and Fliess? He must certainly have been intrigued by this reference to Fliess’ pathology, and by the fact that Freud was associating him with this man about whom he had talked to Ferenczi the previous summer, while they were in America. What effect did it have on Ferenczi, a doctor, whose father, also a doctor, died when the boy was 15, to hear Freud emphasise the origin of Fliess’ medical vocation: “The conviction that his father, who died from erysipelas after many years of nasal suppuration, could have been saved made him into a doctor, indeed, even turned his attention to the nose.” Why does Freud insist on drawing Ferenczi’s attention to what a theory - potentially delirious in Fliess’ case - may owe to some specific wound in someone’s personal history? “The sudden death of his only sister two years later, on the second day of a pneumonia, for which he could blame doctors, instilled in him the fatalistic theory of predetermined dates of death - as a consolation.” Then, Freud makes a remark that turns out to be more premonitory than he could have imagined: “This piece of analysis, unwanted by him, was the inner cause of our break, which he effected in such a pathological (paranoid) manner.” Again, cottld Ferenczi have remained unaffected by these threatening words, proffered as a delayed response to his recent declaration of love, and to the analysis of a dream sent to Freud? Wotrld he not have been perplexed, or even made anxious, by Frettd’s reference to a “piece of analysis” which resulted in the senseless ending of a passionate friendship?

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