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Strictest secret!

Who is the Freud who wrote this surprising letter dated January 10, 1910? Is he the father of psychoanalysis, the experienced analyst, or simply a man struggling with his destiny? As an analyst, he guesses that Ferenczi has “a secret reason” for recounting this particular dream to him, a dream which, he says: “must also have a relation to me.” He offers an initial interpretation: “It is easy for me to find the motive for equating me with your father.” And he does not hesitate to disclose what he sees as a symptom in himself, namely the anticipation of his own death:

On the trip I behaved like someone who is taking his leave, who wants to set his house in order. In camp [...] I had real appendix pains for the first time, and for at least a day I was quite despondent [...]

In the letter, Freud gives Ferenczi an Oedipal interpretation as massive as it is dismissive: “So, that provides a basis for the identification. Again, as then, the death of the father is the signal for a great inner cleansing for you, and for an effort to bind the mother to you.” He even drives the point home by asking whether a certain reference in Ferenczi’s letter “is a compliment for the year just past, or whether it is connected with my imminent demise [...]” Half in jest, Freud admits that his symptomatic fantasy is still at work: “Let us nevertheless firmly establish that I myself already decided quite a long time ago not to die until 1916 or 17. Of course, I don’t exactly insist upon it.” Although all this is asserted in a rather abrupt manner, Freud does not claim to be stating absolute truths, and his postulations remain playfol. Still, he speaks with the authority of an analyst addressing a patient, albeit in the absence of any actual context of this kind. Unwittingly, Freud is reinforcing Ferenczi’s propensity for a self-analysis whose results are then reported to him. But this ceases to be the case when, after a long preamble, Freud starts to speak like an analyst addressing another analyst, both of them caught up in the work of reflection which unites them when they dare to speak openly, despite their different sensibilities: “As compensation for this unseemly discussion I want to give you a little piece of theory, which came to me while I was reading your analysis.”

In this climate of mutual understanding, Freud returns discreetly to the subjective position he blames Ferenczi for having, to his “requirement of absolute truthfulness,” be it in their discussions or in Ferenczi’s deshe to heal and help those who suffer: “It seems to me that in influencing the sexual drives, we can bring about nothing more than exchanges, displacements, never renunciation, giving up, the resolution of a complex. (Strictest secret!).” Freud seems terrified to conclude that an analysis can only bring about rearrangements, and is therefore interminable. He knows that the enemies of psychoanalysis would immediately seize upon such a potentially scandalous admission and use it to their advantage, in view of harming the cause.

But the fact remains that as early as the start of 1910, and in light of his discussions with Ferenczi, Freud had the feeling that psychoanalysis does not resolve conflicts generated by the instinctual disturbances inherent in human life. The end of an analysis cannot be considered a definitive surpassing or overcoming of such disturbances. Some 30 years later, and four years after the death of his interlocutor, in Analysis Terminable and Interminable, Freud tried to clear up the “strictest secret” he glimpsed in 1910.

In his January 1910 letter, Freud was not stating a well-thought-out theory; rather, he was setting out a concept whose echoes are to be found in the shared fragments of self-analysis sent back and forth between Budapest and Vienna. This intuition of an impossible end to disturbances in every human being’s libidinal life made itself clear not while Freud was reflecting on the case of a particular patient, but in connection with himself and Ferenczi, particularly the latter’s fanatical passion for truth and his desire to heal, as well as his own preoccupation with the possibility of imminent death. Freud was haunted by the idea that he could die before he had officially designated a successor able to take forward his new science of psychoanalysis. Worse still, as the founder of this new science, he had to acknowledge the existence of a death wish directed against him by those he considered his most promising disciples: First Jung, his “Crown prince” and heir, and then Sándor Ferenczi. Here, the symptoms encountered are not those of the patient on the couch, but rather those that emerged in the small Freudian community faced with the necessary transmission of psychoanalysis.

Without developing further, for the moment, the richness of this reflection on the separating function of the object the analysand and may leave behind, on the analyst’s couch, when the analysis is over, we can assert that here Freud does more than simply refer to the metamorphosis of neurosis into transference neurosis. He is, in fact, formulating this observation for the benefit of a young colleague in whom he already sees a loyal travelling companion. Does this mean that he has a vague feeling that collegiality between analysts necessarily involves a form of transference neurosis? Reference to the shed skin the analysand leaves behind at the end of his analysis enables Freud to provide logical support for his disagr eement with Ferenczi’s wish for transparency: “[The analysand] has shed his skin and leaves the stripped-off skin for the analyst; God forbid that he is now naked, skinless!”

Who is this cry of distress addressed to if not Ferenczi? Might not the sad fate of a man skinned alive be his own, as he was to admit in the Clinical Diaryl When Freud speaks this way, is he influenced by the memory of the unfortunate end of his collaboration with Fliess, or does he have, without knowing it, an astute premonition about Ferenczi’s future as an analyst?

Is it not the case that, in a manner of speaking, at the end of his journey Ferenczi found himself spent, stripped of his skin, left with no other choice than that between an impossible metamorphosis and death?

In 1910, while thinking about Ferenczi’s passionate approach to psychoanalysis, Freud unexpectedly stumbled upon a potential difficulty related to the end of an analysis, a major problem he was to confront again in 1937. But from his earliest discussions with Ferenczi, he was sure of one thing: ''Our therapeutic gain is a substitutive gain, similar to the one that Harrs in Gluck makes. The last piece doesn’t fall into the fountain until death.” Freud had already admitted that he saw no solution to the inescapable “effect of sexual drives.” Now he reaffirms his conclusion by means of the Grimm Brothers fairy tale, and extends its scope: just as Hans in Luck sees the sun melt away the gold ingot, his royal reward for seven years of hard work in the service of his master, the patient who has come to the end of his lengthy efforts on the analyst’s couch will not benefit from the treasure he imagined would be his. But Freud emphasises that it is essential for the remaining fragment of the object not to fall. Contrary to Hans who returns to his idle existence, the analysand must now make one last effort in order to transform this final loss of the object into an opportunity to conclude a new pact with life and with the call of the unknown, which he must answer fearlessly. Desire triumphs over hesitation. Clearly, the end of a personal analysis is difficult. But its beginning is not any easier, as Freud and Ferenczi discovered in their shared experience of it.

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