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The nature of the thing

Between 1908 and 1911, Ferenczi acquired this first-hand knowledge he had sought from the start. To achieve this, he multiplied his contacts with Freud and the members of his circle by participating actively in the life of the emerging analytic movement. He wrote numerous articles which earned him respect and, in 1910, he was the one Freud entrusted with writing a proposal for the creation of an International Psychoanalytic Association. Ferenczi’s text emphasised the usefulness of this institution for the advancement of the cause, but also drew attention to the pitfalls of gr oup psychology. In the course of this period, Ferenczi perfected his knowledge of Freudian thought, and had the opportunity to discover how the analytic movement responded to the many trials and tribulations it had to face. Among other things, he discovered that the construction and transmission of this knowledge also created friction in the very midst of the community supporting psychoanalysis. Worse still - a bitter experience for Freud - this transmission created friction in the personal relations between Freud and the disciples he considered best suited to lead the movement. Was it not the case that in the early 1910s the man Freud had long considered a son, his “Crown prince,” Jung, was distancing himself and embarking on a path of cruel dissidence to which the father of psychoanalysis had willingly remained blind? The deep chasm between the two men’s analytic perspectives became undeniable in 1913, and led to a definite break early the following year.

As for Ferenczi, the most loyal of his followers, Freud slowly realised that tensions of a completely different nature were apt to disturb the rich collaboration they both valued. This became painfully obvious in September 1910, in the course of a trip to Sicily. They had both hoped to enjoy the beauty of the places they visited, as well as the pleasure of working together on a project on paranoia. But an incident was to leave deep scars on their future relationship, an incident each of them viewed in his own way. Freud blamed Ferenczi for letting himself be guided like a child, or like a woman, and for not helping to handle the practical aspects of the voyage. He was critical of Ferenczi’s boundless admiration, which rendered the latter so dependent and passive, and which Freud did not want, failing to realise that he could not help arousing the admiration of those who came to him in search of knowledge and truth. Ferenczi had his own version of events, insisting on his great disappointment the very first evening, when they started to work together. He was expecting a stimulating dialogue between equals and instead, he was asked to take notes while Freud dictated his thoughts on paranoia. Hurt by this refusal of an exchange of ideas, which he saw as disregard for his own work and a threat of domination, Ferenczi simply refused. Freud put an end to their work session and, to Ferenczi’s great disappointment, worked alone from then on. Afterwards, the two men often referred to this unfortunate incident that Ferenczi never forgot.

Thus, in the fall of 1910 Ferenczi had the worst encounter possible: that with a kind of obstacle to transmission. In the collision which, in an instant, shattered his bright hopes for shared analytic work, he had to abandon his ideal of mutuality in analytic research among those who, like Freud and himself, wanted to share in the development and transmission of psychoanalysis. But without the perspective of a harmonious exchange with Freud, Ferenczi found it difficult to formulate and develop the intuitions and hypotheses that presented themselves to him. He never stopped complaining about this growing unease, whose nature was unclear to him. For this reason, he undertook a rigorous self-analysis to explore his own role in the disagreement, but without ceasing to question the part Freud had played in it.

Freud allowed his actions to be questioned, without realising that his initial double reaction to Ferenczi brought him face-to-face with an enigma, unexpected in itself, and much more so because it arose not between himself and a difficult patient, but between himself and a remarkable man he personally valued and whose work delighted him. As a first step to reconciliation, he willingly admitted his own part in creating the Palermo incident:

Why didn’t I scold you and in so doing open the way to an understanding? [...] it was a weakness on my part, I am also not that [psychoanalytic] superman whom we have constructed, and I also haven’t overcome the countertransference.

Ferenczi put this admission to good use. In his future work, the analyst’s countertransference - or that of colleagrtes entrusted with transmission - was to become an essential theme leading to some of his most original work. Freud recognised his error, his failure to overcome the “countertransference”; he was left to face his ambiguous relation - a mixture of love and hate - to his own sons. After admitting that there was much more he could say about this, he made it clear that he would say no more:

I no longer have any need for that frill opening of my personality, but you have also understood it and correctly returned to its traumatic cause [...] This need has been extinguished in me since Fliess’s case, with the overcoming of which you just saw me occupied.

By saying this, he recognised that Ferenczi demonstrated a certain analytic astuteness when he guessed that Freud had not overcome the trauma of the abrupt ending of his long friendship with Fliess. Moreover, Freud made another remark - on which we did not comment - when he asked Ferenczi: “Why did you thus make a point of it?” - referring to his own lack of need for frill disclosure. In response to Ferenczi’s insistence, Freud also wants to make a point. He makes it clear that he now understands the traumatic cause of what was toimenting him a short time before. “A piece of homosexual investment has been withdrawn and utilized for the enlargement of my own ego.” And then, despite his earlier declaration that he was not a “psychoanalytic superman,” he adds the famous phrase: “I have succeeded where the paranoiac fails.” Hence his intention not to dwell on this question any longer. But he soon reopens the door he has just slammed shut.

Correctly supposing that Ferenczi would not be content with such a terse explanation, he returns to what he supposes - with reason - to be Ferenczi’s wish: “It was plain to see but also easily recognizable as infantile that you presumed great secrets in me and were very curious about them.” But Freud does not stop at this reference to Ferenczi’s infantile sexual curiosity and his overestimation of Freud as a private person. He gives two reasons for stopping short of total disclosure. The first reason is simple: “Just as I shared with you all the scientific matters, I also concealed from you very little of a personal nature [...]” Indeed, as his correspondence and his writing clearly show, Freud always shared “all” the knowledge he gained from his clinical practice and the theoretical research associated with it.

His second reason does not concern his legitimate refusal to disclose everything; rather, it has to do with an obstacle he encountered: “My dreams at the time were, as I indicated to you, entirely concerned with the Fliess matter, with which, owing to the nature of the thing, it was difficult to get you to sympathize.” By admitting this, he implicitly admits that Ferenczi’s need to make a point of it was not due solely to infantile influences; but he does not yet see in this obstacle a major analytic question. That task is left to Ferenczi.

After the 1910 Palermo incident, Ferenczi is faced with an enigma: total honesty, which he sees as the illustration of the expectation of truth inlierent to analysis, seems to be impeded not only by a more or less justifiable refusal, but even more fundamentally by an obstacle related to “the nature” of the transfer-ential phenomenon. As a result, Ferenczi undertakes to submit this “full opening of [the] personality” to a veritable analysis. But in these early years of his psychoanalytic trajectory, Ferenczi makes an even more edifying discovery. In 1911, he finds himself in a compromising personal position when he decides to analyse Elma, the daughter of his mistress Gizella. This new undertaking, associated with other events, was what led a distraught Ferenczi, a year later, to request personal analysis.

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