The Emma Jung incident (fall, 191 I)
In September 1911, Freud stayed with Emma and Carl Jung in Zurich, on his way to the Congress in Weimar. On October 30, in response to the “voice of [her] unconscious,” Jung’s wife found the “courage” to address a firm reprimand to Freud: “Since your visit I have been tormented by the idea that your relation with my husband is not altogether as it should be, and [...] it ought not to be like this.” She knows that during his stay, surprisingly, Freud said nothing about Carl’s recent text Transformations of Libido, and did not try to discuss their diverging opinions or, possibly, their complete disagreement. This silence threw Jung into a state of paralysing doubt which worried Emma. She sums up the situation very clearly: “You didn’t speak of it at all and yet I thiiik it would do you both so much good if you got down to a thorough discussion of it. Or is it something else? If so, please tell me what, dear Herr Professor [...]” She does not interpret Freud’s silence as a deliberate refusal to debate, but rather as a personal reaction closer to resignation. She informs Freud of his “resignation” which seems to indicate that he now considers it fruitless to have an in-depth exchange with Jung, as if the break to come had already taken place in silence. Is it in fact the case that Freud is resigned, or is there something else?
Not content with demanding that Freud give her an answer, thanks to her intuition Emma dares to make a direct and very personal remark concerning his familial relations. She bases her comment on what she has heard him say during his visit to Zurich: “I even believe that your resignation relates not only to your real children (it made a quite special impression on me when you spoke of it) but also to your spiritual sons.”
Since we do not have the letter Freud sent Emma in response, its content can only be surmised from the second letter Emma wrote on November 6. She starts by justifying her decision to write him, and persists in her accusations. She insists that she felt she had to step in if only because of her husband’s distress and anguish at the prospect of the expected “verdict” of disagreement. She even names the source of her husband’s torment: “a residue of the father complex.” In her first letter, she had alluded to Freud’s filial complex and she now comes back to this. In the second paragraph of the second letter, she provides a different explanation for her actions, returning to the hypothesis that Freud had adopted a resigned attitude towards his own sons, as well as his spiritual sons, whom he sees as disappointing. She confronts him with the exact statement he made in Zurich, in reference to his family life: “You said that your marriage had long been ‘amortized,’ now there was nothing more to do except die. And the children were growing up and then they become a real worry [...]”
At 29, Emma, was a vibrant woman who did not mince her words:
This made such an impression on me and seemed to me so significant that I had to think of it again and again, and I fancied it was intended just for me because it was meant symbolically at the same time and referred to my husband.
She even dares to ask Freud if he is resigned concerning the benefits of analysis: “I wanted to ask then if you are sure that your children would not be helped by analysis.” And, unaware of the interpretative potential of her remarks, she then makes two superlative observations. The first is a strong defence of sons, be they one’s own or spiritual sons: “One certainly cannot be the child of a great man with impunity, considering the trouble one has in getting away from ordinary fathers.” Carried along by her own momentum, Emma put forth an interpretation that must have made Freud’s ears bum: “And when this distinguished father also has a streak of paternalism in him, as you yourself said!” Fearing that her words could be taken as the insolence of a woman who lacks objectivity, Emma reiterates her reason for speaking out: “Please forgive me this candor, it may strike you as brazen; but it disturbs my image of you because I somehow cannot bring it into harmony with the other side of your nature, and this matters so much to me.”
Once she has explained this, Emma extends the scope of her thought, focusing in on her essential concern: Freud’s relation to the spiritual son he thought he found in Jung. She writes:
You may imagine how overjoyed and honoured I am by the confidence you have in Carl, but it almost seems to me as though you were sometimes giving too much - do you not see in him the follower and fillfiller more than you need? Doesn’t one often give much because one wants to keep much?
hi stronger terms and better than Jung or Ferenczi themselves could have done, Emma brings Freud face-to-face with the dark side of his fierce and symptomatic will, in his role as the sonless father of psychoanalysis, to hasten to find an heir: “Why are you thinking of giving up already instead of enjoying your well-earned fame and success?” Emma did not venerate the heroic image of the inspired guide who, on the threshold of a promised land he will not enter must pass the torch to those who will continue the battle for the cause:
After all, you are not so old that you could speak now of the ‘way of regression,’ what with all these splendid and fruitful ideas you have in your head! Besides, the man who has discovered the living fountain of psychoanalysis (or don’t you believe it is one?) will not grow old so quickly. No, you should rejoice and drink to the full the happiness of victory after having struggled for so long.
With the superb arrogance of her desire, Emma points out to Freud his ageing complex. Although he accuses Ferenczi of not having to come to terms with his lost youth, according to Emma he himself anticipates death suspiciously early, since he is only 55. And to make sure that she will be heard, she makes her final argument, an admonition followed by advice: “And do not think of Carl with a father’s feeling: ‘He will grow, but I must dwindle,' but rather as one human being thinks of another, who like you has his own law to fulfill.”
There is no better way to formulate this reminder of the symbolic law addressed to the father in Freud, who seems to have forgotten the son he once was.
Ferenczi is well aware of this exchange between the man in Vienna and the woman in Zurich, since he was the one Emma first contacted and it is with him that Freud shares his analysis of the situation involving Jung.