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The request for analysis (December 26, 1912)

In the second part of the letter dated December 26, 1912, Ferenczi makes his request in two stages. First, he declares his intention clearly:

Now on to myself. -1 am also a case in need of treatment - but there has been an undeniable progress to the extent that I am conscious of that fact. It was and is my intention, if you can grant me time (hours), to go into analysis with you - perhaps two weeks (maybe three), for now.

The next five pages testify to the firmness of this desire for analysis, as well as the change regarding the kind of instruction he still expects to receive from Freud. In 1908, he was expecting to leam, from his exchanges with Freud, the art and ability of transmitting psychoanalytic knowledge.

Four years later, this wish has been fulfilled: Ferenczi has become a master in analytic transmission. This portion of the letter also provides a glimpse into the concept of deeper analysis which Ferenczi expects to undergo in his analysis with Freud, in view of becoming its first emissary. He continues to trust the distinction he makes between the teaching of a body of knowledge and the transmission of the truth of a lived experience. Given his experiences over the past two years in the world of analysis - the Palermo incident, the Emma and Carl Jung affair, the Emma and Gizella situation - at the end of 1912 Ferenczi knows that he needs more than this initial training, which nevertheless turned him into a respected psychoanalytic practitioner. The constant self-analysis of his conflictual relations with Freud, of his romantic dilemmas and their worrisome intrusion into his analytic practice, confinn his need for in-depth personal analysis. Now, the goal is no longer the transmission of psychoanalytic knowledge, but the intimate experiencing of its inescapable truth. Ferenczi senses that only a personal analysis can fr ee him of the bonds of his neurosis, thereby allowing his compelling thirst for truth to take a new direction. He makes this clear in the second formulation of his request, at the end of his letter.

Ferenczi is not content with presenting his case; he is not asking for punctual analytic help; he is not asking for psychotherapy, be it psychoanalytically oriented. He is asking Freud for in-depth analysis, even if the nature of this deepening cannot be specified. But we can get a glimpse of it in Ferenczi’s appeal to Freud: “Now, I don’t know how much of the neurotic symptoms in me is dependent on the organic substrate, and how much that which is apparently organic is psychogenic. (I would like to be instructed by you about that.)” This question does not relate to the limits of psychoanalysis, but rather, opens a way to extend its usefulness. Thus, the possibility is raised that analytic investigation may shed new light not only on what unfolds at the psychic level, but in the mysterious realm of the body. Not only symptoms inscribed in the body through conversion disorder, but also those associated with various fimctional disorders. We shall see that, in fact, Ferenczi prefaces his question with a long discussion of a symptom affecting his reproductive tract. If the castration complex controls psychic life, could it be that it also influences the occurrence of physical ailments? Ferenczi is speaking to Freud from the vantage point of his psychic and somatic ills, a suffering which takes on, and to which he confers, the dignity of a new topic of enquiry that could re-energise analytic research.

For Ferenczi, this questioning on the relation between the organic and the psychogenic, between soma and psyche, is not theoretical: it is first and foremost intimately comiected to personal experience in his body and soul. In addition, this questioning, rooted in his practice as a physician turned analyst, was to become and to remain the guiding principle of his future work. Thus, Ferenczi’s request for analysis is made on the grounds of his own symptoms, as well as in view of exploring the eminently analytic question of the limits of psychoanalytic knowledge. Ferenczi positions himself on this double ground. The Ferenczi who wants to be instructed by Freud in these matters is not passively waiting to receive knowledge; he has already taken possession of the question and is actively searching for an answer.

Between the declaration of Iris intention to be analysed and the formulation of what he expects to leam in the process, Ferenczi inserts an impressive picture of his symptoms and, being a master of the unconscious, proposes and astute interpretation. He is probably trying to make clear to his future analyst the severity of his personal ills and the relevance of the “Freudian” analysis to which he subjects them, not retreating before the dizzying depths of the analytic questioning he has initiated. Ferenczi, who has based his request for analysis on his multiple physical ailments, and particularly on those affecting his reproductive organs, observes:

Today (on December 27) I feel significantly better. Hard to say whether my awareness of an improvement in my physical condition or this analysis was of more use.

Please forgive this gratis analysis, which I have gotten from you by sheer obstinacy (if only in writing!)

Yorns, recovering, Ferenczi.

He has found the perfect way to say, on the threshold of his analysis, that he is seeking more than merely treatment for his symptoms.

Taking seriously the witty remark about a “gratis analysis,” we see this long letter as the “first session” of the personal analysis which would actually begin 20 months later, in September 1914. This analysis obtained “by obstinacy” contrasts with the fragments of self-analysis found throughout the correspondence, and the letter itself marks a milestone, introducing a new phase in the Freud-Ferenczi relation. The analysand who was soon to be Freud’s patient is no longer the young man who in 1908 was seduced by Freud’s knowledge and his person, nor is he the zealous Freudian follower he became afterwards. The text of this unusual first session gives the reader the rare opportunity of witnessing a session where Freud, the analyst, remains silent. The reader can see this unprecedented request unfold word for word, and has good reason to suppose that Freud never received another with comparable analytic content.

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