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Acting out and questioning

Through this courageous analytic act that becomes the first session dedicated to the dream that introduces his analysis - the dream discussed above - Ferenczi does more than point out the devastating turning back on himself of the rage of the little boy he once was. He also uses an illustration of this destructive mechanism by referring to events in his cunent life, in which Freud plays an active role, as we have seen. When recounting his dreams, Ferenczi refers to “life’s residues,” a notion he will later add to the Freudian “day’s residues” as a source of dreams. The plot is precise. After describing his unspeakable, crucial rage in childhood and associating it with fear of sexual impotence in adulthood, Ferenczi gives an example based on the memory of his earliest sexual experience: “Before my first coitus: great fear that it wouldn’t work; masturbatory stimulation of my member in order to ensure an erection.” After confessing this, he goes on to say that he “never had actual impotence (failure),” but adds the recollection of a recent difficulty: “Only about a year ago, when I brought Elma to Vienna for analysis and came back with Frau G., I wanted (without desire, deeply depressed) to make an attempt which failed.” In this situation, complying with what he thinks - with reason - to be Freud’s wishes, Ferenczi seems to accept giving up Elma - left on Freud’s couch - but is unable to reconnect with Gizella. He experiences a momentary loss of desire. To reassure himself, during a stay in Vienna, he has an encounter with a prostitute - an encounter followed by long-lasting anxiety: “With the dangerous coitus in September this year in Vienna (from which I was expecting syphilis) I was - despite unpleasure and anxiety - quite potent.” The reference to danger makes it clear: there was unprotected intercourse. Ferenczi does not say how he performed earlier, in the summer, when he had “coitus a few times withpuellis” in other words, with prostitutes. Ferenczi gives a first interpretation - Freudian - of his actions: the rage he very likely felt when external reality revealed the inanity of his desire to many the young woman who could give him heirs was instantly transformed into subversive, deadly guilt:

The mischief that I made when I wanted to many Elma has to be punished by cutting off my penis; for that reason I am exposing myself to the danger of syphilis (syphilis eats up the penis).” The analysis of his dream also leads him to see his actions as the fulfillment of a forbidden desire: “Or: in intercourse with the person with whom I risked infection I wanted simultaneously to do what is forbidden and get punished for it.

Then, Ferenczi proposes a second interpretation of his acting out in the summer of 1912, which were followed in the fall by a series of physical symptoms whose psychogenic origin had just been revealed by the December dream. Now, his approach is “Ferenczian.”

Indeed, he interprets the symptomatic events of the past four months in light of the concurrent ups and downs of his relationship with Freud. The fact is that

Freud had been involved in all the recent events of Ferenczi’s personal and analytic life. Not long ago, he had even intervened directly, revealing to Gizella his reservations about Ferenczi’s projected marriage to Elma. On January 2, when Ferenczi asked him to take Elina into analysis, had he not exclaimed: “In this humor, a woman can hardly be woo’d!” This open involvement of the father of psychoanalysis in the fluctuating events of his life causes Ferenczi to interpret his dangerous behaviour of the summer as an act of defiance addressed to Freud.

The last scene of the dream provides this opportunity. It presents the great Freud himself in a delicate situation involving the risk of wrongdoing facilitated by a shared room with twin beds while travelling with his sister-in-law: “The last, muddled part of the dream is mysterious. I interpret that as a kind of defiant apology: (father, after all, did something similar with mother).” Ferenczi is perfectly aware of the transferential aspect of this defiance: “Only you have moved to the position of father, your sister-in-law to that of mother. [Father also said (=acted) ‘whore.’” With some embarrassment, he associates this thought with a fact of which he is vaguely aware: “You once took a trip to Italy with your sister-in-law [...]” but hastens to add: “voyage de lit-a-lit (naturally, only an infantile thought!)” Although he strives to reduce to infantile speculation his fantasmatic image of Freud as a man whose sexuality is free of conventions, he nevertheless introduces, again in parentheses, a strange comment: “(Similar rumors are circulating here about me as about you in Vienna.)” Ferenczi’s actions constitute a challenge that could be seen as asking Freud why he should condemn Ferenczi’s sexual desire for Elma when he himself takes certain sexual liberties with his beloved wife’s sister. In the last lines of Ferenczi’s letter, Ferenczi’s enacted challenge becomes a spoken accusation.

At the end of this dialogue with the subject of the rmconscious whom Ferenczi has allowed to speak freely and whom he trusts, he concludes: “I picture the connection as follows: The game with the danger of syphilis was a vengeance turned against my own person because of the hindrances that made marriage to Elma impossible.” And Freud is obviously the greatest hindrance, since what he wants most is to see in Ferenczi a mature man able to love and to work, a man of combat rather than a perpetual adolescent. This is why it is to him that, via the dream, Ferenczi attributes the responsibility for tire self-punishment that motivated his actions: “My unconscious placed the responsibility for it in your and Frau G’s hands.” Although this acting out took the place of what could not be said between Ferenczi and Freud, and although the physical symptoms were silently trying to inscribe something in the organism itself, it is only thr ough the enactment and interpretation of the dream that Ferenczi is able to reveal what is most deeply troubling to him.

Once this truth is finally out in the open, Ferenczi can bring the analysis of his dream to a close - an analysis that has made him aware of the psychic origin of his somatic symptoms, “materialised” in his body and particularly in his reproductive system: “When a doctor (in reality) diagnosed syphilis in me (albeit with reservation) -1 had to regressively live out the anxiety that I once went through while being threatened with having my penis cut off. ” We have seen that this targeted threat of emasculation was, in Ferenczi’s case, only a secondary manifestation of a more complete threat - irrepresentable this time - of possible subjective destruction (no more speaking subject), of loss of a sphere of desire (no more fantasy) and of a slow death (no more vitality). Ferenczi states this explicitly at the end of his letter: “The local malady (at the base of my penis) was a constant stimulus to maintain this anxiety, which then degenerated at night into unconscious fantasies of bleeding to death and dying [...]”

Ferenczi couldn't be clearer: the castration anxiety by emasculation protects him from what otherwise would become unconscious fantasy, not of local amputation, but of a bleeding away of the complete being of the subject, until death. But despite his eloquence, Ferenczi stammers and comes to see as fantasy certain phenomena which, if not for their ulterior re-consideration in the traumatolytic scenario of the dream, would be left to exert their effect unscripted and silent, in the secret space of the body - becoming physical symptoms: “(deceleration of the pulse, cooling, weakness of the pulse, pauses in breathing, general weakness); dining the day I was tormented by hypochondriacal ideas about incurable diseases.”

By the end of the unusual first session constituted by this long letter dated December 26, 1912, Ferenczi is able to show “how much that is apparently organic is psychogenic,” and explains very well the correlation he sees between the “neurotic symptoms” and the “organic substrate.” Still, this does not provide a complete answer to the apparently theoretical question Ferenczi addresses to Freud, and henceforth never ceases to examine in his own work. In both its form and its content, this letter is above all an opportunity for a desperate but experienced analyst to address to Freud the appeal of a man exasperated by his confusing feelings when, for better or worse, his passionate ties with the woman, with Freud and with the theory and practice of analysis intermingle and interfere with each other. This puzzled man, enlightened by five years of persistent self-analysis, knows that clearing up this confusion will require a more radical and in-depth approach. Indeed, he places in parentheses his reference to being instructed by Freud in this regard. He is perhaps unknowingly indicating to Freud, beforehand, the new place he intends him to occupy: no longer that of master revered by his pupil, but that of analyst in relation to his analysand.

In this powerful plea, Ferenczi is in fact asking Freud to consent to take on, besides his role as the father of psychoanalysis generously dispensing his teaching, another task he alone can assume: that of analyst for disciples like Ferenczi, who express the need for analysis. Implicitly and perhaps unwittingly, Freud reminds him of the conditions and responsibilities associated with this new task. Upon reading this letter which solicits him so directly, Freud can’t help feeling that he is being asked to reconsider the effects of his active intervention in his friend’s personal affairs. His colleague is asking him to “overcome the countertransference,” a precondition which involves another difficulty. Freud must know that in the analysis to come he would receive not only the admiration addressed to the “superior analyst” that Ferenczi sees in him, but also criticism and complaints. From the start, and especially since the Palermo incident, Ferenczi has been searching in vain for the desire underlying Freud’s passion for psychoanalysis, or more specifically, for the personal experience that led him to become an analyst, the experience at the source of his own desire for analysis. Thus, the analysis in which Freud and Ferenczi were to engage together was sure to resemble no other: an analysis in which the future analysand has many reasons to invite the future analyst to become an analysand himself

On the brink of this adventure, Ferenczi’s personal analysis on Freud’s couch, neither one of them, we believe, is unaware that their enterprise is both necessary and impossible. But they both courageously agr ee to attempt this impossible task. Freud with some hesitation, and Ferenczi with enthusiasm.

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