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From transference trust to transference love

In his essay “Observations on Transference-Love” (1915), Freud focused on tine love present in the transference of adults in analysis. He goes so far as to speak of a woman’s “passionate demand for love” in transference, meaning a demand for sexual enjoyment. Freud asserts that transference love, with its erotomaniac potential, is the repetition of an original infantile love characterised by an unconditional demand for love like the incestuous demand of the child Oedipus who wants everything: the disappearance of the father and possession of the maternal object. This is why this transference love can resemble the pathological, even though Freud admits that “these departures from the norm constitute precisely what is essential about being in love.” In transference on the analyst, this instinctual demand for jouissance is to be seen as originating in a symptomatic fixation or in regression to a psycho-sexual stage preceding the genital stage. In 1937, Freud would assert that given the biological origins of castration anxiety, neither the man nor the woman can ever reach a genital stage free of the partial instinctual impulses of previous stages. In 1913, two years before Freud, Ferenczi was thinking about the economy of transference and its effects in the course of an analysis, but his approach was very different. Five characteristics distinguish this approach:

  • 1) His focus was not transference love as such, but rather transference trust.
  • 2) Like Freud, he traced back problems of trust to childhood, but not to a particular stage of psycho-sexual development, although according to Freud these stages organise the partial drives “under the primacy of the genitals.” He equates “the abnormalities of belief ’ with “symptoms of regression to or fixation at those infantile stages in the evolution of reality which I have called the magical and projection phases of the sense of reality.” Here, Ferenczi refers the reader to another text written in this prolific year 1913, “Stages in the

Development of the Sense of Reality.” In this essay, he “attempts] to bridge over the gap between the pleasure and the reality stages of mental development” - the stages Freud described in Formulations on Two Principles of Mental Functioning (1911).

  • 3) In his second 1913 test, Ferenczi identified the various stages of specific psychic activity which gradually give the infant - before he speaks - access to the field of speech and language, and to conscious thought which this field makes possible. Only then can there be an “adjustment to reality, i.e. by the testing of reality that is based on judgement,” which is free from the problems of judgement he is now examining. Thus, he adds to Freud’s range of psycho-sexual development a new level we might call psycho-linguistic, and then strives to connect these two types of developmental stages.
  • 4) By combining his two texts, Ferenczi becomes able to identify as “symptoms of regression to or fixation at [...] infantile stages in the evolution of reality” the “abnormalities of belief, extreme ecstasies of belief, doubting mania, as well as disbelief in general and distrust,” which can infiltrate transference and disturb the judgement of the analysand about the progress of the treatment and about his analyst. Ferenczi ascribes these transfer-ential disturbances to regression to a specific stage in the development of a sense of reality, the phase he calls “the magical and projective stage of the sense of reality.” Clearly, he understands this phase in light of his own interpretation of Freud’s discussion of the experience of satisfaction, as described in the Project, published in 1897. In that text, Freud emphasised, to begin with, the reorganisation of internal somatic stimuli as a result of the “specific action” bringing the newborn “extraneous help” from his environment; he saw as “a secondary function,” albeit “extremely important,” the development of “an understanding with other people,” originating in this stage. Ferenczi, on the other hand, emphasised the linguistic aspect of this experience of “an understanding with other people,” which signals the child’s access to alterity. In fact, he seemed to say that an inexpressible wish to encounter or bring back a particular other of the specific action -language action - is present in every request for analysis. Thus, abnormalities of belief originate in this phase where the infant, not yet aware of the mediation provided by an extraneous helper - the other in a relation of care and speech - attributes magical power to his own motor discharges (crying, struggling) which can make the object of his wish materialise. These motor impulses are felt to function like “magic signals, at the dictation of which the satisfaction promptly arrives.”

Before awareness of the intercession of an external helper, the infant can believe in the magical omnipotence of what becomes a veritable “gesturelanguage.” Ferenczi compares this subjective impression of the child, in this period of omnipotence, to what a magician might feel when he forgets for an instant that there is a “trick,” a technique behind his fascinating and hypnotic gestures.

5) Ferenczi points out that this phase of “omnipotence by the help of magical gestures” sheds light on “the curious jump from the world of thought into that of bodily processes,” which constitutes hysterical conversion. Once again, in contrast to Freud, who was more focused on the instinctual economy of these processes of reality sense development, Ferenczi emphasises their language dimension. They are the means by which a subject emerges and the living organism becomes the human body of a speaking and sexual being. As we continue our enquiry, we shall see how this orientation takes on a radical character with the taking into consideration of what are called “hysterical materialisation phenomena” in 1919, and finally in 1929, when Ferenczi reproaches Freudian psychoanalysis with remaining too focused on ego-psychology, “neglecting the organic-hysterical basis of the analysis.” He would even speak of the “traumatic-hysterical basis of illness.”

This link between “abnormalities of belief’ and the phase of magic gestures in which conversion hysteria originates inspired a delightful passage on the role of the hand in the repertoire of magic gestures: “In the mental life of the normal the countless number of superstitious gestures, or such as are in some other way considered efficacious (gestures of cursing, blessing, praying) is a remainder of that developmental period of the sense of reality [...]” a period, he adds, “in which one still felt mighty enough to be able to isolate the regular order of the universe.” About this order, Ferenczi remarks in a footnote that this is “of course quite unsuspected,” just as, for the newborn, there is an unsuspected external helper who makes the bottle appear when it is urgently desired.

The persistence of this infantile phase which remains in the adult explains the fact that: “Fortune-tellers, soothsayers, and the magnetisers continually find belief m the assertion of such complete power of their gestures [...]” It is easy to understand why, after elaborating these ideas, Ferenczi wanted to examine the nature of an analysand’s agreement with a particular statement of his analyst, or with his judgement of the benefits or harmful effects of the treatment. The same questioning could be used to assess the views of detractors of psychoanalysis as a new scientific domain. Are we dealing with hysterical belief, obsessional disbelief or delusional conviction? How can we distinguish subjective sentimentality from the objectivity tied to a sense of reality?

Ferenczi raises these questions ahead of Freud, who would turn to them in 1920.

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