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Before the fort-da, there was the gesture

As he continues to reflect on the stages by which a speaking subject gains access to the sense of reality, Ferenczi tries to understand how the subject leaves behind the stage of magic, and how the illusion of the omnipotence of the gesture is lost. Just as Freud would do in 1920 with the game of the bobbin, he invokes a form of myth to illustrate the initial elusive moment when the prodigious power of the hand is perceived to have been nothing more than an illusion, a supposition.

Indeed, sooner or later, the trembling hand of the infant propelled by an urgent need is no longer seeking the vitally necessary bottle, but reaches for an unattainable object, asking for the impossible - the moon, we might say. The moon which smiles down on him in the deep darkness of the night. When the toddler stretches his hand in the direction of the moon he desires and wants to seize, “the outstretched hand must often be drawn back empty, the longed-for object does not follow the magic gestae.” Similarly, after the moment of jubilation when he recognises himself in the image reflected in the mirror, the baby senses the presence of an illusion and turns away from it to recognise himself in the face of the other, the one who is holding him.

The same thing happens, Ferenczi admits, when the infant or the toddler stretches out his hand to reach the indifferent moon, understands the futility of his gestae and can turn to another who acts as a witness, praises him and formulates the richness of the painful experience of reality testing to which he is being exposed.

These recunent failed rendezvous with the desired object contribute to bringing about the major evolution that awaits all subjects in the process of becoming: “Till now the ‘all-powerful' being has been able to feel himself one with the world that obeyed him and followed his every nod, but gradually there appears a painful discordance in his experience.” This discordance introduces the infant to his subjective division, since from now on he is going to be split between his ego and the outside world. Tims, what emerges gradually is not so much a reality principle, but rather the sense of reality. The little human “has to distinguish [...] between the subjective psychical contents (feelings) and the objectified ones (sensations).” Ferenczi’s allegory' of the hand stretched towards the moon foreshadows the allegory Freud would use seven years later in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Thr ough the bobbin game - the body and an object - and the fort!da game - the voice and words - the child takes control of, and symbolises, the mother’s absence, avoiding the anxiety related to the radical and deadly disappearance of the other who provides care, and to the tenor associated with the imagined permanent nature of this disappearance. This masterful access to the sphere of play absent at the stage of magic can be considered the moment when desire is humanised, and the child gains access to the power of the symbol.

Ferenczi’s 1913 essays not only foreshadow Freud’s 1920 writings, but they also in fact complete them. Indeed, before the hand reaching for the moon can be replaced by the playful hand, it had to have had time to do the work of laying the foundations of the necessary sphere of illusion. In fact, Ferenczi insists on this point repeatedly: he agrees that the child leaves behind a sphere of illusion, but only after having enjoy'ed this illusion for a time to his heart’s content, under the protection of an attentive environment when the unavoidable and necessary disappointments occur; Both these conditions play a role in whether or not a relation of trust is established with the caregiver. Only after such a pre-traumatic relation is created or recreated can the trial of disillusion be experienced as the promise of a future, rather than a catastrophe inflicting injury on the very construction of the subjective apparatus. Later, Ferenczi was to equate trauma with such a catastrophe. Indeed, this catastrophe is at the origin of abnormalities of belief, of which negative transference is an example. Did Freud, his future analyst, take note of the message Ferenczi was sending him? Would the analysis that lay ahead live up to his expectations? Was it going to contribute to Ferenczi’s future, confirming what Lou Andreas-Salome declared: that “Ferenczi’s time must come”?

In September 1913, one year still separates Ferenczi from the actual enactment of the personal analysis he has been anticipating for two years. Now, it is slowly drawing nearer.

At the same time, a woman endowed with great foresight, Lou Andreas-Salome, feels concerned about the tension she detects in the relations between the two analysts she admires.

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