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A mitigated achievement

Delighted with this recent success and with their future perspectives, neither man is surprised to have gone, in one year, from the torments caused by the scalding consequences of transference, to an unexpected upturn in their fortunes. We can legitimately ask ourselves whether Freud saw the transferential aspect of the Ferenczi article he cited. Was he aware that when Ferenczi describes the technical innovation he dares to make - tracking down the jouissance of his hysterical patient - he is also pointing out what was missing in the technique Freud employed when analysing him?

In this article, Ferenczi discusses a technical question: that of the limitations of an analysis that simply follows the rale of free association - on the part of the patient, and free-floating attention - on the part of the analyst. He describes a patient who

was endeavouring with great intelligence and much zeal to cany out the directions for psychoanalytic treatment, and who left nothing to be desired in the way of theoretical insight, [but who] nevertheless, after a certain degr ee of improvement, probably due to the first transference, made no progress for a long time.

Faced with her excessive free association and with transference love resistant to analytic elucidation, Ferenczi “decided on extreme measures” and set a date up to which he would continue her treatment. In his own way, Freud had done the same thing with him in October 1916. But, Ferenczi notes, the effects of these measures were short-lived: “she soon relapsed into her former inactivity, which she concealed behind her transference love. The hours went by in passionate declarations of love.” When interpretations remained fruitless, the analyst took concrete action: “On the completion of the period set I discharged her uncured. She herself was quite content with her improvement.”

A few months later, the patient came back to resume analysis, when her old troubles resurfaced. But after some improvement, Ferenczi notes that: “she began the old game again.” This time, the analysis was interrupted by extraneous circumstances, and the treatment “again remained incomplete.”

The renewed exacerbation of her symptoms brought her back for the third time. But the patient remained fixated on her fantasmatic love for the analyst. It was while she spoke of these fantasies that Ferenczi observed her more closely; he noticed that while describing erotic genital sensations, she always kept her legs crossed. He then brought up the subject of onanism, but the patient vehemently denied engaging in this discreet form of masturbation. After a time, says Ferenczi: “an incipient new point of view erupts into [my] consciousness.” Just as he had forbidden inexhaustible free association by ending the analysis, Ferenczi now forbade her to adopt this position on the couch, which, he explained, allowed her to cany out a “larval form of onanism,” that discreetly discharged unconscious impulses, distorting the associative material by reducing it to the love fantasies focused on him.

The effect of this active measure was “staggering.” As a result of this prohibition, the patient “was tormented during the interview by an almost insupportable bodily and psychic restlessness; she could no longer lie at peace, but had to constantly change position.” The energy bound up with unsatisfied impulses was transformed into bodily experience, producing a change in the patient’s discourse. As a result of this opening of the unconscious, speech revealed the fantasmatic context of unconscious erotic pleasure, and the associative process, moving to a different level, finally allowed the emergence of fragments that were of use to the analyst: “Her fantasies resembled the deliria of fever, in which there cropped up long forgotten memory fragments that gradually grouped themselves around certain events in her childhood and permitted the discovery of most important traumatic causes for her illness.” Under the words of transference love, there is the patient’s fantasy and secret jouissance, and under these, the childhood traumas from which they spring: this is Ferenczi’s first discovery. But he makes a second discovery: “although she conscientiously carried out the above rule,” the patient reconciled herself to this abstinence and again ceased to exert herself, taking refuge, once more in the “sanctuary of the transference love.”

The tricks of the unconscious led Ferenczi - who was very determined - to escalate the measures aimed at reinforcing the patient’s psychic work in the session. He set out to track down her secret auto-erotic activity: “Having had my wits sharpened by these previous experiences, however, I could now rout out the hiding-places in which she concealed her auto-erotic satisfaction.” Consequently, he extended the restraint applying to the sessions, to the whole day. Because this also resulted in only temporary improvement, Ferenczi finally forbade all “larval onanism,” including symptomatic acts that were its equivalents (such as muscle tremors, certain tics, hands in the pockets, needlework). Cut off from investment in “parts of the body that are not by nature prominent erotogenic zones,” but are only substitutes for “genital erogenicity,” her sexual pleasure found its way back to its normally indicated genital zone.

As Ferenczi shows by describing the case of his hysterical patient, this returning home of masturbatory erotic pleasure takes time and requires explicit prohibitions to be made by the analyst, who is invited to leave his position of well-meaning listener. In the case Ferenczi describes, he was forced to take a fifth measure during the sessions, when faced with the patient’s “need to urinate at unreasonable times; the gratification of this was equally interdicted.” At the end of this hard-fought analytic battle, the analyst had reason to be satisfied with the results: “Parallel with the reconstruction of her infantile defence reaction, she achieved, after all these worries, the capacity of obtaining satisfaction in normal sexual intercourse, which -althortgh her husband was unusually potent [...]- had hitherto been denied her.”

The novelty introduced in the classic analytic technique is clear. A new task is added to the activities expected of the analyst - providing the setting, interpreting the productions of the unconscious, and handling the transference. He must also resolutely put an end to the secret erotic satisfaction of the patient. Ferenczi points out that the hysteric suffers, as we know, from reminiscences that need to be remembered, worked through and freed from repression, but that she also suffers from autoeroticism she endures like a sleepwalker. The most striking aspect of his discovery' is the intuition that the necessary frustration of the demand for love inherent in the dynamics of transference contributes to reactivating in tire sessions masked auto-erotic pleasure which makes itself visible through repetition. Ferenczi stresses that making active use of this diminished fonn of pleasure in the analysis gives access to the most deeply hidden elements of fantasy life and of the tramnas that have created them. A cure is thus brought about, with the ability to experience pleasure acquired through a slow bodily acceptance of castration.

At the Budapest Congress, Freud was praising not only Ferenczi himself, but most of all this technical innovation he attributed to him. However, certain details in “Technical Difficulties in an Analysis of Hysteria” deserve closer attention.

In this article, Ferenczi, not without reason, did not take the position of promoter of a subversive new technique, but rather that of an enthusiastic disciple: “We owe the prototype of this ‘active technique’ to Freud himself,” he wrote. He then described the stratagem Freud sometimes employed when he encountered stagnation in the analysis of cases of anxiety hysteria, when he enjoined the patient to face, in reality, the anxiety-provoking situations from which their phobias protected them. The desired goal was to “free the wrongly anchored affects from their connections.” Freud was the first to use the most spectacular, but also the most questionable of these stratagems: setting a date for the end of the treatment, as he did with the Wolfman.

When Ferenczi praised Freud’s active technique, and then rendered it even more radical, and when Freud gave official approval to Ferenczi’s - Freudian - approach, what shared amnesia prevented them from noticing that these matters of setting a date for the end of an analysis were related to transferential residues overlooked by both of them when Ferenczi was on the couch? How was it that Ferenczi did not remember that, as was the case for his patient, his treatment was interrupted by external circumstances at one point, and declared “finished but not terminated” afterwards? Could Ferenczi have forgotten that taking active measures - deferring the analysis and asking the patient to write - had had disastrous results hi the case of the “Young Suicide”? Were both Freud and Ferenczi using the success of the Congress, and the promising prospects it opened in Budapest, as a substitute “happy ending” for the past analysis? How could they both tacitly agree to leave its persistent transferential residues in suspense? Indeed, is the article “Technical Difficulties in an Analysis of Hysteria” not an outcome of these residues? Could it be that Ferenczi felt such a great need to justify and make a model of Freud’s active technique because unbeknownst to him he was already uncertain of its merits? And why did this former military doctor familiar with the tr aumatic neuroses of war limit himself in his article to discussing only morbidity rooted in fantasy, although he relates the morbid state to traumas masked by fantasy?

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