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Transference in analysis and between collaborators

In an undated letter written in April 1919, Ferenczi the analyst speaks of his isolation in the work of reflection required by the practice of analysis: “I can’t tell you how difficult it is to bear the intellectual separation from you, which grows increasingly chronic.” Moreover, he is spending time with Toni, whose health is deteriorating:

I see him daily, but I content myself with listening to his complaints and providing distraction for him [...] Actually we [Toni and I] are only coming closer these days; it is all the more painfill for me to see how sad it is with him.

Ferenczi is afraid he will lose the like-mindedness he shares with Toni, just when he is suffering from physical separation from Freud. Ferenczi emphasises that this intellectual solitude which could deepen even more can in no way be eased by the attention, the love and the help he receives from his remarkable wife, Gizella. He adds: “A small remnant of neurosis still disrupts certain vital mechanisms of pleasure. But she knows nothing of this.” But Freud must know what Ferenczi is referring to, since he analysed the author of the letter. On April 29, the news about Toni’s state is not good. At the same time, Ferenczi is surprised at his own good health. The fact that he has just been named Professor “for Psychoanalysis” might have something to do with it. On May 12, Freud wrote that he was saddened by Toni’s state, and he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to see him. What he would like to see, however, is the beneficial effect of analysis on Ferenczi, “How glad I would be to have a glimpse of your new existence as husband and professor.”

The first part of Ferenczi’s long letter dated May 23, 1919, is dedicated to Toni, who has just undergone radiotherapy: “His internist is, to be sure, not giving up all hope [...] The radiologist has a different opinion - he is pessimistic.” As for the patient, he feels better: “[...] although he remains quite remote from his former professional affairs, he does, however, occupy himself daily and with satisfaction his newly chosen profession - the exercise of which I give him the opportunity.” Was Ferenczi sending Freund his first patients?

He helps me with his factual knowledge, his reason, and his diplomacy in the confusion of these tumultuous days - is the only psychoanalyst around me, as it were, whom I can trust completely. We have become friendly, and I can absolutely not comprehend the idea that we could lose him.

Ferenczi wants to remain hopeful, and to believe that Freund, who had started, in a manner of speaking, his analysis with him before continuing it with Freud, would soon be able to travel to Vienna:

As soon as contact with Vienna has been restored, the patient is supposed to go to you, not only for the sake of psychoanalysis and reassurance, but also so that the medical specialists there will give their views on the tumor and its therapy.

Since the end of 1917, Ferenczi’s relationship with Freud has changed considerably.

He no longer writes long letters to speak of his feelings and resentments, as he did immediately following the end of his third segment of analysis. But this progress in his relation to the father of psychoanalysis and to the analytic cause does not prevent him from examining the manner in which he overcame his transference onto the person of Freud. Although hesitant to “mention in the same breath” more personal matters that might seem petty “compared to the possibility of seeing such a valuable life end so tragically” - Toni’s life - Ferenczi sets his embarrassment aside and dedicates the next part of the May 23 letter to these personal matters. It is not a neurotic indulgence, but a need: “But it has to be. I have afflicted you too long with dry, almost telegraphically stylized letters.” He explains what has caused him to re-examine the trajectory of his personal analysis. Earlier in May, while moving to a new home, he says: “I had to lay hands on the big pile of detailed, amicably patient letters which you directed at me in the course of the last ten years.” When he wrote this letter, over 800 letters had already been sent back and forth, between Budapest and Vienna. As he reread Freud’s letters, one thing stood out first and foremost: “The entire new developmental history of the newer psychoanalysis has been put down in them.” This obvious conclusion is followed immediately by the observation of their powerful transferential relation and its tensions: “But at the same time they are also documents attesting to the extent of the care, benevolence - indeed, I may say: love - with which you have pursued, led, shielded, my oh, so difficult development.” Here, Ferenczi is referring to Freud’s influence on his training path, which caused him to be an even more determined analyst than he had been before his personal analysis. This backward glance over the recent events of his analysis allowed him to make several discoveries, that were not so much a gaining of awareness, as a dazzling knowingness:

On this occasion there arose in me like a gleam the insight that since the moment in which you advised me against Elma, I have had a resistance toward your own person which could not even be overcome by the attempt at a psychoanalytic cure, and which was responsible for all my sensitivities.

In this letter dated May 23, 1919, Ferenczi is placing the focus on the negative transference underlying transference resistance. He knows how active this resistance still is after the analysis, and that it is still there in him, in this present time when he is regaining his ability to love and to work. Behind the obvious positive transference which makes him express his gratitude to Freud, negative transference shows its grimacing countenance: “With an unconscious resentment in my heart, I, as a loyal ‘son,’ nevertheless followed all your suggestions, left Elma, again turned to my present wife, with whom I have stayed, despite countless temptations from other quarters.” Ferenczi has learned to live with his double-faceted condition; although he can work and love, he cannot claim to be cured: “The marriage, sealed under such unusually tragic circumstances - did not at first bring about the hoped-for inner consolidation.” Suspecting that these insights can only burden Freud and disturb his ideals - an “unbeing” experience - Ferenczi tries to be reassuring: “Yet the resistance seems to be gradually exhausting itself - and a letter such as the present one may show you that I am willing to resume - perhaps, actually - to begin the frank intercourse with you, free from petty sensitivity.” This new beginning in their relationship is to be inscribed, in its mm, in the story' of the “finished but not terminated” treatment, which will have to complete itself, between the analyst and the analysand turned analyst, by taking other paths than that of the couch, unprecedented paths that have yet to be invented.

Ferenczi is deeply moving when he strives to make Freud understand that even an analysis which is not conducted to its termination and leaves in its wake all kinds of transferential residues is still not a failure. Ferenczi is vaguely aware, with good reason, that he is trying to ensure a permanent, fundamental relation with Freud. His psychic well-being depends on it:

It appears that I can be happy in life and content in work only when I can be and remain in good, indeed, in the best relations with you. The realization that in Frau G. I have the best that could befall me - with my constitution - is the first fruit of my inner reconciliation with you.

This plea arouses great emotion, at a deeper level than the promises of recognition of psychoanalysis made by government officials. For Ferenczi, what is at stake is the very future of his prospective path as an analyst: “I ask you, don’t lose patience with me in the future, either. I hope to offer you less occasion for that than in the past.” After this heartfelt plea, in the last part of his letter Ferenczi returns to the situation of psychoanalysis in the prevailing context in Hungary: “My fervent wish to legitimize psychoanalysis, and my didactic intentions at the university have been brought to fruition all too stonnily [...]! hope I will succeed in keeping psychoanalysis free of all political tendencies at all times.”

Although Toni’s state is worsening, good news on other fronts abound:

Next Sunday I will open the university psychoanalytic Society, which was founded by medical students, with a lecture. I will begin the course of lectures on psychoanalysis around June 4-5. It remains to be seen whether the sanatorium which was assigned to me can be transformed into a psychoanalytic clinic. In any event, the rector and the dean have already “taken” the oath of office from me (as a frill public professor of psychoanalysis!).

But Ferenczi must have known that these rosy prospects were uncertain. Given the unstable circumstances around him, he felt an ardent need to be reassured about the continuity of his dialogue with Freud. His letter ends with a bit of wit and self-mockery: “But you must forgive my talkativeness - it is like the opening of a sluice that was closed - almost rested - for a long time.” At the end of July, when he stalled to teach, Ferenczi’s state of mind had not changed: On July 26 he wrote: “Aside from didactic things I can’t report on any recent scientific activity. Perhaps the change of air will help [...] I long finally to talk things out with you.” This need for the freedom provided by sincere dialogue between men passionately searching for the troth was all the more urgent since the political situation favourable to the transmission of psychoanalysis was fundamentally unstable. Very quickly, actual events confirmed Ferenczi’s worries: the promising spring was followed by the cruellest upheaval. On July 31, 1919, the communists -the Hungarian Council Republic favourable to the teaching of psychoanalysis in university - were forced to resign and were replaced by the Social Democrats. On August 3 and 4, the Romanian army took Budapest. A counter-revolutionary government headed by Miklos Horthy overturned the Social Democrats. This was followed by massive executions and arbitrary arrests. Jews were accused of having collaborated with the communists, and were specifically targeted. In early August, Ferenczi had to leave his teaching post.

In less than a year, the prospects opened by Ferenczi’s tireless work disappeared and hopes for psychoanalysis were lost. Budapest would not be the capital of psychoanalysis, Ferenczi would not have time to act as President of the IPA. Worse still, he was no longer in a position of strength that would have allowed him to put forth the analytic orientation centred on the “analyst’s activity,” which Freud thought should inspire future trends in psychoanalysis. Even more trying for Ferenczi was the fact that the heavy impact of political events on the analytic movement caused Freud to take charge of the affairs of the movement once again, at least for the moment. This allowed him to divest himself of the function of analyst in relation to Ferenczi, a role he had accepted reluctantly.

Relentless as usual, Ferenczi prepared to face this devastating situation that distanced him from the centre of analytic activity, which quickly moved to Berlin. Nevertheless, in his personal trajectory, he was able to advance from these losses to the pursuit of his own aspirations.

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