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Change of tone

On January 1,1920, Freud sends Ferenczi best wishes for the coming year, makes no mention of their friend Toni who is now in Vienna, adopts a more severe tone and, like an irate father, calls him to order: “I greatly regret the impression that you didn’t get further with Body; I consider him a cowardly and false beast, and I think one must approach him differently, in a more peremptory fashion.” Freud sets out his view of the reasons for Ferenczi’s hesitating approach: “You seem to place yourself before him like humble audience-seekers whose suggestions he has no time to address, whereas you could deal with him as a party with equal rights.” After giving his analysis of the situation, Freud outlines his instructions in a threatening tone: “So I suggest that you no longer beg for a gracious audience with Body, but rather have Bela Levy [the lawyer] write him a formal letter in a resolute style with approximately the following content [...]” In addition, Freud repeatedly admonishes Ferenczi to leave off imposing his own convictions upon the city, and to speak “in the name of the founder,” Freund. Freud recommends intransigence, and a tough attitude: “So much for the letter; it can be even rougher, under no circumstances milder. Refuse flat out any dissipations and requests for compromise. Ultimatum!” He realises that Toni’s death is imminent and insists: “Rapid and energetic proceeding on your part seems to be called for.”

Freud was speaking like a far-sighted, decisive leader capable of taking charge. The large endowment left by Toni Freund was crucial, if not for the future of psychoanalysis, at least for its inscription in social reality; the creation of a new journal and of the first training institute for psychoanalysts was now conceivable. Therefore, Freud displays exemplary firmness in his fight to preserve the chances offered psychoanalysis to make itself known throughout the world in the turbulent postwar era. Of this, there is no doubt. Still, we must remember that it was to Ferenczi that he first disclosed his determination.

Whether he knows it or not, whether he chooses to or not, is it not a fact that Freud is also addressing his former analysand? To be more precise, is he not taking advantage of Ferenczi’s return to the political arena, in the interest of then common cause, to engage with the analysand Ferenczi was and must stop being, in Freud’s view? Despite his firmness, Freud does not encourage his former analysand to identify with his own strong ego as an analyst and a man; rather, he focuses on his symptom, his deeply rooted need for agr eement and appeasement, which he sees as tire origin of Ferenczi’s avoidance of conflict. While dining the actual analysis Freud demanded that his analysand make a decision about his love life, he now asks him to step back and consider the ineffective emotional position he displayed in his recent errors as a strategist. He criticises, above all, Ferenczi’s stance as one who seeks an audience, even “begs” for an audience, as Freud puts it. He goes even farther, pointing out that it is pitiful to have such a submissive attitude towards a scoundrel, “a coward and a false beast” who must be approached differently. But Ferenczi, faithfill to his symptomatic inner convictions, wants to believe in the possibility of honest dialogue, regardless of tire interlocutor, and even despite the latter’s paranoia or perversity. As if sensing that Ferenczi does not have the internal resources needed to overcome his pathetic need for an audience, Freud admonishes him to set his convictions aside and to speak in the name of the founder, von Freund, who is creating the endowment. But is Freud himself not the figure of the founder, for Ferenczi? And was this visceral quest for an audience not manifestly at work in Ferenczi’s transference onto Freud, in the analysis itself, as well as before and after it, in different ways? Therefore, the question arises whether Freud, acting in his position as commander-in-chief, has not become a militant analyst, blind to his countertransference, made deaf by his conviction that recovery is tied to the father.

Is it not possible that this cold firmness and exasperation, apparent in Freud’s January 1,1920, letter, could have been, above and beyond a suitable reaction to an urgent matter, a delayed reaction to Ferenczi’s earlier, November 20 letter? In that euphoric letter, had Ferenczi not spoken of having “found the tone which expresses our superiority in the face of the new findings”? After the tensions generated by his analysis, was Ferenczi not expressing his joy at re-establishing renewed and “unforgettable” scientific and amicable relations with Freud? Was Ferenczi not confessing that exchanging “such a wealth of insights as perhaps never before” was compensating him for the hardships they were now facing? Was he not telling Freud that he can only continue on as a humble but happy audience-seeker, as someone who knows that henceforth he will not be able to give up for long what he most cherishes: “this intimate contact.” We make the conjecture that on January 1, 1920, Freud is opposing this regressive dependent relationship when he admonishes Ferenczi - rightly or wrongly, since there are good and bad dependency relationships. While imaginary dependence on someone’s supposed authority is always alienating, willing dependence on the symbolic order of language and speech guarantees freedom and subjective identity. Freud seems not to know this difference (dear to Jacques Lacan), but Ferenczi knows it only too well. It is the source of the constant awkwardness between them, which the analysis they undertook together did not dissipate.

In 1910, in Palermo, Freud had been irritated by Ferenczi’s insistent desire for an amicable audience and shared work. He had seen it as infantile or feminine dependence. In 1912, Jung rebelled against the submissiveness that Freud imposed on his pupils, subjected to his wild interpretations. That same year, Ferenczi transformed his audience seeking into a desire for personal analysis with the only analyst he could trust. In 1920, although after the analysis this desire took another form, the yearning for an audience was still present in Ferenczi the man and the analyst, to Freud’s great displeasure. This is why, as early as January 1 of that year, he takes a severe paternal tone. Because he relies on Oedipal logic to the exclusion of everything else - that is, subjection of the son to the law of prohibition of incest enforced by the father - Freud seems to overlook the aspect of Ferenczi’s burdensome dependence that springs from a fundamental need for recognition and love. A primary' need Freud himself had described and experienced at an earlier period. Many years before, when he was developing A Project for a Scientific Psychology, which would become the foundation of psychoanalysis, he had looked closely at the mechanism of satisfaction allowing the child to attain alterity. In fact, A Project (1895) described how a living organism becomes a human body, and how the infant becomes a subject by entering the field of language, where he gains access to speech. All those many years ago, Freud had shown that the human baby’s incomplete development prevents him from discharging and quieting endogenous stimuli - originating in the cells of the body - creating needs that demand satisfaction. The infant can only achieve this satisfaction through the intervention of a helpful other attentive to his sensations and able to respond by taking “specific action.” Having been heard, the savage cry becomes an appeal though this response. Aside from structuring the space into iimer and outer, into organic and psychical, this fundamental primary response, Freud emphasises, acquires “an extremely important secondary function - viz., of bringing about an understanding with other people.” This function, which establishes the relationship with another person and leads to the emergence of a subject, comes into play, just as primary identification does, before any object-choice at the Oedipal stage. The helpfill other, like the proverbial fellow well-met, is not a paternal or maternal figure; Freud even calls it prehistoric. And it is clear that each person, whether he knows it or not, remains dependent on this fundamental relationship. It ensures the subject’s continuity of being in the world in which he must emerge, even if later he may discover that the other who heard Iris appeal is not a perfect listener, because he too has suffered castration.

The fact that Freud did not make the distinction between good dependence on speech - always mutual between two interlocutors - and the dream of an imaginary total complicity maintained, between Vienna and Budapest, a misunderstanding that would deepen over time, especially since events were now moving quickly.

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