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Loosening old ties

On May 14, 1920, Freud ends his letter dedicated to reporting on the affairs of the analytic circle, with a personal request: “I am eager also to hear personal things from you.” The personal news that Ferenczi sends on May 30 is not very good. He has just been expelled from the Medical Society to which he belonged: “I reacted organically, as usual, with a transitory heart condition [...] It was [...] otherwise only thunderstorms and threatening clouds everywhere, whose description I would rather pass up.”

Although Ferenczi no longer wants or is able to talk about himself in the excessively direct manner that once characterised him, he does so on June 4, by means of an interesting analytic situation in which he is involved: “I can discuss purely personal matters, which are nonetheless not uninteresting scientifically (to me); therewith I also accede to your request to write ‘personal things’ about myself.” Therefore, in answer to Freud’s request, Ferenczi’s long letter describes the treatment of a difficult case we will examine more closely later. Ferenczi ends his letter without the least mention of his personal life. Not responding directly to Freud’s wish is perhaps a way of placing the latter in the position of the seeker:

“Now I have written enough, at least in terms of quantity. But you have [summoned] the spirits!” Moreover, he assigns a new role to Freud, that of a potential supervisor: “Please, would you share with me your opinion about the questionable points, in not too long a time, if possible.”

Ferenczi uses this strategy to admit to Freud indirectly that although he has regained his capacity to work and to love, he is nevertheless at the mercy of disputes which complicate relations between men and women, making even the happiest relationships imperfect.

The letter dated June 4 and June 5 reveals a remarkable subjective liberation on the part of Ferenczi, who no longer needs to expose himself completely, and only invites Freud - given his presumed knowledge - to confirm or refute the pertinence of the initiatives he is taking in a particular treatment. Thanks to the progress achieved in his own analysis, as well as thanks to the moments of impasse it encountered, Ferenczi learned from his experience of transference. This knowledge reinforces his convictions, whose validity he tests in his practice, which leans more and more towards the analyst’s intervention - a new orientation Ferenczi no longer has the means of instilling in the policies of the analytic movement.

Freud answers this letter on June 17, gives some news, makes some harsh comments on the new case which Ferenczi implicitly submitted to supervision and, ignoring the admission made in the post-scriptum of Ferenczi’s letter, he adds: “I am pleased about the favorable mm in your personal affairs and ask you to give your dear wife cordial greetings from me.” The situation is clear, but delicate: Ferenczi no longer wants to indulge in the account of his love life and sex life; Freud no longer cares to hear this account, but still wants to have personal news. The time of the analysis is past for them both; this time has reshaped, more than they know, their old work relations and their friendship. Both of them regr et it but can do nothing to change it.

On July 18, Ferenczi complains:

Our correspondence, which is supposed to substitute for talking things out, is becoming more and more halting. In the end one has so much to say that one doesn’t begin with it at all - all the more since what is essential can only be communicated orally.

This situation, where a special bond remains after its initial magic has dissipated, has another significant effect: “I feel morally and intellectually isolated, cut off from the psychoanalytic movement.” In this respect too, after his analysis Ferenczi comes to admit that he must accept the solitude that will henceforth be his. In a letter written the same day, Freud appears to be in a similar state of mind: “Otherwise, I would have so much to tell you that it excludes communication by letter.”

On October 11, after both men attended the Congress in The Hague, Freud wrote:

In the Dutch tumult it was altogether impossible [for us] to talk intimately with each other. I also have no intention whatsoever of letting our private correspondence dissipate in the circular writings of the Committee, no matter how purposeful the latter may prove to be.

Then he tries to maintain a work relationship of sorts, although it be at a distance: “Just read your paper on tic. It seems very ingenious to me, quite correct and thoroughgoing, also forward-looking, but an actual high point or punch is missing.” In his reply on October 16, Ferenczi starts by referring to the profound changes in their relationship: “The private correspondence, freed of the ballast of official communications, can only gain in intimacy and caliber.” He expresses his hopes regarding this correspondence: “Here we can report to each other - [in addition] to personal communications - about germinating ideas (scientific ones), as in the good old [days].” But he knows that he himself is now unable to sustain this mutuality in theorising: “To be sure, I can’t be of service with such germinating ideas just today.” The news of himself which follows includes the mention of “a pronounced heart palpitation” that he has had for several days.

In his letter dated October 31, Freud explains why he has not commented on Ferenczi’s paper on tic: “I intentionally refrained from going more deeply into your tic, because, as on earlier occasions, I am striving not to put anything in the way of your independence.” Given their subjective disparity, Freud remains true to his ideal of an independent Ferenczi, while the latter continues to seek the space of mutuality he needs to introduce and develop his burgeoning ideas. In his letter, after providing a rationalisation for his behaviour, Freud makes a remark which combines the voice of the analyst with that of the concerned friend, when he refers to somatisation, a symptom he knows only too well. “I consider your palpitations to be less tragic and am only in doubt as to which part I should ascribe to the Basedow and which to the motionless lifestyle.” But he is mindful of his friend’s well-being: “Don’t you have any other things to be concerned about?”

Three weeks later, on November 20, Ferenczi sends Freud a brief note, to reassure him. He refers to an unspecified indisposition, “already mostly overcome,” which prevented him from writing. On November 28, Freud writes that he feels reassured by the information he received from Ferenczi’s physician. This said, he goes on to speak as Ferenczi’s disconcerted analyst: “I see that it is the same as it was years ago, and I understand it just as little as I did then.” Freud has become used to Ferenczi’s long-standing and constant physical complaints: “No doubt that you are working it out hypochondriacally, [but] strong suspicion that you have some real nucleus or other.” Freud is surely remembering that four years earlier, the last series of sessions and his refusal to continue analysing Ferenczi were followed by a four-month period of hospitalisation for the latter. As if to compensate for his admission that he fails to understand, Freud rationalises: “Your work and the conditions in your city certainly play a part in the causation.”

Three weeks later, on December 21, 1920, Ferenczi can report to Freud that he has recovered, and that a second doctor he consulted eliminated any hypochondriacal foundation for his heart condition. The letter ends on a nostalgic note, with Ferenczi remarking:

I will miss the opportunity once and for all to talk things out properly with you [.. .]! think sadly about the times when I was able to be with you every few weeks and spend half of the summer with you.

In his own last letter of the year, dated December 25, Freud shares Ferenczi’s nostalgia: “You give me the desired excuse for a Christmas letter by reminding me how different and how much more beautiful it was years ago.” Indeed, both men have now seen that the altered mode of dialogue brought about by the personal analysis has ended their easy-going intellectual complicity, just as the end of the analysis, “finished but not terminated,” had ended the intimate dialogue of their unconscious. From now on, simple, straightforward dialogue will not be possible: "Intercourse also requires a certain continuity, and when one sees one another only at great intervals, it works like [a long-distance] telephone conversation, where one also never knows what to say.” After this, Freud refers to a remark Ferenczi made in a recent circular letter: “I find the passage in your last Rundbrief excellent, where you say that we are all doing badly, but our cause is doing well.” And he adds: “It really is such that the cause is consuming us and that we are being dissolved in it, as it were.”

Ten years after he embarked on his great adventure, Freud is surprised by the turn things have taken. Having once seen his passionate intellectual complicity with Fliess dissolve in self-analysis, for the benefit of the cause, he had hoped that he could spare his disciples this experience: “[...] we are being dissolved in [the cause]. And it is probably quite right that it is [so], only I would have wished for the younger, second analytic generation to be able to resist the [dis] solution for a while longer.” Then Freud repeats his admission of what he doesn’t understand: “I don’t understand anything about your illness and satisfy myself with the constantly repeated confinnation that they don’t mean anything serious or threatening.” The analyst gives up, leaving his analysand to continue on his own, now that he is no longer on the couch. The latter is left to take elsewhere, and to deal otherwise with the love and the hate which, in transference, coloured and shaped a quest for knowledge addressed to Freud, the man.

Tire sequence of letters exchanged in 1920 makes it clear that, after the hard experience of analysis in which they were both involved, Ferenczi is no longer in total agreement with Freud on the subject of analysis, and that Freud has abandoned the wish to find an heft in him. Each one must pursue his own path alone. Freud, the rigorous theoretician, will continue to enrich the necessary' theoretical body' of knowledge. Ferenczi, tire passionate practitioner, will ceaselessly examine the practice and the metapsychology of tire psychic processes involved in the analyst’s activity. Freud would continue to explore Oedipal phenomena and the paternal function, while Ferenczi would focrts on the more primal level of tire early relationship with the mother who cares for the infant. Freud believes that the relationship with the father - the witness to castration - is the key to recovery; Ferenczi relies on restoring a pre-traumatic relationship, to counteract the deadly influence of a harsh mother. Practised in the art of treating feminine hysteria, Freud avoids dealing with “crazy” women, while Ferenczi resolutely takes into treatment these women in whom love is close to a pathology and has the characteristics of erotomania.

Although Freud, like Ferenczi, was uncompromising in his resolve that psychoanalysis must not become medicalised, imlike his former analysand, Freud was always careful to preserve cohesion in the IPA; their respective advocacy of lay analysis was a case in point. Showing less diplomacy in his interactions and more daring in his experiments, Ferenczi maintained his singularity in his participation in the life of the analytic movement. Willing to be outrageous, he was going to point out the limited effectiveness and the pitfalls of what he called classical analysis, as practised by overly obedient and insufficiently inventive analysts. He would always prefer, instead of the teaching provided by the Berlin Institute, the training gained - or not - through personal analysis, reinforced by the deepening of the analyst’s work in his practice.

This is the acquired wealth from which Ferenczi benefits at the end of the first stage of his adventure, whose structure and orientation were entirely determined - in our opinion - by his experience on Freud’s couch. For Ferenczi, the fundamental impasse in his analysis consisted of its interruption, decided on by Freud.

This active intervention on Freud’s part had beneficial effects: Ferenczi became a decisive and self-assured analyst. If fate had not intervened, he would have been at the helm of the analytic movement. Freud had cause to be pleased with his analysand’s progress, now that he had become the combative colleague who could later be chosen as his successor. But this same firm positioning also had detrimental effects. Ferenczi was solidly entangled in inner complications that constituted impediments to harmonious sexual relations in his love life. Specifically, he remained blocked by a knot consisting, not of ambivalence, but of the turning against oneself of powerless rage that failed to become hatred turned outward. Indeed. Freud failed to see, in the somatic events strewn throughout Ferenczi’s analysis, the infant’s rage hying to emerge as hate in the present context of negative transference. Yet Ferenczi had posed a specific question when he made his request for analysis: “I don’t know [...] how much that is apparently organic is psychogenic. (I would like to be instructed by you about that.)” The analysis gave this theoretical question, so deeply rooted in the body, real form: the Basedow’s syndrome and the many and various functional disorders about which Freud finally admitted that he miderstood nothing - an admission that the real left him baffled. The fact that in the fall of 1916 Freud cut off all possibility of continuing the treatment condemned this fiurdamental analytic question to remain unanswered, and the analysis itself to be left unfinished.

This shortcoming of the treatment contributed to separating the two men, but, as Freud maintained - and despite the cost - in the best possible manner. The element related to subject-formation processes, which was problematic in Ferenczi’s life and was not worked through in his analysis, did not remain a crippling symptom. Although Freud neglected it in the analysis. Ferenczi rediscovered it in his new relation to his practice. It was up to him to become the analyst of what was left unanalysed in his history. This is what he wants Freud to know, and it is to that purpose that he describes how he has worked with the “craziness” of Eugénie Sokolnicka, who would become an analyst and whose analysis with Freud the latter had interrupted. The fact that the end of his own analysis was inadequate did not produce a crippling symptom in Ferenczi, but prompted the search for a way to continue on elsewhere and differently. Paradoxically, the worst produced the best, even if Ferenczi remained focused on the question of the end of analysis, which became the subject of his future investigations. While Freud formulated the first fundamental rule of psychoanalysis, Ferenczi formulated the second, the rale concerning in-depth analysis for friture analysts.

Ferenczi understood that he had no choice but to become and to remain, as Lacan said in 1955, “the first-generation author who most relevantly raised the question of what is required of the analyst as a person, in particular as regards the end of the treatment.” This is the task to which he would devote himself henceforth, with or without Freud. Does this mean that, as Lou Andreas-Salomé wished and predicted since 1913, Ferenczi’s time has finally come? In any case, she still believes in him and in his ideas.

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