Desktop version

Home arrow History

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font

<<   CONTENTS   >>

Sabina Spielrein

It is not possible to move on in Jung’s story without giving further amplification to the meaning of Siegfried, so central is this image to Jung’s work prior to his split with Freud and the mythic system he shared with Sabina Spielrein, a woman who fit into Jung’s personal quest like a hand in glove. In fact, she was the occasion for his descent into incestuous sexual fantasy. In his book entitled A Most Dangerous Method, John Kerr (1993) details the documentary record of Spielrein’s intimate relationship to Jung (and Freud as well, which will not be emphasized in this summary). His research reveals several amazing facts: Spielrein had been closest to Jung during his personal transformation that first made Jung a Freudian; she was at the center of the developing relationship between Freud and Jung; and last but not least, she stirred up a hornet’s nest by revealing Jung’s secret, polygamous self that didn’t think like Freud. Her revelations, however, only fueled an inevitable eruption between Freud and Jung.

So why does our first glimpse of her importance come six decades later with the publication of the Freud-Jung correspondence in 1974? The letters implicate Jung and Spielrein in a potentially disastrous scandal, barely covered up between Freud and Jung, an affair which could have had fatal consequences for the science of psychoanalysis - and the very thing Freud was avoiding in 1896 when he switched his focus from reality to fantasy. Rather than being caught up in his vision of Jung as the son and heir of psychoanalysis, mirror to his narcissistic object, Freud should have been scrutinizing Jung’s emotional stability. “In retrospect, it becomes clear why it was not accidental that her name has not come up before now . . .;” her story is an exemplar of the “insidious silence that gradually overtook psychoanalysis at this time” (Kerr, 1993: 13).

No one would have wished Spielrein more silent than Jung, a woman with whom he succumbed to enacting his incestuous desires, and with whom he had come to feel weak and exposed; he had indeed attempted to “erase the danger of discovery.” For example, Jung’s new interpretive scheme in Part II of Symbols entitled “Sacrifice” had originated in reaction to his personal involvement with Spielrein (Kerr, 1993). And despite the fact that Spielrein was the first to go into print with data supporting Jung’s phylogenetic contention, he neglected to reference the fact that there was another theory of the unconscious that paralleled his own. Spielrein’s considerable contributions, like her earlier protests as a patient and a lover, were ignored and then deliberately erased. And in order to make his own misconduct non-existent, Jung projects the succubus onto her. However, the demon kicked out the front door always finds its way in through a back window; Jung, caught up in a intense conflict within his own being, claimed innocence of any wrong doing, only to find himself later, in his descent, struggling with the magnified echoes of his own protests. Jung concealed the true nature of his relationship with Spielrein, which means that his enactments in relation to her exemplify the relationship between power and the projection of shame through the image of the succubus - the focus of the following explication of Jung’s relationship with her.

Jung first met Spielrein when she was a hysterical patient at the Burgholzli Psychiatric Clinic in Switzerland, at that time the foremost psychiatric teaching hospital in the world. Spielrein’s wealthy parents had brought their daughter all the way from Russia for a cure, and Jung was the physician put in charge of the case. She eventually became his first psychoanalytic test case when Jung began seeing her on an outpatient basis. To make the long story of her two-year cure very short, Spielrein’s burgeoning self-confidence and recovery from psychotic hysteria was leading her in the direction of becoming a psychoanalyst. This was paralleled by the appearance of Siegfried in her dreams. In Spielrein’s own words:

it was Wagner who planted the demon in my soul with such terrifying clarity. I shall omit the metaphors, since you might laugh at the extravagance of my emotion. The whole world became a melody for me: the earth sang, the trees sang, and every twig on every tree.

(Carotenuto, 1983: 107)

Spielrein wanted to have the love-child Siegfried with Jung. The appeal of Wagner’s Siegfried seemed to lie in the fact that although Siegfried is a sun hero in a cosmological struggle, he is also an innocent orphan who needs the selfsacrificial protection of a woman who he, in turn, rescues and loves.

Thus Siegfried came into being; he was supposed to become the greatest genius, because Dr. Jung’s image as a descendant of the gods floated before me, and from childhood on I had had a premonition that I was not destined for a mundane life. I felt flooded with energy, all nature spoke directly to me.

(Carotenuto, 1983: 108)

Spielrein felt strongly that a great destiny awaited her. Another important dimension of Spielrein’s Siegfried complex was a psychic intuition and the production of prophetic dreams. In addition to foreseeing the future, Spielrein felt she could see the hidden complexes of people, most especially Jung. She could see into his secrets, a place where shame hides. For example, among her prophetic dreams was one that revealed Jung’s secret wish to have the son Siegfried. Spielrein believed in it - and Jung believed in it. Her imagined magical omnipotence with symbiotic overtones is revealed in the idea that she was “able to read Dr. Jung’s thoughts both when he was nearby and a distance, and he could do the same with me.” Jung interpreted the similarity of their work as a manifestation of telepathy, and thought that they had “swallowed part of each other’s souls.” Yet this “secret penetration of thought” was not for the public.

Spielrein plays right into Jung’s incestuous, heroic fantasies. For Jung, Siegfried became the Oedipal drama of incestuous attachment as well as the mother-imago of his birth:

If only I knew

What my mother was like!

But that will my thought never tell me!

Her eyes’ tender light

Surely did shine

Like the soft eyes of the doe.

(Wagner quoted in Jung, 1955: 363)

This maternal longing is reflected in how he responds when she first tells Jung about Siegfried in early 1907:

When I confessed to Dr. Jung for the first time, he treated me with tenderest friendship, like a father, if you will. He admitted to me that from time to time he, too, had to consider such matters in connection with me (i.e. his affinity with me and the possible consequences), that such wishes are not alien to him, but the world happens to be arranged in such a way, etc., etc. This talk calmed me completely, since my ambitia was not wounded and the thought of his great love made me want to keep him perfectly “pure.”

(Carotenuto, 1983: 108)

Jung ends up writing a letter to Freud in July of 1907 admitting his illegitimate wish for a male child “that had better not see the light of day:”

A hysterical patient told me that a verse from a poem by Lermontov was continually going around in her head. The poem is about a prisoner whose sole companion is a bird in a cage. The prisoner is animated only by one wish: sometime in his life, as his noblest deed, to give some creature its freedom. He opens the cage and lets his beloved bird fly out. What is the patient’s greatest wish? “Once in my life I would like to help someone to perfect freedom through psychoanalytic treatment.” In her dream she is condensed with me. She admits that actually her great wish is to have a child by me who would fulfill all her unfulfillable wishes. For that purpose I would naturally have to let “the bird out” first. (In Swiss German we say: “Has your birdie whistled?”)

(Freud, 1974: 72-73)

A pretty little chain, isn’t it? Do you know Kaulback’s pornographic picture: “Who Buys Love-gods?” (Winged phalli looking like cocks, getting up to all sorts of monkey-tricks with the girls.)

(p. 150)

The Siegfried fantasy was a shared incestuous fantasy of brother-sister/ mother-son; interpretations, fantasy and lived experience all merge together. “Siegfried stood simultaneously for the son she would give Jung and for Jung himself, with Spielrein in the role of the protective, self-sacrificing mother. By the same token . . . Jung was fathering himself through her" (Kerr, 1993: 227).

Jung obviously did not come to terms with the need to sacrifice his ideals and conscious attitude or will. There was no surrender in his heroic quest and acceptance of “incomplete masculinity." Jung plainly conceals the truth of the meaning of Siegfried in a 1925 seminar when he is talking about his dream:

Siegfried was not an especially sympathetic figure to me, and I don’t know why my unconscious got engrossed in him. Wagner’s Siegfried, especially, is exaggeratedly extraverted and at times actually ridiculous. I never liked him. Nevertheless my dream showed him to be my hero. I could not understand the strong emotion I had with the dream. I can tell it here appropriately because it connects with the theme we have been discussing with respect to art, that is, with the change in values.

(1989: 56)

Hidden in Siegfreid is the instinctual incestuous desire of a hidden part of himself - his infantile desire for the forbidden mother through the birth of a child. This primitive content lies behind Jung’s abandonment of his role as Spielrein’s analyst. Jung was a hopeless romantic, but now the romanticized hero merges with a romanticized succubus and the child killer. Seduced by the idea of Spielrein’s love for him and fulfilling his wish for a male genius child, Jung begins sexualizing his relationship with Spielrein.

In the late Spring of 1908, he could no longer resist what he perceived to be her seductive temptations, a positive transference turning into uncontrollable infatuation. Spielrein records the moment in her diary:

I told him [Jung] how my exams had gone, but was deeply depressed that he displayed no pleasure at hearing I was capable of doing good work after all and was now an official candidate for the medical degree. I was ashamed of having believed in any prophecies and told myself: not only does he not love me, I am not even a good acquaintance, whose welfare matters to him. He wanted to show me we were complete strangers to each other, and it is humiliating if I now go to see him. But I decided to go the following Friday, but to act completely professional. The devil whispered other things to me, but I no longer believed them . . . Now he arrives, beaming with pleasure, and tells me with strong emotion . . . about the great insight he has just received (i.e. about polygamy); he no longer wants to suppress his feeling for me, he admitted that I was his first, dearest friend, etc., etc. (his wife of course excepted), and that he wanted to tell me everything about himself. So once more this most curious coincidence that the devil so unexpectedly turned out to be right.

(Carotenuto, 1983: 107)

After seeing her at a boating party, Jung writes to her:

I must tell you briefly what a lovely impression I received of you today. Your image has changed completely, and I want to tell you how very, very happy it makes me to be able to hope that there are people who are like me, people in whom living and thinking are one; You can’t believe how much it means to me to hope I can love someone whom I do not have to condemn, and who does not condemn herself either, to suffocate in the banality of habit.

(Carotenuto, 1983: 239)

The projective, infantile nature of Jung’s love is obvious. Jung and Spielrein were merged and he felt no shame. There is no hero who has to die, no hiding or hoping the ground beneath your feet opens and swallows you up. He wants to live with her in a heavenly, magical paradise beyond reality. He wants to reveal everything about himself and never feel powerless. He wants to bring this inner world into reality in the outer world. On August 12, 1908 he writes: “I happen to be terribly suspicious, and always think other people are trying to exploit and tyrannize me . . .” The world is not perfect infantile bliss, and Jung was entangling himself in a complex web as he began to act shamelessly. He had become an official representative of psychoanalysis with his installment as the editor-in-chief of the new Jahrbuch and could not afford a public spectacle. Nevertheless, he compromised too much of what others were fighting for when he attempted to introduce Spielrein into his household.

Then Jung began to have second thoughts, which led to the withdrawal of his affections. In December 1908 Jung writes to Spielrein:

My dear, I regret so much; I regret my weaknesses and curse the fate that is threatening me . . . My mind is torn to its very depths . . . Will you forgive me for being as I am? For offending you by being like this, and forgetting my duties as a doctor towards you? . . . Give me back now something of the love and patience and unselfishness which I was able to give you at the time of your illness. Now I am ill.

(Carotenuto, 1983: 240)

Spielrein writes back: “You are trying to suppress all the stronger feelings you have towards me. As a result you are surviving on mere diplomacy and lies” (p. 240).

Spielrein turned to Freud in search of help. She sent a single long letter to Freud in late June of 1909 incoherently detailing her relationship to Jung. Spielrein was part of Jung’s clandestine world so that she ended up revealing his “secret career as a sorcerer’s apprentice” (Kerr, 1993: 222). Meanwhile, Jung is afraid that Spielrein is spreading scandalous rumors about him.

When Jung gets caught, he projects his shame onto Spielrein. In his description of her to Freud where he attempts to maintain his secret, she has gone from femme inspiratrice to succubus. The following is Jung’s first (1909) explanation to Freud:

The last and worst straw is that a complex is playing Old Harry with me: a woman patient, whom years ago I pulled out of a sticky neurosis with unstinting devotion, has violated my confidence and my friendship in a most mortifying way imaginable. She has kicked up a scandal solely because I denied myself the pleasure of giving her a child. I have always acted the gentleman towards her, but before the bar of my rather too sensitive conscience I nevertheless don’t feel clean, and that is what hurts the most because my intentions were always honourable. But you know how it is - the devil can use even the best of things for the fabrication of filth. Meanwhile I have learnt an unspeakable amount of marital wisdom, for until now I had totally inadequate idea of my polygamous components despite all self-analysis. Now I know where and how the devil can be laid by the heels.

(Freud, 1974: 207)

And further on he writes:

At the moment I don’t know what to say. Spielrein is the person I wrote to you about. . . . She was, so to speak, my test case, for which reason I remembered her with special gratitude and affection. Since I knew from experience that she would immediately relapse if I withdrew my support, I prolonged the relationship over the years and in the end found myself morally obliged, as it were, to devote a large measure of friendship to her, until I saw that an unintended wheel had started turning, whereupon I broke with her. She was, of course, systematically planning my seduction, which I considered inopportune. Now she is seeking revenge . . . Now of course the whole bag of tricks lies quite clearly before my “eyes” [italics mine].

(pp. 228-229)

Jung had indeed lost pride, and is weakened by this loss of honor. But his eyes are blindly projecting his shame to maintain an intact ego and the power to mask his weakness and fragility.

Spielrein meets Jung face to face to proclaim that she had not started the scandalous rumors, and demands a settlement: he would write to Freud and admit that he was largely to blame for the “high flying hopes of his former patient” and apologize for his cowardly behavior. Jung was exposed in a most uncomfortable situation and forced to explain more. Incited by her confrontation, Jung admits that he seduced Spielrein, and that he had attempted to hide his shame behind her. Jung writes another letter to Freud on June 21, 1909 admitting his cowardliness:

Caught in my delusion that I was the victim of the sexual wiles of my patient, I wrote to her mother [Frau Spielrein had asked Jung for an explanation] that I was not the gratifier of her daughter’s sexual desires but merely her doctor, and that she should free me from her. In view of the fact that the patient had shortly before been my friend and enjoyed my full confidence, my action was a piece of knavery which I very reluctantly confess to you as my father.

(Freud, 1974: 235)

Freud acts in unison by moving to protect the future of psychoanalysis and keep his “crown prince” clean and unblemished. He acts to protect psychoanalysis from a downfall: “if I am Moses, then you are Joshua and will take possession of the promised land of psychiatry, which I shall only be able to glimpse from afar” (McGuire quoted in Carotenuto, 1983: 241). He advises Jung not to become too contrite, and understands the trouble as a hazard of the countertransference. He concurs with Jung’s assessment of feminine seduction and forgives all. In other words, the complicity between Freud and Jung is accomplished through the projection of their shame onto the succubus. Freud absolves Jung of any wrongdoing. It was not that Jung was powerless, but that he had succumbed to Spielrein’s seductive charm. In a letter to Jung, Freud writes: “The way these women manage to charm us with every conceivable psychic perfection until they have attained their purpose is one of nature’s greatest spectacles” (1974: 231); and he adds a quote from Mephisto to support his statement: “And another thing: ‘In league with the Devil and yet you fear fire?’ ”

Discussion of the matter ended in a letter from Freud to Jung in 1909. “Don’t fault yourself for drawing me into it; it was not your doing but hers. And the matter has ended in a manner satisfactory to all . . . ” (1974: 238). Spielrein felt otherwise:

To suffer this disdain at the hands of a person whom one loved more than anything in the world for four, five years, to whom one gave the most beautiful part of one’s soul, to whom one sacrificed one’s maidenly pride, allowing oneself to be kissed, etc., for the first and perhaps the last time in my life, because when he began my treatment I was nothing but a naive child . . . Miserable good for nothing, let Siegfried die . . .

(Carotenuto, 1983: 93)

And for Jung, it spelled the beginning of the end of his relationship to Freud. Kerr writes:

But beyond both his loss and whatever self-recriminations may have haunted him, the most important aspect of the Spielrein affair was the change it occasioned in his relationship with Freud. For Jung had been quite earnest in trying to broaden both his theoretical outlook and the professional audience to which he was addressing himself. Even now, he was making plans to attend the Sixth International Congress . . . His personal resentment - “neurotic ingratitude” - toward Freud had been no less real. To be sure, Freud had stood by him in the crisis and that counted for a great deal. Yet gratitude was a mantel that a man like Jung could only chafe under, and Freud’s various remarks of the last few months could not have gone down easily . . . their personal relationship, so crucial to Jung’s early enthusiasm, was decisively altered.

(1993: 230)

The “mantel” that Jung could only “chafe under” is his rivalry and plain competitiveness with Freud. Jung, a particularly shame-sensitive person, has shown himself in a cowardly light and is completely humiliated. In his 1925 seminar, Jung tells the killing of Siegfried dream a little differently, and in a way that ties the hero to Jung’s cowardice with Spielrein and collusion with Freud:

Presently, around a bend in the trail he came upon us, and we fired full into his breast. Then I was filled with horror and disgust at myself for the cowardice of what we had done. The little man with me went forward, and I knew he was going to drive the knife into Siegfried’s heart, but that was just a little too much for me, and I turned and fled. I had the idea of getting away as fast as I could to a place where “they” could not find me. I had the choice of going down into the valley or further up the mountains by a faint trail. I chose the latter, and as I ran there broke upon me a perfect deluge of rain.

(1989: 56-57)

In admitting his shame to his “father,” he was momentarily unmasked and stripped of the grandiosity that hid an empty self. He was able to see that he “imputed all the wishes and hopes entirely to (his) patient without seeing the same thing in himself.” Nevertheless, through Jung and Freud’s complicity to dismiss Spielrein, Jung had escaped the danger of exposure by going up the mountain and being cleansed by the “perfect deluge of rain” - but shame always catches up. Ironically, Spielrein - who in her agony over Jung’s disdain towards her prayed “to let Siegfried die” - got her wish.

In their collusion to preserve their personal aims, both Jung and Freud look with blind eyes. This means that their loss and shame will be pushed into the unconscious. Acting in their own interests, they dismiss the damage done to a then 21-year-old (but considerably mature) woman who not too long before was a patient diagnosed with psychotic hysteria. They misjudge her true worth, don’t see the value of her brilliant theory on repression, and justify their dismissal of her by casting her again in the role of patient - as though the presence of an illness precludes an individual from having a voice or vision. When driven by the ego pursuits of prestige and power, a man can’t help but rise in defense of himself. Both Freud and Jung were compelled to win the great race to systematize psychoanalytic theory, and both ended up acting spinelessly. Jung writes to Freud:

I’ll gladly take Spielrein’s new paper [Destruction as a Cause of Coming Into Being] for the first number of Jahrbuch 1912. It demands a great deal of revision, but then the little girl has always been very demanding with me. However, she’s worth it. I am glad you don’t think badly of her.

(Carotenuto, 1983: 77)

And on April 1, 1912, Jung begins with a quote from Horace:

I was working on Spielrein’s paper just before my departure. One must say: “desinat in piscem mulier formose superne” (What at the top is a lovely woman ends below in a fish; Horace). After a very promising start the continuation and end trail off dismally. Particularly the "Life and Death in Mythology” chapter needed extensive cutting as it contained gross errors and, worse still, faulty, one-sided interpretations. She has read too little and has fallen flat in this paper because it is not thorough enough. One must say by way of excuse that she has brought her problem to bear on an aspect of mythology that bristles with riddles. Besides that her paper is heavily overweighted with her own complexes. My criticism should be administered to the little authoress in refracta dosi only, please, if at all. I shall be writing to her myself before long.

(Freud, 1974: 77-78)

The woman with whom he felt no shame, the woman who loved him and whom he loved in return, the woman with whom he wanted to give birth to the love child Siegfried, is now diminished and finally dismissed as a demanding little girl. Their contempt is made all the more outrageous when one considers the significant impact that her work had on both Freud and Jung’s. Destruction as a Cause of Coming Into Being is the unspoken other half of Jung’s thinking in Part II of Symbols, and Spielrein inspired Freud’s landmark insights on transference and countertransference, as well as his concept of the death instinct (Kerr, 1993).

Despite their depreciation of her, however, through the "transference cure” of her psychosis with Jung and her friendship with Freud, Spielrein was able to give voice to her true self. Spielrein seemed to conceive of her own contributions, and was anything but a woman out for revenge. She remained deprived until 1974 of the one thing she wanted - recognition - despite demonstrating great psychic strength in its pursuit. Foremost amongst her admirable handling of the whole disastrous affair is her commitment to stay true to her resolve to separate from Jung in a loving way - in a way true to the story of Siegfried. She tries not to take sides in Freud and Jung’s split, despite Freud’s insistence for her to choose sides; in a letter to Spielrein he states: "My personal relationship with your Germanic hero has definitely been shattered” (a word reminiscent of "torn” or "smashed to pieces”), and "of course I want you to succeed in casting aside as so much trash your infantile dreams of the Germanic champion and hero” (Freud quoted in Carotenuto, 1983: 122). She takes care that Jung is not seen as a rogue by Freud, whom she eventually consults to resolve her feelings for the man who "smashed her whole life.” Even after Freud and Jung’s complicity disintegrated into hatred for each other, she continued for the next decade to seek their mutual recognition: in a letter to Freud she writes, “in spite of all his wavering I like Jung and would like to lead him back into our fold. You, Professor, and he have not the faintest idea that you belong together far more than anyone might suspect” (quoted in Carotenuto, p. 112). At the very least, Freud and Jung belonged together in their shame, and Spielrein, among anyone else, would be the one to suspect. The cover of John Kerr’s book, A Most Dangerous Method, depicts the three faces of Jung, Spielrein, and Freud, in that order. Jung and Freud’s face meets the onlooker directly and fills the entire frame, while Spielrein’s image is distinguished by its placement between Freud and Jung’s and depicts her small and at a distance, sitting and reading, head down as though in shame. If the idea that the medium contains the message is true, then the photos convey the idea that she carries their shame.

Jung’s descent was as much precipitated by his loss of Spielrein as it was about his loss of Freud - two objects of dependence Jung had to omnipotently destroy. This is the double meaning of the murder of Siegfried. It is hard to fathom how Jung wrote Memories, Dreams and Reflections so many years later without so much as mentioning Spielrein’s name.

<<   CONTENTS   >>

Related topics