Freud: Conflict & Culture

Like many doctors, writers, and philosophers working at the end of the nineteenth century, Freud grew increasingly interested in the unconscious. He took the unconscious to be a dimension of human life at once inaccessible and important as a source of thoughts and actions. In his efforts to decipher the meanings of hysterical symptoms and other neglected mental phenomena that seemed beyond conscious control (such as dreams and slips of the tongue), Freud moved further away from his neurological training. Committed to the idea that apparently meaningless behaviors actually expressed unconscious conflict, he developed techniques for determining what the behaviors might mean. This section -- divided into six parts -- introduces us to some of Freud's most famous patients and the key concepts with which he tried to make sense of their symptoms and their lives.

Anna O — Hypnosis to Free Association

Freud's interest in what lay beyond conscious life and in hypnotism and hysteria led him to study with the famous neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot of the Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris. When Freud returned to Vienna, he began using hypnosis, massage, and pressure on the head to get patients to dredge up thoughts related to their symptoms. Only later did he ask them to say whatever crossed their minds. This he called "free association," what the patient "Anna O." had already described as the "talking cure."

Neurology and Hypnosis

When Freud went to Paris in 1885 to study with Jean-Martin Charcot, the neurologist had already shifted his own focus from neuropathology to problems of hysteria, hypnotism, and suggestion. Charcot documented the stages of hysteria with photography. This practice was suspect, however, since patients tended to perform for the camera and doctors to record the most photogenic. Freud, too, would devote himself to the study of hysteria but tried to avoid provoking symptoms from patients eager to perform.

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  • Freud's translation of Charcot's lectures into German. Holograph manuscript, 1886. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress (35)

  • Images of hysterics under hypnosis at Salpêtrière, from D.M. Bourneville and P. Régnard. 2 - 3 - 4. Photographic Iconography of Salpêtrière. Paris: 1876-1880. Copyprint. General Collections (29)

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Theory is good; but it doesn't prevent things from existing.

Charcot, 1886

I felt no particular partiality for the position and activity of a physician in those early years, nor, by the way, later. Rather, I was moved by a sort of greed for knowledge.

Sigmund Freud, 1925

Suggestion and hypnosis

Hippolyte Bernheim, a rival of Charcot's, was convinced that hysteria was the product of suggestion and could be treated through hypnosis. Freud supported Bernheim's attempt to make hypnosis and suggestion legitimate subjects for scientific inquiry, and to develop them as therapeutic devices.

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But this procedure of free association and so on is queer, because Freud never shows how we know where to stop -- here is the right solution.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, 1942

Anna O. and Free Association

Freud was impressed by what he heard from his colleague Josef Breuer about one of his patients, Bertha Pappenheim (1859–1936), called Anna O. in the case history. By describing her traumatic experiences and feelings about them to Breuer she seemed to get some relief from debilitating symptoms such as partial paralysis and hallucinations. Although Breuer's treatment was not nearly as successful as he and Freud claimed, Pappenheim eventually overcame her symptoms to become an innovative social worker and a leader of the women's movement in Germany.

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The hysterical attack corresponds to a memory from a patient's life.

Sigmund Freud, 1895

Studies on Hysteria -- First edition

This joint publication of Freud's and Breuer's lays out their theory of hysteria, describing how the hysteric experiences the illness and sometimes overcomes it by gaining insight into how it came about. In the draft of "Architecture of Hysteria," Freud tries to sort through the relation of fantasies to accurate memories of traumatic events.

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Anna O.'s illness was the desperate struggle of an unsatisfied young woman who found no outlets for her physical and mental energies, nor for her idealistic strivings.

Henri F. Ellenberger, 1972

Rather than continuing her [Anna O.'s] role as a passive hysterical patient, through her writing she became one who controlled her own cure.

Elaine Showalter, 1993

Abandoning Hypnosis and Suggestion

With hypnotic suggestion, a doctor commanded patients to stop having symptoms. With free association, the analyst intended to create conditions in which patients could grasp the significance of their symptoms and thereby free themselves from illness. But how free was free association? Did psychoanalysts still make use of suggestive powers -- like hypnotists or Charcot's photographers -- even when they no longer gave overt commands to their patients?

"Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis." Holograph manuscript, 1910. Page 2. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress (33)

Read the transcript

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No evidence shows that only the patient's unconscious ideas guide the trains of associations in psychoanalytic treatment . . .

Malcolm Macmillan, 1991

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Rat Man, Wolf Man — Interpretation

For Freud, interpretation was necessary to give meaning to the apparently random thoughts of free association. Freud's focus was on reading the obscure language of the unconscious, and he developed techniques of interpretation in order to do so. In the cases of patients known as Rat Man and Wolf Man, he wove together elaborate stories, explanations, and speculations to make sense out of constellations of symptoms that seemed impossibly puzzling. These case histories, written for colleagues, read like detective novels in which the analyst deciphers the significance of symptoms as if they are clues.

Rat Man

In the case history known as "The Rat Man," Freud tells the story of Ernst Lanzer (1878 1914), a young lawyer plagued by powerful obsessions involving rats, torture, and punishment. Lanzer's obsessive acts and thoughts were traced to his deep ambivalence about sexuality and about his father. These symptoms expressed his ambivalence even as they covered it up. Freud's original process notes from this case are the most complete that still exist. He worked his raw materials into a publishable form that would serve the purposes of his theory, sometimes exaggerating the beneficial effects of the treatment and even its duration.

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It still strikes me as strange that the case histories I write should read like short stories and that, as one might say, they lack the serious stamp of science.

Sigmund Freud, 1895

Freud regarded memory and motive as inseparable. Recollection could have no force, no meaning, unless it was allied with motive.

Oliver Sacks, 1998

The Case of the Wolf Man

In the case history known as "The Wolf Man," Sergei Pankejeff (1887 1979), a wealthy Russian aristocrat, is described as suffering from debilitating compulsions and fears resulting from his sexual development having gone awry at an early age. Freud focused Pankejeff's attention on a childhood dream which seemed to encapsulate his early traumas and current fears: a dream of wolves perched in a tree outside his open bedroom window. Doctor and patient sought to determine the wish that the dream disguised.

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  • Image of Sergei Pankejeff with sister Anna, ca. 1894. Sergei Pankejeff Papers. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress (45)

  • Image of Sergei Pankejeff with family in Odessa, n.d. Sergei Pankejeff Papers. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress (46)

  • Image of Sergei Pankejeff self-portrait watercolor, ca. 1919. Sergei Pankejeff Papers. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress (47)

  • Image of Sergei Pankejeff with wife Therese, ca. 1910. Sergei Pankejeff Papers. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress (48)

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Let the credulous and the vulgar continue to believe that all mental woes can be cured by a daily application of old Greek myths to their private parts.

Vladimir Nabokov, 1951

If one takes Freud's advice, one finds psychological narratives without heroes or heroines.

Richard Rorty, 1984

Constructions in Analysis

Throughout his career Freud often considered what it was that made an analytic interpretation effective, and how it might be proven true. How were the interventions of the analyst different from the suggestions of a hypnotist? In this essay from very late in his life, Freud returned to the question of the influence of the analyst and how interpretation, construction, memory, and insight might be related to one another.

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Freud has a peculiar tendency to smuggle sexual significance into all possible and impossible dream contents.

Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 1901

I must therefore content myself with bringing forward fragmentary portions, which the reader can put together into a living whole.

Sigmund Freud, 1937

Dora and H.D. — Transference

Freud used the concepts of "transference" and "counter-transference" to refer to the strong emotions projected by the patient onto the doctor and the doctor onto the patient. A transference -- such as treating an analyst like one's father -- might promote therapeutic work, but Freud was also aware that this could distort a patient's (and an analyst's) perspective. Given that an analysis might seem successful entirely because it felt that way, Freud (and his critics) wanted to know how to determine if it had in fact produced true insight. This influence of patient-doctor emotions on analysis plays a central role in two cases. One came at the beginning of Freud's analytic career (the case of Ida Bauer, whom Freud called "Dora") and another at the end (the case of poet Hilda Doolittle, who called herself "H.D.").

Dora — A Botched Case

Ida Bauer (1882-1945), the patient Freud wrote about as "Dora," was sent to him in 1900 suffering from so-called "hysterical" symptoms: a nervous cough, depression, and unsociability. The teenager had been resisting the advances of a family friend -- the husband of a woman with whom Dora's father was having an affair. Rather than interpreting what these hysterical symptoms meant to Dora, Freud insisted that they must have the significance that his theory of the sexual roots of hysteria required. Dora rejected Freud and his ideas and left the treatment.

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[Psychoanalysis] all seems to me a false working-up, and an inducement to hysteria and insanity.

D. H. Lawrence, 1921

Introductory Lectures

In the winter terms of 1915-1916 and 1916-1917, Freud gave lectures on psychoanalysis to general audiences of men and women at the University of Vienna. In the lecture on transference he gave an elementary account of how the emotions of patients led them during therapy to repeat patterns from their earliest relationships. The goal of treatment was to make the patient aware of this repetition, bringing to consciousness what had been unconscious.

"Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis -- Transference." Holograph manuscript, 1916 1917. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress (51B)

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Indeed, analysis does not set out to prevent pathological reactions, but should give the patient's ego freedom to decide one way or another.

Sigmund Freud, 1923

H.D. — An Archaeology of Spirit

In 1933 Freud began treating the poet H.D.(1886-1961), who came to him, she said, "to fortify and equip myself to face the war when it came." They shared a passion for archaeology and mythology. For both, Athena, the goddess of wisdom and warfare, carried special significance.

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Once the patient is free of the last authority, the therapist, he has achieved the only possible and real freedom; he is himself alone -- however diminished that self may be.

Philipp Rieff, 1979

From Acting Out to Recollection

In 1933 Freud began treating the poet H.D.(1886-1961), who came to him, she said, "to fortify and equip myself to face the war when it came." They shared a passion for archaeology and mythology. For both, Athena, the goddess of wisdom and warfare, carried special significance.

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take my hands in your hands,
teach me to remember,
teach me not to remember.

H.D., 1961

Ends of Analysis

In 1937 Freud asked what it meant for an analysis to reach its end. The patient and analyst could decide to stop meeting, but did that mean there were no unconscious conflicts left to discover? In this pessimistic essay, Freud emphasizes again that unconscious conflicts will remain (even after a successful analysis) and may cause significant disturbances.

"Analysis Terminable and Interminable." Holograph manuscript, 1937. Manuscript Division. Library of Congress (58B)

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No psychoanalyst goes further than his own complexes and internal resistances permit.

Sigmund Freud, 1910

It is the body of Dora which speaks pain, desire, speaks a force divided and contained.

Hélène Cixous, 1976

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