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(For reasons of readability, the male form is used with personal names, however the female form is also always intended.)

Why still and again Freud?

Author: Thomas Aichhorn


It is truly gratifying that from now on there will be an online magazine called "The Vienna Psychoanalyst". At first, I gladly accepted the request to write a leading article for it. However, when I tried to answer the questions, especially the first one - "What fascinates you about psychoanalysis? Is there something you do not like about it?"- I soon realized that I do not know the answers to some of the questions. For the first question, "What fascinates you about psychoanalysis?", I have no appropriate response, because I believe that it no longer is “the psychoanalysis”, whatever that was or should be. This made me think.
Back to "Der Wiener Psychoanalytiker"-Who other than Sigmund Freud should it be?
But, why still and again Freud?

In February 1920, Freud writes Ernest Jones that a colleague had given him a book by Havelock Ellis as a present: “…containing an essay on ψA or rather on my personality which is the most refined and amiable form of resistance and repudiation calling me a great artist in order to injure the validity of our scientific claims [which is a wrong, I am sure in a few decades my name will be wiped away and our results will last]”. {Freud, S. (1993e [1908 – 39]): Letters Sigmund Freud – Ernest Jones, 1908 – 1939. Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer Verlag, S. 370.}

The prediction that Freud´s name would be forgotten for the sake of psychoanalysis´ scientific validity has not yet fulfilled itself. The fact that psycho-analysis has remained closely connected to Freud´s name has different reasons. The reproduction of psycho-analysis, i.e. psychoanalysts does not only occur as part of a theoretic-practical education, whose learning-processes take place within the medium of basic general knowledge, but also through training-analysis, which refers back to Freud’s enigmatic messages. {Gondek, H-D. (1998): „La séance continue“ Jacques Derrida und die Psychoanalyse. In: Jacques Derrida Vergessen wir nicht – die Psychoanalyse! Frankfurt am Main: edition suhrkamp, S. 182f}                                                                                                                                   
Michel Foucault counted Freud among the “initiators of discursive practices”, who radically shifted an entire mode of thinking with his tempting “enigmatic message”. According to Foucault, between the psychoanalysis´ initiation by Freud and its ulterior transformations there exists a fundamental heterogeneity that overshadows the initiation of a discursive practice which is necessarily detached from its later developments and transformations, therefore the call for a “Return to the Source”, namely to Freud, is going to be made loud with unavoidable necessity again and again. Foucault writes: “If we return, it is not the result of accident or incomprehension. In effect, the act of initiation is such in its essence, that it is inevitably subjected to its own distortions; that which displays this act and derives from it is, at the same time, the root of its divergences and travesties. This nonaccidental omission must be regulated by precise operations that can be situated, analyzed and reduced in a return to the act of initiation. […] In addition, it is always a return to a text in itself, specifically, to a primary and unadorned text with particular attention to those things registered in the interstices of the text, its gaps and absences. We return to those empty spaces that have been masked by omission or concealed in a false and misleading plenitude. […] A last feature of these returns is that they tend to reinforce the enigmatic link between an author and his works. A text has an inaugurative value precisely because it is the work of a particular author and our returns are conditioned by this knowledge.” {Foucault, M. (1969): What is an author? In: language, countermemory, practice. Cornell University Press 1980: 113-138, p. 135f.}
What Foucault describes here complies well with the work of the psychoanalyst, whom I owe the most significant inspiration to my own thinking, namely Jean Laplanche.  With his "theory of the general seduction", and tempting "enigmatic messages", he intended to create "New Foundations for Psychoanalysis" {Deutsch: Laplanche, J. (1987): Neue Grundlagen für die Psychoanalyse. Gießen: Psychosozial-Verlag 2011. Englisch: Laplanche, J. (1987):  New Foundations for Psychoanalysis. Oxford: Blackwell 1989.} .  He didn’t want to create a "new" psychoanalysis, but he wanted to set new, rational, scientific and durable foundations to preserve the intention of Freud´s teachings.    
In Freud´s “Psychoanalysis and Libido Theory” from 1923 one finds the definition of psycho-analysis that has since been acknowledged as default definition by the international psycho-analytical scientific community and has become a part of their common ground: “Psycho-Analysis is the name (1) of a procedure for the investigation of mental processes [in German: ‘seelische Vorgänge’, which means psychic processes!] which are almost inaccessible in any other way, (2) of a method (based upon that investigation) for the treatment of neurotic disorders and (3) of a collection of psychological information obtained along those lines, which is gradually being accumulated into a new scientific discipline.” {Freud, S. (1923a): Two Encyclopaedia Articles; (A): Psycho-Analysis. SE 18: 235-259, p. 235.} 

Freud initially saw himself as a researcher who studied phenomena that he had identified as psychic dysfunctions, later he claimed to have developed a general theory of the inner life – encompassing the “normal” psyche as well – and to be the founder of a new science. He did not consider the therapeutic application to be his most important contribution. Freud writes: “I have told you that psycho-analysis began as a method of treatment; but I did not want to commend it to your interest as a method of treatment but on account of the truths it contains, on account of the information it gives us about what concerns human beings most of all – their own nature – and on account of the connections it discloses between the most different of their activities. As a method of treatment it is one among many, though, to be sure, primus inter pares.” {Freud, S. (1933a): New introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis. SE 22, P. 156.} 
Freud was able to draw his conclusions because he questioned traditional values and suspended those seemingly normal dichotomies – powerful in both society and the subject – of good/evil, beautiful/ugly, sick/healthy and normal/abnormal for his studies. He did not see these categories as self-evident but analyzed their genesis and opened areas for science that could be claimed from the realm of magic and religion. As Otto Fenichel writes, this was the main reason why psycho-analysis received other quantities and a different quality of resistance than other disciplines of science. For Freud studied the psychic reality without any reservation just as he did with physical occurrences: “he was able to witness circumstances that, although in plain sight had not been recognized before, infantile sexuality being an example”, as Fenichel writes. {O. Fenichel: 119 Rundbriefe. Frankfurt am Main: Stroemfeld Verlag 1998; p. 922}

In that respect Freud´s psycho-analysis plays an important role in the formation of a liberal way of thinking as a general cultural attitude that confronts religious prejudice but also a certain materialism – which denies existing psychic phenomena – with the ideals of pure reason and the unprejudiced examination of reality. Therefore all modern, pseudo-rational ideologies that promise bliss and happiness to their followers must face psychoanalysis – where any aspirations towards omnipotence must undergo rational criticism – adversely by principle. Such ideologies draw their seductive powers from the fact that humans are born more helpless than other mammals and have learned that in a state of fear and helplessness a seemingly omnipotent force from the outside world comes to their aid. This force represents attempts at healing that seem to revoke the original, incurable trauma, the distress of helpless isolation, something that is bound to return later, and even more forcefully on a collective scale. Indeed, any form of psychoanalytic work is characterized by its fundamental renouncement of power and its acknowledgement of subjects as subjects.

Mental impulses [in German: ‘seelische Regungen’, which means psychic impulses!] should always be normalized, and integrated into a status quo - mental impulses, from which recognition could emerge, liberating recognition of subjects within the psychoanalytic treatment and the message of liberation, even of rebellion, as the discovery of psychoanalysis had been understood in the beginning. Psychoanalysis is for the sciences of human being, but can only be a sign of liberation, which is comparable to what a successful individual analysis can bring about, if it maintains its extremes of their formulations and to the paradox. "The subject may not, even if it does not deny it, locate this change", Jean Bertrand Pontalis wrote in the preface of his book "Nach Freud". And: "This is what also happens to us when we feel that we now, in the positive sense of the term, live by Freud: something has spoken and can no longer be silenced ... A Listening is taught to us, a listening, that turned more to the unsaid, the which was said differently rather than to the noise that resembles the silence." {Pontalis, J.-B. (1965): Nach Freud. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag 1968.}

And Jean Laplanche wrote: "The unveiling of the unconscious, revealing the ubiquity of sexuality and its no less current suppression, the foundation of a therapy that wants to remove the sexual impulse from its displaced, distorted and alienated ´symptomatic manifestations, could only be interpreted as a direct attack on the prevailing morality, the strongest bastion of the ‘cultural sexual morality ´. The Freudian theory on the other hand led, even if psychoanalytic practice was confined exclusively to the individual, directly in the field of social structures, institutions and ideologies. " {Laplanche, J. (1969): Marcuse und die Psychoanalyse. Berlin: Merve Verlag 1970.}

Anxiety causes inhibitions of thinking, it promotes the defense mechanism of denial, through which fully aware and recognized truth cannot be integrated into the consciousness or must be excluded from it again. The dealing with the unconscious is characterized by unforeseeable and should not be misunderstood as a complete, rigid knowledge. In the idealization of seemingly complete knowledge a negation of the unconscious can be seen that comes in a situation of the After in danger again of being overlooked and reseal. Freud suspected that his findings would be exposed to continuous threats from the outside as well as from the inside. He distrusted both his followers – psychoanalysts – and the general culture in this regard. He foresaw a disfigurement, watering down and destruction of psycho-analysis caused by the society but also by his successors, who through an inherent human resistance could not bear the frightening truths that he had uncovered. This becomes clear as to the seemingly incessant controversies surrounding Freud´s drive theory, which still despite all efforts could not be abolished and made to disappear. 
With the establishment in 1910 of the Freud wanted to prevent misuse of psychoanalysis. He writes: “There should be some headquarters whose business it would be to declare: ‚All this nonsense is nothing to do with analysis; this is not psychoanalysis.” {Freud, S. (1914d): On the History of the Psycho-Analytic movement. SE 14: 7-66, p. 43.}

In the following months and years many psychoanalytic societies were founded around the world. Freud´s hope that these societies would follow the path he had led was disappointed however. While he had had to face adversity and slander from his opponents from the very beginning for his so-called overestimation of the importance of sexuality in psychic processes, he now had to experience similar rejection from many people – only beginning with Adler and Jung – who had been closely associated with him for some time.

In the Anna Freud Collection in the archives of the Library of Congress in Washington, I found a letter written by the Swiss psychoanalyst Philipp Sarasin, who wrote to Anna Freud in February 1946. It was at the time in which after the interruption during the Second World War, the International Psychoanalytical Association had resumed their work. Sarasin writes: "Very revered, dear Miss Freud [...]“ Concerning IPA and psycho-analysis the most important issue to me seems to be that Professor [Freud] is not among the living any more. His achievements in it’s totally lie in front of us. […] The task of IPA is to pass on Freud’s legacy to the next generation. It remains a fact that everybody interprets psycho-analysis in its own way. Those different interpretations represent the totally of Freud’s work. But never the less we must not lose sight of his most fundamental idea which is the concept of infantile sexuality. This concept allows keeping the inner unity of IPA – notwithstanding splitting into various small fractions." {Ph. Sarasin an A. Freud, Brief vom 11. 2. 1946; Original: Anna-Freud-Papers in der Library of Congress, Washington.}

The issue always revolved and revolves around Freud´s sexual theory, around his insight that sexuality plays the decisive role in the human unconscious, which is, as Laplanche writes “irrémédiablement sexuel”. {Laplanche, J. (2006): L’après-coup. Problématique VI. Paris: PUF, p. 6}

Laplanche summarized the psychoanalysis first and foremost as a theory of human sexuality on or, more accurately stated, as the theory of human sexuality. Sexuality is therefore not a more or less arbitrary object, among others, but patterned and traverses all human forms of behavior. It is both for the life of the individual and for the society and the culture of crucial importance. The fundamental discovery of Freud and its anthropological implications, which Laplanche wanted to explore, is that human sexuality in the form of the so-called infantile sexuality is effective prior to the maturation of the endocrine glands, i.e. before puberty. Accordingly, the sexuality in human life has this extraordinary, central importance because thanks to this unique type of sexuality the human being emancipates from the biological order. A, before Freud, unnoticed, essentially unheeded or at least not carefully regarded qualitative distinction is detectable, namely: Human sexuality – and with it the life of human beings - is the expression of ratios, of differences. On one hand is the difference between the instinct for self-preservation or life support and the difference of the endogenously applied sexuality, a sexuality that is in turn characterized by the difference of infantile sexuality, and on the other hand is the difference between the self and foreign, the other. Freud´s truly revolutionary insight concerning sexuality is the discovery that humans similarly to animals have an aspect of sexuality controlled by instinct. This instinct only emerges with puberty depending on the organisms’ process of maturation, and Freud, starting from the discovery of the sexual significance of symptoms and dreams managed the discovery of infantile sexuality – determined by the drive and rooted in the It and therefore inaccessible to any direct observation. According to Laplanche the libido is not an individual dormant instinct, which only requires development. In contrast to the genetically applied, the reproductive serving sexuality instinct, the libido is, in his opinion not biologically valid and also not innate, but it is acquired in the course of individual personal history and it is - as well as the unconscious - intersubjectively established.

I would like to close my comments with a quote from the speech that Thomas Mann held in the Konzerthaus (concert hall) in Vienna on the 8th of May 1936, honouring Freud´s 80th birthday: “Freud is of the opinion that the significance of psycho-analysis as a science of the unconscious will in the future far outrank its value as a therapeutic method. But even as a science of the unconscious it is a therapeutic method, in grand style, a method overarching the individual case. Call this, if you choose, a poet’s utopia; but the thought is after all not unthinkable that the resolution of our great fear and our great hate, their conversion into a different relation to the unconscious which shall be more the artist’s, more ironic and yet not necessarily irreverent, may one day be due to the healing effect of this very science. The analytic revelation is a revolutionary force. With it a blithe scepticism has come into the world, a mistrust that unmasks all the schemes und subterfuges of our souls. Once roused and on alert, it cannot be put to sleep again. It infiltrates life, undermines its raw naiveté, takes from it the strain of its own ignorance, de-emotionalizes it, as it were, inculcates the taste for understatement, as the English call it – for the deflated rather than for the inflated word, for the cult which exerts its influence by moderation, by modesty. Modesty – what a beautiful word! […] May we hope that this may be the fundamental temper of that more blithely objective and peaceful world which the science of the unconscious may be called to usher in.” {Mann, Th. (1936): Freud and the Future. In: Int. J. of Psycho-Analysis 37, 1956: 106-115, p. 114.}      
Of course, we now know that the influence Freud and his followers had has yet remained marginal in the course of history. We can only hope but can never be absolutely sure of whether people in the 21st century will respond to the message that Freudian psycho-analysis represents – namely to learn bearing the truths about ourselves without reservation – and finally, to be able to work on the fundamentals of a “more blithely objective and peaceful world”.

With this in mind, best wishes to “Der Wiener Psychoanalytiker / The Vienna Psychoanalyst”!

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