Keeping the show on the road

John Kerrigan

  • Tribute to Freud by H. D
    Carcanet, 194 pp, £5.95, August 1985, ISBN 0 85635 599 2
  • In Dora’s Case: Freud, Hysteria, Feminism edited by Charles Bernheimer and Claire Kahane
    Virago, 291 pp, £11.95, October 1985, ISBN 0 86068 712 0
  • The Essentials of Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud, edited by Anna Freud
    Hogarth/Institute of Psychoanalysis, 595 pp, £20.00, March 1986, ISBN 0 7012 0720 5
  • Freud and the Humanities edited by Peregrine Horden
    Duckworth, 186 pp, £18.00, October 1985, ISBN 0 7156 1983 7
  • Freud for Historians by Peter Gay
    Oxford, 252 pp, £16.50, January 1986, ISBN 0 19 503586 0
  • The Psychoanalytic Movement by Ernest Gellner
    Paladin, 241 pp, £3.50, May 1985, ISBN 0 586 08436 3
  • The Freudian Body: Psychoanalysis and Art by Leo Bersani
    Columbia, 126 pp, $17.50, April 1986, ISBN 0 231 06218 4

‘The Professor was not always right,’ declared H.D. after analysis in Vienna. Her judgment seems rather generous. Reading her Tribute to Freud, one can’t ignore the emotional and interpretative coercion that went on at 19 Berggasse under the name of science. To an alarming degree, theory preempted argument. H.D. had been abandoned by her husband, Richard Aldington, for another woman, during a difficult pregnancy in which mother and child seemed doomed; her love affair with the feminist Bryher was fraught; writing set up its own strains: but Freud already knew, amid this welter of anxieties, what really worried the patient. Had he not just shown, in the lecture on ‘Femininity’ (1933), that women are driven by a penis-envy which may be sublimated into some vague desire for intellectual achievement but which can only be allayed by bearing a child, preferably male, as phallus? If H.D. dreamt of a princess stepping down towards water, to find and protect a baby, while she stood by as witness, did this not demonstrate the patient’s longing to possess the penis? Never mind the trauma of childbirth. Did it not recall the finding among bullrushes of that founder who had fascinated Freud since his 1914 essay on Michelangelo’s Moses? Well of course this hadn’t occurred to H.D. Freud, after all, had thought harder than she had about totemic leaders with rebellious followers – like Adler and Jung – and he, not the patient, was gestating Moses and Monotheism. In short, it’s hard to know where to look when H.D. regrets the death of Freud’s disciple, Van der Leeuw, and the master replies: ‘You have come to take his place.’ Someone had to; the succession needed securing; naturally, ‘the Professor insisted I myself wanted to be Moses ... a boy ... a hero.’

Loyalists will protest that H.D. wrote with hindsight, from memory, controlling the fiction she constructed. But then, as several contributors to Dora’s Case, an uneven anthology, remark, Freud did the same with Ida Bauer, waiting five years before completing an account in which his anxieties and theoretical ambitions are only too clearly registered. Moreover, the essentials of H.D.’s story, including the insistence that she ‘wanted to be Moses’, are recorded in her Vienna notes: those elated, sometimes hurt responses to treatment which would be fuller had the master not ordered writing to stop. There we find the strongest evidence of Freud’s normative dogmatism. ‘When I told the Professor that I had been infatuated with Frances Josepha and might have been happy with her, he said: “No – biologically, no.” For some reason, though I had been so happy with the Professor (Freud – Freude), my head hurt and I felt unnerved.’ Such was the subtlety of the master’s technique. Such his need for narrative command, his itch to censor. While the inventiveness and fertility of late Freud can’t be doubted, his detachment must be. As Derrida has demonstrated through a powerful reading of the fort/da game in La Carte Postale, the mature Freudian text is autobiographically inscribed as surely as Dora’s was in the 1900s. What Tribute to Freud shows is solipsism at work in therapy itself, with the founder’s dynastic concerns projected onto the patient’s situation. No wonder H.D. resisted treatment, leaving her case, like Dora’s, unresolved.

‘Freud – Freude’. Helped by a compositor’s reckless id, Ernest Gellner goes further and writes of ‘Anna Fraud (once described by her father as his only son)’. If the parapraxis is unjust, the parenthesis, like much in The Psychoanalytic Movement, is crudely apt. Betrayed by schismatic disciples, Freud settled the problem of succession by placing Anna in the myth outlined to H.D. The Tables of Law passed from father to son, and Anna kept faith by never actively criticising Freud’s views. Though the importance of her own contribution to psychology needn’t be questioned, history will remember her as the guardian of those ‘tables of testimony’ which Freud to his alarm saw slipping, in the essay of 1914, from the grasp of Michelangelo’s Moses.

In ten sections, if not commandments, that testimony is summarised in The Essentials of Psychoanalysis: a handsome, well-indexed volume with inter-chapters by Anna Freud (who died before it went to press). Astonishingly, this is the first primer of its kind. Up to now, beginners have relied on Freud’s sets of Introductory Lectures, or on synthetic digests. Not the least of the new book’s virtues is its managing to expose readers to a non-expository Freud, in heated argument with himself, while arranging the material for easy and progressive consumption. This is, nevertheless, Anna’s Freud. Most of the selected work is late, scientistic and, to that extent, unrepresentative of the master’s output. Much of it post-dates Anna’s admission to the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society in 1922. Indeed, it begins with ‘The Question of Lay Analysis’, that stylish mid-Twenties pamphlet in which Freud defends those who, like his daughter, wish to practise without a medical degree. While it’s true that no other text explains the late system so lucidly, the significance of its inclusion won’t be overlooked. That paper was Anna’s charter: the book is her inheritance.

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[*] Speculum of the Other Woman, translated by Gillian Gill (Cornell University Press, 365 pp., £12.60, 1985, 0 8014 9330 7), and This sex which is not one, translated by Catherine Porter with Carolyn Burke (Cornell University Press, 222 pp., £9.65, 1985, 0 8014 9331 5). Some essays appeared in New French Feminisms, edited by Marks and Courtivron (Harvester, 1980) and in Signs 6 and 7.

[†] Blackwell, 114 pp., £3.95, 20 February, 0 631 14553 2.