Sigmund Freud’S Discovery of Psychoanalysis
Throughout Freuds writings we sense the presence of an unacknowledged case study; that of Freud himself. As a body of work his psychoanalytic writings record the evolution of his theoretical ideas, but they can also be read as an expression, or manifestation, of the personal emotional journey he was pursuing; a journey which made the formulation of those ideas possible. The scientist is never a wholly disinterested observer, and, intellectually at least, Freud was well aware that a theory is never a purely ‘objective’ construction from the ‘facts’.
Theories, psychological ones in particular, reveal much about the mind of the theorist. They may capture elements of accurately intuited ‘psychic reality’, but may also reveal elements of projection and distortion imposed by the mind of their author. When attacking defectors from his psychoanalytic ‘cause’, particularly Adler, Stekel and Jung, Freud would at times resort to interpreting their theories as determined and distorted by their own personal conflicts or complexes.
Drawing on Freud’s writings, including his letters to Wilhelm Fliess, as the primary source, this study attempts to explore links between Freud’s discovery of psychoanalysis and his lifelong emotional journey, in particular his struggle towards integration within himself; that is integration between the different parts of his own mind. In Freud’s thinking the parts of his mind most in opposition, and which call loudest attention to themselves, he characterized as ‘conquistador’ on the one hand, and the ‘thinker’ and ‘man of science’ on the other.
On February 1, 1900, Sigmund Freud, the man who had just published The interpretation of dreams, wrote to his friend Wilhelm Fliess:
For I am actually not at all a man of science, not an observer, not an experimenter, not a thinker. I am by temperament nothing but a conquistador — an adventurer, if you want it translated — with all the curiosity, daring, and tenacity characteristic of a man of this sort. Such people are customarily esteemed only if they have been successful, have really discovered something; otherwise they are dropped by the wayside.
(Masson 19856: 398)
The ’conquistador’ Freud had never intended to allow posterity to drop him by the wayside, and in 1900 he was aware that the strength of the conquistador’s arm had been essential in making his first great voyage of discovery, and his landfall in the ‘New World’ of the unconscious. In reality it was an old and timeless world, with its own population of’primitive’ indigenous inhabitants, which Freud, unlike the conquistadors, was approaching with due respect. Having undertaken an exploratory survey, he had set out a preliminary map of the territory in The interpretation of dreams.
The voice in his letter to Fliess was that of a confident Freud, identified with the ‘conquistador’, and rather dismissive in turn of the “observer,” “experimenter”, “thinker”.
Table of Contents
1 Conquistador and scientist
2 Freud’s hypnotic trance
3 Through suggestion to free association
4 Freud’s brain and Freud’s mind
5 The dream of Irma’s injection
6 Seduction or self-analysis
7 From melancholia to mourning
Crossing the Alps (a poem by Michael Harlow)
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