Wednesday, October 21, 2009

strangely enough

I'm reading Freud these days. He's no longer read as a main source of enlightenment on all things psychological, but his writings are still fascinating for their historical and (a bit surprisingly) literary power. For example, this story:
To-day I visited some old friends, and the conversation turned to cities of Northern Italy. Someone remarked that they still showed the Austrian influence. A few of these cities were cited. I, too, wished to mention one, but the name did not come to me, although I knew that I had spent two very pleasant days there. Instead of the desired name of the city there obtruded themselves the following thoughts: 'Capua -- Brescia -- the lion of Brescia.' This lion I saw objectively before me in the form of a marble statue, but I soon noticed that he resembled less the lion of the statue of liberty in Brescia (which I saw only in a picture) than the other marble lion which I saw in Lucerne on the monument in honour of the Swiss Guard fallen in the Tuileries. I finally thought of the desired name: it was Verona.

I knew at once the cause of this amnesia. No other than a former servant of the family whom I visited at the time. Her name was Veronica; in Hungarian Verona. I felt a great antipathy for her on account of her repulsive physiognomy, as well as her hoarse, shrill voice and her unbearable self-assertion (to which she thought herself entitled on account of her long service). Also the tyrannical way in which she treated the children the family was insufferable to me. Now I knew the significance of the substitutive thoughts [the ones that came in place of the forgotten name of the city].

To Capua I immediately associated caput mortuum. I had often compared Veronica's head to a skull. The Hungarian word kapzoi (greed after money) surely furnished a determinant for the displacement [meaning the substitution that displaced the desired memory]. Naturally I also found those more direct associations which connected Capua and Verona as geographical ideas and as Italian words of the same rhythm.

The same held true for Brescia; here, too, I found concealed side-tracks of associations of ideas.

My antipathy at that time was so violent that I thought Veronica very ugly, and have often expressed my astonishment at the fact that any one should love her: 'Why, to kiss her,' I said, 'must provoke nausea.'

Brescia, at least in Hungary, is very often mentioned not in connection with the lion but with another wild beast. The most hated name in this country, as well as in North Italy, is that of General Haynau, who is briefly referred to as the hyena of Brescia. From the hated tyrant Haynau one stream of thought leads over Brescia to the city of Verona, and the other over the idea of the grave-digging animal with the hoarse voice (which corresponds to the thought of a monument to the dead), to the skull, and to the disagreeable organ of Veronica, which was so cruelly insulted in my unconscious mind. Veronica in her time ruled as tyrannically as did the Austrian General after the Hungarian and Italian struggles for liberty.

Lucerne is associated with the idea of the summer which Veronica spent with her employers in a place near Lucerne. The Swiss Guard again recalls that she tyrannized not only the children but also the adult members of the family, and thus played the part of the 'Garde-Dame.'

I expressly observe that this antipathy of mine against V. consciously belongs to things long overcome. Since that time she has changed in her appearance and manner, very much to her advantage, so that I am able to meet her with sincere regard (to be sure I hardly find such occasion). As usual, however, my unconscious sticks more tenaciously to those impressions; it is old in its resentment.

The Tuileries represent an allusion to a second personality, an old French lady who actually 'guarded' the women of the house, and who was in high regard and somewhat feared by everybody. For a long time I was her élève in French conversation. The word élève recalls that when I visited the brother-in-law of my present host in northern Bohemia I had to laugh a great deal because the rural population referred to the élèves (pupils) of the school of forestry as löwen (lions). Also this jocose recollection might have taken part in the displacement of the hyena by the lion.
This could easily be one of Christopher Ricks' analyses of poetic allusions, but is a case study from Freud's Psychopathology of everyday life.* Freud analyses the everyday annoyance of forgetfulness using his technique of free association, leading (with the aid of the master analyst) to discovery of an unconscious concealment of a repressed memory of a disagreeable experience (mostly likely one that's associated with a sexual or other social taboo). Freud saw in himself what he believed to be a tight link between forgetting and repressing of memories** and he believed that the process of displacement (the appearance of what seem to be unconnected thoughts that come up in association with the thing that a person is trying to remember) followed as he said "lawful and rational paths" and not just ones of coincidence or the stirrings of the analyst's brilliant imagination.

This isn't entirely baloney. We do forget. We are able to see that there are areas of our brain's workings which lie outside our willful consciousness. We do recall things forgotten by releasing our minds to wander aimlessly. We do see patterns in our forgetting which do somehow connect with unpleasant happenings we'd rather not recall. But what Freud asserted concerning free association and its capacity to permit the skilled analyst to uncover repressed memory is unproven and probably unprovable.***

What's interesting now, is Freud's literary penetration. This story is only one example. Others, like it, range across linguistic boundaries, historical eras, geographic locations. They're all pretty much erudite in content.


Some links:

{Freud; source: Demian_026 on photobucket}

{Freud; source: IB Psychology at Druga gimnazija Maribor; Irena Dogša}

{Freud collage; source: Demian_026 on photobucket}



* The passage begins: "I add here another example of forgetting the name of a city, an instance which is perhaps not as simple as those given before, but which will appear credible and valuable to those more familiar with such investigations. The name of an Italian city withdrew itself from memory on account of its far-reaching sound-similarity to a woman's first name, which was in turn connected with various emotional reminiscences which were surely not exhaustively treated in this report. Dr. S. Ferenczi, who observed this case of forgetting in himself, treated it -- quite justly -- as an analysis of a dream or an erotic idea."

** As for example:
At a social gathering some one quoted, Tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner, to which I remarked that the first part of the sentence should suffice, as 'pardoning' is an exemption which must be left to God and the priest. One of the guests thought this observation very good, which in turn emboldened me to remark -- probably to ensure myself of the good opinion of the well-disposed critic -- that some time ago I thought of something still better. But when I was about to repeat this clever idea I was unable to recall it. Thereupon I immediately withdrew from the company and wrote my concealing thoughts. I first recalled the name of the friend who had witnessed the birth of this (desired) thought, and of the street in Budapest where it took place, and then the name of another friend, whose name was Max, whom we usually called Maxie. That led me to the word 'maxim,'and to the thought that at that time, as in the present case, it was a question of varying a well-known maxim. Strangely enough, I did not recall any maxim but the following sentence: 'God created man in His own image,' and its changed conception, 'Man created God in his own image. Immediately I recalled the sought-for recollection.

My friend said to me at that time in Andrassy Street, 'Nothing human is foreign to me.' To which I remarked, basing it on psychoanalytic experience, "You should go further and acknowledge that nothing animal is foreign to you."

But after I had finally found the desired recollection I was even then prevented from telling it in this social gathering. The young wife of the friend whom I had reminded of the animality of the unconscious was also among those present, and I was perforce reminded that she was not at all prepared for the reception of such unsympathetic views. The forgetting spared me a number of unpleasant questions from her and a hopeless discussion,and just that must have been the motive of the 'temporary amnesia.'
-- source: Psychopathology of Everyday Life
*** See articles on this in links given below. Macmillian, for example, says there is no evidence for the effectiveness of free association. There is also little to support the theory of repressed memories of disagreeable experience. "In Freud's theory of "repression" the mind automatically banishes traumatic events from memory to prevent overwhelming anxiety. Freud further theorized that repressed memories cause "neurosis," which could be cured if the memories were made conscious. While all this is taught in introductory psychology courses and has been taken by novelists and screenwriters to be a truism, Freud's repression theory has never been verified by rigorous scientific proof." -- John Hockmann

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