Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Fathoming Freud 7

Anna Freud (1895-1982)

Freud prided himself on his success as a psychoanalyst and as the founder of the International Psychoanalytical Movement.  He was possessed of a brilliant mind, and he knew it.  His theories and practice of psychoanalysis  were extremely successful and he openly courted such honour and success.  Like Jung, he revelled in academic and worldly honours.  Both these men, unlike say the brilliant scientist Richard P. Feymann, wallowed in accepting these worldly distinctions – thereby showing how egotistical they were, despite their rich and deep insight into their own personalities.  Anyway, Freud anxiously sought a worthy heir and follower to carry on the beacon of analysis into future generations.  One after another, such luminaries and promising geniuses like Jung were to disappoint him and abandon his rather dogmatic approach to analysis which was essentially Freudian, i.e., his way of doing things and his way only.  Eventually, he realised that his specially beloved daughter Anna’s were the only worthy shoulders onto which the mantle of Freudian Psychoanalysis could fall.

Anna was the sixth and last child of Sigmund and Martha Freud. Born in Vienna, like all her siblings, she followed the path of her father and contributed greatly to the theory and practice of psychoanalysis. Compared to her father, her work emphasized the importance of the ego and its ability to be trained socially.  Once again Edmundson is brilliant on Anna’s role in Freud’s life.  The following is worth considering in depth as it shows an illuminating insight into the great man’s psyche.  In short, he too, great man as he was, was nothing short of human:

To break with Jung, as Freud did beginning around 1912, and to choose Anna as the guardian of the legacy was a great shift.  In making it, Freud chose caution over imagination.  That Anna’s best-known book is The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense is entirely apt, for Anna was becoming a defence mechanism, not only for the ego that was Freud, but for his entire legacy.  In time she would set out to turn her father’s work, which was sometimes nearly as speculative and wild as anything Jung ever wrote, into a coherent, stable, and sensible doctrine.

Freud loved Anna for herself; he passionately wanted her happiness – that much is certain.  But he also loved her as a guarantor of the only kind of immortality that Freud, the self-professed Godless Jew, could believe in. (The Death of Freud, 65)

The words “doctrine,” “legacy” and “caution” are such conservative words which run counter to everything Freud did in his own time to the whole world of psychiatry and psychotherapy if I may use the last word somewhat anachronistically, but I’m sure the reader will understand what I mean here.  Freud, the radical had become Freud, the conservative – conservative of his own ideas.

Anna became the old man’s nurse, secretary and amanuensis.  She was his guardian angel in all senses of that term, looking after his every need – physical, psychological and social.

Anna’s Courage and Strength:

On March 22, 1938, the Gestapo came to Bergasse 19 (Freud’s apartment, literally Hill Street) and they took Anna away for questioning.  They would have taken the old man, but his persuasive and strong daughter persuaded them that the old man was too ill and too frail to manage the stairs.  That’s why, she told them, she was offering herself in his place.  Immediately I am impressed and overwhelmed at this young woman’s strength.  No wonder – after all, she had been analysed by her father, and they had discussed and analysed everything from her sexual fantasies to her ambitions.  One could expect nothing less from such a well-prepared woman.  She was willing, she said, to answer any of their questions about The International Psychoanalytical Association as the movement founded by her father was officially called.  It is important to recall that at this time that all over Vienna, Jews were disappearing – many were killed on the spot while others were taken off to the concentration camp at Dachau.  Her brother Martin recalled that Anna went away like a woman going on a shopping expedition quite unperturbed, despite the four heavily armed Gestapo officers sitting around her.

While Anna was the quintessence of composure, the old man was very disturbed indeed.  He feared that his beloved daughter had been taken away to her death and possible horrible torture. Edmundson recounts that Freud paced the floor continually, smoking cigar after cigar, deeply  agitated at this turn of events. (See ibid., 82-83)  The irony of all this was that both Freud and his daughter understood all too well the base instincts and desires of the human heart, all those dark places and spaces of the unconscious, indeed the dark hole at the centre of the interrogators’ hearts as well as the black hole at the very heart of the Fuhrer himself.  After all, Freud had been writing about Hitler and the latter’s obsession with power, control and authority for years.  It is recounted that the old man, for once in his life, showed deep emotion when Anna returned that evening to after he interrogation.

Anna’s Practical and Organizational Skills:

Anna was a very intelligent young woman with whom Freud had in his final years discussed and teased out his ideas before writing them down.  She was also a trained analyst and had been analysed by the old man himself.  She had also organized all facets of the old man’s existence during these final years.  She had managed all the family’s affairs in the five or so years before leaving Vienna.  Like Ernest Jones and Princess Marie Bonaparte, Anna was strong, tough and prudent.  He now realised more than ever that he had picked the right heir to his kingdom, to his legacy.  She had stood up to the Nazis, yes.  She would also later stand up to the Americans in favour of lay analysis. (This occurred at The Fifteenth International Psychoanalytic Congress  in Paris  in late July 1938) This towering strength prevented psychoanalysis from becoming the preserve of the medical profession.  What mattered to Freud and to Anna was that all analysts would undergo their personal therapy and be intelligent, cultivated and self-aware human beings not medical doctors.

As Freud became aware that he was dying, he began to create synopses of each of his current cases for Anna, so that she could continue his therapeutic work with his patients.  In the end, his work was his life and he now handed this over to his only possible heir, his loyal and trust-worthy daughter Anna.

Above Anna Freud as a young and old woman.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Fathoming Freud 6

Freud and Dogs

One thing Freud had in common with Hitler was his love of dogs.  We see pictures of Hitler with his beloved German Shepherd.  Freud’s favourite dogs were chows.  This is a breed of dog that was first developed in Mongolia about 4,000 years ago and was later introduced into China where it is referred to as Songshi Quan which literally means "puffy-lion dog."  This love for chows he shared with his great friend and supporter, also a famous psychoanalyst, Princess Marie Bonaparte (1882-1962) whose life I find fascinating.  Her’s is a life I must research in some detail because of its uniqueness, eccentricity and indeed courage.   It is also important to point out that it was her wealth contributed to the popularity of psychoanalysis, and enabled Freud's escape from Austria.  It was she who lay in vigil on the stairs outside Freud’s apartment immediately before the family’s final flight from Vienna in case the Nazis might come to snatch him away to a concentration camp.  No ordinary lass, you will agree!

As Freud awaited his eventual flight from the Nazis in Vienna he was writing his famous Moses book, of which I shall write later in these posts.  However, he and his daughter were also engaged in a task very close to their hearts, namely translating Princess Marie Bonaparte’s book about her dog, also a chow.  The three of them were dog lovers, especially of the chow variety.  The book, which the princess had published in 1937 was called Topsy, chow-chow au poil d’or which translates roughly as Topsy, the golden-haired chow.  The translation, of course, was from French into German.

Edmundson lists Freud’s chows as: Lun-Yug in 1928 and Jo-Fi when the first was killed by a train quite soon after acquisition. “Jo-Fi was Freud’s constant companion, sitting at the foot of his consultation couch while analysis was in session… Sometimes Jo-Fi received more attention than the patient.” (The Death of Sigmund Freud, 91)   It is also interesting to note that one of his favourite philosophers, Schopenhauer, was also a lover of dogs.  When Jo-Fi died after some seven years from a heart attack, Freud was crushed.  However, he immediately purchased another dog the following day and called her Lun. 

Edmundson, moreover, informs us insightfully:

About dogs, Freud had a very odd belief: he thought that they were creatures whose natures were entirely pure – untouched by civilization… ‘the unbearable conflicts of civilization..’ (ibid., 92)

Freud was wont to write pithy phrases in his diary throughout his life.  Of the Anschluss he simply wrote “Finis Austria.”  On April 9th, 1938 he wrote simply: “Topsy translation finished.”  The Freudian oeuvre or corpus of works in psychoanalysis is singularly large, and yet he could find time for his consultations and indeed his interest in dogs.   One of the first things the ailing and dying Freud was to do upon reaching London was to go off and visit his chow, Lun, who had been taken from Dover for quarantine.  Indeed, I don’t believe Freud left his new house for anything or anyone else except to visit his beloved chow.

Just weeks before his death Freud’s cancerous jaw was a mess and a mass of decay and the odour therefrom sickening.  Now, even his beloved dog, Lun, who had by now been released from quarantine, cowered on the far side of the room because of the smell of the decomposition from her master’s rotting jaw. To finish this post on dogs and Freud’s obsession with them, let me return to the words of Mark Edmundson:

But on the matter of dogs, Freud was consistently starry-eyed.  He could imagine pure love flowing from his dogs to him – and maybe sometimes from himself back to them. Now this pleasure too was gone [he was lying on his deathbed].  Freud’s life was becoming, what he called in a letter to Princess Bonaparte, “a small island of pain floating on an ocean of indifference.” (ibid., 214)

Above, I have uploaded a picture of Freud's favourite breed of dog, the Chow.

Fathoming Freud 5


I’m not so sure where Freud stood on certainty, but one thing is sure most leaders, especially those of the authoritarian or autocratic variety, are extremely certain that the are right.  Hitler, of course, was never in doubt – he was the prophet as well as the leader par excellence of the Third Reich: and to appropriate, or even misappropriate, a sentence from Éamonn de Valera, one of the founding fathers of the Irish State, all he had to do was look into his heart and he knew what the German people wanted and needed.  Hitler, like all autocratic leaders, knew the truth and proclaimed it with absolute conviction.

What is certain in life?  To be matter of fact  - or cynical as some might say and still others realistic – the only certainty is that we are all going to die.  Of course, we can be reasonably certain that the sun will rise and set tomorrow, that day will follow day, that the seasons will follow one another etc.  However, as to what team will win the local Derby, or what team will win the World Cup or what horse will win the Grand National there is absolutely no certainty, rather only probability, and probability is a mere measure of chance of which much of our world and daily actions are made up of.  The great modern philosopher and psychotherapist Eugene Gendlin informs us that the clients who come to therapy, certain of what ails them, more often than not are the ones who make least progress.  To be too certain about one’s own psyche or psychological make-up would seem, then, to be a distinct disadvantage to recovery.  He declares that the client who is often most confused and upset, and readily admits to this confusion and upset, is the one who will make the most recovery.  This is appealing to me and is quite reasonable, I believe.  Firstly, it lies in harmony with the great Socratic principle of initially proclaiming one’s ignorance in the matter at hand and, then, proceeding by a series of good hard questions to getting at deeper truth.  In other words, it is reasonable to assume that truth unfolds gradually as one struggles to find it.  Secondly, this method appears to me to be way more scientific than proclaiming that one is possessed of the truth or that it has been miraculously revealed to one.

Unfortunately, our man Freud was not the humblest of men.  While he counselled that we all question figures of authority and take them down from their pedestals as it were, he proceeded to set himself up as an authority, and, indeed, he ruled his Psychoanalytical Movement with a rigid and autocratic hand.  This is where one has to admit that the complexity and the enigma Freud really was.

After his break with Jung around 1912/1913 Freud became more and more aware that the only person capable of filling his shoes as leader of The Psychoanalytical Movement was his own daughter and analyst Anna Freud (1895-1982).  The following paragraph shows her great importance to Freud, and also his obsession with the almost apocalyptic importance of his theory and practice of psychoanalysis:

Freud’s love for Anna was by now beyond description.  She was his Cordelia and, as often, his Antigone as well.  Anna was the great comfort of his old age and also his hope for the future.  What Freud wanted was not to live on and on… What he wanted was to depart life convinced that the movement he founded would live on through time.  Freud was obsessed with the continuity of his work and lately he had come to see that Anna might be the one who could do the most to achieve it. [The Death of Sigmund Freud, 60]

I suppose what separates our man Freud from the likes of fanatical and evil leaders like Hitler is that Freud was very much conscious of his desire to be a leader and had integrated all the evils of being such into his psyche unlike these others who projected all their evil desires out onto the world at large in orgies of violence, evil and war.

In his book Totem and Taboo, Freud discussed the rise or origin of religion as being based on the revolt of sons against the father whom they believe to command supernatural powers within his very being.  This revolt, he argues, ended in their murdering their father and eating him in a frenzy of cannibalism.  Later, they are filled with regret and with remorse and they now begin to worship him, and thereby religion is founded.  Edmundson argues that much of this book could be seen as describing his own urge to achieve authority amongst his followers. [ibid., 63]

Above I have uploaded a picture of Freud with one of his chows. I cannot find which chow it is.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Fathoming Freud 4

The Question of Authority 

The question of authority is essentially one about power.  People love getting into positions of power.  A principal of a school, whom I know well, says quite simply: “There’s no use having power unless you use it.”  Everyone likes power.  His erstwhile deputy principal loved the power he could wield until he got sick quite recently.  He has been taken literally from the heart of power right into the very hell of disempowerment, where he can no longer act on his world, but rather is acted upon as a patient with a severe illness.  Then, take others who like wielding power, and, indeed, we need not look too far away at all.  I have known several security men who have worked at gates to colleges and hospitals who really enjoy keeping motorists waiting outside the gate, giving them grief by saying that there is no parking, that they are very late for visiting hours etc before finally lifting up the barrier and letting the poor berated driver in.  Again, they possibly feel that this is their way of getting their own back at their bosses by vicariously taken out their anger on the innocent.

Then take the observations of John Acton, first Baron Acton (1834–1902), an historian and a moralist, when he said in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887 that "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." There was still another English politician - William Pitt, the Elder, The Earl of Chatham and British Prime Minister from 1766 to 1778, who said something similar, in a speech to the UK House of Lords in 1770: "Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it."  One has to agree with both these observations as they are patently obvious, even to the most naive amongst us.  There has been, there is and there always will be no shortage of candidates for the honour of being corrupted by power – a brief look at the pages of recorded history is enough – from Alexander the Great to Julius Caesar, to Queen Cleopatra, to Genghis Khan, to Napoleon, and then to Hitler, Stalin and Franco. Then, of course, the likes of Mr Mugabe of Zimbabwe springs to mind these days.  All of these people liked to wield power and wield it absolutely, though some with quite obviously worse consequences for humankind than others.

And so our man Freud was most interested in the question of authority and power; for this question most essentially as it acted within and upon the individual human psyche.  Here is Freud writing in 1921 about the rise of power, and it is obviously Hitler or a Hitler-like character he has in mind when he penned these words: I shall quote them as summarised by our author Mark Edmundson:

Freud saw the hunger for domination manifest in many areas of experience, but nowhere so potently, or so dangerously, as in politics.  In 1921, when Hitler’s political career was just beginning, Freud published Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, a study of crowd behaviour that lays special emphasis on the role of the leader.  The world in this vision is a disturbing, complex, sometimes chaotic place where everything that has been solid and sound melts into the air.  Values, if they exist at all, are in flux.  But then comes the leader, who appears to be certain about all things.  “His intellectual acts,” Freud wrote, “are strong and independent even in isolation, and his will needs no reinforcement from others.”  Where others are buffeted by doubts, the leader is always sure that his vision is the one true vision.  His ego has few emotional ties; he loves no one but himself and to others he gives away no more than the bare minimum of affection or recognition.  “Members of the group,” Freud continued stand in need of the illusion that they are equally and justly loved by their leader; but the leader himself need love no one else, he may be of a masterful nature, absolutely narcissistic, self-confident and independent…” … but he [Freud] suggested  that crowds only constitute a long term murderous threat when a certain sort of figure takes over the leader role in ways that are both prohibitive and permissive.

The description Freud offers of the leader eerily anticipates the kinds of descriptions that Hitler’s followers began to offer about him, starting in the 1920s  [The Death of Sigmund Freud, 54-55]

The Leader in Hitler

Hitler in his own words was the leader, the one who knew the way to The Promised Land of The Third Reich which would hold sway for a thousand years. Indeed, almost as if he were quoting Freud’s words, Hitler was always sure and certain of the road ahead.  To this extent his language is not alone prophetic but apocalyptic.  Here was a leader who knew what was wrong with Germany.  Not only that, he knew for sure what the cure for its ills were.  World domination by the Aryan race was this leader’s clear vision – a vision of a megalomaniac indeed, but sadly given the historical circumstances one that carried a magic of persuasion within it.  And then, he did also know the cure to Germany’s ills:  the extermination of the Jews who were simply like vermin. Let me return briefly to Edmundson’s words again:

Here, finally, was a politician with an uncompromising way of seeing the world and a clear program.  He knew what he hated: Jews, the Versailles Treaty (he called it “the stab in the back”), Marxists.  He knew what he wanted: the unification of the German people, a strong army, complete dedication to the state, an empire..  He said for Germany to come into its own, the people would have to look to a great leader and find in him the sublime expression of their will.  He was the leader.  Providence had appointed him. [Ibid., 55] 

Above, a rather youthful Hitler, just after he was released from prison in 1929. He was just around 40 years old. This is an image of the megalomaniacal and apocalytic leader.