Arnon Grunberg



On flesh, blood and fathers – Ofer Aderet in Haaretz:

‘About a century ago, six people took time off from their jobs, left behind their familiar surroundings and moved temporarily into a hotel in Vienna. They brought large sums of money with them, not only to cover their daily expenses but also to pay for a pioneering, breakthrough process in which they were to take part. For periods of a few weeks or a few months, and in some cases of a few years (with breaks), they proceeded every day to the house at Berggasse 19 for treatment by Sigmund Freud. These treatments spanned Freud’s active years as a psychoanalyst, from the early 20th century and until the year before he died, which was 1938.
“The feeling they had was of sharing in a historic turning point, the birth of a new discipline and the emergence of an innovative research and treatment field,” Anat Tzur Mahalel, author of “Reading Freud’s Patients: Memoir, Narrative and the Analysand” (Routledge; 2020), tells Haaretz in an interview marking the publication of the book’s Hebrew version. The six were among the first who, with the help of the father of psychoanalysis, delved into the recesses of the human psyche in an attempt to understand such phenomena as dreams, faux pas (slips of the tongue and of the pen) and neurotic symptoms. Thereafter they all published memoirs in which they recounted their impressions of their encounters with Freud.’


‘Between October 1934 and January 1935, Joseph Wortis, a Jewish physician from Brooklyn, underwent treatment with Freud. Their first encounter had taken place two years earlier, when Wortis was a student in Vienna and sought a meeting with Freud for a professional conversation. “I had written a note to him, telling him how much helpful stimulus I had from his books and how much I would have liked to meet him before I left [Vienna],” Wortis noted in his memoir. Freud’s reply was disappointing: “Thank you for the friendly note, and for your willingness to forgo a visit,” he wrote the American.
Freud as depicted by Wortis is irascible, disconnected, conservative, greedy and sensitive to criticism, and “seems to take no special pains to act with hospitality or reassurance, but had instead needlessly disturbed our friendly association by what seems to me to be an over-emphasis on money matters.”’


‘But when Wortis stressed the importance of a patient’s positive feelings for the therapist during the treatment, Freud replied: “The psychoanalytic cure consists in bringing unconscious material to consciousness; to this end, the positive transference [feelings and attitudes of fondness that contribute to the success of the therapy] is used, but only as a means to an end.”’


‘On another occasion he hurled more barbs at Wortis: “You ought to be ashamed of yourself for acting that way, grumbling and growling for three days because I said this or that to you… You ought to understand that I am not interested in passing judgment on you… You are not here to get things out of me, wise words and the like; all that has nothing to do with the analysis.” A rather heartrending example of the humiliation Wortis experienced at the hands of Freud relates to the latter’s dog, which was in the room for some of their sessions. Wortis describes how he felt that Freud and the dog were hovering over him as he lay helpless on the sofa, and that he felt he was competing with the dog for Freud’s attention. “Freud’s dog, the handsome chow, was in the hall when I came in, and the maid told me it is the professor’s great favorite. ‘The Herr Professor is very much attached to it,’ she said; ‘when the dog doesn’t eat, the Herr Professor is unhappy.’ The dog and I were both admitted at the same time,” he writes.’


‘An almost opposite impression of Freud than that presented by Wortis arises from the memoir by Smiley Blanton, an American psychiatrist who was analyzed by Freud and later established a psychotherapeutic clinic under the auspices of a church in New York City (the Blanton-Peale Institute and Counseling Center). “At all times he seemed in close touch with what I was saying. I felt he was interested, that he was taking in what I was giving him. There was none of that cold detachment which I had imagined was the attitude an analyst is supposed to take,” Blanton writes about Freud.
Blanton was also the recipient of a rare and exceptional gesture on Freud’s part. “He impulsively held out his hand, which I grasped. It was a genuine show of feeling on his part, unusual and spontaneous,” Blanton writes. For her part, Tzur Mahalel sees this as intriguing evidence of “Freud’s need for recognition and love from his patients.”’


‘Yet another allegory was provided by Freud, as recounted in the memoirs of his most famous patient, Sergei Pankejeff, aka “The Wolf Man.” The issue at hand: whether the successful conclusion of the analysis would constitute a guarantee that the patient had recovered. “Freud compared this situation with the purchase of a travel ticket. This ticket only makes the journey possible; it does not take its place,” Pankejeff writes. In other words, after the analysis, “the patient has been placed in a position in which he can get well; before analysis this was not possible.” The experience of Freud’s patient Hilda Doolittle, the American poet who wrote under the initials “H.D.,” might be seen as a crossing of forbidden boundaries by Freud, at least according to today’s terms of reference. She came to Freud for treatment after the death of her father and the breakup of her marriage. During the analysis she received “enigmatic messages” from Freud, as Tzur Mahalel notes. They heightened her “helplessness and confusion in his presence,” she writes in her book, and also bore an “erotic potential.” An obvious example occurred when Freud pounded the back of the armchair with his fists in the midst of the analysis and declared, “The trouble is – I am an old man – you do not think it worth your while to love me” (emphasis in the original by Doolittle).
The analysand describes being overwhelmed: “The impact of his words was too dreadful – I simply felt nothing at all. I said nothing. What did he expect me to say? Exactly it was as if the Supreme Being had hammered with his fist on the back of the couch where I had been lying. Why, anyway, did he do that?” Doolittle also writes that Freud ignored her distress. On one occasion she relates, “I am really somewhat shattered. But there is no answering flareback.” “From a contemporary viewpoint, Freud as an analyst comes across, through the patients’ gaze, as a multifaceted personality, with numerous dimensions, shades and contradictions. He sometimes seems warm and human, at other times distant and overly indifferent, and then again as direct to the point of impulsivity,” Tzur Mahalel sums up in the interview. “Through the historical viewpoint provided by the analysand-writers what stands out is Freud’s pioneering and the new horizons he offers for observing the psyche. That said, his therapeutic technique seems to us today to lack a subtlety and complexity that were added to it over the years.”’


‘The author says she admires Freud, recognizes that “he changed the face of culture,” and sees him as “the ultimate father figure of psychoanalysis.” But writing her book, which presents different aspects of his personality, also helped her “extricate myself from that place,” as she puts it, and to see him as a human figure with virtues and shortcomings.
That process has ultimately deepened her appreciation for him, as occurs with children who initially admire their parents and see them as omnipotent, and subsequently understand that they too are flesh and blood.’

Read the article here.

I’m not so fond of Freud-bashing – it’s usually done by people who have never read him, but this book appears to be a special kind of Freud-bashing: turning the saint into a fallible human being. It would have been scarier if Freud had completely followed his own theories and commandments. The joy of reading biographies after all is very much related to the joy of benign schadenfreude.
Even the geniuses had back pain, outbursts of anger, went mad or spent time in prison. It’s a relief.

The need to be loved by your patients is all too human. Any intimate relationship – doctor and patient, teacher and pupil et cetera – is always based on the need to be loved and the disappointments and fantasies of revenge when this desire is not fulfilled.

As a frequent restaurant visitor, I would even say that the relationship between a waiter and his client is also based on this well-known cocktail of rejection, humiliation and the desire to be loved.
That the late Freud appears to prefer his dog to some of his patients is again nothing but human.

I would recommend to both psychoanalyst and his patients: always bring a pet to the therapy.
A child in a family has the same function as a pet in therapy: they help us forget that some of the people engaged in intimate and seemingly unsolvable relationships cannot stand each other.

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