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The Lichtenberg Knife: Freud, Jung, and the Early History of the Psychoanalytic Movement

Freud on the genealogy and jargon of psychoanalytic nomenclature

Freud & Jung relaxing with friends at a Turkish banya during a psychoanalysts' retreat , ca. 1907.

Though chronology explicitly informs Freud’s conception of the origin and ownership of ‘psychoanalysis’, it also presents something of a methodological problem, in that Freud himself was inspired, as a student, by Breuer’s concept of ‘conversion’. If Breuer invented the concept psychoanalysis, and Freud, on account of Breuer’s influence, the name psychoanalysis, an inaugural exception to the rule must be formed, to separate word from meaning (–even if only to later recover their coupling). The “History” indeed begins with a short narration of Freud’s adoption of Breuer’s teachings, and a lighthearted, vaguely ironic reprimand of the latter’s perceived need to attribute his own idea to Freud’s later one. “In the year 1909, when I was first privileged to speak publicly on psychoanalysis in an American university, fired by this momentous occasion for my endeavors, I declared that it was not I who brought psychoanalysis into existence. I said that it was Josef Breuer, who had merited this honor at a time when I was a student and busy working for my examinations (1880–1882)” (Freud 901). Freud goes on to note, however, that while the authorship of the concept is shared with Breuer, the name itself is his own. “In his theoretical contribution to the ‘Studies in Hysteria,’ Breuer, wherever obliged to mention the term conversion, has always added my name in parenthesis, as though his first attempt at a theoretical formulation was my spiritual property. I think this allotment refers only to the nomenclature, whilst the conception itself occurred to both at the same time” (Freud 902). Genial and forgiving, thankful and uninvested in determining an exact partition of claims, this exchange is everything that the later parley with Jung was not, and I only bring it up to show the extent that enmity and attitude played in Freud’s version of the “History of the Psychoanalytic Movement.” As the exchange with Breuer suggests, the importance of the ‘name’ to Freud’s argument in the “History” could hardly be overstated. Taking special pains, somewhat surprisingly, to appear indifferent to the relative validity of the theories he rebukes, he only wishes to demonstrate their fundamental distinction from psychoanalysis proper. “I have nothing to do with the possible substance of truths in the theories to be rejected, nor am I seeking to refute the same. […] I only desire to show that these theories deny the basic principles of analysis – I will show in what points – and for this reason, should not be known under this name” (Freud 932). In linking the name to the institution, the strategic importance of circumventing the question of truth is paramount; for, while Freud’s criterion shifts from one of validity to one of propriety, the result amounts to the same. For instance, while it cannot be denied that cultural and mythical forces are affective in and on the subject, their careful segregation from the concerns of the official doctrine will ensure their relative marginality in actual practice. The question of ‘culture’, which keeps popping up ‘within’ the movement, must thus be regularly turned out.
Later, he declared, quite logically, that it was a matter of indifference to him whether any conception be conscious or unconscious. From the very beginning Adler never evinced any understanding for the principle of repressions. While reviewing a lecture before the Vienna Society in 1911, he said: ‘On the strength of a case, I wish to point out that the patient had never repressed his libido, against which he continually tried to secure himself’ [Korrespondenzbl., No. 5, Zurich, April, 1911]. Soon thereafter, at a discussion in Vienna Adler said: ‘If you ask whence comes the repression, you are told: from culture. But if you ask whence comes culture, the reply is: from the repression. So you see it is only a play on words.’ A small fragment of the wisdom used by Adler to unmask the defensive tricks of his ‘nervous character’ might have sufficed to show him the way out of this pettifogging argument. There is nothing mysterious about it, except that culture depends upon the acts of repression of former generations, and that each new generation is required to retain this culture by carrying out the same repressions. I have heard a child who considered himself fooled and began to cry because to the question: ‘Where do eggs come from?’, he received the answer, ‘Eggs come from hens,’; and to the further question: ‘Where do the hens come from?’, the information was: ‘From the eggs,’ and yet, this was not a play upon words. On the contrary, the child had been told the truth. (Freud 937–938).

One wonders if it would have been possible to preserve the distinction between the conscious and the unconscious without first suppressing the question of culture, which Freud does admirably by consigning its affectivity to the past. If culture plays a role, it is only to the extent that it has ‘already’ played it. The generational ‘unit’, one neatly following the other, ensures this demarcation (though what withholds this orderly, generational consecution from implication in the family remains to be said): thus, on the one hand, the repressions imposed upon the present are posthumously delivered, while on the other hand, the imposition itself – though necessarily present in effect – operates without mechanism or ‘presence’. Culture is at best a totalizing precondition, at worst a needless translation of the psychoanalytic apparatus.

Although a political passifist, Freud was well-known for his fascination with rifles and other firearms. This photo, which features a more-than reluctant Jung, was taken during a big-game safari in Sub-Saharan Africa, ca. 1909.

But if these distractions cannot be removed from the inner circle, they can at least be withheld from the official nomenclature (in which, so Freud thinks, the power of psychoanalysis is disproportionately vested). “Then Adler took the step for which we are thankful. He severed all connection with psychoanalysis and named his teachings ‘The Individual Psychology.’ There is much space on God’s earth […]” (Freud 934). But with the successful expunging of the illegitimate, the obverse complication – namely, the false doctrine’s sudden aspect of having an autonomous origin – is guaranteed to arise. It is therefore also necessary to trace or indicate the lineage, however mangled, descending from Freud’s original through Adler’s bastardization. The goal is therefore less to exile or detach an improper doctrine than to maintain it at a distance, in proximity and relative submission. Despite appearances, Freud does not simply wish to sever relations, but to form them anew. After all, though it was Freud who impressed Adler to adopt new terminology in the first place, his compliance was met by the befuddling reproach that the new terminology obscured their psychoanalytic origin. Thus, Adler’s “translations of analytical facts into new jargon” (Freud 934), which of course was Freud’s original willing, now required the reverse unveiling of the translations as translation, if only for the purposes of indicating their counterfeit nature. Indeed, it was only “from all the sources opened to him during ten years of our joint work” that Adler, apparently, derived his most distinguishing concepts, “which he later marked as his own after changing the nomenclature. For instance, I, myself, consider ‘security’ a better word than ‘protective measure,’ which I considered using, but cannot find in it any new meaning. Similarly, one will find in Adler’s statement a great many well known features if one will replace his expressions ‘feigned’ (fingiert) ‘fictive,’ and ‘fiction,’ by the original words, ‘to phantasy’ and ‘phantasy’” (Freud 935).

Influenced by America's burgeoning bohemian culture, Freud & Jung spent a short portion of their trip travelling the rails. Photo ca. 1908.

Even the words and concepts that Freud does find acceptable to psychoanalysis are described as having only gained the “right of citizenship.” Concepts that in fact constitute psychoanalysis are thereby rendered auxiliary and integral at the same time. Jung, of course, more than anyone else, defined, for Freud, this impossible ambivalence. “A third contribution from the Swiss School, which is probably to be ascribed entirely to Jung, I do not value as highly as do others who are not in as close contact with it. I speak of the theory of complexes, which grew out of the ‘Diagnostische Assoziationsstudien’ (1906–1910). It has neither produced a psychological theory in itself, nor has it been easy to insert it into the context of the psychoanalytic principles. On the other hand, the word, ‘complex,’ has gained for itself the right of citizenship in psychoanalysis, as a convenient and often an indispensable term for descriptive summaries of psychologic facts. None other among the names and designations, newly coined as a result of psychoanalytic needs, has attained such widespread popularity; but no other term has been so misapplied to the detriment of clear thinking. In psychoanalytic diction, one often spoke of the ‘return of the complex,’ when ‘the return of the repression’ was intended to be conveyed, or one became accustomed to saying ‘I have a complex against him,’ when more correctly, he should have said ‘a resistance’” (Freud 917). Freud then later specifically fingers Jung as the one most responsible for the exigent need to affirm and protect psychoanalysis proper. And it is at this point that he compares Jung’s ‘use’ of psychoanalysis to the Lichtenberg knife:

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