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Sartre’s Scenario for Freud Hazel E. Barnes T HE FREUD SCENARIO,1which Sartre wrote in 1959 at John Huston’s request, for a film to depict Freud during the years when he was first developing the theory and method of psychoanalysis, is unique in Sartre’s work. Inasmuch as neither Huston nor Sartre in­ tended it to be a strict documentary, the scenario differs from Sartre’s studies of Baudelaire, Genet, Mallarmé, and Flaubert. Those at least purported to be interpretive biographies. The Freud Scenario is rather the screenplay equivalent of a historical novel. The obvious question is whether the possibilities of this new form led Sartre to a more imagina­ tive rendition of his subject character. Is Sartre’s Freud as peculiarly Sartre’s own and as different from the Freud of tradition as the central figures of the biographies are? To put it another way, did Sartre want to recreate Freud or to create a Freud? The work is unique in a second respect. In his biographies of the other writers Sartre was unsympathetic with their views on the function of literature and social responsibilities (less so with Genet, of course). But the scenario poses a special problem. Here Sartre had to present, from his protagonist’s point of view, the discovery of the unconscious and principles dependent on it, tenets which he had explicitly criticized adversely in Being and Nothingness. At the outset the philosopher and the dramatist would seem to be at odds with one another. Who won? Did Sartre bracket his own point of view out of respect for his subject and the work at hand? Did he distort? Or, as has been suggested, did the act of writing The Freud Scenario lead Sartre to abandon or radically modify his earlier position?2 The first question raised is that of Sartre’s fidelity to his sources versus originality of interpretation; the second problem relates to the psychological concepts of both Freud and Sartre. I. The Historical Personage and the Character Along with the writings of Freud himself, most notably the Auto­ biography, Studies in Hysteria (with Breuer as collaborator), and The Interpretation o f Dreams, Sartre’s sources in 1959 included the Freud52 W i n t e r 1989 B arnes Fliess correspondence and Ernest Jones’ biography, Sigmund Freud: Life and Work, the first volume of which had appeared in a French translation the preceding year. Jones’ portrayal is generally taken to reflect strongly Freud’s own understanding of himself; we must not, of course, fall into the trap of expecting Sartre to know of recent challenges to that record. Obviously any author of a drama or a screenplay must invent dia­ logue and incidents beyond what is appropriate for a straight biographer. I had anticipated that Sartre would avail himself of this permission to create a largely fictional Freud whose life and personality would reveal a unifying choice of being, or existential orientation such as Sartre dis­ covered—or invented—for each of his other “ heroes.” I was wrong. What Sartre actually produced is surprising, almost to the point of being disconcerting. The man who did not hesitate to give a novelistic portrayal of Flaubert’s mother as a child, her attitude toward Gustave’s birth and way of caring for him in his infancy, has now shown remarkable restraint. There is, of course, some purely fictional creation. I will speak later of the most important instance. A few incidents are invented or modified for the sake of heightened intensity, compression, and, above all, dramatic unity. What we do not find is fiction created for the sake of illuminating character or revealing the crucial psychological event under­ lying the crystallization of a personality. There is absolutely nothing comparable to that unforgettable, shattering scene when a cruel adult points a finger at the cowering Jean Genet and passes sentence—“ You are a thief.” The truth is that the Freud of the scenario has stepped out fully dressed from the pages of Ernest Jones’ biography, Volume I. Those formative events in his life and the data invoked by Freud in his endeavor to know himself through self-analysis, incidents so skillfully and so dramatically...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 52-64
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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