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American Imago 57.2 (2000) 215-234

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Memory, Narcissism, and Sublimation:
Reading Lou Andreas-Salomé's Freud Journal

Ban Wang

In The Freud Journal, Lou Andreas-Salomé (1987) jotted down her thoughts while studying with Freud in Vienna from 1912 to 1913. A strand of her thought was strongly directed to the question of memory against the background of modernity. In this essay I trace her notions of memory, narcissistic love, and sublimation in the journal. Salomé's reflections on these issues projected a vital, creative dimension repressed in the mainstream psychoanalytical thinking of Freud's circle, with its focus on the heavy weight of civilization over the psyche and its resignation to the dominant relations of power. Finding this resignation still lingering in the Frankfurt School, in Lacanian psychoanalysis, and even in poststructuralism, Anthony Elliotte points to the "devaluation of the creative, imaginary features of psychic processes." The task for a psychoanalysis usable for emancipatory practice, then, is to find out "how the potentially transformative elements of the imaginary and the self should be reconnected to the social field" (1992, 235). Cornelius Castoriadis puts the question more sharply: "Has psychoanalysis nothing to do with the Western emancipatory movement? Is work directed toward gaining knowledge of the Unconscious and transforming the human subject wholly unrelated to the question of freedom and the question of philosophy?" (1997, 125). Salomé, to be sure, was no rebel against the status quo. Yet a close look at her journal will reveal her radical reflections on the primal forms of desire, which, lodged in narcissism, in the longing for the past memory of joy, and in the unconscious, persist as a critique of the rational ego. With an eye on the libido's constant surge forward through representation and affects--sublimation--she opened up the possibility of positing the creative, imaginary power of the human subject in changing the world. Central to this imagination is memory [End Page 215] (more precisely, recollection), which provides a reconnection of the unconscious to the social field. For Salomé memory is a nodal point where narcissism and sublimation interlace, not to assume a pathological character, but to enable the reconfiguration of the oldest dreams into the newest cultural symbols and images.

The crisis of memory in modern times has been evoked in the recent discussions of traumatic memory in various catastrophes in the 20th century, "the age of extremes" (Hobsbawm, Caruth, Terdiman). Two exemplary thinkers of the modern experience, Benjamin and Gilles Deleuze, have delineated acutely the memory crisis in historical and phenomenological terms. Salomé offered deeper psychoanalytical insights, which may also align her with other thinkers like Norman Brown, Marcuse, and Kristeva. But, as I will show, Salomé preceded Benjamin and Deleuze in articulating the creative power of the self embedded in a resourceful past, and hence human hope, amid the intensified manipulation of psychic life by hegemonic power relations.

The Crisis of Memory and the Persistence of the Past

Lou Andreas-Salomé invites reference to Walter Benjamin, whose analysis of memory and modernity may serve as a context for interpreting her work. Benjamin's epigrammatic style shares an affinity with the diary entries in The Freud Journal. Both Salomé and Benjamin seemed uninterested in elaborating an abstract body of ideas, unless the ideas are capable of a dialectic exchange, or standing in a productive tension, with experiential immediacy. Their approach to psychoanalysis is a telling example: both offered insights into psychoanalysis that scintillate in a twilight zone of intellect and imagination. Both operated at the liminal site where psychoanalysis interfaces with analysis of culture, and the unconscious is orchestrated by culture and culture infused with primal elements. Both "philosophized" in a way that is far from "metaphysical." Their texts are marked with poetic musing rather than academic argumentation based on a schematic structure.

This stylistic similarity may offer clues to their method of analysis. Benjamin, as Hannah Arendt noted, is a thinker in a metaphorical mode. For him "a metaphor establishes a connection [End Page 216] which is sensually perceived in its immediacy and requires...


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