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American Imago 58.4 (2001) 841-845
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Rank in Freud's School
Both of Owen's essays have a special meaning for me because they lead me into states of confusion, in which the minor literary scuffles of psychoanalytic writers play themselves out with inordinate clamor. 1 In the time of Freud's great discoveries, when suddenly a new world opened, upon which we all dared merely to gaze shuddering and awestruck, and which only lone individuals, courageously enough, ventured into, one lacked the leisure to occupy oneself at the writing table with the childish game of the inkwell and blotter. But soon came the time of organized expeditions into the unexplored land, and all sorts of resolute people pressed forward to reconnoiter the outlandish territory.
Things essential and inessential were discovered and proclaimed, and it didn't take long before the entrance to the stupendous region was so circumscribed with cabinets full of paper that one dared to grant access to it only with special admission tickets. Passable roads were laid down, signs were erected with the wonderful magical phrase: "Forbidden," or "Enter at your own risk." A couple of recreational sites with lovely vistas were built, and the whole thing was then designated "Scientific Psychoanalysis." Teaching and research institutes were established, and the surly spectator breathed a sigh of relief and thought, "Well, that blew over mercifully enough. That dangerous wretch, Freud, has become a schoolmaster and is busying himself with preparing a new primer of supplementary courses for his advanced students."
For quite a while it really seemed as though psychoanalysis would fizzle out. But it only seemed that way. To be sure, there was a schoolroom with benches inside, and it contained as well a list of assigned seats and a class roster for noting merits and [End Page 841] demerits. But the teacher was missing. During the entire time Freud sat alone in his study and brooded. I am not privy to Freud's inner life. I am only fantasizing a little, and no one needs to partake of this my private pleasure. But why shouldn't I spin out my fairy tale concerning his person just as much as anyone else? So he sat far away and completely removed from the world, and didn't know himself that he was in an internal struggle. Nor did the well-behaved pupils know it, until the word at once spread: "Freud is sick."
He was indeed sick, very sick, which for me is a proof that something was taking place in him against which his being rebelled. What that was, no one will ever find out. Presumably Freud himself doesn't know any more about it than anyone else. But this much is clear: this struggle must have been the hardest of his life and it must have shaken him in his depths, since it nearly cost him his life.
Among those who sat and waited in the classroom, half-eager to learn and half-annoyed, until the great man finally took notice that such a splendid school, with class rosters and stringent acceptance requirements, had been built for him, there was one who from time to time peered clandestinely through the keyhole at the room of the man who would definitely be the schoolmaster. He was also clever enough to stick his head in the door and inquire about the wishes of the teacher. Because he did in fact occasionally get an assignment, he thereby found out a little about how Freud was in the habit of clearing his throat and spitting. Indeed, he divined that one situation in particular was distressing to the brooding man--that involving the father and mother.
And--God knows how he succeeded in this--he recognized that Freud, whatever else may have been going on in him, was in such a frame of mind that he had been shaken up by the Oedipus complex and had turned his truth-loving eyes away from the Medusa's head and toward the friendlier images of the world of...