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  • “She Who Steps Along”: Gradiva, Telecommunications, History
  • Ika Willis (bio)

Gradiva was able to return the love which was making its way from the unconscious into consciousness, but the doctor cannot. Gradiva had herself been the object of the earlier, repressed love; her figure at once [sofort] offered the liberated current of love a desirable aim. To indicate the expedients and substitutes [Auskunftsmitteln und Surrogaten] of which the doctor therefore makes use to help him to approximate [nähern] with more or less success to the model [Vorbilt] of a cure by love which has been shown us by our author—all this would take us much too far away from the task before us.

Sigmund Freud, Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's "Gradiva"

A receptionist must know how connections are tolerably made, determining which opening will establish communication between two parties or two things—in brief, she must understand how to manipulate the switchboard or she would lose her post.

Avital Ronell, The Telephone Book


As is clear from the terms in which the citation above is couched, Sigmund Freud's 1906 study, Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's "Gradiva," is in part concerned with directness, proximity, and distance. Although certain "expedients and substitutes" are an irreducible part of the doctor's method, his task is nonetheless to reduce the dimension of distance and detour as far as possible: he is to "approximate" a certain immediacy, modeled by Gradiva. To indicate the relation between mediation and immediacy, however, Freud writes, would "take us much too far away from the task before us." In this paper, I intend to follow up, not "the task before us," but rather the very detour that Freud cuts off—to proceed along the lines that he indicates but does not follow in the passage [End Page 223] cited, in order to end up "much too far away" from the immediate task. That is, I will not privilege immediacy and proximity over distance and detour; rather, I will examine the relation between the two, by analyzing the technical structures of mediation that enable (an approximation to) immediacy in Gradiva.

I do not specify here whether I mean Freud's 1906 study or Jensen's 1903 novel. Indeed, for reasons that will become clearer in the course of this analysis, I will consistently resist drawing a simple distinction between Jensen's Gradiva and Freud's reading of it; rather, I will consider Freud's Jensen's Gradiva (or Freud's Jensen's "Gradiva") as its own entity, the text-in-its-reception. This is not to say, however, that Gradiva, the character in Jensen's novel as it is received by Freud, receives a determinable identity that the "original" Gradiva lacked, or that Freud's reading of Gradiva gives us more direct (or, for that matter, more mediated) access to a Gradiva who could be considered outside of the intertextual relation in which she is caught. In fact, I argue that, insofar as Gradiva can be said to have an "identity," this identity is constituted by the particularity of the relation between mediation and directness, between an original context (in Jensen's novel, say) and a reception (in Freud's study), in which she participates. By reframing the distinction between mediation and directness, the figure of Gradiva allows us instead to read the structures of mediation that allow direct communication between present and past texts. I will show this through a reading of Gradiva's footprint, which connects first-century c.e. Pompeii with (fictional) early twentieth-century Germany, just as a telephonic receptionist connects disparate parties across distances on a technical apparatus.

My task here, too, is a receptionist's task: establishing a "tolerable" connection between the two quotations with which I opened this paper. Although nothing in either text immediately authorizes me to place them in communication—Avital Ronell's text does not address Gradiva, for example—it should be clear that Ronell, like Freud, attends in the passage cited to distance, closeness, mediation, and immediacy; moreover, her attention to teletechnological figures suggests that distance and detour may be an irreducible dimension of connection or reception. Alternatively, a more direct path between the...


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pp. 223-242
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