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  • Commentary on "Does the Professor Talk to God?"
  • Melvin R. Lansky

Jerome Neu's elegant exploration of Freud's (1909) case report is a counterrejoinder, an attempt to rebut criticism of the case by critics, especially Adolf Grünbaum (1984) and behaviorists. This counterrejoinder purports to demonstrate that Freud's case offers "a better understanding of psychoanalytic evidence and explanation" (page 138) illustrated by the richness of Freud's contribution to our understanding of the nature of anxiety, of infantile sexuality, of primal phantasies, of parental analysis, and of masturbation. For the psychoanalytically committed, the paper is a wonderful explication of the phenomenology of latent theorizing, that is to say of unconscious phantasy explored through Hans' association in therapeutic dialogue with his father and reported to Freud—an explication published in the infancy of psychoanalysis and astonishingly fresh, vibrant, and relevant almost a century later. For the psychoanalytically informed, Neu's paper is, at the very least, an admirable contribution to the appreciation of Freud's discoveries about the nature and sources of anxiety and the phenomenology of phantasy.

Little Hans had a phobia—a true psychoneurosis. His phobic fear of horses differed from a normal fear with a specific object because a direct dealing with the manifest object of his anxiety (i.e., horses) would not have resolved the problem. Hans' fear of horses is irrational. It would have made no sense to set up a desensitization protocol for his anxiety concerning horses. A psychoneurosis differs also from an aktualneurosis in that the latter consists of constitutional anxiety that is not accompanied by a pathological idea, i.e., not a phobia, a conversion, an obsession, a compulsion, or a delusion. Exploration of the phenomenology of phantasy through associations is necessary in the case of a psychoneurosis plainly and simply to get to an understanding of what the anxiety is about. Though our current psychopathologic nomenclature does not confine itself to pathologic ideas (conversions, obsessions, compulsions, and delusions), contemporary clinicians still face the same issues if we are to avoid dehumanizing and biologizing the human condition entirely. We must ask: Afraid of what? Depressed about what? Afraid of intimacy or success or separation because of what? "What" is always latent content. And the discovery of latent content is not a simple act of decoding so much as an exploration of the vast interconnections of meaning underlying manifest symptoms. Even though our nosology has changed a great deal, Freud had it right on that score.

But critics of Freud, typified by Grunbaum and the behaviorists, are unlikely to be impressed. Their most salient skepticism concerns the mechanism of action of the cure, a point that [End Page 159] Neu does not address. How do we know that the analysis per se is what accomplished the remission of Hans' symptoms? Critics are responding, in this commentator's opinion, to Freud's implicit views about the relationship of psychoanalytic insight to symptom remission, Freud's Platonism, if I may call it that. Plato—see Laches, Republic, Protagoras(Hamilton and Cairns 1961)—contended that courage is not fearlessness so much as a type of knowledge, a knowledge of what is and what is not to be feared. Freud seems to make a similar presumption about the obverse of courage, i.e., that the psychoneurotic anxiety is basically a type of ignorance about what is to be feared. Psychoanalytic insight in the context of the support and interpretive assistance of the analytic situation allows for an explication and clarification of anxiety in view of its sources and in view of reappraisals of current dangers. It is thus an attempt at revision of a type of ignorance—ignorance because repressed and outside the ken of scrutiny—about what is to be feared. Phobic anxiety as a psychoneurotic symptom, since it arises from erroneous presuppositions of what is to be feared—that is to say, from the theory or unconscious phantasy that the patient is in danger of bodily mutilation (castration for competitive or sexual strivings)—rests on a kind of ignorance, amelioration of which in an atmosphere of understanding and support results in the subsidence of the psychoneurotic symptom.

But we now see that the thrust...


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