Notes About Psychoanalysis as Literature by Isabel Zapata
Translated from the Spanish by Savitri Arvey
In his autobiography, Wilhem Stekel reveals a confession that Herr Doktor made to him during a walk through the Berchtesgaden woods, “I am always writing novels in my head, using my experiences as an analyst. I would like to become a writer, but not yet. Perhaps when I am older”.
It’s a confession but not a secret, because everyone who has read Freud is aware of the artistic intent in his style and structure. The Austrian was a thorough reader from a very young age, when he learned Spanish in order to read Cervantes in his original language (in the correspondence that he maintained with Eduard Silberstein as a young man, Freud signed “Cipión,” one of the canine protagonists from “The Colloquium of the Dogs.”) Since then, his vocation was tied to his reading; when he read “Memoirs of my Nervous Illness” by Daniel Paul Schreber, he wrote about psychosis.
None of this is by chance; Freud aspired to be recognized as an esteemed writer from a very young age. On July 16, 1873, at 17-years-old, he wrote his friend, Emil Fluss: “My professor told me that my style is both precise and unique. I’m informing you of this, because you surely weren’t aware that you’ve been corresponding in the style of the German language. My advice as a friend is to: preserve our letters, pack them up, save them, you never know!” From that moment on, many have highlighted the importance of language in Freud’s work. Thomas Mann wrote about Tothem and Taboo, “Both in conception and literary form, it is a literary masterpiece, allied to, and comparable with, the greatest examples of literary essays”.
Freud uses metaphors to retain the reader’s attention as he explains mental processes that at times encroach the limitations of literal language. It is not a decorative instrument, but rather a necessary one: given the subjective understanding of an experience, this type of language is useful for the analysis of purely abstract terms.
In his theory of psychoanalysis, Freud writes about the battle fought and won, the superego as the fortress of a conquered city, and the layers of civilization.
Analysis delves into memories to create a more or less coherent narrative that stems from each patient’s initial inconsistent and fragmented story. Patients “remember” (become conscious of) events that have been repressed for a significant period of time, and by recounting those events, they are freed from their negative impact.
Whether or not what is said is true is entirely irrelevant: in psychoanalysis, events matter less than the way in which we remember them.
The origin of language does not lie in its logic, but rather the imagination.
In 1932, Freud wrote to Albert Einstein, “Maybe you are under the impression that our theories amount to a species of mythology, and not even a cheerful one at that. But isn’t it true that all the natural sciences lead to this type of mythology? Doesn’t this also happen today with the physical sciences?”
Only myths can offer us insight on origins and endings. Those who want rigorously explained procedures and indisputable results will have to look elsewhere.