// - TODAY'S SPECIAL - Freud's last 2 readings
TODAY'S SPECIAL - Freud's last 2 readings

Sept.2009
FREUD'S LAST TWO  READINGS

To Brian H. Childs, who showed me the way.
 
This is about three books. The first, a book of his which despite his ardent desire Freud didn’t get to see and, more at length, about the last two books Freud read, particularly the penultimate.

The one he didn’t get to see was his Moses translated into English,  task E. Jones had assumed. But, to put it plainly, Jones dragged his feet. This attitude would not surprise an attentive reader of his biography of Freud, where it appears that he disapproved of Freud’s Totem and Taboo, the first part of the history of monotheism to be now completed by The man Moses.

One would imagine that the publication of Der Mann Moses (March 1939) would appease Freud. It didn’t. He wanted to see it in English, in the lingua franca so to speak. His wish ran against better sense, since he was fully aware of the accusation of anti-Semitism weighing on him. He wanted the Moses to be his last word and testament. In the sense that it was the last book he published while still alive, it is his testament. But epitaphs are written by the living: the plaque in front of Freud’s building in Vienna belies what he had expressly wished it to read -here lived the man who discovered the secret of dreams; it is instead a vulgar ad for the mental health institution.

 
Letter of 5 March, ‘39 to Arnold Zweig.

[…]I’m only waiting for Moses, which is due to appear in March [the current March, or in [1940?] and then I need not be interested in any book of mine again until my next reincarnation.
A halber e’mes iz a gantser lig’en: ‘A half truth is a whole lie’: proverb far more sonorous in Yiddish but just as true in English.

Max Schur tells us that in his last article -An Outline of Psycho-Analysis- “[…] Freud was more careful in his use of the concept of ‘archaic heritage”.

Schur’s comment aims to minimize Freud’s faith on the phylogenetic underpinning of the Oedipus complex, thus of religion, sustaining the man Moses.

The archaic heritage is the surviving memory of having killed the primitive father; which in turn raises the issue of the inheritance of acquired characters and of Lamarck. No small thing to suggest in Darwin’s era…

This is probably why Freud’s recently discovered manuscript (written in 1915) of his “phylogenetic fantasy” had been entrusted to Ferenczi for corrections and suggestions, and then let’s say, forgotten… It was published in 1987. I’m merely calling attention to the fact that this “fantasy” which Schur perceives as waning in Freud’s maturity, had long haunted Freud and had never been abandoned. Freud had been always keen on its danger; which explains why, on that one occasion at least, he delegated its destiny to Ferenczi.

Moreover, Schur’s comment about Freud’s precaution on this issue seems to be wishful thinking. At one point, discussing the production and content of dreams which serve as a perfect illustration of his theory, Freud could not be firmer:


[…] dreams bring to light material which could not originate either from the dreamer’s adult life or from his forgotten childhood. We are obliged to regard it as part of the archaic heritage which a child brings with him into the world, before any experience of his own, as a result of the experience of his ancestors. We find elements corresponding to this phylogenetic material in the earliest human legends, and in surviving customs. Thus dreams offer a source of human prehistory which is not to be despised. (Outline…Hogarth Press, 1949, p. 28)

This “archaic heritage which a child brings into the world” is also the sine qua non for Religion. Understanding the mechanism whereby guilt is transmitted had been Freud’s problem from the beginning. So it is that at the end of the Totem Freud considered the mysterious necessity for a transmission he couldn’t deny nor explain, just describe through its clinical manifestation as the Oedipus complex and its religious outcome.

To explain its etiology, moved as he said while working on the Totem by “unconscious links”, he reconstructed what Lacan refers to as “Freud’s myth”: the sons’ killing of the original father, the guilt that ensued and its transformation into the father’s religion.

Freud couldn’t explain how an archaic memory became a “heritage” passed from father to son, but his conviction that it did, never wavered.

It seemed as if the primal murder itself wrote the sacred silent text of repression, which text, time having rounded-off its edges, gave birth to Monotheism.

We can easily appreciate that Freud’s argument is a pure tautology that takes for given precisely what must be demonstrated.

But then again, all arguments sooner or later beg at Tautology’s door.

Since I take Freud’s findings as the fruit of unending self-analysis whereby he discovered the oedipal animosity, I conclude that he was then able to recognize it in his patients. By way of diversion allow me to tell you that his Disturbance of Memory at the Acropolis is seen as Freud’s resolution of his oedipal complex. It does so by establishing a link with his father through the chiaroscuro term of “piety”, which signifier colors Freud’s conclusion. In this case a father/son relationship is dissimulated and doubled by a fraternal one, that of Sigmund/Alexander. Let's remember that  at the age of eleven 
Freud usurped his father’s role by naming his new-born sibling.

Guilt must be transmitted generationally, even if we don’t know how; what we do know is that religion exists, repression exist…Critics often sidetrack Freud’s etiological dilemma by focusing instead in the issue of “mass psychology” vs. “individual psychology”, which to me seems like a red herring:

Since individuals make society there’s just one question, good for both answers:

How and when is the individual infected by guilt?

-Guilt? That’s all you guys think about.
-That’s what Freud says: Guilt! That’s what repression is about. Who are the "you guys", by the way, the goyim? That's what my old lady used to tell me...

In any case, although his calling is to observe symptoms and find out their whys, Freud doesn’t know how this phylogenetic operation is performed whereby guilt is handed down. The irony is that by this contradictory act of repression a human being gives expression to religion. I forget where Freud discusses the issue of avowing, but he does, and what I get is that psychoanalysis is a road to avowal, if you’ll forgive me this indelicate term, avowal of a boy’s animosity against the father.

-Why not confess to the priest or the judge instead?
-Because our crimes are imaginary, they do not concern judges. In fact, they only concern us. The unconscious doesn’t distinguish the crime fantasized from the crime accomplished. Imaginary, I say, which is why the ego, as in ego-psychology, it being itself imaginary, is a poor agent for the job. It’s a quandary. What you ideally want is to address yourself directly to the unconscious. That is, by listening to desire's endless babbling, to its coded avowals.

But let me get back to what I was saying: The article Schur referred to was published quickposthum, then in book form in 1949, to be thenceforth unfailingly vaunted as “Freud’s last book”. Schur’s comment appears in the chapter entitled Moses and Monotheism, where the question is precisely its testamentary quality. Although the term is not employed, the reader naturally associates the article Schur’s refers to as Freud’s veritable last word.

I must say that when exactly Freud worked on that article, is not clear to me, despite Strachey’s Preface to its English translation (1949), which attempts to clear-up this matter and succeeds in muddling it.

And that "when" matters.

Strachey seems to know more than Schur about the writing of this article. In his Translator’s Preface, other than tracing its publication history, he informs us of certain ambiguities concerning the identity of the article itself, which Freud “began on July 22, 1938”, interrupted “a few weeks later” while not “very far from completion”, explaining that although the last chapter had not been finished, simply outlined in a “telegraphic” fashion, the gaps had been easily filled-in by the editors of the German edition. Freud never returned to it, Strachey tell us, but in “the following October [1939?], started upon a similar project to which he gave an English title, Some Elementary Lessons in Psycho-Analysis.”

An Outline of Psycho-Analysis, surprised me by its unusual concision, by a directness that spares the reader Freud’s prolepses, spares him the constant rhetorical to-and-fro usual to his expository prose. Quality it shares with his metapsychological papers dating from 1914-1915. Upon reading it, I found myself bewildered by this quality, nostalgic for the old one and simultaneously pleased to hear Freud speak ex cathedra.

Psychoanalytical terms are therein clearly and firmly exposed. He no longer allows nor entices the reader to participate in his reasoning process, informing him instead matter-of-factly of fundamental notions that decades of auto-analysis and clinical savvy allow him to refine. Almost in passing, by the discreet and poignant use of footnotes, he criticizes behaviorism. It was alas too early in psychoanalysis’ American project for him to suspect the potpourri of behaviorism and ego-psychology brewing up.

While reading this “outline”, I tried to place myself in the position of someone ignorant of psychoanalysis: How would I then react to Freud’s distilled affirmations and definitions?

A certain suspension of disbelief is required, I agree; but were I asked to pick one text to explain psychoanalysis, I could well choose the Outline.

None of the above changes my suspicion that this article was not written in 38-39, but rewritten. My opinion is sustained by the lecture of his A Phylogenetic Fantasy, still unpublished when the Outline appeared The. In any case, and contrary to Schur’s comment, this outline strengthens Freud’s position concerning the archaic heritage.

publication of this “lost” manuscript is due to Ilse Gubrich-Semitis, who in her Preface to the Original Edition explains the circumstances of her discovery:


[…] I was looking through an old trunk of papers and other documents. […] I came upon a manuscript in Freud’s handwriting which from its title and content I could not connect to any of his published works. With the help of a brief letter Freud had written on the back of the last page, I soon realized what the manuscript was: the draft of the lost twelfth metapsychological paper. (S. Freud, A Phylogenetic Fantasy, The Belknap Press 1987, p.xvi)

It thus appears that Freud’s testament is bicephalous: One head concerns psychoanalytic terms and definitions of psychic entities, the other the origin and mysterious survival of religion. But I must add that one head whispered its secrets to the other.

Freud wrote until the end, read Berdach and Balzac -his last two lectures- and found the wherewithal to continue his epistolary duty or to invite Berdach to visit him. It was shortly after finishing the Balzac novel that he asked his doctor to put an end to his suffering. Curiously (but I haven’t read everything) I didn’t found this Outline mentioned in his 38-39 correspondence…

He worked in sundry things throughout, but since the question of religion initially posed by the Totem rested open, he had also work to finish on the theoretical part of his Moses, where he would hopefully answer it. He wasn’t particularly worried that the historical facts concerning Moses be questioned, he knew he was right: he just feared not to be able to explain how. He discussed both doubts and certitudes with intimates, worrying particularly about the reactions to the man Moses’ last section.

Well, he was wrong, but for the right reason: What critics disagreed with, what they argued in supposedly scientific terms had little to do with its theoretical underpinnings, but with the refusal to allow that the true Moses was an Egyptian and not the impostor who apocryphally took his place at an equally apocryphal Mount Sinai. Freud was thus, more or less slyly, accused of anti-Semitism Freud. But he never wavered; his letter to Marie Bonaparte in Egypt, who told him she wanted to visit the Sinai (Dec 27 1938), could not be more explicit:


“[…] The Sinai doesn’t deserve your interest. You know well that the mountain of Yahweh was not in the peninsula, but in western Arabia; and a handing down of the law on Sinai never occurred. See my Moses, which alternately impresses me and greatly displeases me. (S.p513-14)

This kind of letter is not unique. His privileged interlocutors in this particular matter, mainly Bonaparte and Zweig (as would have been Ferenczi if he were still alive) often shared in Freud’s misgivings and certitudes. Others, like Jones, were more or less kept at a distance.

The Torah, reasons Freud, is a case of collective substitution and condensation such as the individual’s unconscious is prey to, where stories mingle, a Moses supplants another, and a mount becomes a molehill.

willingly discussed it. The issue had been raised by Freud himself in a letter to Zweig discussed by Schur:


“[Freud] had pointed out […] that some of Zweig’s conflicts found expression in his ambivalent attitude toward being Jewish. This led to a remark which gave the first hint of the direction in which Freud’s thinking was then heading. He continued: ‘One defends oneself in every way against the fear of castration. Here a piece of opposition to one’s own Jewishness may still be hiding cunningly. Our great master Moses was, after all, a strong anti-Semite and made no secret of it’ […]

In speaking of the ‘anti-Semitism’ of Moses Freud obviously had in mind the wrath Moses had unleashed against the Jews who had turned to worshipping the Golden Calf […]” (Schur. p. 468)

Well, I do not wholly agree with Schur. Obviously, Moses was angry, but not only because it was a matter of gold, but mainly because it was a matter of false idols, in the plural. We shouldn’t forget that Freud wanted to establish that the noble Egyptian inculcated monotheism, that monotheism hinged upon what in his time Lacan would call the "father’s name", and further and more importantly, that Moses was the first God of Love.

At the time of Freud’s death, a Hebrew translation of Totem and Taboo had been under consideration for almost a decade. In a letter of Dec. 15, 1930 to Yehuda Dvosis-Dvir, putative translator, Freud wrote the book’s preface:


“No reader of this book will find it easy to put himself in the emotional position of an author who is ignorant of the language of holy writ, who is completely estranged from the religion of his fathers -as well as from every other religion- and who cannot take a share in nationalist ideals, but who has yet never repudiated his people, who feels that he is in his essential nature a Jew and who has no desire to alter that nature. If the question were put to him: 'Since you have abandoned all these common characteristics of your countrymen, what is there left to you that is Jewish?' he would reply: 'A very great deal, and probably its very essence.' He could not now express that essence clearly in words; but some day, no doubt, it will become accessible to the scientific mind.
Thus it is an experience of a quite special kind for such an author when a book of his is translated into the Hebrew.”

I’ve read more than one sly commentary wherein this statement is questioned, following the logic of “how can Freud write what he writes and consider himself Jewish?”

Maybe this fragment of a letter in English (April 19, 1936) of condolence to Barbara Low, on the occasion of David Eder’s death, will help us seize the depth of Freud’s feelings:


[…] We were both Jews and knew of each other that we carried that miraculous thing in common, which –inaccessible to any analysis so far- makes the Jew.

...Oh how my gypsy genes help me understand Freud!

The Hebrew edition of Totem was subsequently announced for 1934, to be published by Abraham Joseph Stybel, in Jerusalem; then again for 1939, the year of Freud’s death, to be published by Kirjcith Zeferthe. I haven’t been able to find, let alone obtain, a copy of this announced edition…

So it was that Freud failed to fulfill both the wish of seeing the beginning, Totem in Hebrew, or its conclusion, The man Moses, in English…

In any case, and to get back to the translation of The man Moses, Jones’ slowness provoked a rare letter of reprobation from Freud:


“Dear Jones,
I greatly regretted that your cold forced you to keep away from me yesterday, and I was then really dismayed to learn that you would not be able to finish the translation of my Moses before February or March [1939]. I know that your time is very valuable, your conscientiousness very great, and that you have many things to do which are at least as important as this. I am mindful, however, that you took this new burden upon yourself voluntarily, without my asking you to. I understood your undertaking this, of course, as a special kindness toward me and a mark of distinction for the book.
The prospect of a delay is disagreeable to me in more than one respect. First of all, a few months mean more to me than to someone else if I persist in my understandable wish to see the finished book with my own eyes.”

To no avail.

The English edition appeared shortly after Freud’s death with the title of Moses and Monotheism.

I’m willing to bet that Freud did not suspect this alteration, and also that E. Jones would rather he didn’t.

The book’s original title, the one Freud had carefully chosen and the one that unveiled its substance was Der Mann Moses und die monotheistische Religion. The French translator, by the way,  followed the lead of this vulgar censorship, since early editions also elided the key word: man.

And that despite the fact that in his letters to intimates, Freud consistently refers to him as my Moses, as simply Moses, and otherwise as the man Moses.

As for me, and at the risk of being questioned by the punctilious who most probably hasn’t read it, I consistently cite Freud’s chosen title: The man Moses and Monotheism.


“Dear Ernst. I’m writing to you for no particular reason because here I am sitting inactive and helpless while Anna runs here and there coping with all the authorities, attending to all the business details.” (Letter to Ernst Freud, May 12, 1938)

Naturally, in this letter to his son Freud was referring to the impending flight from Vienna to England. All the same, the letter describes both his impotence and his daughter’s potency.

So, concerning the book’s title, maybe Freud was after all lucky not to witness its change, nor to admit that it could not have reasonably occurred without Anna’s abetment.

Max Schur, his personal physician, tells us that the moment come, Freud reminded him of his promise to spare him unnecessary suffering. Schur consented. Freud then asked him to inform his daughter Anna about it.

I was shocked by this demand, particularly considering the narrow ties between father and daughter, she on whom he relied and described as “Anna-Antigone” or sometimes simply as “his Antigone”; she who according to Sophocles was there to promote love, not hatred.

So much for the book Freud didn’t get to see. As for the last two books Freud read, let me tell you that it all began when I drew a wild card, or rather, when I was struck by serendipity while reading Max Schur’s Freud: Living and Dying.

Almost at the end, I came across the title of Rachel Berdach’s book: The Emperor, the Sages and Death. This book is the second to last of Freud’s final readings, Schur tells us.

An oddness in Schur’s description called my attention, even nagged at me…

Before I continue, I inform you that I do not allow myself to read introductions, forewords or prefaces until after reading what they describe and wish to establish for the reader.

As quintessential prolepses, introductions’ intention is to forestall doubt while hardening conviction.

Neither do I generally appreciate criticism, my own in particular, while being often seduced by what is simply called a reading.

But, confronted by this odd feeling, I thought it was time for me to read the pages preceding Schur’s text, the Notes on documentation, Preface and Introduction.

In the Notes I learned that the source for both Berdach’s book and the letter Freud wrote her after reading it, was Ernst L. Freud’s Letters of Sigmund Freud.

In the brief Preface, written by his widow, Helen Schur informs us that:


"At the time of my husband’s death, in October 1969, the book had been completed insofar as its content was concerned. However, editorial work was still needed to ensure the continuity of the main theme within each chapter and throughout the book."

Her “however” worried me; “howevers” always do.

The Introduction was well worth reading, not only because Schur describes both his intent and working method, but also because it details his relationship to E. Jones by the clever means of large strokes.

In any case,  only after having access to the entire Fliess correspondence (1964), did Schur find how to tell his story. Those hitherto unpublished letters were eye-openers to him:


"When  in  1964  I  delivered  the  Fourteenth  Freud  Anniversary  Lecture  of  the  New  York
Psychoanalytic Society under the title of ‘The Problem of Death in Freud’s Writings and his Life’ I was able to deal with the problem in a highly condensed way only. The lecture was given before I could fully integrate the total impact of the unabridged Fliess correspondence. Even then I tried to approach my topic by a comparison and correlation of the three dimensions: Freud’s behavior in everyday life, his letters and his work. I have maintained this approach while expanding the topic of my book."

The first thing that comes to light is that Berdach’s book, published in 1962 in English, had not called Schur’s attention. Nor had he been witness to the moment it came into Freud’s life. Only after discovering Freud’s letter to Berdach in Ernst Freud’s compilation, had he seized its importance and proceeded to read it:

“It was not until 1964, after I had finished the first draft of this book, that I read Rachel Berdach’s remarkable book, and was able to understand what it must have meant to Freud at that time of his life, and why he responded to it as he did.” (p.514)

All of which explains to my satisfaction the feeling of oddness I experienced upon reading about this incident, feeling which I can now characterize as the effect on Schur’s spirit, and on his text, of a stroke of serendipity.

So naturally, I wanted to read The Emperor, the Sages and Death. Not only owing to the uncanny feeling I had experienced upon finding it in Schur’s book, but because Freud had written its author such an eulogistic letter. Assuming that Freud had read it in German, and although German stretches my competences, I wanted at least to see it. I always get something out of an original.

In this case the mystery of its absence.

I’ll make a short story long: I was lucky enough to find a first (and only) edition of Berdach’s book in English.

I take a look at the cover: "Translated from the German by William Wolf",  it reads.  Inside you’ll find the phrase repeated. But nowhere will you find its German title. I don’t remember another translation that didn’t refer to the original.

If only I could get my hands on it!

But I don’t even know if the book can be found (it logically should) in Freud’s scattered library. Moreover, what Theodor Reik says in its Introduction, as you’ll presently see, thickens the mystery.

I later discovered that Rachel Berdach died in Switzerland in 1961, one year before her book appeared. Finding anything about her has been nearly impossible. All inquiries redirected me to what I already knew: Schur’s book, the English edition of her book, or Freud’s letter to her. And so it is that the only biographical information I have on Rachel Berdach is based on the evocation of her twice removed cousin, Eva Bato. Other than the scant data I shall presently furnish, and as complement to the one on the rear cover of  her book's dust-jacket, I obtained a second photo of the author as a young woman which writing at the bottom I was unable to decipher, since enlarging it blurred the details…


A-BERDACH-YOUNG.jpg                               A-PHOT0-BERDACH-AGED.jpg
Rachel Berdach, born in Berlin in 1878, died in Baden, Switzerland in 1961.

The date of her death preceded thus the 1962 publication of her book by one year. Considering its preparation, proof-reading and corrections, we can suppose that it had been in the making for at least a year before publication. T. Reik’s preface to it dates from 1959…

Didn’t the editor, translator or Reik know of Berdach’s whereabouts or of her death while the book was in preparation? Where thus did her photo come from? And, finally, isn't a marvelous coincidence that she died at precisely the same age as Freud?

I tried without success to get her obituary from both local and national Swiss newspapers, as well as official Swiss records. I’ve not completely given up on this, but since I’m dealing with records in German, my demand takes time to compose…

Res ipsa loquitor.

The Emperor the Sages and Death deals  with the issues it raises through three representative characters: Frederic II, Rabbi BenAron and the medical practitioner Abu Musa This.

This book concerns three religions, linked as in a borromean knot. At times, as it happens in life, it’s hard to distinguish in it fact from fantasy. Although the action takes place mostly in Italy and Sicily, the model for its spiritual and intellectual background is thirteenth century Spain, of which Frederick II’s court is microcosm and synthesis.

Iberia was then where the three religions could still dialogue and also where the book action begins and ends.

This is fitting, since Iberia was the center of the cultural miracle usually called Al-Andalus, the kingdom Boabdil lost/

-Freud refers to Boabdil in his Disturbance of memory on the Acropolis, his famous open letter to Romain Rolland.
-Yes… And do you know what struck me about it?
-No...
-That anyone who works on Boabdil’s history would very likely fall upon what his mother said to him upon seeing his tears of despair…:

“You cry like a woman for what you failed to protect as a man.”

…while in Freud’s text King Boabdil appears linked in a way almost bordering bathos, to Freud’s relationship with his father and with filial piety.

His mother’s pitiless reproach describes both Boabdil’s personality and drama. Boabdil was the son of Abu I-Hassan, king of the principality of Granada. He was nicknamed the little or the unfortunate. He became king in 1482 after his father had been driven from the land, on the condition that he would not intervene in the conquest of Málaga planned by Ferdinand and Isabella. Boabdil was thus king in name only, helping willy-nilly the Spanish crown to re conquer Iberia and bringing to an end a marvelous cultural laboratory, Al-Andalus, still vigorous in Frederick II’s time.

Al-Andalus showed a community of spirit between the first and the last of monotheisms, while Christianity, monotheism’s middle offspring, plays in Berdach’s book the villain’s role. Berdach has Frederick II recreate Al-Andalus’ miracle of dialogue in his courts in Sicily and Naples.

In any case, Christianity is psychologically isolated, for it seems that Love is an ingenuousness 
based on a premise of human goodness which no "realistic" man could accept, and fundamentally opposed to the theory of instincts. Moreover, then as now, the Papacy, which systematically violated the Christian principles it supposedly upheld, had not much to recommend it.

In fact, and I’m running ahead of myself, Frederick II’s second excommunication clears-up some of this mystery: Pope Gregory IX was said to be angered that Frederick II engaged a crusade (1228) without involving the Church in his enterprise; but, as I see it, he was mostly upset because the Emperor had not recaptured Jerusalem through the arms and for the Church, but by negotiating an agreement with sultan Al-Kamil; which resulted instead in the restitution of Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem to Frederick’s Kingdom!

There are notable and touching exceptions to Berdach’s condemnation of Christianity, there are true Christians in her book, but generally the Church’s delegates in Frederick II’s court are depicted as petty. Two exceptions are however telling: Frederick himself and his confessor Berard.

But neither the Crusades nor the oft imbecile clergy can make us forget the figure of the idealist Crusader.

Frederick II, himself a rather practical crusader, is said to have died of dysentery wearing the habits of a Cistercian monk, having received, despite the ban, the absolution from his confessor:


Emperor: "Suppose at the time of death the ban would be upon me, and time would not permit to cancel it – what would you do?"
Berard    :"Give victuals to the wanderer on his way."
Emperor: "Faithful Berard! – I shall not die yet for a while."

As happens with names in Berdach’s book, the confessor’s one is not arbitrary. Berard is the name of St. Bernard, founder of the Cistercian Monastery at Clairvaux, order particularly widespread in Frederick's II times… Bernard de Clairvaux is mentioned towards the end of the book (chap. Of the Abbot of Cluny) in a document found at Cluny Abbey, a Benedictine monastery. As we know, the Cistercians -which monastic habits Frederick II is said to wear at his death-, followed zealously the monastic, ascetic discipline established by the Benedictines.

The following conversation takes place in Mayence one night between its Archbishop and BenAron. There were theological questions to be settled between Prelate and Rabbi. The Archbishop supposedly wanted to pierce the mystery concerning the unpronounceable name of God… while, as wily Prelate and in the interest of his institution, inquiring about Frederick II:


Prelate: […] “Did a ghost ever tell Frederick of things he’d done in secret?’
BenAron: “Not to the Emperor, but to the Abbot of Cluny. It is an old, old story and does not deal with books but rather with a book.” The Rabbi said, and he untied the clasps which held the book.
Prelate: […] “Let’s hear that story first; the rest can wait.”
BenAron: ” The great Abbot of Cluny had tackled many questions…[…] All that was left, he thought, was challenging strange spirits who are in charge of bygone times, before the era of Christ.[…] He knew that at the court of Aquitania there lived a Moor known for his power over spirits. Albaram was his name. He wrote the duke he needed him for alchemistic studies […]; he found him rich in knowledge and well mannered, yet when it came to spirits, he kept silent. At last he did agree to call some demons in a new moon’s night.[…] The other monks were asleep when the Abbot entered the magician’s cell, but lo! no preparations had been made […] He had an ancient magic book with pictures of the spirits, so to become accustomed to them [..,.] ‘ If you will turn those pages […] an aroma will arise and quicken your mind.’ Then he pulled the book out of his satchel. The Abbot looked at its first page. There was a pretty woman with a suckling. She looked somewhat like Mary […] The next pages showed the same again, but now the man dressed like a monk, was at her breast.”
Archbishop: “The sainted Bernard of Clairvaux […] is in a devil’s book?”
BenAron: “I don’t know why, My Lord, I do not know your service. One says that the Abbot lost all color: He thought the man was he; his mother was that woman.[…] Now on another page there was that man […] a dagger in his fist. He lay in ambush for the castle’s lord who, dressed as a knight, approached the gate. He seemed to be the other’s brother.[…] Then, they say, the Abbot lingered. […] He saw the caricatures of the evil spirits called damnation-greediness and treason, disunion and calumny.[…] But no matter how different the masks appeared to be, he seemed to have met them before[…] ‘Twas after midnight when he recovered. There lay the evil book; a Moor put it away. Albaram said: ‘Do look at it again.’
The Abbot did -the pages where all blank.” […]
Elector: “What is its name?”
BenAron: “The fount of memory.”

Despite Berdach’s virulence concerning a sacred Christian figure, I’ll just allow myself to signal that the Fount of memory brings to mind a phrase from Athanasius Life of Antony, saint who as we shall soon see, is not only linked to T. Reik by way of his thesis on Flaubert’s novel, but also to the historical setting and characters of Berdach’s one. What follows describes the moment the saint overcame one of his temptations:

At last when the dragon could not even thus overthrow Antony, but saw himself thrust out of his heart, gnashing his teeth as it is written, and as it were beside himself, he appeared to Antony like a black boy, taking a visible shape in accordance with the colour of his mind [My italics].

It appears that the mirror quality of BenAron’s book, like so many other cultural artifacts and insights, had been legated to and maintained by the Christian heirs.

But let us return to the above dialogue, by way of signaling Berdach’s punctiliousness concerning dates, events, places and characters. The geographic details as well as titles and names are accurate. Mayence (Mainz) was then politically and strategically important, both as the northern frontier of the Holy Roman Empire and as the seat of the Prince-elector of Mainz, its Archbishop. The name of the Moor “known for his power over spirits”, Albaram, is probably derived from Bar'am, בַּרְעָם, “Son of the People” in Hebrew, and also from Kfar Bar'am, a village near the Lebanon border with the remains of one of Israel's oldest synagogues. The names in question and the geographic symmetry between Mayence and Kfar Bar'am, both at their northernmost spot, are the kinds of precise coincidences I constantly come upon in Berdach’s book…

While savoring the above dialogue I could not not question the power of an author; I could not not wonder how BenAron, had he been chosen for the experiment, would have filled the blank pages of the “fount of memory”…

Nov. 3, 2009

triste topique

Levi-Strauss is dead. The Savage mind lives, the Trickster also, next to the Engineer; and we shall forever get the other's message ass-backwards. Destiny thus arranged for death to take him at a palindromic age: 101.

As befits revelation, a Christian has no history, no memory, he’s “born-again”. The New Testament traces Jesus’ genealogy mainly to show Jesus as a child of Israel and to legitimize his prophetical claims. A Christian rewrites history through faith in a catholic God. Hence Freud’s dilemma, by the way, who knew that Love, naïf as it seems, excludes by principle the non-universal notion of chosen, replacing it by a choice for the father’s name, whereby idea thrones over genes. Psychologically, Freud’s God is the cruel original father of Totem and Taboo, he whom his children killed; he whom Freud then rediscovered, transfigured, both in Moses and Jesus, both also sacrificed. Logically, merciless to himself and to others, Freud made myth coincide with psychoanalytic theory. His reading of the Old Testament his father Jakob had offered him as a child, led him to discover the universal god of love. The proof of this universality concomitant to the One, is that this God, God of the Mosaic religion such as Freud specifies, would choose precisely foreigners as his people.

In the above cited letter to his editor-to-be in Jerusalem, Freud writes that despite his lack of Hebrew, despite not being religious, he was Jewish in a way that defies analysis, fact which “science” would surely one day confirm. He meant “science” in the sense of an intelligent lecture of his work and, as in his letter to his never-to-be editor in Jerusalem, particularly in the context and content of Totem and Taboo and its conclusion: The man Moses and Monotheism. For although at that time his Moses had neither been finished nor published, Freud considered it as the completion of the myth that his spirit had been refining since the Totem.

In any case, to my eyes as well as to Berdach’s, Frederick II was a Christian –of the same mettle I would willingly say as Spinoza was a Jew-, excommunicated/

-Like Spinoza and Lacan.
-You’ve got there a kind of mixed metaphor, if you know what I mean! But to answer you, yes, and they were lucky. For them things were at least clear: “We don’t want to hear you.” That’s the worst, to be silently snuffed out, like the true Christians U. Eco writes about, like the Franciscans, those who opposed hatred by any name without dying for their principles, just bowing their heads.
-Bowing their heads, you say.
-Right. Since for a man of peace to question authority by definition begs the question of hatred. The question was posed to Jesus, and in time to question became the Inquisition’s trademark.
-You say it just like that? That’s like saying that he who knows the answer hates you.
-…No. I’m saying that he who has it, if he loves you, shares it with you.
-Would tell you what to do, you mean?
-…Yes.
-and you… do you love me?
-…
-…So tell me what to do.
-Stop being maudlin and read Berdach’s book. Freud was right about it, it’s a masterpiece.


No… I was rather trying to tell you that a distinction needs to be drawn between a Crusader’s motives and the Church’s ones. It’s not for nought that after having failed in his first attempt, Frederick II had embarked on a crusade the following year (1228). This, as I remarked, was considered by the Pope as a provocation, since the Church neither shared the honor nor reaped its benefits, which naturally resulted in a second excommunication…

brings to mind a rather interesting (they all are) problem of translation. In Spanish and French we can say "médicin" or "médico" without having to say doctor. You can say physician, but how then, for a psychoanalyst, account for that component of human beings which is not physical? Unless you assumed that there’s nothing that is not physical. The worst is that you’d be probably right: physics is the mother of all…physical sciences. It explains the universe. But a mystery lingers, like an odor. I don’t know if you’re as keen as I on this, but there is a mystery. It’s not as simple as saying that physics explains the behavior of matter. It doesn’t. Let me put it in the simple terms that I can understand; and I place all of this at Einstein’s feet, even quanta and their mechanics. It was Einstein who told us that there was an Absolute, C, the speed of light, unrelated to any other but to which all other speeds are related. This mystery entails a host of others. And for instance the behavior of subatomic particles, which state is predictable, provided you do not wish to test prediction by observation, contenting yourself instead with abstract probabilities. But, as Schur informs us, in order to reproach Wittels certain fantasies, Freud wrote him that “probability is not always the truth.” This is why in his wisdom, Lacan founded his most sublime definition of the other, the grand Other, upon quanta, the Other who, as he puts it, “can lie to you”.

In any case, the word “physician” is unlinked to the words “medicine”, “medication”, by which the role of what rather than who heals is emphasized. It sends us back to those ancient times when, right or wrong, the spirit weighted upon the body; sends us back to Asclepius, whose business wasn’t once and for all settled by Hippocrates.

Not if you’re psychoanalyst, it wasn’t.

/Of the book’s three main characters I perceive Frederick (who Freud once referred to as “the ingenious and tyrannical German Emperor”) as saintly concerning ethics and liberal concerning sexuality… although sexuality is not overly discussed in Berdach’s text. When the question of women arises, it’s often Abu Sina, the Muslim physician, who answers.

I should add that what is said about desire and women is particularly fine, and I suspect pleasing to both Freud’s ear and intellect:


Frederick II: “Abu Sina thinks that woman lacks the man’s ambition.”
Abu Sina: “A woman, when ambitious, has herself in mind, whereas the man wants to embrace the universe. It’s of herself a woman dreams; the Temple of time is built by man.[…] A woman is wrapped up within herself, depending less on others than we do.”
Bishop: […] He who enjoys looking into a mirror loves but himself. And if so, he can do without other love. It is hard to force the fortress of self-love into surrender.”
[…]
Frederick II: […] That handsome boy [Narcissus] supports your attitude. All that he seeks and loves is his own image, sufficient to himself, he does not care who looks. […]

You can take this description as a sort of introduction to narcissism surely dear to Freud, by which besides a mechanism of self-preservation, the homosexual overtones are signaled.

The following excerpt describes in religious terms the role of desire in our psychic equilibrium, as well as the role of the superego:


Abu Sina: “The devil’s speech is but a dialogue between our conscience and desire. […] The old physicians knew it well: to be possessed means to have strong desires.

Other than by the affinity shared by “cousins” such as Muslims and Jews, whose common lineage I begins with Abraham, I was, rather than surprised validated by finding in Berdach’s ancestry a Muslim great grandfather -albeit on the mother’s side- as I gathered from Eva Bato’s account:

“[…] one of my great grandfathers was a Transylvanian baron. A second obtained a royal license – I'm not sure from which king; the license was lost during the war – to start up a pipe-carving atelier at the foot of the Buda castle. He was a Turkish master pipe-carver. The license authorized Almos Limo to practice the art of pipe-carving. He was Muslim, incidentally.”
 

gypsy genes


allow myself a detour:

I can’t say I’ve a country. I never felt at home anywhere. I guess my mother’s gypsy genes and upbringing have something to do with it, or maybe the constructive resignation she faced up to adversity with. My father also walked straight through vicissitudes, as if he regarded them from above. He was an aristocrat who didn’t feel particularly attached to his country. Only once in a while, he who ate as if by compromise, allowed a longing to escape:

“Oh if I could only have some homemade mayonnaise!”

He’d then get up and make the mayonnaise, patiently beating the oil into the yolks while explaining to me the physical properties of an emulsion… He was he, just as my mother was she. Little by little I had the chance of getting to know them, appreciating them or not, finding virtues and flaws as in anybody excepting me, of course.

But despite my family history and genes, it still tickles me that I don’t feel nostalgic for a homeland. The last time someone told me, unjustifiably so, by the way, that “if I didn’t like it here why didn’t I go elsewhere”, I answered that his country was just part of my world, and that the things I appreciated or criticized here I’d unfailingly find there.

I’m thus Christian like Freud was Jewish, that is, from the bottom of my soul.

Does a Christian need a country when the world suffices? Are we not catholic?

In any case, and to get to the issue, Frederick II assumes two important roles; to begin with that of destiny, since it is he who blindly picks out the name of the next speaker, as in the Banquet/

-That seems to escape the translator...
-Yes and no… he describes Berdach’s book as forerunner of “salons”!
-Right! And as in the Banquet, there’s an Agathon, Frederick II, their host and sovereign, who assumes the role of the gluon holding in orbit all those otherwise scattered particles. Reik (Introduction) describes Frederick as “sensuous and aloof, religious and heretic”, adding that “he is not the protagonist; it is a man of much older nobility, his friend, the rabbi Jacob Charif BenAron.
-“Of much older nobility”, says Reik, despite the Sagas… Who was Aron, by the way? And, wasn’t Jacob, Freud’s father’s name?
-Yes, it was… Aaron was the brother of Moses, his port parole to Pharaoh; also he who brought the plagues on Egypt and he who provided the Hebrews with the Golden Calf, so enraging Moses that he destroyed the Tablets.
-And if Moses were Egyptian, as Freud maintains, what would that make of Aaron? But continue.

There’s not much to say. Read The Emperor, the Sages and Death instead. Hard for me to do it justice. Something about its literary ancestry escapes and titillates me. I can't help but to see Reik's shadow behind it. It can almost be read as a sacred text, as a collective work of myth, but I’ve difficulties not catching glimpses of its author. I often wonder what my reaction would have been had I read it outside Freud’s influence. I wonder also about the alteration that the book imposes in the larger book which is Freud’s evangel. The term might surprise you, since everybody repeats that Freud stood staunchly against it, but religion was both Freud’s quest and his unanswered question.

I once read an absurd article by someone whose name I wish to forget, telling us that Freud’s pretension was nothing less than to become the new God of his people! He was
however right  in that the famous open letter to Romain Rolland to which he refers is about religion; moreover -and to give a preview of an article I'm working on-, about what one  would almost call Freud's conversion.

I’ll give it to you in short-hand and in the strictest Freudian orthodoxy: it being a palliative for the oedipal and castration complexes, religion is related to the father. And,  as Freud himself signals and Lacan elaborates, being biologically “uncertain”,
the father pertains to the symbolic order: Uncertainty cleared up by the idea of what must be: father’s love. Theme intelligently discussed in Berdach’s novel… Religion is, if you'll allow me the image, the dregs of repression, the precipitate Freud sifted to find the original crime. In Freud’s case this is tragic, verily, since his truth makes him a traitor to his people. So we minimize religion’s import to focus rather on technical terms and clinical issues. We seem to forget that such mechanisms make no sense if you start by disowning the linguistic structure of the unconscious and the effect of repression. It’s not for nothing that the Totem preceded the Ego and the Id, which unfortunately allows practical people -call them practitioners- to deal with an entity such as the Ego as if with an isolated diamond. But such a shining object is linked and indebted to the medium that nourished it, formed it: the unconscious itself… And that medium, per Freud’s overriding argument, bathes in Religion.

Blake’s Proverbs of Hell accurately describe this unbreakable link. I think particularly about the one that says “he who restrains desire does so because his is weak enough to be restrained, and the restrainer, or reason, usurps its place and governs the unwilling”. I cite from memory, but I don’t betray Blake.

Be it as it may, Schur also links Totem and Taboo, The Future of an Illusion, Civilization its Discontents and The man Moses and Monotheism to Freud’s preoccupation with the issue of religion. So do I, but only in that they share the religious theme but not structurally, insofar as the Totem and The man Moses are parts of a distinct structural unit. The Moses, I repeat, should be intercalated just before the pages about Christianity.

Other than rejoicing in that vice that scholars and academics share, research, rejoicing in the clearing-up of a detail, a date, a meaning, I aim to entice you to read R. Berdach’s book. What strikes me beyond any interpretation is the same mystery that struck Freud, as he exclaims in his letter to the author.

Concerning its tone, ambiance and erudition, I can only compare it to M. Yourcenar’s exquisite L’Œuvre au noir.

But to come back to the book, did you know that its German title is mentioned nowhere? Was the book published first in Germany, albeit in English?!

-Why not?
-Right. Why not? I myself write in English…Except that its translator, William Wolf,tells us:


“This book, which is now rising phoenix-like, though in a different plumage, from the ashes of the 1938 book-burning in Vienna [...].” (Preface)

I take  this “different plumage” to be its language. I must however add that the date for the “book-burning’ troubles me. The book-burning  meticulously orchestrated by Goebbels took place in 1933 in Germany. 

No German title, anywhere. Not from Reik either, who’d had Berdach in analysis, as told by Schur and attested to by Reik himself.

Reik was one of Freud’s early disciples, did analytical work with Karl Abraham and obtained a Ph.D. in psychology. He wrote his dissertation on Flaubert’s Temptation of Saint Anthony, reputed to be the “first psychoanalytic dissertation ever written”. What interests me is the nature of Reik's enterprise: reading a novelist; then the choice of novel.

That Reik chose that road doesn’t surprise me, he who as if moved by an obsession -described in his psychoanalytic autobiography, Fragment of a Great Confession- tells us that at the age of eighteen he read the whole of Goethe.


-Well, was it great, his confession?
-Hardly...But very instructive. The title, by the way, is borrowed from Goethe's Truth and Fiction, such as Reik reveals in an epigraph to chapter two, citing Goethe: All I have written and published are but fragments of a great confession.  Want me to tell you about it?
-Will it be long?
-Not if I can gather-up facts and fancy... It all began with Berdach's book and with the fact that no matter which way I turned I came upon Reik's name. Came to a halt, actually: every lead led to a dead alley.

In any case, I acquired first editions of a few of Reik's writings, those which titles had intrigued me. Two in particular seemed to me promising, From Thirty years with Freud and the Fragment in question. And of course, his doctoral dissertation.

I read them.

-Why a first edition?
-Mainly to get it from the horse's mouth. I discovered that once a text goes through the exegete's hands and is further worked on by the scribe, whose hands are not as innocent as you might suppose, well, you don't know what you're getting. But I'm not a collector, if that's what you mean. Whenever  I can I  buy first editions of books related to the problem I'm working on, and that simply in order to read the original text. Secondly because often a first edition is all there is, such is the case, by the way, with many of Reik's books, which were not reedited. And finally because they are often no more expensive than reprints.

You'd be surprised.

But also because I get a kick, an emotion just from knowing that the copy I now  handle is textually the same its author laid his eyes on. The same to the last comma. You'd be surprised by what happens to a text once it goes through the hands of an exegete with an ax to grind! And let me tell you, a comma counts, since its displacement or abolition opens the door and even encourages further amputations or additions. 

-The devil is in the detail, is that it?
-Yes. But may I tell you a little story, to illustrate my point?  Yes?:

I
recently started a project to synchronize one of Lacan's speeches, La Troisième it's called, The Third-one,  to its transcribed text. The speech lasts for almost three hours, and its lecture some twenty minutes.

So it was a painstaking yet never tedious task, to make the written text-scroll follow the rhythm of Lacan's diction, to make it follow his accelerations and silences, his cadences. I discovered for example that when Lacan steps out of his written text, when he improvises, when he hesitates while looking for words, well, the traces of these hesitations are naturally erased; so that when he says for instance, "because", gathers silently his thoughts for a plus or less long time, then finally repeats "because etc.", the transcription eliminates the second "because", as well as the pause between the first and the second "because"/

-So what!

/-Because who steals an egg steals an ox, that's what. Moreover, this misdemeanor opens the way to graver crimes. Such is the case when Lacan says -playing with a famous telegram- "psychoanalyst not dead, letter to follow", which is transcribed by "psychoanalysts not dead, letter to follow".  If you're not attentive to what he wants to convey, if for you that little letter s has no incidence, you'll  not understand the weight it carries. Lacan’s intent is thus diverted from Lacan's own fate vis-à-vis the mental health machine, and made instead to honor precisely those who wish to bathe in his martyrdom, the better to forsake him?
-You're rather harsh, aren't you?
-Actually not enough...A certain dose of hypocrisy and fear counsels caution... Which is why before I dared actually correct the text I was about to publish, I listened over and over to what Lacan  had in fact said:

There’s no plural. He meant Me, analyst, not Us analysts.

/But let's get back to Fragment. The copy of the first edition I received was, I suppose, flawed: the total number of pages (497) matches the publisher's and book-seller listings; the book itself, no matter how closely I examine it, has apparently not been tampered with.  It's actually like new, even unread, I'd say. But: at page 54 it stops in the middle of a sentence with a name, Walter Linden, then jumps to page 183  and to the words let us not forget, running steadily  to page 211 which ends by this last is unsayable. It then goes backwards to page 87 and to which was all the more painful, and from there to the end: "So long!"

So either I have a treasure in my hands, you know, like the flawed postage stamp philatelists cherish, or the strangest book-object to come off a press since Gutenberg.


I take the second option. But  I cannot help  wondering and speculating about what those missing pages contained…

Concerning fragments, the only one that interested me was the one missing, naturally; ditto for "great"; as for "confession" I don't know...

-So, the confession wasn't great?
-Hardly...But very instructive. Want me to tell you about it?
-Will it be long?
-Not if I can gather-up facts and fancy... It all began with Berdach's book and with the fact that no matter which way I turned I came upon Reik's name. Came to a halt, actually, because every lead led to a dead alley.

Anyway, that I’d found and bought first editions of a few writings of Reik's, those which titles had intrigued me. Two in particular, given the information I was looking for, seemed to me promising, From Thirty years with Freud and the Fragments en question. And of course, his dissertation.

I read them. I discovered some troubling details about Reik, such as the fact that he had supposedly plagiarized Freud, to which he actually avows...half-way; I become aware as well of the fact that he bloats his relationship with Freud. When you read Freud's letters, for instance, where Reik's name rarely appears, you see plainly that Reik means less to Freud than the other way around.

Moreover, I was already weary, for in perusing the items on Freud's library I noticed that the pages of some of Reik's books hadn't been cut!

Then there are the titles themselves:  what does it mean,  from thirty years with Freud? Are these excerpts? Are there more? Then of course there's the book we're talking about: Fragment of a great confession.  It isn't great, let me tell you; not if his inspiration is Saint Anthony, Augustine or Pascal. It's  rather hollow erudition and no trace of holiness.

And so it is that concerning "fragments", the only one that interested me was the one missing, naturally; ditto for "great" and for "confession". 

-Confession did he say! Is that the word he used? Have you found Reik cited by Lacan?
-That rings a bell… Or does it? Frankly, I don’t remember. Freud does, however, and I think to remember Reik contributed material to Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious/
-Why Jokes and not Wit, by the way, since towards the end of book, in the theoretical section, Freud demeans jokes?
-I never understood that either. There’s surely a reason… But let me go back to what I started to tell you...The French translation for "wit" is "mot d’esprit," in Spanish "chiste", which indicates  the inherent difficulty of rendering the German “Witz”…I never worried about it before, since while reading its translations I automatically fill-in the right nuance.

And now back to Flaubert, who although better known for Madame Bovary in some literary circles, particularly since he said that Mrs. Bovary was he, considered the Temptation of Saint Anthony as his achievement. I still haven’t read it; I’m waiting for Reik’s dissertation, where I hope to find precisely what edition of The Temptation he worked with, in what language, etc. Then, if I can, I’ll follow suit.

08-14-09

I just received Reik’s Flaubert und seine “Verschung des heiligen Antonius“, published in 1912 which, by coincidence was the year Totem und Tabou appeared… Since the book-form of his dissertation is not organized as dissertations are wont to be, that is, with copious footnotes and precise references to texts utilized, I was only able to glean that he consulted two editions of the Temptation, one in French and one in German.

I’ll get the French one, from 1907, I think it was…

Meanwhile I inform myself on St. Anthony:

If you look for Saint Anthony in an encyclopedia you’ll probably have the same luck I did and first find the wrong Anthony, the one who coincidentally? lived when the action of The Emperor, the Sages and Death happens: Fernando Martins de Bulhões, venerated as Anthony of Padua or Anthony of Lisbon (1195 – 1231), issued of a wealthy Portuguese family. Since my education doesn’t include The Lives of Saints, and despite the fitting, enticing chronology, this Anthony seemed too innocuous to me, even too innocent.

The Saint Anthony in question is the one whose temptations are so often pictorially represented. Most of what’s known about him comes from one source, the Life of Anthony, by Athanasius of Alexandria, from which text I gleaned the details that follow.

A-TEMPTATION.jpg
 Michelangelo - The Torment of Saint Anthony
Leaving aside the inevitable temptations of the flesh which he successfully resisted, Saint Anthony also resisted the temptation of wealth. That he should have been tempted by this means is ironical insofar as he had been born rich and had renounced his wealth in order to follow Jesus. Anthony was born in Coma, Lower Egypt, in 251 to wealthy parents. In 285 he chose to follow the words of Jesus: "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come, follow Me." Which he did More, then decided to follow the way of hermits and live in the desert. But even the desert is a place for temptations. As he walked he saw a silver dish on the ground. Reasoning that it couldn’t have fallen without being noticed, he concluded that he was being tempted. He ignored it. Later on he saw many pieces of gold scattered, and again he did not stoop to be conquered.

recently Ludwig Wittgenstein -1889-1951-, author of the troubling Tractatus logico-philosophicus of whom Deleuze can say no good, having participated in WWI and after reading Tolstoy, followed precisely the same path: He gave his considerable fortune to his sisters and thereafter lead, in his own particular way, a monastic life. I’m impressed by the courage of his conviction -just as I am by Sade’s “courage of his perversion”, to cite a phrase ere learned from a forgotten source- seduced and troubled by his Tractatus and profoundly touched by his tragic family story…

A-WITTGENSTEIN.jpg
These two episodes refer of course to Jesus’ dictum according to which a camel would pass through the eye of a needle before a rich man reached heaven; which in turn harks back to the Golden Calf and Moses’ anger. Jesus’ precept was discussed in Berdach’s book by way of an offhand sarcastic comment addressed by the Emperor to a Church official:

“I remember that Romuald. I would not have recalled the fool, if he were not the opposite of St. Francis. Where the latter comforts and kisses misery, the former barks like a big peasants’ dog which bites beggars’ legs. I have not heard that he attacked the rich. Since when are they so pious? Why does the devil, just like pestilence, assault the poorer houses, avoiding palaces and castles? I cannot stand the stench of poverty myself, but I’ve been wondering all along: has that needle’s eye been widened”? (My italics, pp.115-6)

Naturally enough the clergyman finds many reasons to explain how it is that Jesus dictum should be so neglected, finally conveniently blaming it on the Jews, “at the bottom of all rebellion”.

It remains however contradictory if not absurd, forgive me to insist, that Anthony, who had chosen poverty, could be tempted by gold, as if the Devil did not know his personal history…

Saint Anthony is also referred to as the Father of Monasticism. He finally settled in an ancient roman fort near Pispir, today Der El Memoun, then near the hill of Qolzum, in the desert of Thebaid some 100 miles southeast of Cairo.

A-MONASTERE.jpg
It is often said that Saint Anthony anticipated the rule of Benedict of Nursia, the famous “pray and work”. I mention this detail because it brings us back to Berdach’s book, in which the Cistercians, an order inspired by Benedict, play an important role.

What seems to interest Reik most is the effect of Erbach’s book’s on Freud’s spirit, citing the letter Freud wrote the author after reading it, while rectifying Freud’s understandable error of appreciation concerning her age at its writing?

Here’s what Freud wrote, as cited by both Schur and Reik:


“I like your mysteriously beautiful book so much that I can hardly judge it. Is it the moving transfiguration of Jewish suffering, or the surprise in reading that at the court of the ingenious and tyrannical German Emperor one understood the wisdom of psychoanalysis so well- that I must say that a long time has passed since I read such a meaningful and poetically successful book?

Add to this the hesitancy in your letter! Does your modesty prevent you from recognizing your own value? Who are you? Where did you get all those fine thoughts expressed in your book? Judging from your concern with the problem of death, it seems you are very young.”

“Who are you?” indeed!

Freud’s letter is cited verbatim by Max Schur, without, as has been so far his habit, giving neither the book’s German title nor Freud’s letter in German. Both, plus Berdach’s letter to Freud, shine for their absence in the Appendix where we normally find the original documents which for the book’s requirement had been translated into English. As I explained above, it was only after reading Schur’s prefatory notes on documentation that I’d discover that his source for this letter is E. L. Freud’s Letters of Sigmund Freud.

There also appears to be an error which once more turned out to be serendipity: Upon describing Freud’s discovery of Berdach’s book, Schur tell us:


“[…] A new year was approaching, which Freud knew would probably be his last.
It was at this point that Freud read Rachel Berdach’s book […] When I first read this work, after learning of its existence from Freud’s letter of December 27, 1938 (my italics), to its author […]”

This is also the date Freud wrote a letter to Marie Bonaparte, who in my imagination at least, is of the same mettle as Rachel Berdach, and someone who albeit briefly, affected Freud’s life just as powerfully. In this letter, by the way, Freud demands his beloved Princess to “see Jerusalem for him”, to be, in other words, his second Antigone.

For the anecdote and to honor Freud’s cabalistic beliefs in numbers, I’ll signal that the chapter in Schur’s book that deals with this is the 27th, The Last Chapter, which is as well the title of the chapter Schur was to contribute to E. Jones’ third part of his biography of Freud and which, true to his littlecesarean ambitions, Jones managed to sidestep after squeezing its juice.

But that’s another kettle of fish.

As I’ve gathered –and such as I’ve been telling you, it hasn’t been easy to gather anything at all!-, Rachel Berdach had married a first cousin, Otto Bardach (with an a, supposedly by clerical error, ‘though maybe to disguise the fact that they were first cousins') with whom for reasons of consanguinity, having children was excluded. She later left him for a married man with two children.

Here’s how Eva Bato describes the beginning and ending of their relationship:


“They rented a flat, arranged it, and furnished it beautifully with all sorts of antique furniture and fantastic paintings. It was no easy thing at that time to simply move in together. They could not get married right away because the man was married and had two children, but they decided to live together until his divorce was final. Her lover said he would move into the flat ahead of Rachel in order to be there to welcome her to her new home. And so it happened. Rachel went to the flat, opened the door and as she stepped in she saw an enormous Turkish Bukhara carpet, the size of this room. And on this enormous carpet lay the man – with a bullet hole through his temple. There was a note lying next to him; he wrote that he was unable to choose between his children and Rachel. We called that carpet “Blut-Bukhara” from then on. We never had it cleaned, and we never used it.”

Eva Bato speaks nowhere of Berdach’s novel. She gives us however an interesting and potentially fruitful detail: Rachel was an admirer of Queen Elisabeth of Austria, another remarkable woman.

She recounts that after Elisabeth’s assassination “the German Writers' Association held a memorial meeting and [Rachel’s] poems were recited, poems written for the occasion”.

I was neither able to find records either of such an association or of its successor, but to tell the truth I either didn’t dig deeply enough or didn’t find the good soil.

The Library of Congress collected papers has two entries for Berdach, one from 1938-39 (probably her letter) then a second one, from “1954 Closed until 2013”. Then an entry about Reik, 1958-1962 and Reik, Theodor, 1954 (2 folders) Closed until 2013.

Just in case the Library of Congress had Berdach’s book in German, I sent an inquiry…

Here’s the prompt and kind reply I just received from Mr. Eric Frazier, Rare books and Special Collections Librarian:

"No, I am sorry to report that this book [Rachel Berdach’s original] is not in the Sigmund Freud Collection."

Moreover, the translator, William Wolf, and the publisher, Thomas Yoseloff, are no longer with us. I haven’t been able to contact the former’s heirs although I haven’t yet abandoned hope of finding a lead; as for the latter’s, my precisely formulated inquiry was ignored or misunderstood… redirecting me to the translation of Erbach’s book.

While waiting for reception of three books, plus the Comprehensive Catalogue, compiled and edited by J. Keith Davies • Gerhard Fichtner London: The Freud Museum/

-How many items in Freud’s library, by the way?
-I just got the famous catalogue a few hours ago, and ever since I’ve been swimming in it, so I can answer your question… You learn things in it, by the way… just perusing it you’re sometimes baffled… often curious:

How could I get to see Freud’s marginalia to such and such book?

Why are that book’s pages still uncut?

Where is Marie Bonaparte’s Topsy?

It’s endless, and finally you feel kind of silly/

-Like making a mountain out of a molehill?
-Right. Except that if Freud taught us one thing it's that the business of interpretation hinges on the word said…or omitted…or substituted…or forgot.

And when the detail makes hole you can’t help falling into it…

In any case, and to answer your question, including the items issuing from Anna’s library, there are over thirty seven hundred entries, catalogued alphabetically by author… The documents are scattered all over the word world; England, the USA, Austria, Germany…Which makes research cumbersome.

But, I repeat, one finds interesting things just through the physical description of the books…

So I’m also waiting for the German edition of Schur’s, Sigmund Freud. Leben und Sterben, to sweat through it, for God said that I shall live by the sweat of my brow -as in “lofty pensive brow”, I hope- but thankfully not by the sweat of my armpits…

That book is actually my last sensible hope of clearing up this mystery…Unless you, dear reader, will give me a lead.

If not, and as a last chance, I await receipt of Reik’s From Thirty Years with Freud, where I still hope to find a lead. Meanwhile, and since Reik is at the core of Berdach’s book, I inform myself about him:

He emigrated from Austria to the United States in 1938, passing through Holland but without, as I understand it, going through England. I’ll double-check on this. He died in 1969. I hope that his From Thirty Years with Freud will help me clear up if and when he visited Freud in England…

I just received Schur’s Sigmund Freud: Leben und Sterben…"Aus dem Englishen von Gert Müller".

To get back to Reik, I’ve only found reasons to have a weary liking for him, maybe because I have a weakness for inner outsiders. You can actually put him with the excommunicated I talked about, Frederick II, Spinoza, Lacan…

-And Freud?
-Well, I do feel that if excommunicating means to silence, if community means community of the word…then yes… some certainly want to silence him…Although in Freud’s case it’s trickier; for what you want is to co-opt his authority while systematically, renouncing, and even re nounce, to him. Some will tell you: Freud is dead.
-Not really, since I haven’t seen, nor read or heard his epitaph.
-So you pronounce him alive, you nitwit?
-“Pronounce” is your word; I mean he’s alive in my soul.
-How does your rap work with women, by the way?
-It doesn’t! It keeps them away.
-…Yeah man, that’s what I found. That’s why I dropped it, you know, that’s like taking advantage.
-I don’t even get to take advantage. But I’m referring now to my social, not sentimental life. My way of talking turns them off, all except the insane ones.
-I knew it! So what happens then? What do you do then?
-Nothing. I’m not insane.
-You ain’t?
-No. Crazy, maybe; not insane.

Same thing for his noble disciple, Lacan, whom I’m told is also dead and whose memory critics obscure by the restrictive use of formula and the excessive use of aphorism.

In fact, it’s as simple as the nitty-gritty of spiritual life; the point of no return! There the answer is yes or no.

If you’re tempted to play dialectics, if you bring-in the third, the “maybe”, it’s all over.

There’s no third.

There’s the question and there is (or isn’t) the answer. To be truthful, at the end there's just the question/

-Yeah man. How am I going to get laid tonight? Man, I had this thing going with this woman -you met her last time you were here, she’s a Spic also- and now she doesn’t want to anymore. It’s a drag. Man, it was crazy for a while! Last time we had a ball I’d taken a whole Viagra and I had a hard-on for twelve hours. I was going crazy man! I called the doctor, I was really worried it wouldn’t come down/
/-Like Maupassant? I heard he suffered from satyriasis, or whatever the technical term is.
-Maupassant?
-Yes, Bienvenant.

In any case, Reik. Let’s get back to him since he’s at the core of this story, Reik did something remarkable: he went to court for his right to practice psychoanalysis without being a physician. Because, figure this out yourself, despite the fact that Freud says it sans ambiguity (see The Question of Lay Analysis and/or his Postscript to a Discussion on Lay Analysis), despite the fact that Lacan says it everywhere and that reason cries it urbi et orbi, most medical doctors disapprove of non medical psychoanalysts. They disapprove more or less slyly, more or less smugly, but they do, and show it whenever they decently can; and occasionally, as in Jones’ case, show it even indecently.


“[…] I do not know if you have detected the secret link between the Lay Analysis and the Illusion. In the former I wish to protect analysis from the doctors and in the latter from the priests. I should like to hand it over to a profession which does not yet exists, a profession of lay curers of souls who need not to be doctors and should not be priests” ( Freud's Letter to O.Pfister, Nov.25, 1928)

Science has many open enemies, and many more secret ones… (S. Freud)

Freud’s use of the term “science’ is easily co-opted by medical doctors and psychologists. When you read him freely you find that Freud applies the term science to the most unlikely entity: the science of dreams. A question of apples and pairs. That the man in the street identifies the word “science” with medical doctor or psychologist seems natural, but that psychoanalysts –which numbers count the secret enemies Freud refers to- would take advantage of this to neglect the father’s “science of the unconscious”, unsettles me. This state of things is the likely result of too much laboratory and not enough unconscious.

But what do you care? “Freud is dead”, you’ll answer. By which you not always mean to work on your father complex. Just a slip of the mind that reveals your true position:

You resist the science Freud propounds.

But you also want to be right in your refusal. And even if you lack the psychoanalytic wherewithal, you want to take the father’s place, just like Freud says. Basically, you fit like a glove on the theory of instincts’ hand. Psychoanalysis, or psychic care by any other name, is your way to dominance. Adler was right about that, which is why Freud said that contrary to Jung, Adler at least rested within the theory of instincts. We don’t really want “the other to be”, a magical formula we owe Saint Augustine and which Hanna Arendt reiterated.

Praise be to them. Praise be to Freud, who propounded it.

Most psychologists are no better than most medical doctors, and often worse than most. Except for having a privileged position, here synonym of transfer-power, they’re in fact no better or worse than the run-of-the-mill human. That’s what Freud lets us hear from the bottom of his disillusion. So today psychoanalysis is alas about institutional power and miserly mediocre and opaque personal agendas; because one good thing about our science is that it authorizes us to say no matter what, since we can’t shut up the unconscious. So we do say and occasionally do no matter what. This often seems reasonable, although it is not to me clear if this is not the effect of an “unlimited transference”, which according to Freud only God could provoke and only a “fool” attempt, be him Freud himself.

Talk about foreclosing the father’s name, about not wanting to hear what Sigmund Freud, M.D., and Jacques Lacan, M.D., have to say on this matter!

-Do you think they were both medical doctors for nothing?
-No. I think they were psychoanalysts despite being medical doctors. They’re heroes to me. You know, Schur describes how he became Freud’s personal doctor, which is no different than Abu Musa’s or BenAron’s roles vis-à-vis Frederick II in Berdach’s book, but that’s another story. What is interesting is how Freud drew the boundaries. For my part, and this is only evocation, I had a personal doctor as a child, Ricardo Martínez Martínez, a general practitioner That brings to mind the reasons Freud invoked for not wanting to be a general practitioner: too hard, too much to learn. Ricardo Martínez Martínez was effectively a learned kind man. He’d defy mores and risk prison to help a girl in trouble. He once operated on my left eye, with a scalpel by God, under local anesthetic. If you’ll allow me the expression, I witnessed his procedure to extract a splinter. Would you believe me if I told you I was fascinated more than worried, ? Later on in life, when US doctors couldn’t pin-point the parasitic infection that was killing me, or rather, couldn’t pin-point its etiology, I called him:

-You’ve parasites in your lungs, he said. They probably came in through your feet, from walking barefoot. Your respiratory symptoms, as well as the excessive eosinophil blood count, have to do with them.
-Eosinophil? What’s an eosinophil?
-It’s a white blood cell specialized in battling those parasites, so their numbers increase in their presence…
-… Can you help me, doctor?
-Yes. We have to get rid of the parasites. The cure is dangerous, almost primitive, since it’s a matter of arsenic…and, also, painful.

Well, I flew to his island to be cured. He was right, it was painful.

I never again met a doctor such as he.

Despite such illustrious predecessors, despite Freud, despite Lacan, Ego Psychology won its miserable battle
That’s. For my part, and to come back to the word, I’ve no doubt that E. Jones was more than a loyal scribe…

Reik, by the way, won his legal process and was allowed to legally practice psychoanalysis.

-Strange that you should use the word “scribe”, because the epigraph opening Berdach’s book, is a citation:


“Oh Lord , if we are Thine images,
How lonesome Thou must be!”
From the legacy of Michael BenChacham

opening a juicy argument up! I address myself now to this because it now came to mind, like a swallow to spring: By way of preamble I’ll say rashly that when you see the demeaning results of ego psychology, you’re forced to ask yourself how a man such as Freud led us there. Do you agree with me that what’s happening in society with young and old alike follows the same ascendant curve of ego psychology by any name, be it behaviorism? Is it not evident that the more we go in that sense the worse things will get? The worst about it is that the (illusory) straightforwardness promised by the ego seduces even too many of those who proclaim themselves lacanians.

I think Freud was wrong about ego psychology, and too optimistic about the intellectual rigor his project requires, and moreover a poor judge of character. I cannot otherwise understand the betrayal of his science by those who first claimed to be his heirs and now proclaim the contrary:

“Freud is dead”.

By which they mean:

“I pick-up where he left-off”.

Sheer hypocrisy. They should say:

Freud is just a name to me. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty of what’s happening today, the latest findings, society’s needs, ad nausea. Let’s talk clinic.

Okay, let’s:

The idea that practice equals clinic is dangerous. Practice often makes imperfect: the deeper you get into a wrong premise, the more practice fortifies it.

The right way, the only way, is to accept that the unconscious is “structured as a language” to which reason is by and large deaf. In any case,that is Freud’s premise, even if the formula be Lacan’s. Reason hears only the word said, not the x for which it stands. In other words, what’s signified is unknown, x.

Desire = x, for instance.

Well, that unknown describes with certitude an absence. Something we don’t know stands for that x at the other end of the equation: something we don’t know is x. We thus come upon the consistency of what’s not there, the weight of the void left by the word-link missing in the language chain when words fail, when the signifier meets with a void marking the impossibility of saying desire.

The void that this rupture of meaning represents is akin to hearing all at once the silence of a night… full of distant echoes.

No need to get formal about such a contingent structure, no need to talk about structuralism and Levi-Strauss and Saussure, inestimable as they are.

The wrong premise is the ego. We have to understand this or we will never be of any good. That said, you then beg the question:

How about Freud, he being at the source of ego psychology? How can you adhere both to Freud and Lacan? Doesn’t the Ego, or rather Freud’s and Lacan’s disparate definition thereof, represent an insurmountable barrier between the two?

Ever since reading Freud’s Ego and the Id and Lacan’s Stade du miroir, having been intellectually seduced by both and persuaded that somehow Lacan had clearly seen what I only get dim hints of, I struggle to imagine a unifying theory. Such theory is a logical necessity of the same order than the one sought-after by physicists and mathematicians, the famous unified field theory, -the term is Einstein’s. Electromagnetism and relativity both describing the same object, nature, could not be a priori irreconcilable. Moreover, that both described accurately aspects of their same object could be seen by the fact that neither of the two had ever been proven wrong: Every one of their respective predictions had been experimentally confirmed. One prediction of general relativity was that light could be bent by mass. Such was observed in 1919, during an eclipse of the sun which provided the required laboratory conditions.


A-ECLIPSE.jpg
Arthur Eddington photo of the eclipse
May 29, 1919
The universe itself was thus laboratory, as befits a theory claiming to be universal.

Eddington’s experiment aimed to determine if the apparent position of an aster was affected by its light rays reaching us after being curved by the sun’s mass.

Newtonian celestial movements and the positions of asters in the celestial vault being known with hair-splitting precision, it sufficed for Eddington to superimpose the image of the light-source in question taken during the eclipse with a previous one taken when its light was unaffected by the sun’s attraction. He did: the positions of the light source no longer coincided/

-Remember Fausto’s joke about the congress on “future developments”, and the Italian scientist who proudly announced that his country was building a rocket to go to the sun…? No…? Well, there was a stunned silence. Finally a hand was raised and a question timidly posed:
“Are you not afraid of getting burnt?”
“Of course not, replied the Italian, we’ll fly by night!”

/Please bear with me even if you don’t know the reason for my enthusiasm. Like all truths, this one is simple and mysterious. It allows us to affirm that the position of a cosmic light bulb isn’t what our eyes tell us it is. Superimposing the two images of the cosmos, one taken at daytime one at night -while Fausto’s Italians are on the way to the sun-, you’ll find that the two images do not match. It’s an observable fact:

Since it would be absurd to suppose that an aster budges willy-nilly so many degrees to the right or the left, Eddington reasonably concluded that light behaves such as predicted by theory.

That marvels me, but seems to be neither here nor there as far as psychoanalysis is concerned… Well, let’s not hasten:

Lacan’s most accurate description of the grand Other and the one I best understand and identify with, is derived from quanta mechanics. Or rather, from quantic uncertainty:

The Other can lie to you.

love’s law

This leads me to say that our science lacks the means of prediction. Of course, we do not talk about object, but about subject, about the human being we listen to, through which practice the term of subjectivity becomes not only operative, but sacred. The subject rests a priori as unfathomable as quanta. I should say rather the two subjects involved in this relationship, analyst and analysand, whereby the other is hampered by being conceived as he who knows while the former expects him, through transfer, to be spared the anguish of not knowing. At the end of this process, as described by a formula due to Lacan about the “destitution of the subject”, that is (as Colette Soler explains in her dense Déclinaisons de l’angoisse) about when he becomes object.

In any case, Freud’s arrangement with the ego won’t do. We know as much. Just consider the spiritual vacuum where, under the banner of mental health, Ego-psychology has led us to; consider its unspeakable lack of values, and you’ll see what I mean.You can blame crime and social inequality on sociological or economic factors which you’re too busy to define and too eager to sustain practically; and on precisions about human nature, taken to be this. way. and. not. that. way.

-Are you telling me that psychoanalysis is good for nothing, since the die is cast?
-No, since the dice are tossed, forgive the mix-up. I want to stress chance,  not destiny. I’m not pessimistic, if that’s what you mean. That's a forbidden luxury. That's what allows one to be shitty, by way of compensation. You forestall the other's meanness.  But you’re right that the idea of destiny, the notion that our lives are written in the stars, is seducing. Freud for one was fond of it. I guess destiny makes one feel less guilty for how shitty one is; that is, assuming one had a superego; otherwise, you’re not just ignorant –which allows for a simple remedy- but a psychotic whose certitude is usually beyond persuasion. I actually think that the individual adapted to succeed in this society, having internalized or integrated what success means to it, has to be at least a little crazy. Just think about it. You’re taught to participate in society’s orgy of inequality and sometimes encouraged to become a good capo, or better still, an armed guard in your master’s prison camp… Because one thing the master wants is law and order. That’s a historical fact, check up on it, you’ll see. Now, this puts us in a quandary, since a psychoanalyst is by definition on the law’s side…

...while promoting absolute freedom.

-You mean getting all you can of it?
-On the contrary, I mean getting all you may of it, all that's allowed.
-All I'm  allowed? What kind of freedom is that.
-Since I'm a pedant and you're thick-headed, let me tell you a story: At one point one of the brothers Karamazov pointed out that if God was dead, then everything would be permitted. Lacan picked-up on it and  said that on the contrary, if God were dead, then nothing would be permitted. I don't know you, but I saw instantly Lacan's logic.
 
The law, yes, provided it be love’s law. I’m not inventing, that’s Freud’s conclusion, that’s what he says in the obscure writing of his Disturbance of Memory at the Acropolis

-Isn’t he talking there about filial love?
-I’m not sure…I think he means compassion…But even if he was, it just confirms what I advance: The question of love passes necessarily by the father, by his agency. In this respect Freud’s story is a curious one, by the way. To my eyes he pretended to be indifferent to his mother, whose funeral he didn’t attend, and attached to his father against whom, as he discovered through auto-analysis, he felt hatred and who he considered like a failure and a coward. I know this seems harsh, but how can you explain otherwise the Oedipus complex, which certitude he acquired by analyzing his own feelings, and then found mirrored in his patients? I’m saying that it took him to the age of seventy, when he wrote the famous Disturbance, to understand that the model of love is not that rock of certitude, the mother, but the father; that is, love emanating from the “biologically uncertain”
which acceptation doesn’t go by itself. In other words, love needs necessarily to fall on the side of abstraction and symbol (check the etymology of this word and you know what I mean) and not in the umbilical cord, to be of any use to humans.
-What is the etymological meaning, by the way?
-Symbol is a fragment of a pottery we keep to identify us as a part of a whole.

In any case, I was saying that one can live in certitude and even in the certitude of certitude - depending on whether you pursue a certain equilibrium or follow psychosis’ boundary-line. You can act on the principle that the psyche’s moral capacities include love… that love is a worthy human aim, if not the only one, or…Let me rather tell you a story…

It was at the beginning of my work on myself, as it’s said, and I was eager to be admitted into analysis…You may find this strange by the way, and off-subject, but analysts are not obliged to engage in a formal analytical relationship…This is why, by the way, or is at least one reason why the analyst’s shingle rarely proclaims the title/

-Why not?
-Well, for one thing, if he advertises the “service” the demand for analysis could hardly be refused… So a demand is discussed, which in itself is enlightening, and a decision made and the formalities to follow established… In any case, I kept insisting that I wanted to engage in analysis, wanted to be on the couch I saw to my right. And at one occasion my analyst asked me point blank:

“Why do you want to be analyzed?”
“Because I don’t know how to love.”

The sound and meaning of my words stunned me. I felt as if they came from someone else.. I’d never consciously considered such a reason. I felt then rather silly, particularly since tears threatened, which I managed to restrain…

-Oh yeah? Why?
-It’s about words friend, not acting…On top of it, I didn’t have a handkerchief, nor did I see anywhere the box of tissues therapists fond of bathos keep handy…I was there to talk-myself, not to engage in childish blackmail… In any case, next session I was on the couch, where I stayed for over twenty years… And I don’t quite know why, but this brings to mind another episode with my analyst…It was at the beginning of our work, and one day I said something that included the word "superego"/

“What do you mean by superego?” he asked .

I was petrified by his voice. Maybe he didn’t know it, but he had then assumed for me the role of the superego in question. I was embarrassed by his unexpected voice calling me on it.

"I mean the moral conscience." I replied.

More than twenty years later, having read what Freud had to say about the superego plus many savvy references about it, I find myself still using the formulation my father taught me…Which once more proves Freud right, by the way.

And that brings us to imagining the imaginary. Also to the fact that when you associate the body to the real, you learn in passing that when you caress the cat the wrong way, she don't like it. Actually I don't like it doing it either; there's something unavoidably wrong about this gesture. A cat can't help being a cat, just get it that the cat worries far less about the body than we do. We worry about this supposed real, to protect it we forget to live. Protect it? That's not strong enough. Pamper it. A life-consuming project. Lacan says that that real is threshold to the real. Think about it. Tekila, my beloved dog, one to whose tribe I belong, doesn't have the problem of the real, insofar as hers works. The proper of our real, says Lacan, it's that it doesn't work. Ever wonder why he'd say such a thing? Some refer to him as Saint Lacan, not without derision. Not I. Mystics understood something about the real, didn't they? Or do you think they were idiots? Did you know Socrates believed in reincarnation -call it hysteria, if you wish, as Lacan does. The absolute belief that we will come back in the flesh seems rather weird, doesn't it. So do as Freud does, take it as a palliative for this real which doesn’t work. He, who received palliative care until he couldn’t take it any more, then chose to die of an excess of palliative. Palliative care happens in hospitals, at home… Why disdain it? The alternative is to quit the real that doesn’t work, the real of make-believe, without getting into another real.

Look, in terms of evolution, we're somewhere between the blessing of ignorance and the curse of suspicion.

Let’s assume the curse.

Good sense will also tell you that to love the other you must first love yourself, which seems to me a worthy psychoanalytic goal. And since psychoanalysis is profoundly ethical, this implies being morally worthy of self love. That is, of overriding
the superego's objections, which to complicate matters, lumps together fact and fantasy. Freud repeatedly tells us that the most merciless psychic instance is the superego.


[…] doesn’t the soul concoct terrible poisons by the quick concentration of its passions, its forces or its ideas? Do not many men perish struck by some moral acid suddenly spread on their innards? (p.24)

Lacan explains that the other is you, speaks for you, desires for you. One must thus accept beforehand that while the other can lie to us just as quanta do, the Other nevertheless loves you.

 
 
 
A-JIM.jpg

over a glass of absinthe he tells me Viagra makes his object endlessly levitate as if lighter than air

famous formula

 
The problem is that if Lacan is right -and I think he is, although his psychological discovery awaited Levi-Strauss to be named as "receiving the other's message backwards" -whence, by the way, the constant misunderstanding characterizing the real, phrase which were it not because my colleagues would maybe object, I'd describe as "getting the other's message ass-backwards"- well, the problem is................/
-So? What is it? Forgot where you were going or are you just worried you were going nowhere?
-Forgot where I was going! Probably nowhere! You know what? I'm worried I'm getting the alzheimer...
-Yeah, your  dick remembers and your brain forgets!
-I'd gladly change organs, I'll tell you. Does the typical alzheimerized forgets to erect, by the way? Let me tell you a story, and, if you don't mind, don't be smart-ass/
-The word smart is too near the word ass to please me/
-Touché! May I go on? This will maybe interest you. There's a marvelous speech Lacan gave at Rome in 1974, it's like the résumé of a life of psychoanalysis, everything that counts is therein said, resumed -read/hear?-. The result allows for no rebuttal and solicits your adhesion -as opposed to Berkeley’s famous formula esse est percipi, which according to Borges’ for/

-So what's Berkeley's form/

/-No! Borges' formula first, otherwise I'll get lost. He said that Berkeley's esse est percipi was a "perogrullada genial", a "genial evidence". Which is one of the most fitting oxymores I've ever come across! As for Hume referring to the same bishop,  he said that the proof that Berkeley was a skeptic could be seen by the fact that "although his esse est percipi allows for no rebuttal, it solicits no conviction ", or something close.

So the idea hit me of presenting this speech in a way that surely would delight and instruct -to follow Horace's saying /was it Horace?-, the idea hit me of synchronizing the text of the speech -which you’ll see coming out of an old radio and rolling upwards into the starry firmament- to Lacan's voice pronouncing it. Lacan is a hell of an orator, I’ll tell you, and the text stunning.The conjunction of voice and text is absolutely gripping. Point is that to synchronize ten minutes of speech (which lasts almost three hours, by the way) it takes more than fifty hours of tedious work/ but that's not my point, what I'm trying to get at is the fact that I've read and heard this speech more than sixty times, I counted them, and I'll be damned if I can remember it! Alzheimer, I tell you! But I sure as hell know what he says, which, by the way, escapes most...

You can argue love for hours, you can call it naïve that it still boils down to the same: God is love. And Love is universal, otherwise it’s called Prejudice. Love’s the tack holding humanity’s stuff together. And while I’m at it, I’ll add that this is also the conclusion Freud came to, the conclusion that justifies his man Moses and the conclusion that makes him dangerous.

In any case, as he had earlier indicated, our hero was tired of Raphael’s divinely assigned task; that is, of confining a fallen angel while waiting for  Judgment Day. Balzac’s Raphael does not want to confine desire; well on the contrary, he wishes to exercise it.

Freud calls life reality. He talks about psychic life, practical life, oneiric or fantasy life, compartmentalizing for the sake of clarity the human real, so that reality’s effects upon human projects could be foreseen, forestalled or postponed by the ego. The Ego is not only called upon to make choices so as to harmonize psychic needs (basically by lessening tension I'm) with the satisfaction of a given desire, but is a priori endowed with the wherewithal to do so. Well, I don’t think I agree with father Freud on that; in fact, I don’t think father Freud was too sure about it himself, which I deduct from

1- his repeated affirmation that he was sure and

2- the constant gnawing of religiosity, as proven by his insistent denial of it and its constant thematic recommencement.

We can easily imagine that while laboring on his “phylogenetic fantasy” he became aware that the archaic heritage upon which this fantasy is rooted cannot be conveyed by the ego. The point of religion being precisely to dissolve the ego in the “oceanic feeling” R. Rolland propounded and which Freud located within the primitive ego, primary narcissism and ego aspirations later reduced to a "shrunken residue". (Civilization and Its Discontents). In other words, that Freud makes the trip backwards.

not sure if father Freud knew that the way he describes the homeostatic state the psyche aims for, closely resembles the mystic state of not wanting. For my part I’m persuaded that if friends such as Pfister and Rolland –both of whom I think were better friends to Freud than he to them- had faith in him, it is precisely because they knew that despite his protestations Freud was on their side.

I won’t get deeper into this because I’m not sure of myself. I mean, how can I possibly take Lacan for Freud’s disciple and not see that Lacan had seen at the core of Freud, in the Unconscious itself, man’s divine genesis?

-What on earth do you mean by that?
-I know…it’s not clear…Look, Lacan says that the unconscious is structured as a language, and who says language says word, sooner or later with a majuscule, and who says Word says Law, also with a majuscule…and on and on to a no end that ends, if you’re even half reasonable, in the figurative couch. And what you learn there is that reason is the worst of counselor that knows no love. That’s what pure ego is, by the way, worse than hatred, indifference. And the superego, even if once in a while Freud sees it related to the unconscious, is oft described by Freud as a “tyrant”.

A weak tyrant at that, since the tyrant is due obedience…

Rather than psychic compartments Lacan sees an indissociable whole, however tenuous the alliance be, which he represents by the emblematic borromean knot. Acquaint yourself with its history as a symbol to discover its spiritual usage. When you see this knot represented graphically you see three loops linked together. One loop is the Real, one the Imaginary, one the Symbolic. There’s a place at the core of the knot where these three instances mingle into one.

That blend makes a human being. And by the way, it is my understanding that within Freud’s certainties (ego, superego, id) Lacan saw the outline of a whole. In fact, a reading of Freud will show you that these psychic entities are interconnected. Freud’s stubborn error was to insist that one particular entity, the ego, could somehow make decisions as if it existed independently. To this entity Lacan superposes another whose expression is only language, itself in obeisance to the Real, Imaginary and Symbolic, which knotted together represent and describe the human.

If you observe the resulting amazing knot you’ll discover that no two of its three loops are linked.

-The three are linked but no two are?
-Exactly. This knot wasn’t his invention or his topological discovery, of course; he just recognized in it the ideal metaphor for a human being. To test its properties experimentally, Lacan fabricated the knot with little pieces of string, rendering easier the graphic representation found in his manuals; but the mind has trouble accepting what the eyes see or think they see; the topological phenomenon defies understanding while overloading visual memory. I finally fashioned one with silver welding rods, just to be able to pick the knot up to look at it carefully: I assured myself that effectively no two loops were linked; they’re not, no matter which two the eye retains, you see they’re just superimposed. I then severed one of the loops –and it doesn’t matter which, by the way- took it out and saw that the two remaining ones were effectively unattached.

Goodbye One!

From the point of view of therapy, the essential is to maintain the loops’ equilibrium, keeping in mind that if one of the three elements weighs either too heavily or too lightly, the personality represented by the equilibrium of forces suffers or disintegrates. Whatever else we cannot say about it, the human real depends on the interdependence of the three orders the loops represent. You’ll notice upon following Lacan’s arrangement, that the body is contained in the Real, the ego in the Imaginary and words in the Symbolic. You’ll also notice that there’s one surface at the very center where, as I said before, the three comingle, then three adjacent segments where only two cohabitate…


Having acquired the habit of whenever possible reading the original and chance aiding, I’ve procured myself the edition of La Peau de Chagrin -The Talisman-, “Freud’s last lecture”, as is oft remarked. It pleases me to read precisely the same words father Freud read,  in the same order; pleases me to see the same illustrations he saw, engraved by the same artist. And even if I were wrong about it being exactly the same edition, the illusion that it is, enhances my reading. I ask myself, for example, what did the following description mean to father Freud?:

Imagine a small dried-up and thin old man, wearing a black corduroy robe tied at the waist with a sturdy silk cord. On his head, a black velvet skullcap allowed to pass along each side of his face the long locks of equally black hair, applied to his skull in a manner rigorously framing his forehead. The robe shrouded his body amply, not allowing a hint of any other human form but a narrow pale visage. But for the emaciated arm the old man held up like a cane on which we could have tied a tissue, raised by the old man to shine on the young man the lamp’s light, this face would seem suspended in mid air. A grey beard shaped to a point hid the chin of this bizarre being, lending it the appearance of one of those Judaic heads used by artists as models when they want to depict Moses. The lips of this man were so discolored, so thin, that it required special attention to make-out the line drawn by his mouth on his white face.[…]  The inquisitor’s finesse betrayed by the sinuosity of wrinkles and the round folds on his temples, signaled a profound science of life’s things.[…] The mores and wisdom of all nations in the world gathered upon his cold face, just as all the world’s productions were to be found in his dusty shop. (p.28)

I ask you to put yourself in Freud’s place: Why did he not close the book upon reading the description of such a person? Did Freud already know that the stranger wanted to commit suicide precisely by fulfilling desire? Did he suspect the existence of a peculiar deus ex machina in the shape of shagreen still hanging on the wall? Was he eager –as I was- to get to the description of the magical object lending the title to Balzac’s novel? And then again, if there’s only one universal god, the one of monotheism, how could it possibly bless us by anything other than: love each other?

A-MERCHANT.jpg

What do I see in his countenance? How does it fit with what I read? Everything. This old man is all at once the Wandering Jew, a sage, a chacham and  even Mephistopheles/   

-Faust got off the covenant.   
-Had a good judge: God himself, who ruled that Faust’s quest was a worthy one. So He grabbed Faust’s soul as it went by on its way to hell, and redeemed it. I sometimes think that Freud’s appreciation of Goethe hinges on identification…Faust…Freud…One can argue that Freud’s quest is as immoderate as Goethe’s.  But God forgives and even honors the ambition for knowledge about human nature, a priori reserved to Him…   

/Anyway, we can see in this figure Moses’ endless age, as well as the merchant’s wiles to test a customer:


-I covered this painting with gold coins, said the merchant coldly. (p.32)   
-In that case it’s death, exclaimed the man as if coming out of a dream[…]   
-Aha! I was right to mistrust you, answered the old man grabbing the young man’s hands by the wrists, holding both with one hand as in a vise.The stranger smiled sadly at this mistake and said in a soft voice;
-Hey!  sir, have no fear, I’m talking about my life, not yours. Why would I not avow the innocent deception [that] while waiting for nighttime to drown myself quietly, I came to see your richness.[…]
 
Having read Schur’s synopsis of this “philosophical study” of Balzac, and my acquaintance with Balzac being distant and muddled, I was hardly prepared, nay, I was ill-prepared for my pleasure.   

But to tell the truth, I don’t know if on the contrary I was too well-prepared to appreciate this novel, thanks to Freud’s comment as cited by Schur/   berda 

-If Freud liked it, you’ll like it, is that it?     
-So far I’ve not been deceived. I once read She, by Henry Rider Haggard, just because someone mentioned Freud had liked the novel… I did also. Ever since I’ve kept my eyes open, without finding it mentioned by Freud, nor listed in his library… But I haven’t read all of Freud, and the whereabouts of his library and papers is a puzzle if not a mystification. So maybe I liked it by discernment…But yes, I was predisposed to like it. Moreover, I understood why Freud would have appreciated it.

/Even if my positive prejudice affects my reading, this novel is quite another story: I was transported by it from the first line. But here’s what Schur says:


"The final phase [of Freud’s cancer] began when reading became difficult. Freud did not read at random, but carefully selected books from his library. The last book he read was Balzac’s La Peau de Chagrin (The Fatal Skin). When he finished he remarked casually to me: “This was the proper book for me to read; it deals with shrinking and starvation". (pp.527-8)    

I’m fascinated by Freud’s characterization of the novel: “shrinking and starvation”. The skin of life shrinks, but not desire or hunger, as seen by Raphael's last desperate affirmation of biting her breast.

This “shrinking and starvation” haunted me until two years later (2010) when, upon reading Marianne Krüll’s Freud and his Father, I found a reference that appeased my academic qualms and led me to pp. 237-8 of The Interpretation of Dreams (Avon Books, 1965):

 I went into a kitchen in search of some pudding. Three women were standing in it; one of them was the hostess of the inn and was twisting something about in her hands, as though she was making Knödel [dumplings]. She answered that I must wait till she was ready.[...] I felt impatient and went off with a sense of injury.[...]

A sense of having heard the expression “my little knödel” meaning “my little darling”, as a mother might say to her child, overtakes me. I poke my nose into Yiddish and German dictionaries to no avail -or is it in English that a mother would say “my little dumpling”?  But while my nose scents something, my eyes see nothing.  But, let’s be serious/  

 
-Are you serious, or delirious?

   -I’m serious positive, my friend. 

/and in any case, what matters is neither madness nor madeleines, but rather what Freud concludes about this dream-scene, upon finding in a corner of his mnemonic labyrinth, that:

 [...] In connection with the three women I thought of the three Fates who spin the destiny of man, and I knew that one of the three women–the inn-hostess in the dream-was the mother who gives life, and furthermore (as in my own case) gives the living creature its first nourishment. Love and hunger, I reflected, meet at a woman’s breast. (My italics. Op.cit. p.238)

So in fact, and following Freud’s discovery of a form of death-wish in his Theme of the three Caskets, the third woman, the chosen one, is death. Not surprisingly, she’s also the first one, as Lacan signals, citing Nerval Upon.. Balzac’s description prefigures Freud. And so he’s ready to die, even eager to, such as was Balzac’s hero...

  hearing Lacan (tape recording, Rome, 1974) say (I translate)  that “the third one is always the first one, as Gerard de Nerval said,” I naturally followed that mysterious lead. I found that Nerval had been a noted Germanist, who in 1828? had translated Goethe’s Faust into French. Knowing Freud’s admiration for Goethe, I would not be surprised to find a link with Nerval’s poetry. But I’m just guessing, and probably this issue has already been clarified.

What is clear is that just as Raphael had made the decision to end it, to carry out the suicide announced from the beginning, and as if moved by the same death wish, Freud acted similarly:

 
Next day, September 21, 1939 Freud spoke to Schur:

[…] “My dear Schur, you certainly remember our first talk. You promised me then not to forsake me when my time comes. Now it’s nothing but torture and makes no sense any more.”    I indicated that I had not forgotten my promise.[…] “I thank you […] Tell Anna about this”.
   
Freud died at 3:00 A.M. on September 23, 1939.   

La Peau de chagrin consists of three sections: The Talisman, The Woman without a Heart, and The Agony. A young man -whose name we later discover is Raphael de Valentin, enters a gambling house, wagers his last two gold coins and loses. He leaves decided to end his life by jumping into the Seine. He then decides to wait for nightfall, because:


[…] he could read the journalists’ condolences written between the joys of a party and a dancer’s smile; he heard the jingle of coins counted by the official to pay the boatmen for his head.  Dead he was worth fifty francs, while alive he was just a talented man without protector, without friends, without a bed, without a dream, a veritable social zero useless to the State which couldn’t care less. His dead body in full day seeming to him ignominious, he decided to wait for nighttime to die, so as to render an inscrutable corpse to this Society ignorant of his life’s grandeur. He ambled towards an antiquity shop with the intention of grazing his senses, or to wait for night bargaining art objects. […] He asked dimply to see the stock rooms to see if there wasn’t hidden something to his liking (p.13) (Quotes from The Shagreen are translated by me.)

He enters an unusual shop filled with veritable treasures from around the world. The only thing that finally interests him is a shagreen hanging on the wall. The skin turns out to be a talisman which will fulfill its owner’s wishes.  

The suspicious merchant examined with a sagacious eye the gloomy visage of his bogus buyer while listening to him talk. Soon reassured by the accents of that painful voice, or maybe reading in his faded features the sinister ending which once had made gamblers shiver, he let go of his hands; but with a gesture of suspicion revealing an experience at least centenary, he reached with his arm a buffet as if to lean on it, and picking up a knife said:

-Have you been for three years supernumerary to treasury without touching any fees?          

The stranger couldn’t help smiling while making a negative gesture.   

-Has your father too lively reproached you being born, or have you been dishonored?   

-If I wished to dishonor myself, I would live. […] Do not look for the principle of my death in the vulgar reasons governing most suicides. To excuse myself from divulging unheard-of sufferings difficult to express in human language, I will just tell you that I’m in the deepest, the most ignominious and the most intense of all miseries. And, adds-he in a tone of voice of which the natural pride belied his previous words, I wish neither to beg nor help or consolation.  

- […] without offering you gold, silver, cooper, paper, bills, I want to make you richer, more powerful and well considered than a constitutional king. (p.33) […]


Turn around, said the merchant picking up the lantern to shine its light on the wall facing the portrait, and take a look at this shagreen.  

The young man stood up suddenly showing some surprise upon noticing over his seat a piece of shagreen on the wall which dimension did not exceed that of a fox’s pelt This; but owing to a phenomenon at first sight unexplainable, this skin projected in the midst of the deep darkness of the storehouse light rays so bright that you could have taken it for a small comet. The young man […] leaned forward to look at each side of the skin, and soon discovered a natural explanation for its shine. […] the asperities of this oriental leather became as many small hearths reflecting vividly the light. He proved mathematically the phenomenon’s reason to the old man, who, for sole answer maliciously smiled. Not wanting to take to the grave one more enigma, he turned promptly the shagreen as a child eager to learn the secrets of his new toy.    

-Ah! ah! exclaimed he, here’s the impression of what Orientals call Solomon’s Seal. 

-So you know it then? Inquired the merchant exhaling by the nostrils two or three snorts describing more ideas than numerous firm words could have expressed.   

-[…] don’t you know that […] the superstitions of the Orient have consecrated the mythical form and the deceiving characters of this emblem representing a fabulous power? […]   
-Since you’re an orientalist […] maybe you could read this sentence?   

He brought the lamp near the talisman […] and made him distinguish the characters incrusted in the cellular tissue of this miraculous Skin, as if they had been produced by the animal it once belonged to.(p.35) […] The mysterious words were  arranged in the following fashion:
 
                                         IF  YOU POSSES  ME  YOU’LL  POSSESS  EVERYTHING
BUT YOUR LIFE WILL BELONG TO ME. IT’S GOD
WILL.   DESIRE,  AND  ALL YOUR  DESIRES
WILL  BE   FULFILLED.   BUT  MODEL
YOUR WISHES   UPON  YOUR  LIFE.
LIFE   IS  THERE.  FOR EACH
WISH   I’LL   DIMINISH
  LIKE   YOUR  DAYS.
 YOU WANT ME ?
TAKE IT. GOD
WILL GRANT

BE IT!


The above words describe the reality principle (or the pleasure principle, take your pick), a mental mechanism dear to Freud which counsels modeling your wishes after the realities of life. What could life be for a being conscious of death?  Briefly stated, Lacan calls this paradox of life the real, real that cannot be said despite the fact of it being precisely what psychoanalysis deals with.   

detail  about its present size reveals to us that the shagreen had served before. As we know, the shagreen is a particular kind of wild donkey native to Iran, rich on mythological attributes -even that of inspiring the Pegasus-,  the onager. This explains why Balzac’s title is also translated as The Wild Ass's Skin. Had the reader at this point informed himself of those details he’d have learned that whatever its qualities, an ass is bigger that a fox and, having soon learned that the shagreen shrank at every accomplished wish, that Balzac so signals that it had served before. The question can be anticipated of knowing if a previous owner of the talisman had or not restrained desire. In any case, I prefer to think that this is the kind of question Freud would have asked himself…

Here’s how, even before believing in the talisman’s power, he formulates his first wish:


 
-[…]Let’s see, adds-he tightening convulsively the talisman in his hand while looking at the old man. I want a dinner royally splendid, a bacchanalia worthy of a century when, one says, everything has been perfected! Let my guests be young, spirited and without prejudices, joyful to madness! let wines follow each other more and more incisive, bubblier, and strong enough to get us drunk for three days! Let nights be filled with passionate women! I want Debauchery to carry us delirious and roaring in its four-horse chariot beyond the world’s limits and spill us on unknown beaches; let the souls climb to the heavens or dive into the mud, I don’t know it they descend or climb then, it matters little to me! I thus order the sinister power to melt all joys into one joy only. Yes, I need to embrace the pleasures of heaven and earth, in a last embrace to die. Thus I wish both an antique priapic after drink and songs to awaken the dead and triple kisses, kissing without end of which clamor passes over Paris as fires creaking, awakening the couples and arousing in them a burning ardor that rejuvenates them all, even septuagenarians! To which the merchant commented: 

[…]Your first wish is commonplace. I could fulfill it myself; but I leave your new existence to take care of it. After all, didn’t you want to die? But be it, your suicide is just postponed.(pp.40-41)   

Part two, The Woman without a Heart" is a flashback from Valentin's point of view. We learn about his upbringing, his ambitions, and the ruin of his father’s affairs. We will learn also that the first time he gambled, he did so with money pilfered from his father purse.

-[…] Mon father saw me. For a reason I haven’t still understood, this act of trust having severely stunned me, he gave me his purse and his keys to keep. Ten steps away some men were gambling. I could hear (p. 82) the gold wriggle. I was twenty, I wanted to spend a whole day plunged in the crimes of my age. It was a spiritual debauchery which analogy couldn’t be found neither in the courtesan’s whims nor by dreaming about young girls. For a year now I saw myself well dressed, sharp as a gentleman in a coach, a beautiful woman next to me  and dining at Very’s, going the to the evening show  decided not to return until next day to my father’s house, but ready for an adventure more intricate than that of The Marriage of Figaro, from which it would have been impossible for him to extricate himself.[…](p83) My father passed by suddenly, and I understood then this word of the text: the spirit of God passed before his face. I had won.
    
Why does Raphael utilize the third person when the sacred text in question, (Job 4:15) describes the vision in the first person? Eliphaz speaks:


Then a spirit passed before my face.      

Upon reading this passage I was naturally taken by the identification father-god dear to Freud. I noticed also that the word “spirit” can be understood as that of a dead person, by which we can understand a father whose death the son wishes and anticipates. Freud surely found confirmation of the oedipal myth in Raphael’s words.   

Raphael then describes his early days as a scholar after his father’s business failure and death. He then lived in poverty in an attic rented to an elderly landlady and her daughter Pauline. He tries to win the heart of a beautiful but aloof woman named Foedora The, but failed. He finally becomes the destitute man we find at the start of the novel.   

attentive  reader will probably recognize, or imagine he does, a woman described at the beginning of the novel:


Upon arriving to a print shop display window, this almost dead man came upon a young woman descending from a shiny coach. He watched delighted this charming white figure (p.14) harmoniously framed by the satin of an elegant hat. He was seduced by her slim waist and by her pretty movements.  The skirt robe, slightly raised by the footboard, offered to view a leg of delicate outlines designed by a smooth white stocking. The young woman entered the store and negotiated some albums, some collections of lithographs; she bought for several gold coins worth which shone and jingled on the counter. The young man, apparently busy by the door frame observing the engravings exposed in the display-window, addressed to the beautiful stranger the most piercing look a man can give, as opposed to one of those careless random looks cast on a passerby. It was as far as he was concerned, a goodbye to a woman! But this last powerful questioning was not understood, did not stir the heart of this frivolous woman, did not make her blush or lower her eyes.(p.15)

Part three, The Agony, commences well after the feasts of parts one and two. Going to see his old attic he discovers that Pauline and her mother have become wealthy. He finds Pauline in his old room playing the piano he’d left there as a gage. Valentin discovers that he's in love with her and that Pauline had always loved him. 

They start a passionate and happy life together.   


Valentin finds both skin and health dwindling. He has to choose between living or loving.  He confides to her that each desire realized shortens his life, telling her that if she really loved him, she’d leave him. 

He isolates himself from the world, organizing daily life to avoid the possibility of wishing for anything: his servant arranges food, clothing and visitors with precise regularity to anticipate any wish. He has been instructed to carry out his duties without ever posing questions which answers required him to reply I wish, desire, want… 

But events beyond his control force Valentin to desire; and the skin continues to shrink. We learn thereby of what moves us, what psychoanalysis deals with, what Freud considered as psychoanalysis victory over philosophy, which could not answer neither to pleasure's why nor to desire's cause.

Desperate, the waning Valentin tries vainly to find a way of stretching the skin. But the magic skin defies any attempt.   

He goes to a spa.     

Pauline comes to see him and reiterates her love.


Raphael pulls out from underneath his bedhead the strip of shagreen, small and fragile as a periwinkle leaf, and showing it to her:
-Pauline, beautiful image of my beautiful life, let’s say goodbye, he said.    -
Goodbye? she repeated, surprised.   
-Yes. This is a talisman that accomplishes my desires and represents ma vie. See what I’ve left. If you look at me once more I’ll die.   
-The young woman though Valentin had gone mad, she took the talisman, and went to get the lamp. Illuminated by the unsteady glow equally projected upon both Raphael and the talisman, she examined attentively her lover’s visage and the last bit of magic skin. Upon seeing her beauty heightened both by love and fear, he could no longer master [himself] (p.289)   
-Pauline, come! Pauline!   
-A terrible cry came out the girl’s gorge, her eyes widened […] she read in Raphael’s eyes a furious desire […] but as it grew, the shrinking shagreen tickled her hand. She ran without thinking to the adjoining room and shut the door.    […]    With the strange force of a last burst of life [Raphael] brought the door down and saw his mistress half naked contorting herself in a sofa. She had vainly tried to tear her breast, and to die quickly she was attempting to strangle herself with her shawl. –“if I die he’ll live!” said she vainly trying to tighten the knot around her neck. [Pauline] offered to Raphael drunk with love a thousand charms that increased his delirium; he threw himself on her, light as a bird of prey, undid the shawl then wanted to hold her in his arms.   
The dying man sought for words to express the desire devouring his forces; but found nothing but a death rattle in his chest, digging deeper at each breath and seeming to come out from his entrails. Finally, unable to make a sound, he bit Pauline’s breast. Frightened by the cries Jonathas appeared and attempted to (p.290) pull the young woman away from the corpse she hunkered down in a corner.   
-What do you want! said she. He’s mine; I killed him, had I not foreseen it!   

I cite the dramatic ending not to impress you by its emotional charge but in order to let you see in its context a phrase that surprised me and which describes Raphael’s last act:  Finally, unable to make a sound, he bit Pauline’s breast.   

I remember having read a description (Melanie Klein’s, I think) that had much impressed me, about the nursling’s voracity. So Valentin’s last act reproduces his first one as a new born. I then remembered that while going through Raphael’s portraits I’d come upon one different from the rest, both by the personage depicted, Fornarina, by its theme and by the almost masculine hand seemingly offering her left breast to suckle:


A-FORNARINA.jpg

However good, The Talisman’s story-lineWhilealone would not suffice to elicit Freud’s reaction to it. Nor mine. When it comes to story lines I do not share Borges’ justification of his own conciseness, that it was an impoverishing enterprise to describe in hundreds of pages something of which the complete exposition could be accomplished  in a few.   

Well, it would still be senseless to ask R. Musil to be short or Francis Ponge to be long.    If Musil’s name comes to mind –one day I’ll write something about his Man Without Qualities, just to tickle T. Mann-   it’s because his is model of the interminable narrative that ends too soon.    trying to find the English translation of its title, I encountered several ones, not counting those of the films drawn from it. Same in German. Were I absolutely forced to choose, and all titles being more or less good compromises, it would be The Shagreen. 

The Shagreen has the rare quality of the right length: Even while hurrying to the end for curiosity’s sake and, in my case, by duty also, I did not want to finish it. A curious suspense  story where we know from the beginning both the criminal and the crime! I won’t speak about denouement, the word meaning literally un-knotting, undoing: Nothing is here undone or resolved. As in a tragedy, suspense lies in how the hero reacts to his destiny.    As I read I kept reminding myself that if I wanted to note all the things that I thought, nay, was sure move Freud, I’d spend days taking notes.    And beginning with examples of style. Not that Freud’s style has anything to do with it, but simply because Balzac’s writing fits perfectly his subject.  It is a mirror of early nineteen century’s philosophical themes and romantic aspirations. Faustian in the sense that a pact is made, bathing also in the ideals represented by Byron, whose name comes up several times.    Before knowing anything else about the hero, not even his name, we learn he’s a gambler. Naturally I thought of Dostoyevsky, a gambler also, and a writer Freud wrote about albeit not in connection with his vice but with parricide.    Having now lost his bet then deciding to postpone suicide until nightfall, our hero chose to spend his last hours observing and discussing art objects. He entered an antiquities shop, a mysterious Capernaum, it turned out, which marvels witnessed humanity’s history:    


The sight of so many national or individual existences […] ended up by numbing the young man’s senses.[…] Moses and the Hebrews and the desert, he caught a glimpse of an ancient solemn world [then] fresh and smooth a marble statue […] spoke to him of the voluptuous myths of Greece and Ionia.

All is there to please father Freud: Egypt, archeology, digs, layers, sediments, art objects… so that at this early point I already know Freud sees in Balzac’s mirror what he has always known: poets know what his science explains/   

-Go tell that to the average doctor!   
-Average is the right word. But there are others.   
-Who those others are, I’d like to know.   
-Are you borrowing from Frost?   
-No. I’m burrowing into Freud.   
-In that case, know that there are doctors who underwent analysis.   
-Aren’t all analysts supposed to have had to?   
-Yes. But a nonsense called didactic analysis leaves the door open to making the economy of it, while giving you the right to brag about its investment. You’d be surprised about how the first thing that comes to many an analysand’s minds is how rigid Freud was about money and fees. Talk about projection! In fact, rather than rigid, Freud was formal. First bill he got from his personal physician, considering it inappropriate, he sent it back instructing Dr Schur to please revise his fees, since he wanted to be treated like a patient, not a friend.

I’m still not completely clear about the position of his personal physician.  I think he took his medical job seriously and his subsequent psychoanalytic practice humbly. But there were those around him who hoped to take advantage of Schur’s privileged position to insinuate their words into his text/   

-You’re paranoid!   
-I wonder sometimes, believe me. But going through the labyrinth of letters, dates and texts, I became persuaded that Schur, or rather his account, was the prey of external requests…I don’t know of his text’s avatars between his death and its publication… I’d really like to get my hands on the ms he left, collate it with the published text upon which those necessary, innocuous changes his widow talks about had been imposed by editorial needs. Paranoid, right… let me just tell you that Freud’s is a “paranoid” lecture of, for instance Leonardo, where it’s not what’s said but what’s withheld that counts for the interpretation… analysis is very much like reading a palimpsest… Burroughs is right, paranoiacs are “in full possession of facts…sometimes”; witticism which by the way showed me the adverb “sometimes” under a new light.    So yes, sometimes I am.   

/In any case, the objects in the store allow Balzac to move forwards and backwards through history: the Romans, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Greeks, in a firework of elegance and erudition; to return to India and China, then leap onwards to Benvenuto Cellini, further back to Alexander the Great and his conquests, to America then back to Europe and Notre Dame of Paris.   

All of which surely caressed Freud’s sensibilities and tastes. Moreover, this Capernaum mirrored the world’s history.   

As for our hero’s name, we hear it for the first time not far into the narrative, in a context which, were it not for its singularity, would let the name pass almost unnoticed:


The stranger followed his guide and arrived at a fourth gallery where under his tired eyes passed successively several paintings by Poussin, a sublime statue by Michel Angel, some ravishing landscapes by Claude Lorrain, a Gerard Dow which resembled a page by Sterne [source, says elsewhere Balzac, of the novel’s title], some paintings by Rembrandt, Murillo, Velazquez, somber and colorful as a lord Byron poem […] In a word, works to make you sick of work, piles of masterworks that teach you to hate art and kill enthusiasm. He arrived to a virgin by Raphael, but he was tired of Raphael. [My italics.]

The last phrase made me halt and retain/   

-Like aid and abet?   
-Semantically you’re absolutely right. There’s probably a name for this figure so dear to the unconscious, but it skips my mind.        

/retain thus the name so cleverly singled out: Raphael. I wondered (erroneously, as I found after checking-up the chronology) if Balzac was not praising the Pre-Raphaelites, particularly their ideologue, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the unwitting predecessor, William Blake, genius of morality who moreover fully described desire and the reality principle in one of his Proverbs of Hell. Maybe my feelings are such because I’m fond of both Rossetti and Blake, a case of wishful thinking, that's what.  Moreover, dear reader, I’ve a fantasy that one day I’ll come upon a page, maybe a letter, perhaps through a third party's testimony, anything,  a page thus where Freud mentions Blake…    

-You’re wandering again.    
- Yep! But I know where I’m going:   

Raphael! You can easily suppose that Balzac’s phrase, “but he was tired of Raphael”, obeyed no psychic imperative and it could as well have been “but he was tired of Leonardo”. So the question is double:       

one: Was the author himself surprised by the name that came then to his pen, or had he craftily fulfilled  his own narrative prophecy?   
two:  Is that why I was surprised, by contagion, or had I read  into his unconscious rather than into his craft? 

-You forget a third: What’s in the trunk?   
-Easy: A Raphael.   
-Yes. But which…Which of Raphael’s painting should come out of the ark opened by this character who resembles an old rabbi, a sage/   

Wait, let me give you Balzac’s description of it, hopefully with your agreement that such description couldn’t fail to stir father Freud’s soul.


-Monsieur wishes to see the portrait of Jesus-Christ paint by Raphael? said the old man courteously in a clear sonorous voice with a metallic hint. Upon hearing the religiousThe names of Jesus-Christ and Raphael, a gesture of curiosity escapes the young man. […] […] Suddenly the mahogany panel glisses in its groove, then falls silently to offer the painting to the stranger’s admiration. […] Some parfum pouring down from the heavens dissipated the infernal tortures burning the [stranger’s] bones’ marrow.[…] The vermilion lips had just made him hear the word of life […] (p.31)  In short, the catholic religion could be wholly read in a smooth magnificent smile which seemed to express its precept and resuming it: Love each other.
 
And how better said than by that simple “love each other” that renders unnecessary the tedious nit-picking often passing for savvy exegesis?      

I know of only one portrait of the Christ by Raphael which more or less coincides with Balzac’s description.

Allowing for memory’s inevitable deformations I take The Blessing Christ to be the portrait in question. It’s a Resurrection, as we cans see by the stigmata. The word benediction means literally well said (bene=well, diction=said).


Rapael-Christ.jpg

adjective surprises me. First because it seems superfluous, then because it equates Jesus and Raphael. Having already proof of Balzac’s erudition as well as of his writing skill, I reacted: who exactly was Raphael?:    Raphael is the archangel described in the Book of Enoch, familiar to the scribes of the New Testament.  The root of the name Raphael also appears in the modern Hebrew word Rophe meaning doctor of medicine, thus echoing the healing function traditionally attributed to this angel. And again the Lord said to Raphael: 'Bind Azazel hand and foot, and cast him into the darkness: and make an opening in the desert, which is in Dudael, and cast him therein. And place upon him rough and jagged rocks, and cover him with darkness, and let him abide there for ever, and cover his face that he may not see light. And on the day of the great judgment he shall be cast into the fire.   

Azazel is a fallen angel usually depicted as a goat:


AZAZEL-_BALZAC.jpg

Azazel, Hebrew עזאזל is an enigmatic name from the Hebrew Scriptures and apocrypha. The name is used interchangeably with Rameel and Gadriel. It first appeared in Leviticus16, where a goat is designated "for Azazel" and outcast in the desert as part of Yom Kippur.   

We get thus hints of the syncretism represented by this mysterious merchant…   

You can get into intricate arguments about the impossibility of loving your neighbor like yourself, about the absurdity of such a proposition. All sort of cynical arguments are adduced in the name of “primary narcissism” and “object relation”.   

“Object”, that’s right, by which all is said by not saying “subject”.   

Philosophy has its word to say, which Freud dismisses off handedly since it cannot explain desire, and Balzac ridicules succinctly:   


-Kant, mister. One more pilot-balloon sent up to amuse the simple-minded!  Materialism and spirituality are two pretty rackets for charlatans to hit the same shuttlecock with. That God be in everything according to Spinoza or that everything comes from God according to Saint Paul…Imbeciles! Isn’t the movement to open or to shut a door the same? Does the egg come from the chicken or the chicken from the egg? […] There’s science for you! (p.62)

And that brings us to imagining the imaginary. Also to the fact that by associating the body to the real you learn in passing that when you caress the cat against the hair, she don't like it. Actually I don't like it doing it either; there's something unavoidably wrong about this gesture. A cat can't help being a cat, just get it that it actually worries far less about the body than we do. We worry about this supposed real, to protect it we forget to live. Protect it? That's not strong enough. Pamper it. A life-consuming project.

Lacan lets us understand that that real is threshold to the real. Think about it.

Tekila, my beloved dog, one to whose tribe I belong, doesn't have the problem of the real, insofar as hers works. The proper of our real, says Lacan, is that it doesn't work.

Ever wonder why he'd say such a thing? Some refer to him as Saint Lacan, not without derision. Not I. Mystics understood something about the real, didn't they? Or do you think they were idiots? Did you know Socrates believed in reincarnation -call it hysteria, if you wish, as
does Lacan. The  belief that we will come back in the flesh seems rather weird, doesn't it. So take this belief as a palliative for the pain of this real which doesn’t work.

Allow me thus to cite for a second time an apparently offhand comment of Freud.


[…]I’m only waiting for Moses, which is due to appear in March [the current March, 1939,or in [1940?] and then I need not be interested in any book of mine again until my next reincarnation.

Now, since I'm one of those who in the strictest orthodoxy believes in the weight of words, and since this comment of Freud allowed me to get a hold in his mystifying Open Letter to R. Rolland, as you'll presently see in an article I'm working on...about Freud's religious feelings...

In any case, take it as a palliative as did Freud,  who received palliative care until he couldn’t take it any more and chose to die of an excess of palliative. Palliative care happens in hospitals, at home… Why disdain them?

The alternative is to quit a real that doesn’t work, the real of make-believe, without getting into another real. And particularly the one implicit in the phrase

-Let's get down to what's real man!

when in fact you're only talking about represetation and feeling. The real is not, definitely, in the order of feeling, but in its contradiction, in its otherness.

Look, in terms of evolution, we're somewhere between the blessing of ignorance and the curse of suspecting. Let’s assume the curse. That's good sense.

Good sense also tell us that to love the other you must first love yourself, which seems to me a worthy psychoanalytic goal. And since psychoanalysis is profoundly ethical, this implies being morally worthy of self love. That is, of overriding the objections of the superego which, to complicate matters, lumps together fact and fantasy.

Freud repeatedly tells us that the most merciless psychic instance is the superego. You'd be wrong, by the way,  to take that to mean that the superego shouldn't be heeded.


[…] doesn’t the soul concoct terrible poisons by the quick concentration of its passions, its forces or its ideas? Do not many men perish struck by some moral acid suddenly spread on their innards? (p.24)

Lacan explains that the other is you, speaks for you, desires for you. One must thus accept beforehand that while the other can lie to us, just as quanta do, the Other, from the depth of his superb indifference, nevertheless loves you.

You can argue love for hours, you can call it naïve that it still boils down to the same: God is love. And Love is universal, otherwise it’s called Prejudice. Love’s the tack holding humanity’s stuff together. And while I’m at it, I’ll add that this is also the conclusion Freud came to, the conclusion that justifies his man Moses and the conclusion that makes him dangerous.

In any case, as he had earlier indicated, our hero was tired of Raphael’s divinely assigned task; that is, of confining a fallen angel while waiting for the Judgment Day.

Balzac’s Raphael does not want to confine desire; on the contrary, he wishes to exercise it.

Freud calls life reality. He talks about psychic life, practical life, oneiric or fantasy life, compartmentalizing for the sake of clarity the human real, so that reality’s effects upon human projects could be foreseen, forestalled or postponed by the ego. The Ego is not only called upon to make choices so as to harmonize psychic needs (basically by lessening tension I’m) with the satisfaction of a given desire, but is a priori endowed with the wherewithal to do so.

Well, I don’t think I agree with father Freud on that; in fact, I don’t think father Freud was too sure about it himself, which I deduct from

1- his repeated affirmation that he was sure and
2- the constant gnawing of religiosity, as proven by his insistent denial of it and its constant thematic recommencement.

We can easily imagine that while laboring on his “phylogenetic fantasy” he became aware that the archaic heritage upon which this fantasy is rooted simply cannot be conveyed by the ego. The point of religion being precisely to dissolve the ego in the “oceanic feeling” R. Rolland propounded and which Freud located within the primitive ego, primary narcissism and  ego aspirations later reduced to a "shrunken residue". (Civilization and Its Discontents).

In other words, Freud makes the trip backwards. I'm not sure if father Freud knew that the way he describes the homeostatic state the psyche aims for, closely resembles the mystic state of not wanting.

For my part I’m persuaded that if friends such as Pfister and Rolland –both of whom I think were better friends to Freud than he to them- had faith in him, it's precisely because they knew that despite his protestations Freud was on their side.

I won’t get deeper into this because I’m not sure of myself. I mean, how can I possibly take Lacan for Freud’s disciple and not see that Lacan had seen at the core of Freud, in the Unconscious itself, man’s divine genesis?

-What on earth do you mean by that?
-I know…it’s not clear…Look, Lacan says that the unconscious is structured as a language, and he who says language says word, sooner or later with a majuscule, and he who says Word says Law, also with a majuscule…and on and on to a no end that ends, if you’re even half reasonable, in the figurative couch.

And what you learn there is that reason is the worst of counselor that knows no love. pure ego is worse than hatred,it's indifference. And the superego, even if once in a while Freud sees it related to the unconscious, is oft described by Freud as a “tyrant”. A weak tyrant at that, since the tyrant is due obedience…

Rather than psychic compartments Lacan sees an indissociable whole, however tenuous the alliance be, which he represents by the emblematic borromean knot. Acquaint yourself with its history as a symbol to discover its spiritual usage. When you see this knot represented graphically you see three loops linked together. One loop is the Real, one the Imaginary, one the Symbolic. There’s a place at the core of the knot where these three instances mingle into one. That blend, that union, makes a human being. And by the way, it is my understanding that in Freud’s certainties (ego, superego, id) Lacan saw the outline of a whole.

In fact, a reading of Freud will show you that these psychic entities are interconnected. Freud’s stubborn error was to insist that one particular entity, the ego, could somehow make decisions as if it existed independently.

To this entity Lacan superposes another whose expression is only language, itself in obeisance to the Real, Imaginary and Symbolic, which knotted together represent and describe the human.

If you observe the resulting amazing knot you’ll discover that no two of its three loops are linked. -

The three are linked but no two are?
-Exactly. This knot wasn’t his invention or his topological discovery, of course; he just recognized in it the ideal metaphor for a human being. To test its properties experimentally, Lacan fabricated the knot with little pieces of string, rendering easier the graphic representation found in his manuals; but the mind has trouble accepting what the eyes see or think they see; the topological phenomenon defies understanding while overloading visual memory.

I finally fabricated a knot  out of  silver welding rods, just to be able to pick it up and consider it carefully: I assured myself that effectively no two loops were linked; they’re knot: no matter which two the eye retains, you see that they’re just superimposed.

I then severed one of the loops –and it doesn’t matter which, by the way- took it out and saw that the two remaining ones were effectively unattached.

Goodbye One! Hello One!

From the point of view of therapy, the essential is to maintain the loops’ equilibrium, keeping in mind that if one of the three elements weighs either too heavily or too lightly, the personality represented by the equilibrium of forces suffers or disintegrates. Whatever else we cannot say about it, the human real depends on the interdependence of the three orders the loops represent.

You’ll notice upon following Lacan’s arrangement, that the body is contained in the Real, the ego in the Imaginary and words in the Symbolic. You’ll also notice that there’s one surface at the very center where, as I said before, the three mingle; then three peripheral segments where only two elements mingle…

In any case, and to awkwarly conclude -I'm aware of it- I can say that not only the subject of Balzac’s novel naturally interested Freud, but that the observations Balzac makes here and there about human nature, could not have failed to present him with a mirror of his science .

Elton Anglada

 






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