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On the Verge of Sanity: A Fragment of Freud´s Hysteria, Tereza Schmoranz


“Mother wanted to stop and save her jewel-case, but father said I refuse to let myself and my two children be burnt for the sake of your jewel-case.”

 For Jacques Lacan, a famous post-Freudian psychoanalyst, all speech is demand and every demand is a quest for love. If this is so, the question of a proper analysis or proper interpretation would be a question of our capability to love, i.e. a capability not to reduce the other to an object which is here only to conform to our theories about texts/life. However, paradoxically enough, this reduction seems to be very much indicative exactly of psychoanalysis, at least psychoanalysis as performed by Freud. To justify this opinion, let us “commemorate” here one of the most horrifying texts of the turn of the 20th century science:

The extract about the jewel-case (quoted above) comes from Sigmund Freud’s famous paper on hysteria and this very sentence is Freud’s quotation of an account given by his allegedly hysterical patient, Ida Bauer (called Dora in Freud’s paper) of her repetitive dream in which her father wakes her up in the middle of the night because their house is on fire. Ida was sent to Freud by her father because of her supposedly hysterical behaviour after an incident with her father’s girlfriend’s husband who once locked her in a building and then violently kissed her against her will. Ida Bauer was fourteen years old then and she quite understandably did not like the kiss at all, maybe also because the man was a passionate smoker, maybe because she was sexually interested in women rather than in men (as Lacan later interpreted it). However, in Freud’s view the poor girl’s developing this experience into a trauma was a typically hysterical reaction: “In this scene”, writes Freud, “…the behaviour of this child of fourteen was already entirely and completely hysterical. I should without question consider a person hysterical in whom an occasion for sexual excitement elicited feelings that were preponderantly or exclusively unpleasurable (…) Instead of the genital sensation which would certainly have been felt by a healthy girl in such circumstances, Dora was overcome by the unpleasurable feeling…”. (my emphasis). So because Ida’s clitoris was not stimulated in this harassment episode, she should be called hysterical from now on by Freud…

Now, as to the dream from which we quoted above, the interpretation suggested by Freud is too complex to be presented in its whole range here, nevertheless we may illustrate the direction it takes by the following extract. (Note that this is not a parody on Freud, but Freud’s own text which he means seriously):


/Freud:/’Perhaps you do not know that “jewel-case” is a favourite expression for the same thing that you alluded to not long ago by means of the reticule you were wearing – for the female genitals, I mean.’

 /Dora:/ ‘I knew you would say that’

/Freud:/ ‘That is to say, you knew that it was so.’ (Freud´s emphasis)


It is not too difficult, it seems, to guess why Ida Bauer, Freud’s exemplum for his account of hysteria and otherwise an apparently intelligent young woman, had eventually refused Freud’s influential theory and all his conclusions he drew about her. And it is also quite unsurprising, I think, that although Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria became really famous and was widely discussed by psychoanalysts, it had not been included in The Essentials of Psychoanalysis (first published 1986), a selection of Freud’s texts edited by his daughter, Anna Freud, an influential child psychologist.


Tereza Schmoranz

 *Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria is highly recommended to those interested in pernicious effects of committing masturbation in childhood.


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