Friday, 27 July 2012

From the History of an Infantile Neurosis - Freud & the Dream of the Wolf Man

Sergei Konstantinovitch Pankejeff (1886 – 1979) was a Russian aristocrat from Odessa and a patient of Sigmund Freud, who gave him the pseudonym of Wolf Man (der Wolfsmann) to protect his identity. The pseudonym originated in a dream Pankejeff had of a tree full of white wolves: 

"I dreamt that it was night and that I was lying in bed. (My bed stood with its foot towards the window; in front of the window there was a row of old walnut trees. I know it was winter when I had the dream, and night-time.) Suddenly the window opened of its own accord, and I was terrified to see that some white wolves were sitting on the big walnut tree in front of the window. There were six or seven of them. The wolves were quite white, and looked more like foxes or sheep-dogs, for they had big tails like foxes and they had their ears pricked like dogs when they pay attention to something. In great terror, evidently of being eaten up by the wolves, I screamed and woke up. My nurse hurried to my bed, to see what had happened to me. It took quite a long while before I was convinced that it had only been a dream; I had had such a clear and life-like picture of the window opening and the wolves sitting on the tree. At last I grew quieter, felt as though I had escaped from some danger, and went to sleep again.” (Freud 1914, 1918)

In the main body of his case study text, Freud writes:

He had been sleeping in his cot, then, in his parents’ bedroom, and woke up, perhaps because of his rising fever, in the afternoon, possibly at five o’clock, the hour which was later marked out by depression. It harmonizes with our assumption that it was a hot summer’s day, if we suppose that his parents had retired, half undressed, for an afternoon siesta. When he woke up, he witnessed a coitus a tergo [from behind], three times repeated; he was able to see his mother’s genitals as well as his father’s organ; and he understood the process as well as its significance. (Freud, 1914, 1918)

Freud added the following addendum, written in 1918:

I mean that he understood it at the time of the dream when he was four years old, not at the time of the observation. He received the impressions when he was one and a half; his understanding of them was deferred, but became possible at the time of the dream owing to his development, his sexual excitations, and his sexual researches.

The Pankejeffs were a wealthy family in St. Petersburg. Sergei attended a grammar school in Russia but after the 1905 Russian Revolution he spent considerable time abroad studying. During his review of Freud's letters and other files, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson uncovered notes for an unpublished paper by Freud's associate Ruth Mack Brunswick. Freud asked her to review the Pankejeff case, and she discovered evidence that Pankejeff had been sexually abused by a family member during his childhood years. In 1906, his older sister Anna committed suicide while visiting the site of Mikhail Lermontov's fatal duel, and by 1907 Sergei began to show signs of serious depression himself. The patient as a young boy was at first a calm, peaceful and mild mannered child, but upon returning from a summer holiday his parents discovered that the boy’s behaviour had radically altered for the worse. Such oddities included making a hobby out of cruelty towards small creatures, for example maliciously wrenching off the wings of flies, crushing beetles and slicing caterpillars. He was also subject to darkly depressive moods, an extremely bad temper and wild, intense fury at the most trivial scenarios. Sergei's father Konstantin also suffered from depression, often connected to specific political happenings of the day, and committed suicide in 1907 by consuming an overdose of sleeping medication, several months after Sergei had left for Munich to seek treatment for his own condition. While in Munich, Pankejeff saw many doctors and stayed voluntarily at a number of elite psychiatric hospitals, returning to Russia during the summer. In January 1910, Pankejeff's physician brought him to Vienna to commence treatment with Freud. Pankejeff and Freud met with each other many times between February 1910 and July 1914, and a few times thereafter, including a brief psychoanalysis in 1919. Pankejeff's "nervous problems" included his inability to have bowel movements without the assistance of an enema, as well as debilitating depression. He also felt like there was a veil cutting him off from the world. Initially, according to Freud, Pankejeff resisted opening up to full analysis, until Freud gave him a year deadline for analysis, prompting Pankejeff to give up his resistances. Freud's first publication on the "Wolf Man" was From the History of an Infantile Neurosis (Aus der Geschichte einer infantilen Neurose), written at the end of 1914 but not published until 1918.

Freud described a whole range of mental disturbances in Pankejeff's young life, ranging from infantile anorexia and panic attacks to deficient impulse control, phobia, entrenched sadomasochistic tendencies, and various symptoms of obsession. Because he emphasised oedipal-derived pathology, Freud attributed major importance to the primal scene and the castration complex. Capital events determining the patient's young life were a primal scene observed when he was 1 ½, a threat of castration from his nursery maid Grusha about a year later, his sister's seduction when he was 3 ¼, his traumatic dream when he was 4, the outbreak of symptoms of obsession a half year later, and hallucinations at the age of 5. Pankejeff would later publish his own work under Freud's given pseudonym, and would be in contact with Freudian disciples until his own death (undergoing analysis for six decades, despite Freud's pronouncement of his being "cured"), making him one of the longest-running famous patients in the history of psychoanalysis. A few years after finishing psychoanalysis with Freud, Pankejeff developed a psychotic delusion. He was observed walking the streets staring at his reflection in a mirror, convinced that some sort of doctor had drilled a hole in his nose.  Brunswick, explained, in Freudian terminology, that the delusion represented displaced castration anxiety.

In psychoanalysis, the concept of a “primal scene” (German: Urszene) is the initial witnessing by a child of a sex act, usually between the parents, that traumatises the psychosexual development of that child. The scene witnessed may also occur between animals, and be displaced onto humans.Ned Lukacher has proposed using the term in literary criticism to refer to a kind of intertextuality in which the ability to interpret one text depends on the meaning of another text. The "primal scene" therefore refers to the sight of sexual relations between the parents, as observed, constructed, and/or fantasised by the child and interpreted by the child as a scene of violence. The scene is not understood by the child (because it happens at too early an age in the child’s sexual development – in the case of the Wolf Man, when he was just 1 ½ years old), remaining enigmatic but at same time provoking sexual excitement.The term actually appeared for the first time the Wolf Man case, but the notion of a sexual memory experienced too early to have been translated into verbal images, and thus liable to return in the form of conversion symptoms or obsessions, was part of his thinking as early as 1896, as witness his letter of 30 May  of that year to Wilhelm Fliess, where he evokes a "surplus of sexuality" that "impedes translation". This idea is already close to the model of the trauma and its "deferred" effect. The following year, in his letter to Fliess of  2 May, Freud gave the approximate age when in his estimation children were liable to "hear things" that they would understand only "subsequently" as six or seven months. The subject of the child's witnessing parental coitus came up as well, albeit in an older child, with the case of "Katharina," in the Studies on Hysteria (1895) and Freud evoked it yet again in The Interpretation of Dreams (1990), with the fantasy of the young man who dreamed of watching his parents copulating during his life in the womb. Freud persistently strove to determine whether the primal scene was a fantasy or something actually witnessed; above all, he placed increasing emphasis on the child's own fantasy interpretation of the scene as violence visited upon the mother by the father. He went so far, in On the Sexual Theories of Children (1908), as to find a measure of justification for this interpretation, suggesting that, though the child may exaggerate, the perception of a real repugnance towards sexual intercourse on the part of a mother fearful of another pregnancy may be quite accurate. In the case of "Little Hans," however, the violence was explained in terms of a prohibition: Hans deemed it analogous to "smashing a window-pane or forcing a way into an enclosed space" (1909b). The fantasy of the primal scene, like the sexual theories of children, is typical in character - it may be encountered in all neurotics, if not in every human being (Freud, 1915) and it belongs in the category of "primal" fantasies. It appears, however, not to have the same force for all individuals. The case history of the Wolf Man gave Freud the opportunity not only to pursue the issue of the reality of the primal scene, but also to propose the idea that it lay at the root of childhood (and later adult) neurosis: the sexual development of the child was "positively splintered up by it" (1914, 1918). Freud later would later assign a central place to the primal scene in his analysis of Marie Bonaparte, although in her case the scene took place between her nanny and a groom (Bonaparte, 1950). Looked upon as an actual event rather than as a pure fantasy reconstructed in a retrospective way (as with Carl Jung's zurückphantasieren), the primal scene had a much more marked traumatic impact, and this led Freud to insist on the "reality" of such scenes, thus returning to the debate over event-driven (or "historical") reality versus psychic reality. Beyond the issue of the scene itself, however, it was the whole subject of fantasy that was thus discussed in terms that would be picked up by Freud again later in Constructions in Analysis (1937).

It was not merely, in Freud's view, that the technique of psychoanalysis demanded that fantasies be treated as realities so as to give their evocation all the force it needed, but also that many "real" scenes were not accessible by way of recollection, but solely by way of dreams. Whether a scene was constructed out of elements observed elsewhere and in a different context (for example, animal coitus transposed to the parents); reconstituted on the basis of clues (such as bloodstained sheets); or indeed observed directly, but at an age when the child still had not the corresponding verbal images at its disposal; did not fundamentally alter the basic facts of the matter. Melanie Klein's view of the primal scene differed from Freud's, for where Freud saw an enigmatic perception of violence, she saw the child's projective fantasies. Klein describes the primal scene in a way closely resembling Freud's definition of the sexual theories of childhood. These wishes of the infant abound in hostile and destructive tendencies, but the mother is pictured therein as just as dangerous for the father as the father is for her. The sexual relationship between the parents, fantasised as continuous, is also the basis of the "combined-parent figure."

The primal scene is inseparable from the sexual theories of childhood that it serves to create. This disturbing representation, which at once acknowledges and denies the familiar quality of the parents, excludes the child even as it concerns them, as witness the libidinal excitement the child feels in response. The particularity of the primal scene lies in the fact that the subject experiences in a simultaneous and contradictory way the emergence of the unknown within a familiar world, to which they are bound by vital needs, by expectations of pleasure, and by the self-image that it reflects back to them. The lack of common measure between the child's emotional and psychosexual experience and the words that could give an account of the primal scene creates a gulf that the sexual theories of childhood attempt to bridge. A sadistic reading of the scene combines the child's curiosity about both the origin and the end of life in a representation in which death and life are indeed fused.

Freud's eventual analysis (along with Pankejeff's input) of the dream, which occurred when Pankejeff was 4 years old, was that it was the result of Pankejeff having witnessed a "primal scene" — his parents having sex a tergo ("from behind" or "doggy style") — at a very young age, approximately 1 ½ years old. Later in the paper Freud posited the possibility that Pankejeff had instead witnessed copulation between animals, which was displaced to his parents. Pankejeff's dream would play a major role in Freud's theory of psychosexual development, and along with Irma's Injection (Freud's own dream, which launched dream analysis), it was one of the most important dreams for the developments of Freud's theories. Additionally, Pankejeff became the main case used by Freud to prove the validity of psychoanalysis. It was the first detailed case study not involving Freud analysing himself which brought together the main aspects of catharsis, the unconscious, sexuality, and dream analysis put forward by Freud in his Studies on Hysteria (1895), The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), and his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905).

The case seems to be Freud’s response to the defections of Adler and Jung, who were critical of Freud for his single-mindedness regarding the importance of infantile sexuality. In the Editor’s Note Strachey writes that the Wolf Man case history "is the most elaborate and no doubt the most important of all Freud’s case histories". Strachey perceived the case study in this way because Freud seemed to intend the case to work as a means of unification for the young psychoanalytic community, but also as a means of delimiting what counted as psychoanalysis and what did not: those theories or theorists that denied the centrality of infantile sexuality as defined by Freud in this case were out of bounds. In a similar vein, Nicholas Rand writes in his introduction to Abraham and Torok’s The Wolf Man’s Magic Word: A Cryptonomy that the Wolf Man case was written as "Freud’s test case for the establishment of psychoanalysis as a transmissible school of thought".

For Freud, the Wolfman’s dream was a reproduction of this primal scene of his parent’s sexual intercourse in a different and pathological context, a product of Nachträglichkeit (though it is unclear exactly what this concept might be in this context). Freud’s request to the psychoanalytical community in a 1912 letter to the "Open Forum" that his colleagues "collect and analyse carefully any of their patients’ dreams whose interpretation justifies the conclusion that the dreamers had been witnesses of sexual intercourse in their early years" further suggests that Freud was trying to establish that the witnessing of this event, the "primal scene," was some crucial factor in a reframing of the origin of his psychoanalytic etiology of neurosis: a new caput nili that included sexuality, infancy, and some sense of a trauma. The pathology, however, the disruption to normal development, was not some supposed trauma of witnessing the scene. Freud initially argues that the trauma, which created the deferred pathological context of the dream, was an experience and memory of "seduction" by the analysand’s older sister, as with the Seduction Theory. Later, in the 1918 addendum, he argues that this primal scene, this fantasy/memory, was universal, part of normal development.

Freud interpreted the Wolf Man’s lasting "sense of reality" left by the dream as more evidence that there had in fact been such an event for the dreamer to witness:

[This lasting sense of reality] assures us that some part of the latent material of the dream is claiming in the dreamer’s memory to possess the quality of reality, that is, that the dream relates to an occurrence that really took place and was not merely imagined. 

Strachey refers to the section "Representation by Symbols," in chapter 6 - "The Dream Work," – in The Interpretation of Dreams, where Freud makes a similar argument in which a sense of reality was a symbol of the material existing in memory and that the event with which it is associated actually took place – one of many examples demonstrating how The Interpretation of Dreams is at least partially committed to a symbolic approach to interpretation.  However, in the same passage of The Interpretation of Dreams where he establishes the symbolism of the sense of reality, Freud states unequivocally that "dreamers have symbolism at their disposal from the very first" (V 373), which suggests that this symbolism must precede the individual.

However, between 1912-14 Freud seems unambiguously intent on establishing that the event of copulation between the parents actually occurred and that the infant child witnessed it, by 1918 Freud has moved on to adopt an approach to interpretation which is potentially a form of the kettle logic, explained by Freud in Jokes and the Unconscious (1905):

A borrowed a copper kettle from B. and after he had returned it was sued by B because the kettle now had a big hole in it which made it unusable. His defence was: "First, I never borrowed a kettle from B at all; secondly, the kettle had a hole in it already when I got it from him; and thirdly, I gave him back the kettle undamaged.

Freud argued that the primal scene was "indispensable to a comprehensive solution of all the conundrums that are set us by the symptoms of the infantile disorder, that all the consequences radiate out from it, just as all the threads of the analysis have led up to it" In the interest of buttressing infantile sexuality as the foundation of psychoanalytic theory and practice, Freud was positing here a new caput nili of neurosis. But what constitutes this primal scene? Is it made up of memories somehow separated from fantasies? Is it a trauma? How would it then be related to the other centrepiece of psychoanalytic thought at the time, the Oedipus complex? Freud’s first answer, which in some ways reads like a defence to Jung and Adler’s criticisms, is that "it is impossible that [the primal scene] can be anything else than the reproduction of a reality experienced in childhood" and in "the present case the content of the primal scene is a picture of sexual intercourse between the boy’s parents in a posture especially favourable for certain observations". Freud argued so vehemently for the "reality" of this scene, for this scene as event, that he could "see no other possibility" and claimed that "either the analysis based on the neurosis in his childhood is all a piece of nonsense from start to finish, or everything took place just as I have described it above" (I never borrowed the kettle). In his 1918 addendum to the case, Freud writes that "we cannot dispense with the assumption that the child observed a copulation, the sight of which gave him a conviction that castration might be more than an empty threat” but that perhaps "what the child observed was not copulation between his parents but copulation between animals, which he then displaced on to his parents, as though he had inferred that his parents did things in the same way" (the kettle already had a hole in it). Obviously Freud did not believe that his analysis of the Wolf Man should now be considered "a piece of nonsense from start to finish" merely because he had changed his mind about the necessity of the child witnessing his parents, though it is questionable why he did not revise his initial version of the case study before he published it. A clue to why he did not revise his theory in the first publication is given at the end of the added passage in 1918, where he asks of potential critics if he seems "unwilling to admit" that he had altered his position. Part of his answer to this potential criticism – "I intend on this occasion to close the discussion of the reality of the primal scene with a non liquet" – suggests that he does feel he himself as a psychiatrist (or psychoanalysis generally) is on trial, something comparable to the hypothetical law suit regarding a kettle. This admission of "it is not clear" (with a "yet" subsequently attached to it in another part of his answer), points to a later development in the case, to the third defence and suggests that this third somehow integrates the case as a whole. Perhaps Freud did not revise the earlier version because he did not see the two lines of argument presented above as necessarily contradictory, and especially not as candidates for kettle logic. In support of this claim, it is proposed that the third (kettle logic requires at least three logical possibilities, whereas contradictions require only two possibilities) suggests a way of reading all three as coherent:

These scenes of observing parental intercourse, of being seduced in childhood, and of being threatened with castration are unquestionably an inherited endowment, a phylogenetic heritage, but they may just as easily be acquired by personal experience.

The third possibility then – the necessity that the child witnessed intercourse between his parents now dispensed with completes Freud’s indestructible defence of his interpretation (I gave him back the kettle undamaged).

This third possibility, termed by Freud as “primal phantasies” complicates such categories as memory, fantasy, observation, reality, among others, by introducing a Lamarckian phylogenetic foundation to psychic reality. If we read Freud’s first answer to the conundrum of the status of the Wolf Man’s primal scene–"it is impossible that [the primal scene] can be anything else than the reproduction of a reality experienced in childhood" – with respect to the phylogenetic third answer, "reality" can be read as a phylogenetic reality, though the experience of it in childhood would itself be a reproduction. In the second answer – "we cannot dispense with the assumption that the child observed a copulation" – "observation" could be construed as a part of the recalling of a phylogenetic "memory," an internal observation of sorts. If we assume the centrality of the third, Freud’s logic no longer appears to be necessarily of the kettle sort. With the centrality of this third we have another dimension to our answer of "both" to Rand and Torok’s question: "Is what patients say about their childhood experiences true or false?" Material might be true or false ontogenetically, and be the opposite phylogenetically. Perhaps we should read the phylogenetic/ontogenetic split as what constitutes the split of the Freudian "subject" after the Wolf Man case.

Despite Freud’s persistent and intense rhetoric regarding the objective and external reality of the event observed by the Wolf Man at age one and a half, we can now understand why he might consider this issue unimportant in 1918: “I should myself be glad to know whether the primal scene in my present patient’s case was a phantasy or a real experience; but, taking other similar cases into account, I must admit that the answer to this question is not in fact a matter of very great importance.”

Obviously, it is important if we are trying to establish an etiology - an origin of neurosis, as a fantasy the primal scene can hardly constitute a ‘pathogen’ since it would be universal for all humans. It seems, however, that Freud – despite the fact that he is writing a case study – is at this stage moving away from grounding his theories on etiologies of neurosis and toward a more grand masterplotting of the psyche. Freud’s reliance on his third possibility – one that can be made to seem that it ties it all together, thus enabling Freud to avoid the criticism of kettle logic – and his confusing undifferentiated use of "reality," "truth," and "experience" with respect to ontogeny and/or phylogeny, actually help us to understand Freud’s non-abandonment of "seduction" as an element to his etiology of neurosis in the Wolf Man case, which is another issue addressed by Rand and Torok. Freud needs a pathogen specific to the case. In "The Aetiology of Hysteria," after attempting to allay his audience’s doubts about the reality of the sexual scenes of "seduction" Freud supposedly reconstructed with his so-called hysterical patients, adding the following footnote in 1924: "All this is true; but it must be remembered that at the time I wrote it I had not yet freed myself from my overvaluation of reality and my low valuation of phantasy". To "The Neuro-Psychoses of Defense" he added a similar footnote in 1924:

This section [on the "specific aetiology of hysteria"] is dominated by an error which I have since repeatedly acknowledged and corrected. At the time I was not yet able to distinguish between my patients’ phantasies about their childhood years and their real recollections. As a result, I attributed to the aetiological factor of seduction a significance and universality which it does not possess. When this error had been overcome, it became possible to obtain an insight into the spontaneous manifestations of the sexuality of children which I described in my Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905d). Nevertheless, we need not reject everything written in the text above. Seduction retains a certain aetiological importance, and even to-day I think some of these psychological comments are to the point. 

According to Freud, all of Seduction Theory is ‘true’, minus the misappropriation of the scenes to the category of ontogenetic memory. But how can the entire theory be true if "seduction" goes from being the etiology of a neurosis – i.e. a disruption of the normal development in the individual, to a universal fantasy which is at the centre of normal human development? Under Freud’s logic seduction "retains a certain aetiological importance" with respect to phylogenetic phantasy-memory. And we find that "seduction" is one of the three primal phantasies - the others being the primal scene and castration.

What is apparent, despite Freud’s twisted logic (employed in an attempt to create continuity between the "seduction" theory and Oedipal psychoanalysis) is that a radical re-evaluation of everything claimed within Seduction Theory discourse is necessary. No specific origin, and therefore no specific etiology, can be gained from them since everything that is attributed to ontogenetic reality, experience, or truth after 1918 should be reconceptualised in phylogenetic terms. Freud’s rhetoric in his notes to the Seduction Theory essays is similar to that of his Wolf Man case, where he is so insistent on the ontogenetic reality of the "reconstructed" events that it seems that, if he is not convincing, the example and the theory won’t hold itself together – and then, in a blasé manner, he argues that it is not important that the event occurred after all. What is consistently fundamental for Freud up to this point is the origin of his etiology, which, during World War I, he had decided were the primal phantasies. This origin, however, combines (conflates) material and psychic reality, normal and neurotic, and grounds psychic reality and Freud’s privileged form of truth in phylogeny. 

All that we derive from the prehistory of neuroses is that a child catches hold of this phylogenetic experience where his own experience fails him. He fills in the gaps in individual truth with prehistoric truth; he replaces occurrences in his own life by occurrences in the life of his ancestors. Gaps in individual "truth" would only be created when individual experience strays from phylogenetic experience-truth-reality. We find evidence in the passage above that Freud does not wish to distinguish between reality, truth, and even experience. Furthermore, the agency given to the subject here –"He fills in …" and "he replaces …" – is misleading, since "prehistoric truth" would always already be there, always already constitute the narrative structure and meaning, and the individual would certainly be passive with respect to this narrative and the symbolism determined by its transcendental meaning. Certainly this subversion of the ontogenetic subject to a phylogenetic "subject" or "other" would constitute "the Freudian breakthrough" for some. When discussing in 1938 the importance of the mother as the first object of the child, Freud would argue:

In all this the phylogenetic foundation has so much the upper hand over personal accidental experience that it makes no difference whether a child has really sucked at the breast or has been brought up on the bottle and never enjoyed the tenderness of a mother’s care. In both cases the child’s development takes the same path.…

This passage raises two significant issues. The first is the issue of what constitutes the "original experience of satisfaction" which establishes the ontogenetic primary process and the corresponding pleasure principle, and whether chance could ever play a role in this ontogenetic moment of origin. The second issue is the significance of ontogenetic experience and chance in general - "personal accidental experience."

The first issue concerns the importance of the ontogenetic reality and the chance events that were a part of the Wolf Man’s specific primal scene for the coherence of this case history. We are reminded that the Wolf Man’s primal scene included coitus a tergo in order for him to develop his various fantasies of his parents’ and sexuality’s relationship to castration, and the intricacies of his (and Freud’s) scatological fantasies, which were supposedly confirmed by the Wolf Man’s "transitory symptoms" of farting during session. The infant Wolf Man, Freud concludes, defecated while he watched his parents’ coitous a tergo, which gave him an excuse to scream and interrupt what he saw. Freud sheilds himself from criticism by adding: "It would make no difference to the story as a whole if this demonstration had not occurred, or if it had been taken from a later period and inserted into the course of the scene". It is questionable how such ‘insertion’ would operate (did Pankejeff defecate whilst watching dogs?)  and how Freud might account for his scatological associations phylogenetically, which, of course, he could do since "Man’s" primaeval experience amply provides such material. But this accounting could never square with his appeals to the ontogenetic experiences of the Wolf Man - the requirement of any case study to establish an etiology that accounts for the specifics of that case and that accounts for what is pathogenic. Regardless, many of the intricacies of Freud’s interpretation are left ambiguous with respect to their phylogenetic or ontogenetic status, which, it seems, is what Freud intends as an important aspect of his rhetorical strategy. What remains clear is that Freud’s interpretative leaping room is greatly increased by the shell games he plays with the categories of ontogenetic, phylogenetic and the associated categories of truth, reality, and experience.

The second issue of interest concerns the date of the above quotation - 1938. This dating enables dispute of  the common claims advanced by the psychoanalytic orthodoxy who argue  that Freud’s phylogenetic theorising - what Peter Gay calls Freud’s "Lamarckian fantasy" - was short lived, primarily a product of the war years, and ultimately not important to psychoanalysis and its legacy (or its transmissibility as a school of thought). Despite the centrality of phylogeny in psychoanalytic theory after 1913, the psychoanalytic orthodoxy has consistently marginalized phyolegeny. Its centrality is evidenced by its necessity within the Freudian framework, where it is essential in order to achieve some semblance of coherence (and thus possible transmissibility). The theory was also significant within many of Freud’s major discourses, including: Totem and Taboo (1912-13), Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1921), The Future of an Illusion (1927), and Civilization and Its Discontents (1930). The argument that it was just a passing fancy of Freud during the war years is supported by occasional claims of Freud himself, discounting the importance of phylogeny, which suggest that he was ambivalent at times with respect to his dependence on such theories. For example, Freud writes in the Wolf Man case:

I am aware that expression has been given in many quarters to thoughts like these, which emphasize the hereditary, phylogenetically acquired factor in mental life. In fact, I am of opinion that people have been far too ready to find room for them and ascribe importance to them in psycho-analysis. 

Here, if not another candidate for kettle logic, is a clear example of Freudian legerdemain. Freud seems to be referring to Jung here, and in an exasperating and bizarre case of active forgetting, seems to repress the fact that the coherence of this very case relies on what Freud posited as an "unquestionable" "inherited endowment, a phylogenetic heritage" - an endowment of memory-fantasy that supposedly made it immaterial whether the Wolf Man witnessed the primal scene at 1 ½ years old or not. More poignantly, Freud was forgetting the importance he attributed to Totem and Taboo as a grounding of the universality of the Oedipus complex in the primal horde’s relation to practices of exogamy and to the killing of the primal father. A year or so after writing the passage above from the Wolf Man case, Freud wrote the following passage in his Introductory Lectures, which seem to express his conviction, or at least the part of him that was convinced, that the "phylogenetically acquired factor in mental life" was actually of crucial importance:

The only impression we gain is that these events of childhood are somehow demanded as a necessity, that they are among the essential elements of a neurosis. If they have occurred in reality, so much to the good; but if they have been withheld by reality, they are put together from hints and supplemented by phantasy. The outcome is the same, and up to the present we have not succeeded in pointing to any difference in the consequences, whether phantasy or reality has had the greater share in these events of childhood.… I believe these primal phantasies, which I should like to call them, and doubt a few others as well, are a phylogenetic endowment. In them the individual reaches beyond his own experience into primaeval experience at points where his own experience has been too rudimentary. It seems to me quite possible that all the things that are told to us to-day in analysis as phantasy–the seduction of children, the inflaming of sexual excitement by observing parental intercourse, the threat of castration (or rather castration itself)–were once real occurrences in the primaeval times of the human family, and that children in their phantasies are simply filling in the gaps in individual truth with prehistoric truth.

It appears that Freud was the only one allowed to appeal to phylogeny. And, again, among numerous other repeated themes, we recognise the conflation of ontological and phylogenetic experience, reality, and truth. We also find here how Freud makes these phantasies the origin of neurosis and then contradicts the possibility that they could ever differentiate the normal and the neurotic by making them universal endowments.

In Freud: Biologist of the Mind: Beyond the Psychoanalytic Legend, Frank Sulloway provides a corrective to the blindness of the orthodoxy. He argues that Freud’s Lamarckian foundational theories were a crucial aspect of his thought since the mid-1890s and to his general and published theories after Totem and Taboo. In Sulloway’s chapter, "Evolutionary Biology Resolves Freud’s Three Problems," he argues this by demonstrating how Freud, through his unique take on phylogeny, was able to resolve what Sulloway believes were the three problems which had proved so recalcitrant in the mid-1890s: "the nature of pathological repression, why sex? and the choice of neurosis”. Sulloway argues that between 1895 and 1905 (the year of the Three Essays), Freud makes a "shift from proximate-causal theory to ultimate-causal theory" - the former’s concern being ontogenetic and specific, the latter’s phylogenetic and universal. Etiology-based theory would be proximate-causal, whereas metapsychologies and masterplots would be ultimate-causal. Sulloway sees the Project as Freud’s abortive attempt to provide a proximate-causal explanation of brain functioning and suggests that it was because of its proximate-causal limitations, and not its attempt to ground his theories biologically, that Freud conceded and abandoned it. It is also argued that the Project represents Freud’s first attempt at an ultimate-causal theory, a psuedo-biological metapsychology. Freud’s theories of hysteria, including those found in the Project, would be more representative of his proximate-causal work. In general, Freud was always more drawn to ultimate-causal theory: even his case work was used to ground his ultimate-causal theory, sometimes at the expence of his own proximate-causal claims, as with the case of the Wolf Man.

Sulloway sees Freud as a "biologist of the mind" and finds his evolutionary and ultimate-causal theories as an attempt to provide a much needed "universal theory of human behaviour". Of course, Some critics perceive such totalising attempts of grand theorising to be anathema to attempts at achieving a Levinasian ethic of not reducing the Other to more of the Same. Furthermore, "Lamarckian fantasies" should not be associated with "evolutionary biology" as Sulloway argues, but with mythopoetic and social psychological history-archeology: "Genetic" is referred to in quotations because Freud’s primal phantasies are outside of any time and idealistic. Thus, it could be argued that Freud was more the mythopoetic "archeologist of the mind" or the oddly Lamarckian "Platonist of the mind". With respect to the question of the role phylogeny played in Freud’s theorising, Sulloway argues:

In short, phylogeny was Freud’s final answer to many of the difficulties that threatened to undermine his most basic psychoanalytic claims. From the problem of attributing neurosis to phantasies instead of to real events, to the issue of just how universal were the psychosexual stages and neurotic complexes that Freud espoused, phylogenetic suppositions played a paramount role in legitimating his science of the mind

Freud’s phylogeny – his study of the evolutionary relations and origins, may be seen as a form of speculative materialism (or speculative realism). Of course, "attributing neurosis to phantasies" may have helped Freud to avoid the problems of chance, the criticism that suggestion had played a role in his analyses, but it also creates another problem: whence the neurosis? Freud’s ultimate-causal solution does not work for significant proximate-causal problems such as "the nature of pathological repression, why sex? and the choice of neurosis". That Freud believed his "phylogenetic suppositions played a paramount role in ligitimating his [supposed] science of the mind" should be obvious by the importance he gave the books he wrote on the subject, from Totem and Taboo to Civilization and Its Discontents. Sulloway recounts how Freud tellingly responded to Fritz Wittels’ critical biography of Freud of 1924, in which Wittels argues that Freud’s various caputa nili –seduction, threats of castration, the witnessing of primal scenes – are in reality far too infrequent to support Freud’s claims of their universality. Inscribed by Freud, in the margin of his personal copy of this book, is his confident handwritten retort ‘und die Phylogenese?’ (‘and what of phylogeny?’).

Referring to Freud’s presentation in Beyond the Pleasure Principle of the fort/da game played by his grandson, Derrida states in To Speculate–on ‘Freud’:

It is neither a narrative, nor a story, nor a myth, nor a fiction. Nor is it the system of a theoretical demonstration. It is fragmentary, without conclusion, selective in that it gives something to be read, more an argument in the sense of a schema made of dotted lines, with ellipses everywhere. 

Apparently, the same could be said about Freud’s case histories, especially the Wolf Man case - which is very much part of an extended argument, seemingly directed at Jung primarily - concerning the significance of infantile sexuality. In Fictions of the Wolf Man: Freud and Narrative Understanding, Peter Brooks argues that though a case history is a "nonfictional genre concerning a real person, the case history of the Wolf Man is radically allied to the fictional" because:

[I]ts causes and connections depend on probabilistic constructions rather than authoritative facts, and on imaginary scenarios of lack and desire, and since the very language that it must work with, as both object and medium of its explanations, takes its form from histories of desire consubstantial with what cannot be. 

Freud was only satisfied with facts discovered in a context of determinism (no probabilities, no chance) and that the case histories he created were viewed as histories of truth (consubstantial with what is) – Freud went to great lengths to distance his work from the fictional, and himself from the creative writer. Is the Wolf Man case history an argument, a history, a narrative, or all three? Logos for Aristotle was an argument, an imitation of the real, and provided the basis for mythos or plot.

The rejection of "mere contingency" leads to the world of plots being of kairos (right or opportune moment) and destiny (destinational). Freud’s myth of Negative Concord assimilates only if "psychic reality" is one of determinism, if there is some kind of "omnipotence of thought," and within a metaphysical context of logocentrism, where thought (argument) imitates reality (logocentrism). Whether the Wolf Man’s primal scene was a representation of an ontogenetic and external reality becomes immaterial, as Freud claimed, if the ontogenetic truth of the individual is pre-programmed phylogenetically; and if truth is primarily concerned with psychical reality; and if psychic reality constitutes a context of determinism. Yet, if it does not matter whether the primal scene was an ontogenetically produced memory that in some way corresponds to an ontogenetically experienced and external reality, or a phylogenetic fantasy-memory, then whence the pathology? Using a well-worn trope, Freud attempts to save the argument of/in his case history from the abyssal question (that follows his grounding all of his claims on the foundation of a phylogenetic origin) – why would the Wolf Man suffer from pathology given the determinism of psychic reality and phylogenetic origins? – by contradicting the determinist logic of the totality that results from his "it doesn’t matter" - the chance "seduction" by his sister supposedly disrupted the healthy ontogenetic realisation of the normal disharmony (the proper disharmony of the Negative Concord) between the Wolf Man’s consciousness, primal phantasies (unconscious) and the external world. Several problems stem from this answer with respect to the totality of the "it does not matter" logic. Firstly, why such a seduction would be pathological, when seduction is also one of the primal phantasies, remains unexplained. In other words, it is the contingent nature of this event that seems to be what separates the Wolf Man from a normal development. Contingency is negated by the "it does not matter" and the fact that the contingent event is also a primal phantasy. Moreover, much of Freud’s rhetoric leads the reader to equate the primal scene, if not to the original trauma, then to the origin of the deferred process of trauma, the origin of the etiology of neurosis, that "memory" which is deferred to the time of the dream. The reality of the external and ontogenetic event of the primal scene seems to be important for Freud initially, because he is trying to establish what in the Wolf Man’s unconscious is pathogenic - what makes his wolf dream so unsettling. Another seemingly contingent or arbitrary element of the Wolf Man’s development also seems to be at the core of his pathology according to Freud – his identification with his mother, although the source of this identification is left unclear. Regardless of the source of his identification with his mother, the "it does not matter" of Freud’s 1918 addendum to the Wolf Man case (regarding the nature of the primal scene), creates a contradictory  logic which conflicts with the logic of the initial writing of the Wolf Man case history in 1914 - where it did matter; where the contingent event, that which is supposedly unique to the Wolf Man and will explain his unique psychology, was the memory of an event and the basis of an etiological narrative. At the core of this conflict is the relationship to contingency of Freud’s arguments and the masterplots for which he argues. If we are all endowed with a determinist phylo-"genetic" pre-programming, what separates the neurotic from the normal would depend on ontogenetic, "exogenic" contingency - though it is difficult to see how this contingency could have an impact on psychic reality within Freud’s "it does not matter" paradigm.

Freud’s Wolf Man case can be read as an ultimately internally conflicted argument - first for the importance of infantile sexuality directed at Jung and Adler; and secondly, for the importance of primal phantasies for determining this reality when he realised that "reconstructions" of events at age 1 ½ years cannot escape sounding like the analyst’s constructions. Given the significance of infantile sexuality and phylogeny for Freud during the war years (and how both of these issues were associated with Jung and the emotional break up between them), these factors – their interrelatedness and how they manifest in the Wolf Man case in a way that makes the text conflict with itself – should not be marginalised in any reading of the case history. Whereas infantile sexuality and the conflict with Jung are often kept front and centre in readings of the Wolf Man case, it is impossible to interpret Freu’s interpretation in a way unfettered by the marginalisation and neglect of phylogeny’s role in creating the conflict of logics between the initial writing in 1914 and the addition of 1918. In Fictions of the Wolf Man, Brooks argues:

[I]n the place of a primal scene we would have a primal phantasy, operating as event by deferred action. And Freud refers us at this point to his discussion of the problem in the Introductory Lectures, where he considers that such primal phantasies may be a phylogenetic inheritance through which the individual reaches back to the history of mankind, to a racial "masterplot.

The "origin of origin" for the post-war Freud is his primaeval "man," and the androcentrism here is intended. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920) it will be the simplest form of life, a plotting that attempts to go beyond human kind, beyond a "racial masterplot." Freud is more an "archeologist of the mind" during the war years, whereas in Beyond the Pleasure Principle he is more a "philosopher of life," despite his railings against philosophers and his disavowal of their influence on his writing.

The essential primaeval man, like the infant and the primary process, knows no deferral; no difference between thought and action. He acts on his desires without hesitation. He is imbued with sexuality and knows no limits as to whom he can pursue as a sexual partner. Once he is a part of the primal horde however, the primal father has blocked his access to potential sexual objects. Freud’s primal man is essentially a primal son - an Oedipus. The primal father is totemic. The subject mother/sister/wife/daughter is largely absent: she is reduced to an object of exchange. Parricide leads to access to all the potential sexual objects, including and especially the primal mother. Cannibalising the primal father is not just vengeance, but a process of incorporation, something more profound than identification and related to the process of mourning. The guilt the primal son feels follows this incorporation and is transformed into totemic law (eating of the totem), especially in the form of structures of exogamy and the punishment of castration for transgression of these structures of law. Castration is the punishment for going outside these boundaries, but it can also describe the state of those that do transgress – not the effects of punishment necessarily, but the effects of simply transgressing the structures of the law. This is the state of being the sons experienced - the trauma, after they transgressed the original law of the father. The law erected by the sons is not arbitrary, but repeats the effects of their original deed: it tries to fix it, work through their trauma, totemically and symbolically. As a threat of punishment for transgression, castration is associated with both that which structures and the trauma of going beyond those structures. As a totemic symbol, we might call castration a trauma-structure trope. Not only do we have the Oedipus complex encoded here in Freud’s primaeval man theories, but we also have its resolution in the Symbolic of the Law of the Father (Lacan) - the polymorphous perversity of the infant-man-son (trauma castration) is transformed into civilised man of the totemic father-law (structure castration).

If trauma is defined as a puncturing, that which disrupts a certain order by breaking its boundaries and creating chaos in its structures, a symbol of trauma would seem paradoxical - how could there be a universal symbol of disorder? Freud makes this symbol ‘castration’ - the absence of the penis-phallus, an opposition of a specific absence to a specific presence. Freud consistently conflates the penis with the phallus, in a similar vein to how he tends to conflate that which is psychically real (because it is inherited phylogenetically) and what is "externally" and ontogenetically "real." Freud writes about trauma and its relationship to castration in Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety (1926). Here, Freud treats that which he had earlier presented as a childhood sexual fantasy - that females have been castrated - as something quite "real":

Furthermore, is it absolutely certain that fear of castration is the only motive force of repression (of defense)? If we think of neurosis in women we are bound to doubt it. For though we can with certainty establish in them the presence of a castration complex, we can hardly speak with propriety of castration anxiety where castration has already taken place. 

Freud makes little distinction between exogenic and endogenic dangers : 

We should not be threatened with castration if we did not entertain certain feelings and intentions within us. Thus, such drive-impulses are determinants of external dangers and so become dangerous in themselves … the external (real) danger must also have managed to become internalized if it is to be significant for the ego. It must have been recognized as related to some situation of helplessness that has been experienced. 

Castration assumes the position of, not a danger, but as danger itself, due to both its endogenic and exogenic "reality," that which connects the phylogenetic and ontogenetic.
Freud wrote in 1912:

Every internal barrier of repression is the historical result of an external obstruction. Thus: the opposition is incorporated within; the history of mankind is deposited in the present-day inborn tendencies to repression.

The "external obstructions" of the primaeval horde can be linked to the primally repressed, which, Freud argued, like a magnet, pulls from the unconscious, and pulls on like material that reaches consciousness. Repression requires both a pull and a push. Besides being another indication of his commitment to thinking of repression as the interdiction of translating one identity into another; one position into another (op)position, this push-pull concept of primal and secondary repression suggests a necessary identity between endogenic reconstructions of phylo-"genetic" memory  - phantasy and exogenic reconstructions of ontogenic memory-phantasy. The identity would be as necessary as repression and meaning.

Two of the primal phantasies – the primal scene and seduction – constitute a matrix of positive drives and aims. The primal scene positions the parents as sexual objects, images of sexuality and sexual difference. Seduction denotes the aim of having sex with the sexual object. Seduction and primal scene seem to constitute what Freud called the "sexual instincts." Castration negatively denotes the basis for all of what Freud calls the "ego instincts": the whole (masculine) body being the basis of "the bodily ego" and the "ego ideal." The primal phantasies combine the dualism of sexual instincts/ego instincts (self-preservative instincts), which was Freud’s dualist position on the instincts prior to Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Obviously the primal phantasies are primeval - being phylo-"genetic" they would constitute a transcendental (always already) "origin" prior to any ontogenetic origin, including the "original experience of satisfaction," which inaugurates the primal process and the pleasure principle through its binding of the perceptual identity. The original experience of satisfaction is often assumed to be the feeling of satisfaction at the breast. With phylogeny included in the process, a satisfaction that precedes the establishment of the pleasure principle becomes less enigmatic, at least superficially. Regarding the satisfaction of being fed, the primal phantasy of a sexual connection to the mother can serve as the basis for an "original experience of satisfaction" of the real thing. In other words, regardless of who or what feeds the baby, the satisfaction of being fed could be "experienced" and "remembered" as satisfying a desire to be sexually connected to the mother. The perceptual identity would, therefore, be determined to be one of sexual connection to the mother regardless of "mere contingency." Of course, this logic suggests that the reality principle could indeed be (according to Freud’s logic) a "psychical reality" principle, since all of the obstacles to immediate repetition of the "original experience of satisfaction" would be encoded in the obstacles to such satisfaction inaugurated by the primal sons after the primordial crime. In other words, the "no" of the father during the Oedipal years would also be independent of "mere contingency," and therefore the reality principle would be significantly, if not totally, determined by phylogeny. These phylo-"genetically" encoded obstacles of reality would act like the required pre-established Qn in the Project, which foresees the quantity required to meet the "exigencies of life," and thus establishes the ego: a similar logic to the push-pull logic of primal repression, where what comes from the "outside" is matched by what waits for it on the inside (predetermined, foreseeing). These phylo-"genetic" encodings, according to the logic of the Wolf Man case history, among other writings by Freud, would have precedence over the contingencies of life, such as being bottle fed, not witnessing your parents having sex, or not being afraid or anxious about castration. This line of reasoning returns us to the questions of Freudian theory and the beyonds of "external reality" and the depths of the unconscious. Freud’s phylo-"genetic" masterplot reduces these beyonds to its own logic: it moves toward totality. The only context for significance within this masterplot would be in terms of its origins and the phantasmatic structures of that origin. Thus the only events that matter are those that can be reduced to the code of this masterplot. Since psychic reality is privileged by Freud–it is the only reality that matters – all "events" are reduced to its code, even traumatic ones.

Sulloway interpreting Freud’s phylogeny as "biogenetic”, states:

Also from the vantage point of his biogenetic-Lamarckian presuppositions, Freud was able to attribute to "pure phantasy" a degree of traumatic force that was otherwise missing from his general [psychoanalytic] etiological framework. Writing in “Civilization and Its Discontents”, Freud later insisted that the potentially pathological overreactions of children to their oedipal situation were hardly surprising when properly understood as a brief repetition of the more severe experiences with the terrible father of phylogeny. Similarly, he rationalized the traumatic nature of castration threats by appealing to "a phylogenetic memory-trace" of the actual deed, which long ago was performed by the jealous father of the primal horde whenever his sons became overly troublesome as sexual rivals.

Though the introduction of phylogeny and ultimate-causal narratives solve some of Freud’s problems – especially with respect to the repetition he posits at his origins, and the contingency of "external reality" not necessarily providing the scenes proper to his masterplot – they are also fraught with problems. For example, what might cause the non-resolution of the Oedipus complex (which is phylogenically inherited regardless of individual experience) is unclear given Freud’s privileging of the "psychic reality" of these primal fantasies-memories over the "reality" of the individual child’s unique experiences. More to the point here, the "traumas" of the primal phantasies are supposedly necessary for the normalcy of the sexual development of the child, whereas in the "seduction" etiology they were the source of pathology, that which disrupted the proper development. For example, the "no" of the symbolic father, an aspect of the primal phantasy of castration, would recall both the castration of the primal sons prior to their parricide–that is, the fantasy-memory of the primal trauma–and the flip side of this trauma, the totemic law. Whence the neurosis if the trauma associated with what disrupts proper development is also the foundation of the structure of that development? If a priori trauma and structure are combined, so are pathogen and normalcy. In the "seduction" etiology, the "scene" represents a violence from "external reality," and the psychic conflict arises with a psychic change: the pre-sexual child becomes sexual in puberty, and so gives the memory of "seduction" a new context and therefore a new and unacceptable meaning and repression and neurosis ensues. The neurotic in this case is thus differentiated from the norm by the violent event of early childhood–that is, the chance violence that was forced onto the child and diverted from its normal developmental path. In the psychoanalytic etiology, the "scene" is ultimately psychic. What could possibly cause deviation in such a hermetic system?

It is understandable why Freud would like trauma and neurosis.  However, as early as 1918 he could recognise problems with the case study:

If one considers the behavior of the four-year-old child towards the reactivated primal scene, or even if one thinks of the far simpler reactions of the one-and-a-half-year-old child when the scene was actually experienced, it is hard to dismiss the view that some sort of hardly definable knowledge, something, as it were, preparatory to an understanding, was at work in the child at the time. We can form no conception of what this may have consisted in; we have nothing at our disposal but the single analogy – and it is an excellent one – of the far-reaching instinctive [instinktiv] knowledge of animals.

Seizing upon Freud’s uncertainty in this regard, Lacan in Seminar XI (1964) discusses Freud’s theory of trauma and neurosis in the context of the dialectic of the primal scene: 

[A]fter all, why is the primal scene so traumatic? Why is it always too early or too late? Why does the subject take either too much pleasure in it – at least, this is how at first we conceived the traumatizing causality of the obsessional neurotic – or too little, as in the case of the hysteric? Why doesn’t it arouse the subject immediately, if it is true that he is so profoundly libidinal?

To ask why the primal scene is always either “too early or too late” is suggestive of the assumption that there is a right time, a perfect moment, for the primal scene to take place (which Lacan apparently equates with the subject’s introduction to sexuality). But Lacan’s point is that the primal scene only seems too early or too late from the perspective which thinks of sexuality as natural, whereas Lacan famously views human beings as “dis-adapted”. This dis-adaption is traumatic, in the strict sense that trauma then becomes bound-up in a relation of either too much (obsessional neurosis) or too little (hysteria) enjoyment.

Mollon (1937) argues that some of Freud’s comments on the analyst’s methods of reconstructing repressed material may have led people to believe that “video-like representations of early events were preserved in memory” and he cites Freud’s archaeological metaphor: “All the essentials are preserved; even things that seem completely forgotten are present somehow and somewhere, and have merely been buried and made inaccessible to the subject” Mollon states that “on first reading” it could be assumed that Freud meant that “the psychoanalyst’s search was for a buried ‘psychical object’ such as a memory of an event.” However, he continues, what Freud actually gives as a hypothetical example is “the reconstruction not of external but of internal events, essentially the data of introspection and empathy”. But citing Freud’s describing the reconstruction of a patient’s feelings in childhood does not refute the contention that he held that repressed impressions of actual occurrences in childhood can also be uncovered in analysis, as Mollon seems to be suggesting in this passage. In Introductory Lectures (1916–1917) Freud alluded to the reconstructing of memories of various events that had been repressed by patients and in the Dora and Wolf Man case histories, he claimed to have analytically reconstructed specific childhood occurrences that were retained in the patients’ unconscious minds. More generally, he asserted that:

The material of analysis of some patients has enabled us to reconstruct certain external happenings, certain impressive events of their childhood years, of which they have preserved no conscious memory. (Freud, 1926)

Mollon claims that Freud’s observation of dreams revealed that all kinds of impressions from experiences throughout life may be stored in some way within the brain and are available for use by dreams. However, he argues: 

[T]his does not mean that it is possible to recover those memories in a conscious, coherent and accurate form.” Since Freud’s view is that dreams scavenge elements “promiscuously from diverse experiences and impressions...[they]can hardly be viewed as a route to the discovery of historical reality.” 

It is certainly true that Freud viewed dreams as an amalgam of diverse elements, but he also contended that they reproduce fragments (and sometimes more) of actual experiences and more generally, that “the dream-life knows how to find access to . . . latent, infantile experiences” as exemplified by the supposed early childhood experience of the Wolf Man. It is true that Freud’s view was that memories of early childhood contain falsifications. However, rather than seeing inaccurate memories as the product of a reconstructive process over time, as is generally held to be the case in modern theories, he asserted that they were formed at a specific later date in the course of a process of repression (1899, 1906 & 1909).

Freud defines the basic idea of repression in Repression (1915) as follows: The essence of repression lies simply in turning something away, and keeping it at a distance, from the conscious.” Mollon notes that this definition:

Does not imply that the process of repression is necessarily completely unconscious to begin with, nor that it is completely successful. It could well start with a person’s deliberate effort to put something painful out of their mind, or not to think about. This is not unusual or mysterious. Cognitive therapists call this ‘cognitive avoidance’. 

However, this attempt to align Freud’s theories with modern ideas is too simplistic. Freud certainly wrote about the conscious suppression of memories, thoughts and impulses (especially in his early psychoanalytic publications), but in later writings the emphasis tended to be on their repression at an unconscious level. On the case of the Wolf Man, he stated:

The instinctual impulse subjected to repression here is a libidinal attitude towards the father, coupled with a fear of him. After repression, this impulse vanishes out of consciousness: the father does not appear in it as an object of libido. As a substitute for him we find in a corresponding place some animal which is more or less fitted to be an object of anxiety. The formation of the substitute for the ideational portion [of the instinctual representative] has come about by displacement along a chain of connections which is determined in a particular way. The quantitative portion has not vanished, but been transformed into anxiety. The result is fear of a wolf, instead of a demand for love from the father. (Freud, 1915)

Freud is saying that the boy’s libidinal desire for his father was repressed into his unconscious, and that the sexual impulse was transformed into an animal phobia. It sounds vaguely plausible - if one can accept the idea of infant boys experiencing homosexual desires for their father and an outdated theory of psychical processes analogous to a hydraulic model of energy transformation. It is obviously crucial to discover how Freud actually uncovered the repressed idea or instinctual impulse that is central to his exposition. Turning to the Wolf Man case study, the clinical evidence is the recollection of the dream wolves. According to Freud’s ideas, this dream to which the Wolf Man (or Freud) kept returning represents some memory or unconscious phantasy that is so disturbing it has to be concealed by a seemingly innocuous conscious idea (the wolf-dream). Freud interpreted it as a disguised representation of a memory of the boy’s parents copulating, on which occasion the infant was seized with horror at the sight of his mother sans penis. This activated severe castration anxiety, which suppressed his negative Oedipus complex, i.e. his homosexual libidinal desires for his father, what Freud described in the case history as his “wish to be copulated with by his father”. Following the sight of his parents copulating, “both his father and mother became wolves” and the infant boy later “identified himself with his castrated mother during the dream”. By some mechanism not entirely clear, under the pressure of his castration anxiety, the libidinal desire for his father was repressed and the boy developed a wolf phobia. One looks in vain for any empirical ground on which Freud’s analysis can be supported. His argument for the repression process is circular. The presumption of repression is used to justify the search for, and uncovering of, the traumatic experience, and the inferred repressed ideas purportedly explain the repression process. The only firm evidence provided is the wolf-dream and subsidiary information - and even this proves to be unreliable. We now know that the wolves in the dream were actually dogs, and there are serious doubts as to whether the patient even had a wolf phobia (Esterson, 1993). A theory of repression based on analyses like the Wolf Man example can scarcely be said to have much of a solid empirical foundation. Mollon gives the orthodox psychoanalytic view that Freud should be commended for recognizing that “phantasies about childhood can be misperceived as true recollections” – i.e. false memories.

Critics, beginning with Otto Rank so far back as 1926, questioned the accuracy and efficacy of Freud's psychoanalytic treatment of Pankejeff, the Wolf Man. Daniel Goleman, stated the following in the New York Times:

Freud's key intervention with the Wolf Man rested on a nightmare in which he was lying in bed and saw some white wolves sitting on a tree in front of the open window. Freud deduced that the dream symbolized a trauma: that the Wolf Man, as a toddler, had witnessed his parents having intercourse. Freud's version of the supposed trauma, however, was contradicted by the Wolf Man himself, Sergej Pankejeff, in an interview with Karin Obholzer, a journalist who tracked him down in Vienna in the 1970s. 

Pankejeff saw Freud's interpretation of his dream as 'terribly far-fetched.' He said, 'The whole thing is improbable,' since in families of his milieu young children slept in their nanny's bedroom, not with their parents. Pankejeff also disputed Freud's claim that he had been cured, and said he resented being 'propaganda' and 'a showpiece for psychoanalysis' He claimed: “That was the theory, that Freud had cured me 100 percent...It's all false.”

Torok and Abraham have also reinterpreted the Wolf Man's case, presenting their notion of "the crypt" and what they call “cryptonyms." They provide a different analysis of the case than Freud, whose conclusions they criticise. According to the authors, Pankejeff's statements hide other statements, while the actual content of his words can be illuminated by looking into his multi-lingual background. According to the authors, Pankejeff hid secrets concerning his older sister, and as the Wolf Man both wanted to forget and preserve these issues, he encrypted his older sister, as an idealised "other" in the heart of himself, and spoke these secrets out loud in a cryptic manner, through words hiding behind words, rebuses, wordplays etc. For example, in the Wolf Man's dream, where six or seven wolves were sitting in a tree outside his bedroom window, the expression "pack of six", a "sixter" = shiestorka: siestorka = sister, which gives the conclusion that his sister is placed in the centre of the trauma.

The case forms a central part of the second chapter of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus, titled "One or Several Wolves?" In it, they repeat the accusation made in Anti-Oedipus that Freudian analysis is unduly reductive and that the unconscious is actually a "machinic assemblage". They argue that wolves are a case of the pack or multiplicity and that the dream was part of a schizoid experience:

"The greatest triumph and cure Freud reported was the case of the Wolf man - Sergei Pankeev, who was crippled with depression and anxiety and phobia about wolves from childhood. Freud settled upon the traumatic effects of the so-called primal scene, when an infant witnesses his parents copulating; the Oedipus complex and the fear of castration; and the tripartition of the mind into id, ego, and superego. As is general knowledge, Freud made castration anxiety and the Oedipus complex not merely the cause of neurosis but the indispensable, universal cause of the formation of each individual’s superego, and thus the crucial factor in the repression and control of primitive impulses - and so in the preservation of civilization. Freud published the case in 1918 where he claimed to have cured Pankeev completely, freeing him of all of his fears and obsessions, however, the status of his cure is debatable. For nearly 70 years, Pankeev was in and out of analysis with Freud and his followers with his condition worsening, until Freud's death. In 1970s, an Austrian journalist, Karin Obholzer, found him and interviewed him at length. Pankejeff told her, in despair: “The whole thing looks like a catastrophe. I am in the same state as when I came to Freud, and Freud is no more.”

1 comment:

  1. Wow. This piece of work is amazing. Thanks, thanks, thanks. Really well done.

    --Michael Ryan