Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sigmund Freud, "Three Case Histories

In Three Case Histories, Freud uses the case study genre to present his theory of reading and interpreting the complex language of the unconscious.
 “Notes Upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis”(Rat Man Case) as well as “From the History of an Infantile Neurosis (Wolf Man Case) develops techniques of interpreting obsessional neurosis by weaving the patients’ stories and explanations with the analyst’s own speculations.

In “Fragment of an Analysis of Hysteria” (Dora), Freud analyzes the impact of analyst-analysand emotions on analysis by developing the concepts of transference and counter transference.

Freud’s case histories raise some interesting questions about the ways in which language is represented through the patients'discourse.  At the opening of Dora, freud remarks: “to begin with a complete and rounded case history would be to place the reader in quite different conditions from those of the medical observer from the very first” (Psychology of Love, 12). The use of the conditional “would be” in the sentence creates a space from which Freud invites his reader to inhabit the context of the communication between the analyst (Freud) and the analysand (patients in the different case studies). As such, like the analyst, the reader has to work through the meaning of the story she/he is attending, listening to, and reading. In another Instance in the Rat Man case, Freud reiterates to the reader the necessity to move into the patient’s field of communication in order to be able to decipher the complex language of obsessions. He contends, “the reader must not expect to hear at once what light I have to throw upon the patient’s strange and senseless obsessions about the rats. The true technique of psychoanalysis requires the physician to suppress his curiosity and leaves the patient complete freedom in choosing the order in which topic shall succeed each other during the treatment” (33).  From the first sentence to the second one, the reader is integrated into the narrative and becomes substitute to the physician; the practice of reading becomes a meditation on the process of interpretation. As such, one may ask how is the discourse between Freud, the Rat Man and the reader framed ? How do the three of them inhabit the territory of the case history, with its persuasive power, claim to knowledge, and “openness” to subsequent interpretation?

As the Rat Man’s case history begins with detailed accounts of the first seven sessions in the Rat Man's treatment, Freud breaks off his narration, and introduces analytic sections on the patient's obsessional ideas; the cause of his illness; the father complex; and the solution of the rat idea, which is actually resolved in a long footnote. In the second "Theoretical" section of "the case history,” the topic is obsession or “compulsive ideas.” The evolutionary angle of the Rat Man case becomes then a movement from circumstantial record, through analytic summary, to generalized analysis. The main narrative device in the opening section is the patient's speech, related to the reader as it was presumably spoken to the analyst. As a result, the Rat Man’s case history establishes the field of communication between the analyst/ reader and analysand as a reading practice that foregrounds self reference. The latter gives room to displacement-the metonomy between reader and patient- which enables analyst/ reader and patient to work through patient’s memories and figure out their symbolic significations. As such Analyst/reader and patient play the role of signifiers. 

From reading Freud's Case Histories, i have come to realize that as a reader, my ability to understand and interpret psychoanalytic theory is to take the place of the analyst. Though Freud suggests it but does not seem to allow it, my task as a reader is to produce a subsequent analysis of Freud's interpretation of his patients' language.

1 comment:

  1. I like your insight about the alliance of the reader with the analyst in Freud's text, and think that your guiding question is astute. Yet, you could push your reading even closer to the text, working with a particular word or phrase that marks this proximity and positioning of reader/analyst and how that punctuates the chapter or even the case as a whole. Does this positioning happen only at the outset, or does it happen across the case history? Let your reading come more from what the text is telling you and what questions it presses you to raise. (the ones you pose, which are good questions, feel like they are coming from you rather than the text).