09/24/21: _Freud: The Secret Passion_ and The Problem of Self-Analysis


John Huston’s 1962 film Freud: The Secret Passion follows a young Sigmund Freud during the prime developmental years of psychoanalysis, when Freud began to advance his provocative theories regarding Oedipal conflict and infantile sexuality. In this respect, the film functions as a biographical account of these years, in the style of mid 20th century Hollywood melodramas. Nevertheless, the same question that we raised while interpreting 1926’s Secrets of a Soul remains: how is it possible to make a “psychoanalytic film,” especially when the film (Freud) confronts the kernel of both psychoanalytic origin and mystery that is Freud’s self-analysis? Freud’s self-analysis in The Interpretation of Dreams was foundational to the generation of the modernist symbolic penetration of dreams, an event unexplored since, what Freud calls, “the rejection of the [so-called pre-scientific] mythological hypothesis” (143). From his admiration of mythological meaning-making through that which evades it, Freud’s detailing of the dream-work processes of displacement and condensation was interested in the confused elements of dreams that were dismissed simply by “empirical” claims. In the case of the analytic work, the dream-work which processed latent thoughts to (oftentimes nonsensical) manifest content must be reversed, in order to make conscious what is unconscious in the psyche. The difficulty of analytic work is thus the ruse of the representative images which must be transmitted to the state of spoken signifiers and which unconsciously compel a projection of affect from the analysand towards the analyst. The latter element of analytic work, transference, is undoubtedly important in the relational aspect of the singular symptoms of the neurotic analysand. Freud’s self-analysis, as demonstrated in the “Irma’s Injection” dream, is respectably candid, though the significance of transference in analytic work raises the question of who Freud may have utilized, whether intentionally or not, as a transferential Other. Could there be a transferential relationship between Freud and the public of which he (albeit reservedly) expressed his dreams towards? Could there be a chance that Freud’s relationships with his analysands were reciprocally transferential, especially with regard to his earlier patients such as Elizabeth von R.? The latter question is the question that Huston’s Freud touches on in an interesting scene between Freud and fictional analysand Cecily.

Freud: The Secret Passion‘s depiction of transference between Freud and a fictional analysand Cecily features a scene in which Freud asks Cecily during a session about a past incident in which she fainted. This question is spurred by Freud’s own interest in the triggers of fainting, following his own recent incident where he fainted in front of the cemetery where his deceased father was to be laid to rest. This scene highlights the intriguing component of Freud’s self-analysis, which is his investment in the signifiers of his (female) analysand with the goal of self-analysis, and thus with the higher goal of developing psychoanalysis as a theory. Working through Cecily as a means towards theory, (the fictional) Freud’s own relationship with Cecily could possibly be viewed as, at least partially, reverse-transferential, and, most certainly, filled with jouissance that disrupts the analyst’s position as the subject-supposed-to-know. In this way, Cecily, as the seductive, yet childlike and suffering, female subject of the film is almost a reversal of the femme fatale character of film noir cinema. Cecily’s psyche and body are used by the analysts to discover a deeper truth, or more specifically the “secret passion” the film’s title refers to. The fictional scene may bring a truth out at the historical core of psychoanalysis and Freud’s enigmatic self-analysis: the convergence of Freudian psychoanalysis with the used (and arguably erased, if not [impossibly] subsumed) psychic suffering of women. What is psychoanalysis if not the question of the precarity of the pre-Symbolic mother, the Thing itself? Or, as Freud told Marie Bonaparte, “[t]he great question that has never been answered and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is ‘What does a woman want?'”

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