Confronted with such deviousness, Swales began to undergo the worst crisis of his life. Through Sigmund Freud, he began to confront "the monster that existed in myself" — his own addictive powers of manipulation. "There was certainly a subjective drive in my work," Swales concedes, "but there wasn't a bias or a tendency — that would be a corrupt way of looking at it. Rather, I had had experiences that enabled me to liquefy my assets in doing business with Sigmund Freud."
Unearthing extraordinary and controversial information on the origins of psychoanalysis, but ill equipped to evaluate it properly, Swales felt like an Englishman washed up at the ends of the earth. "The insights, the revelations I was getting were too powerful for me to deal with at that time," he says. By May 1975, Swales had moved to New Mexico, where "somewhat reluctantly and rather to my surprise, I had to confront the fact that I was an intellectual, and that if there was one thing I was good at, it had to do with the realms of ideas and research."
In February 1976, he returned to his parents' home in Haverfordwest, Wales, where he spent the next forty-six months at a desk in a chilly attic wrestling with a demon — Sigmund Freud. "What you must understand," he says, "is that I sat there through the night until six in the morning for nearly four years. I wasn't living in Wales in the modern world at all. I was living in nineteenth-century Vienna in the world of Sigmund Freud."
Reading through all of Freud's writings, along with associated literature from dozens of obscure Austro-German medical journals, Swales began to reassemble the scattered fragments of Freud's early life in precise chronological order. He concentrated on the decades before the virtual completion of Freudian psychology in 1905-1906, and especially on Freud's self-analysis in the years 1897 to 1901. Surveying the principal books in Freud's life in conjunction with his letters, Swales discovered not a man of science but an inventor of personas, much like Mick Jagger, only much more complex and grandiose — a man counterfeiting history by passionately reliving aspects of the lives of Don Quixote, Faust, Don Juan, Hannibal, Napoleon, Leonardo da Vinci, Moses and Oedipus.
Swales also discovered enormous hiatuses in the factual knowledge of Freud and his circle, in part because of Freud's own reluctance to divulge much about his personal life. One avenue for remedying this situation had been opened by a German scholar, Siegfried Bernfeld, in a crucial paper written in 1946. Correlating known biographical data on Freud with the facts of an 1899 case study, "Screen Memories," Bernfeld proved that the paper was actually a disguised autobiographical fragment from Freud's own self-analysis: Freud had fraudulently played the part of analyst and patient at once. Swales now began to follow Bernfeld's example, examining the suppressed relationships between Freud's scientific papers and his life and mind. By assuming that psychoanalysis was based largely on autobiographical insights, Swales gradually began to uncover what he calls "a royal road" for confronting an entirely new conception of the man.
A few months before arriving in Wales, Swales had examined the "Aliquis episode," in Freud's The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901), in a chapter concerned with the unconscious motives of forgetting. Freud encounters a young man on a holiday and successfully analyzes why the man has forgotten a word from a line from Virgil: "Exoriare aliquis nostris ex ossibus ultor" — "Let someone [aliquis] rise up from my bones as an avenger!" Freud explains, with preposterous insight, that this tiny lapse represents an unconscious expression of the man's fear that a certain young lady may miss her menstrual period. "It stank," says Swales. "It was too good to be true."
Swales began his own analysis by noting remarkable similarities between the young man and Freud himself, and concluded that this presumed self-analysis could only have taken place during Freud's 1900 trip to the Alps with his sister-in-law, Minna Bernays. The possibility that Freud may have conducted an affair and worried about a pregnancy afterward found support in statements by Carl Jung, who claimed in 1957 that Minna had confessed the relationship to him. "I was inclined to think, well, what guy who went off on at least twelve documented occasions on holidays to beautiful regions in the Alps with his wife's sister, beginning when he's forty-four and she's thirty-five and at the prime of her life, and with whom he has a strong intellectual rapport — my gut reaction was, well, if the man didn't fuck her, then he's got to be nuts."
Swales' suspicions were deepened in November 1977, through a rereading of an avowedly autobiographical dream analysis from Freud's On Dreams, published soon after his 1900 trip with Minna. Freud interprets his own dream as an expression of a wish for an experience of love that for once would cost him nothing.
Swales surmised that this could only be a reference to the medical expenses Minna incurred at the Alpine spa and his own feelings of guilt and selfishness over the affair. Late one night a few weeks later, Swales reread another episode of misremembering in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, this time concerning a young man's misquotation of Goethe's poem "The Bride of Corinth." The poem concerns an Athenian youth who travels to Corinth to meet his future bride; her mother welcomes him into the house, then leaves him alone. Suddenly a beautiful maiden enters the room; they talk, drink wine and soon make love. The mother returns, horrified — because the young woman is not his betrothed, but his intended wife's sister. Swales believed that the man suppressing and misremembering certain crucial passages of the poem could only be Freud himself. Then it dawned on Swales that Freud must have conceived of himself as the mythical Corinthian, Oedipus, making incestuous love to a woman who lived in his house for forty years and acted as his children's surrogate mother. Minna became a disguised or reincarnated version of the legendary Catholic nursemaid of his youth, who played a crucial role in Freud's discovery of infantile sexuality and his invention of the Oedipal theory.
Swales then coupled this interpretation with another significant development in Freud's life: at the beginning of that fateful holiday in 1900, Freud had fallen out with his close friend and father substitute, Wilhelm Fliess, and indulged in murderous fantasies before breaking off their relationship forever. Thus Swales' complex, yet cogent, historical reconstruction had uncovered the biographical origins of a cornerstone of psychoanalytic theory: that Freud had consciously "murdered" his "father" and slept with his "mother" a decade before enshrining the Oedipal drama as a universal principle of human psychology.
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
MUSIC 9 Classic Devo Videos
OLYMPICS 18 Epic Opening Ceremonies
Picks From Around the Web
blog comments powered by Disqus