The Intellectual Odyssey of Former Rolling Stones Promoter Peter Swales

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By the end of 1977, Swales considered himself in possession of a vast revisionist concept of Freud. He also felt a need to prove that he had his head screwed on right. Rereading all the early Freud literature, noting statements that might correlate with recorded history or possible testimony from living individuals, he began sending off dozens of inquiries in German and English — not only to scholars and historians but to anyone who might conceivably contribute recollections of Freud. "Within weeks I was getting twenty letters a day. Of course, this naturally stimulated me to want to travel very soon to see what had survived."

And so he was off on the first of eight trips to Europe, tracing the footsteps of Sigmund Freud. Surviving on shoestring budgets, borrowing cars and staying with his wife Julia's extended family and a number of scholars he had met through his prolific letter writing, the two spent literally hundreds of hours in archives and libraries, scavenging through monumental amounts of data from an age when people wrote letters as often as people today lift a telephone. Swales gradually began to accumulate reams of previously unknown information about Freud and his circle — including fifty family trees, vast material on the Bernays family and enough information to compose a biography of Wilhelm Fliess, of whom next to nothing had previously been known. There were numerous blind alleys and false leads, but also dozens of dramatic discoveries crucial to Swales' evolving portrait of Freud. He learned from the son of Fleiss' best friend, traced through the West Berlin phone book, that Fliess was convinced Freud had a plot to lure him to an Alpine precipice and toss him off. But Swales' most spectacular find concerned the identity of the most important patient of Freud's life — his "prima donna," his "teacher," whom he called in his writings Frau Cäcilie M.

From Freud's writings, Swales knew that Frau Cäcilie M. was a poet, and wealthy, and therefore in all likelihood published; it took him a year to realize that Freud might have possessed a copy of her work.

Scrutinizing a catalog of Freud's personal library from his home in Maresfield Gardens, London, he found that indeed there was a single collection of poems by a woman, Anna von Lieben, a close relative of an important acquaintance of Freud. Swales later learned from a descendant of von Lieben a previously unknown fact: that she was a morphine addict. Freud had visited her twice daily for three years to inject her with the drug, to "hasten the end" of her hysterical attacks. When Swales later obtained a copy of Freud's complete correspondence with Fliess, he would notice a hitherto deleted phrase from a previously published letter in which Freud declines to visit Berlin because of the need to care for his most important patient — "and during my absence," the line continues, "she may recover her health."

Swales continued to uncover information that had eluded scholars for generations, yet he increasingly came up against the restrictions the Freud establishment places on masses of material about Freud's life. The avowed purpose of these restrictions is to shield individuals and families who might be wounded by the confidential revelations obtained in psychoanalysis and to prevent selective quotation that might distort Freud's life and work. But the real reason, Swales argues, is to keep the establishment's version of Freud as a kind of Holy Writ that must be fiercely protected from direct inquiry.

In the summer of 1979, Swales' entrepreneurial resourcefulness as a researcher was rewarded: a recently acquired set of Freud's letters had mysteriously appeared on the unrestricted list at the Library of Congress. Swales immediately wrote away and received photocopies of two-thirds of them, along with a letter requesting that he apply to Dr. Kurt Eissler, director of the Freud Archives, for the rest. Needless to say, Swales did not hurry to write, but by February 1980, less than a month after returning from Wales to New York City, he at last contacted Eissler, only to learn that his coup had already been noticed.

Kurt Eissler is one of the world's preeminent psychoanalysts. A bluntly spoken yet distinguished Austrian Jew in his midseventies, he is upright in his conviction that Sigmund Freud was a near-perfect man — a view he has propounded in a shelf full of nearly unreadable books. Although Swales considered Eissler's obsession with Freud slightly daft, he held him in high esteem for the breadth of his purely factual knowledge.

At their first meeting, Eissler chastised Swales for obtaining copies of letters he had no right to see. Finally Eissler asked why he'd bothered, and Swales revealed the tip of the iceberg of his discoveries — omitting his more radical lines of inquiry. By the end of the hour, Eissler was enthusiastically offering him the first of two research grants. Swales had penetrated the sanctum sanctorum of Freudian scholarship and had won the support of the most powerful man in the Freud establishment; he felt like a spy about to fall upon the greatest cache of secret information in the world.

Within weeks, the projects director of the Freud Archives, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, contacted Swales with a request for information about a few of Freud's early patients. Masson was Eissler's goldenes Kind — his golden boy, a flamboyant, impulsive, often brilliant analyst who had been a professor of Sanskrit at the University of Toronto. To judge from Malcolm's book-length indictment of his character, Masson was a sociopathic charmer who had overwhelmed the better judgment of the stern Dr. Eissler — and of the close to 1000 women who had leaped into his bed. Swales knew next to nothing of Masson at this juncture, but he did know that he himself was in possession of secret information that would be vital to Masson's work as editor of the complete Freud correspondence with Wilhelm Fliess.

In addition to boxes of new Fliess material he had located in a basement in East Berlin, Swales had discovered that Fliess' daughter, alive and living in an old folk's home in Israel, had donated two huge stacks of Fliess' papers to the Hebrew Museum in Jerusalem — an invaluable repository of information previously unknown to scholars. It represented the kind of treasure that most historians stumble upon once in a lifetime, if at all. Now, in a correspondence that resembled "two dogs sniffing at each other," in Malcolm's phrase, Masson flattered Swales for his detective brilliance, while Swales waved scraps of information in Masson's face, hoping to be granted access to Freud correspondence crucial to his own Fliess biography. Finally, Masson promised to provide Swales with hundreds of restricted letters in exchange for everything that Swales knew. An agreement was struck, and Swales delivered his material.

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