Freud on Repetition Compulsion and Erotic Transference

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I wanted to make a couple of comments on some papers I read tonight by Freud on transference. In class, my professor assigned us to read his groundbreaking paper Recollection, Repetition and Working Through (1914) along with Observations on Transference-Love (1915).

The first paper is simply brilliant. Freud argues that patients often compulsively repeat patterns that get enacted in the transference. As opposed to simply dismissing the transference as a re-enactment from childhood, the analyst is encouraged to help the patient work through the repetition. For Freud the key is to help the patient recollect and articulate the repressed elements that are leading to the repetitions which are being played out in the transference. Otherwise the patient is condemned to continue to repeat and act out without putting into words (i.e. recollect) what is driving these patterns of behavior. Those familiar with Deleuze will remember that he attempts to reverse this relationship in Difference and Repetition by arguing that repetition is original and repression secondary. Hence, for Deleuze we repress because we repeat, whereas for Freud we are doomed to compulsively repeat until the repression can be brought in consciousness (by analyzing the transference) to help the patient break the pattern.

The second paper is Freud’s exploration of the challenge many analysts had to confront when treating hysterical patients: erotic transference. Freud argues against two options: 1) to dismiss the erotic transference as infantile and perverse (of course for Freud all love is infantile in origin) and 2) to act out on the erotic transference. Rather Freud recognizes that the key is to work through the erotic transference to help the hysteric become aware of this pattern and the origins of these wishes. I found this particular quote by Freud fascinating, “[i]t has come to my knowledge that certain physicians who practise analysis frequently prepare their patients for the advent of a love-transference or even instruct them to ‘go ahead and fall in love with the analyst so that the treatment may make progress.’ I can hardly imagine a more nonsensical proceeding. It robs the phenomenon itself of the element of spontaneity which is so convincing and it lays up obstacles ahead of which are extremely difficult to overcome” (Ellman, Freud’s Technique Papers, 68).

I cannot believe male analysts had the hubris to command their female patients to go ahead and develop to the erotic transferential feelings so they could get over that and begin the real work. Of course, this in all actuality is a defense and an avoidance of the real work of analysis, since the understanding of transference is key for psychoanalysis.

Finally, I wanted to reflect on the posture of the psychoanalyst in analysis. The holy trinity of qualities the analyst ascribes to is neutrality, abstinence, and anonymity. This of course leads to the stereotypes of the cold, aloof analyst who evinces no feelings of compassion or tenderness for his patients but functions as a withholding robot. The problem with this caricature is that fails to understand the limitations of these three qualities to the transference alone. For instance, some think Freud did not practice what he preached, when in one session, he offered the Rat-man a herring because the patient let Freud know that he was starving. The fact is that this does not violate the analytic stance because Freud is responding to the Rat-man’s needs like a real person. This food has nothing to do with transference but rather with the real relationship between patient and analyst. Relational analysts frequently critique the classical analyst as being inauthentic or unaware of the inherent structure of analysis, namely that two people are in the room both with unique subjectivities. However, I think I’m in agreement with Freud that the relationship between the analyst and patient is not wholly defined by transference, and hence the analyst can respond in empathic ways outside of the transference-countertransference matrix.

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