Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Reading Freud's "Dora" as Fiction

Ellen Gallagher's "Odalisque" 2005 considers the "male gaze" in psychotherapy. 
Last night, I attended a first class on "Freud as Fiction" led by novelist Sheila Kohler at the Center for Fiction. We're exploring five of Sigmund Freud's famous case studies through the lens of "fiction."  I'm new to reading Freud, aside from the comic references and parodies of my readings of Freud in Nabokov, who famously refers to Freud as the Viennese witchdoctor.

Last night's text was Dora: A Case of Hysteria. During my reading before class, I noticed a (truly minor) glimpse of the fascination with the "East" that dominated literary and cultural circles of the era (1905).  On page 7 of my Touchstone edition, Freud lists (with self-conscious literary flair) reasons why his case study of "Dora" is incomplete, concluding: "In the face of the incompleteness of my analytic results, I had no choice but to follow the example of those discoverers whose good fortune it is to bring to light of day after their long burial the priceless through mutilated relics of antiquity.  I have restored what is missing, taking the best models known to me from other analyses; but like a conscientious archaeologist, I have not omitted to mention in each case where the authentic parts end and my constructions begin. 

His main point in using this metaphor is "incompleteness."  While this minor aside could have been referencing any number of archaeological locations (my gut says East), what strikes me as relevant is the power of who gets to "preserve" and shape the standing narrative.  Unlike the earlier archeologists Freud compares himself to (and/or because he is "unburying" a person within his own culture), Freud more ably recognizes the vulnerability of his subject enough to at least state he wants to be sensitive and "conscientious," to not let his conjectures overshadow the "authentic" realities of the case.  (Authenticity is such a pet term for Orientalists). Yet, part of Kohler's lively discussion at the CFF considered how Freud's narrative framing and his presumed integration of "fact" and "conjecture," reveal a great deal more of Freud's own anxieties and habits are revealed his presumed "case study" of Dora. (I kept thinking, also, of Boswell and Johnson.)

In the text, Freud states that part of his goal in writing Dora is to build credibility for his previously published dream theory.  Freud, like the archeologists he mentions, is unable to see the whole partly because his own ambition is too visible.  While much is gained  by his trying, how much should the subject pay?

What I took from reading this text and the discussion is a new glimpse of Freud (the man and the habits of newly invented practice) and a glimpse into power structures of men and women and children in turn-of-the-century Vienna.  Like the classic Orientalists  and despite Freud's supposedly earnest intent, the bias and limitations of time and place shaped what Freud could see; and we as readers (who provide one more layer of this gaze at poor Dora) are equally bound by the limitations of 2014.

But....the focus of the class is Dora as fiction, and in this way the book is such a great read with the plot twists, doubles, and reversals that also mark Nabokov's fiction.  I kept seeing connections with Lolita: numerous references to one's "train of thought," the very self-conscious phrases in French and Latin, the numerous lake scenes, the accident of Herr K after Dora makes her charges of transgression to him and Frau K, much like Charlotte Haze (Lolita's mother) is killed by a slow-moving car after she learns of Humbert Humbert's true desires and for her daughter.  And, "Lolita's" given name, Dolores Haze appears in a list of her classmates surrounded by a "bodyguard of roses" (Mary Rose Hamilton and and Rosaline Honeck).  Kohler told us last night that the name Dora came to Freud when remembering a maid named Rosa that had to change her name to Dora because she and someone else in the household (Freud's sister perhaps) was also named Rosa.

Next we read Freud's "Little Hans."

(I found the Ellen Gallagher artwork "Odalisque" online in an article from Times Higher Education. ) This article is worth reading.

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