Sunday, February 5, 2017

A sort of Christmas present

‘When Freud said laughingly “I really think you look on analysis as a sort of Christmas present,” I could only agree.’ This is from the diary of Lou Andreas-Salomé, a Russian born writer, psychoanalyst and lover, who died 80 years ago today. She had very significant relationships/associations with several of the most important turn-of-the-century figures in Continental Europe - not least Nietzsche, Freud, and Rilke - and wrote about them in her autobiographical works. Diaries from only two short periods have been published, one concerning a journey with Rilke, and the other about her association with Freud.

Louise von Salomé was born in St Petersburg in 1861, the sixth child and only daughter of a former general in the Imperial Russian army. She grew up speaking French and German as well as Russian, and as a teenager found her first mentor, a Dutch-born minister named Hendrik Gillot. He taught her philosophy, theology and world religions. He confirmed her in the German Lutheran church, gave her the nickname of Lou, and nurtured in her a spirit of independence and self-regard. However, when the relationship broke down, her mother went with her to Zurich first, and then Rome. There she met two young philosophers, Paul Rée and Friedrich Nietzsche, both of whom fell in love with her. The three of them and Salomé’s mother travelled through Italy with the idea of finding a place to launch a commune, but they never did.

After a time, Salomé and Rée separated from Nietzsche and moved to Berlin to live together. Nietzsche’s work Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spoke Zarathustra) was written soon after the break-up, and was inspired by 
Salomé: According to the Dictionary of Literary Biography, he wrote, ‘My disciple became my teacher - the god of irony achieved a perfect triumph! . . . She inspired me with the thought of Zarathustra: my greatest poem celebrates our union, and our tragic separation.’ In 1885 she published, under a pseudonym, her first book, an autobiographical novel (Im Kampf um Gott). That same year, the relationship with Rée came to end. Two years later, she married linguistics scholar Friedrich Carl Andreas. She remained married to him until his death his 1930, though the marriage was never consummated, and the two separated in the late 1890s.

Andreas-Salomé continued to publish books, a study of Nietzsche in 1894, another novel in 1895, and collections of stories, often erotic. She had an affair with the Viennese doctor, Friedrich Pineles, and another, famously, with the much younger poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. In 1911, she met Sigmund Freud, with whom she studied and collaborated, writing essays on psychoanalytic theory. In 1913, she began to practice psychoanalysis, and by the early 1920s was widely recognised as an analyst. Partly as a result of an ongoing friendship with Rilke, she wrote several essays on psychology and creativity; she also wrote a play and further studies of authors she had known. She died on 5 February 1937. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Brainpickings, or 3:AM Magazine.

Andreas-Salomé started keeping notebooks when still a girl, and she certainly kept journals at some points in her adult life. However, I can only find published texts in English relating to two periods in her life: in 1900 during a trip to Russia with Rilke, and in 1912-1913 while studying with Freud. The former was published in George C. Schoolfield’s Young Rilke and His Time (Camden House, 2009) - for more on Rilke’s own journals see Art but no artists.

The Freud Journal of Lou Andreas-Salomé, translated and with an introduction by Stanley A. Leavy, was published much earlier, in 1964, by Basic Books. The whole book can be read/downloaded freely from Monoskop (a wiki for collaborative studies of the arts, media and humanities). Here are two extracts.

9 December 1912
‘Adler writes me complaining of Stekel’s “disloyalty” - which I think is funny; it could not have been documented with greater speed. But he also complains of mine, and justly. We met and talked for two hours while racing all over town. But really it is perfectly possible to overcome all the differences between Freud and Adler insofar as Adler’s feeling of inferiority already comprises a primal repression experienced as a basic slight, and also insofar as Freud’s “repressed” is founded on psychized material which had already in the past attained consciousness. If we call this material “sexual” we do so by assuming it to be distinguished from “mental”; the two belong together to emphasize their duality. On the other hand, when Adler emphasizes the “ego protest,” he does so only by contrasting it with the murky totality which in a certain sense is sexuality. The mark of sexuality is that it may be viewed from two sides, from both the mental and the physical; it is here where all mental disorders and neuroses meet, as if at the point of intersection which exemplifies the whole. But only Freud has appropriated the word “compromise” for this, and only he has done justice to the double character of the process, even though he has predominantly emphasized the sexual side (especially in the beginning, when hysteria was under consideration). Only he has uncovered the intermediate range of unconscious mental functions, and only thereby has he succeeded in making room for the positive mechanisms of the process; and only this is important. Beyond merely elucidating illness, and led that far by the pathological process, we find our way into the mystery of the normal unconscious state, in which sexuality and the ego maintain their narcissistic union and the true enigma of mankind begins. For Adler there can be no enigma strictly speaking; he secs the ego confronted only by its own game.’

2 February 1913
‘Spent Sunday afternoon until evening at Freud’s. This time much more personal conversation, during which he told me of his life, and I promised to bring photographs next time. Most personal of all perhaps was his charming account of the “narcissistic cat.” While Freud maintained his office on the ground floor, the cat had climbed in through the open window. He did not care much for cats or dogs or animals generally, and in the beginning the cat aroused mixed feelings in him, especially when it climbed down from the sofa on which it had made itself comfortable and began to inspect in passing the antique objects which he had placed for the time being on the floor. He was afraid that by chasing it away he might cause it to move recklessly in the midst of these precious treasures of his. But when the cat proceeded to make known its archaeological satisfaction by purring and with its lithe grace did not cause the slightest damage, Freud’s heart melted and he ordered milk for it. From then on the cat claimed its rights daily to take a place on the sofa, inspect the antiques, and get its bowl of milk. However, despite Freud’s increasing affection and admiration, the cat paid him not a bit of attention and coldly turned its green eyes with their slanting pupils toward him as toward any other object. When for an instant he wanted more of the cat than its egoistic-narcissistic purring, he had to put his foot down from his comfortable chaise and court its attention with the ingenious enticement of his shoe-toe. Finally, after this unequal relationship had lasted a long time without change, one day he found the cat feverish and gasping on the sofa. And although it was most painstakingly treated with hot fomentations and other remedies, it succumbed to pneumonia, leaving naught of itself behind but a symbolic picture of all the peaceful and playful charm of true egoism.

Freud also talked about why I had become so deeply involved in psychoanalysis. To begin with, it was nothing but the kind of neutral objective interest that one feels when embarking on new researches. Then the opportunity came in all its liveliness and personal urgency to stand in the presence of a new science, again and again to be at a beginning and thus related to the problems of the science in an increasingly intimate way. What settled the matter for me, however, was the third and most personal reason that psychoanalysis bestowed a gift on me personally, its radiant enrichment of my own life that came from slowly groping the way to the roots by which it is embedded in the totality. When Freud said laughingly “I really think you look on analysis as a sort of Christmas present,” I could only agree, since for me it was not a question of resolving conflicts between the depth and the surface. And quite possibly neither joy nor anguish are ever so vividly impressed on us as when they proceed from the unconscious to the level of experience; just as bliss once enjoyed can be horribly transformed into pain in the course of the night, so too it is likely that the memory of hours of crucifixion may be transformed to a life beyond, a resurrection glistening with the stars. In the homeland of our emotional life it is true that heaven and hell - in other respects only fictions - are preserved for us in the unconscious as our eternal reality.’

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