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August 20, 2006

Long live Nietzsche!

“I love that which makes [humanity] more than we are!” So Nietzsche proclaims in his first encounter with Dr. Josef Breuer (Freud’s mentor) in Irvin D. Yalom’s absorbing imagination. The protagonists, their characteristics, and the intellectual trends of When Nietzsche Wept are “grounded in fact” and “historically in place”(307, author’s afterword) although in fact “Friedrich Nietzsche and Josef Breuer never met” (307).

Breuer challenges the passion and reverence for ‘the truth’ apparent in Nietzsche’s “holy tone.” “’Truth,’ Nietzsche [had said], ‘is arrived at through disbelief and skepticism, not through a childwishing something were so.” Nietzsche rebuts Breuer’s challenge thus: ”It is not the truth that is holy, but the search for one’s own truth! Can there be a more sacred act than self-inquiry?” (68).

The two intellectuals are reveling in the directness of their discourse: “Usually what is not asked is the important question!” Breuer exclaims (67). They disagree – based on the perspective of their different disciplines? – regarding whether unasked questions ought still to be answered.

Earlier, Breuer chooses not to engage an “ex-cathedra distinction between the realms of illness and being.” Neitzche has proclaimed, “I have black periods. Who has not? But they do not have me. They are not of my illness, but of my being. One might say I have the courage to have them.” These periods are sometimes preceded by a day of “feeling dangerously good” (emphasis in original, 56).

Yalom’s genius is to illustrate the “talking cure” which becomes popularized as psychoanalysis when Breuer and Freud co-publish Studies in Hysteria in 1894. These fictional conversations between Nietzsche and Breuer are situated a dozen years earlier, in 1882. From the description of Breuer’s method, one can perceive the outline of discourse analysis: ‘[listen] carefully to the patient’s free-form description….systematically investigat[e]…..never [omit] any part [of all functional systems] … allow intuition full rein and … make all other inquiries that [the] data thus far suggest[s]” (54-55).

Notes on home: “My whole life has become a journey, and I begin to feel that my only home, the only familiar place to which I will always return, is my illness” (51) and “My home is my steamer trunk. I am a tortoise and carry my home on my back. I place it in the corner of my hotel room and when the weather becomes oppressive, I hoist it and move to higher, drier skies”(61)

on interpreters in general: “Interpreters of texts are always dishonest – not intentionally, of course – but they cannot step outside their own historical frame. Nor, for that matter, out of their autobiographical frame” (52, note: there is more).

on dreaming: “Perhaps dreams can express either wishes or fears. Or maybe both…Will a dream once dreamed change to accommodate changes in the dreamer’s life?” (39).

on neurobiochemistry: “Once the excess cerebral electrical charge responsible for symptoms is discharged through emotional catharsis, then the symptoms behave properly and promptly vanish!” (42) known as “chimneysweeping” (41)

on the labor of the intellectual: “reading…pouring all this knowledge into the brain through a three-millimeter aperture in the iris” (37).

One thing I question, based on Billig’s investigation of Freudian Repression: Conversation Creating the Unconscious, is the openness with which Breuer and Freud discuss anti-semitism. Although this imaginary conversation is many years prior to the Nazi campaign…I suppose it is possible that what was once an acceptable topic (the recognition of anti-semitism and its manifestations) could become less so over time. Billig’s fascinating argument is that Freud himself repressed his own awareness/recognition of anti-semitism, but his conclusion is even more stunning: that Freud’s investigation of the mechanism of repression illustrates that it occurs through talk (not via some imaginary structure in the brain which he invented and gave substance by providing labels – i.e. that he brought into being also through talk). The act of repetition seals what is remembered or forgotten.

Posted by Steph at August 20, 2006 3:16 AM


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