« October 2006 | Main | January 2007 »

December 29, 2006

your freud from behind

I did it! First attempt in APA (MLA my whole life and now they go and ask for different commas! of course formatting didnt translate to the blog posting)
Here is one of my final papers. Im gonna put as prologue another paper that I presented. It kinda is a good intro because it gives the perspective of Freud consideration Im comming from...what I mean is, whenever I write supposed pro-freud papers, I still have that residual feeling that I might be being a bad feminist. I do think that there were a lot more terrible mysoginist ass-holes than Freud (ie his daughter) but anyways: 1) "Freud as feminist" 2) "Is all love transference love?"
Please do comment...more academic than other stuff but, whatever, its another form.

Sigmund Freud stands as a symbol of his culture and his time as he gave expression to the thinking that was already in the air. He was not, however, just a spokesman. His articulation and synthesis of ideas formed a theory that represented a fundamental philosophical shift. Thought was turning away from positivism and towards a world-view that took into consideration motivations and factors that may not be visible but that, no less, are real. He considered a person’s past, their sex and sexuality, their culture and their myth and described how these things form an unconscious landscape impacting the individual at all levels. Whether he was wrong or right, Sigmund Freud gave language and voice to things that before had been seen as non-existent or unimportant, including differences between the sexes.

It may be striking to start a discussion on feminine/feminist psychology with Freud because his theories are sometimes considered phallocentric and even misogynist. The phallus is important to many of Freud’s theories because of his investigation of desire as arising from lack and he saw women’s apparent castration as their primary symbolic deficit.

Again, the accuracy of Freud’s arguments or their social helpfulness or hurtfulness is, in a sense, not the point. The point is that he started the conversation. He spoke from his (male) body, his culture and his time and gave men and women a chance to look at their subtext and surroundings and either agree or disagree. It could be said that Freud’s theories, in one sense, opened the door for thought about the feminine through papers like “Female Sexuality” and in his work with female clients diagnosed as hysterics. In another sense, with the pallocentric basis of his considerations, it could be said that he showed people the door that still stood closed and gave them the opportunity to kick it down.

Besides giving feminists a theory to push against, I think that Freud’s thought relates to the feminine and to feminism in a deeper and more basic way. Freud was a Feminist in that he spoke from the gaps; he spoke for what, so far, had gone unspoken and then spoke for the importance of all parts. Body and soul, feminine and masculine, unconscious and conscious, drives towards death and life; beneath cultural context, Freud’s theories acknowledge a sort of basic experiential dualism. There are factors that we know and there are factors that we may never know. Freud’s theories pointed to ways of engaging with the gaps and polarities that will always exist.


As I watched my opinions of Sigmund Freud shift during this course, I became interested in how varied our takes on a single person could be. My view of Freud now is quite different than it was a few months ago and is distinct from anyone else’s view as well. It was made clear at the beginning of the course that we were about to meet Christine Downing’s Freud (Downing, Lecture One, pg. 1). We would also be introduced to Bruno Bettelheim’s Freud, H.D.’s Freud, and---for each of us individually---the Freud of our own heart in each moment. I became interested in how Freud has become both a historical figure and an archetype. The archetype Freud is The Psychotherapist: it searches for reasons beneath the surface; it has a leather couch. It also seems that this archetypal Freud is the container for our projections about a particular aspect of the world. He is a fictional character that we role-play with in order to talk about ourselves.

My Freud, Downing’s Freud, and Bettelheim’s Freud are Freuds of transference. That is not to say that they are incorrect, but that they speak more about the world-view of the person considering Freud than to Sigmund Freud himself. This process, of course, is not unique. It is an example of the transference that goes on in any interaction at all. Studying the words of Freud confronts our perceptions and beliefs possibly getting us closer to understanding what he was really trying to say. However, it seems clear in this example, that we could never really know Freud, especially since all we have of him are translated bit of his work plus a mountain of other people’s opinions. It makes me wonder: is it ever possible to know anyone? And further: is all love transference love?

Sublimation is the chemical (or alchemical) transformation of one substance into another. In terms of psychology, sublimation refers to the diverting of “a sexual or other biological impulse from its immediate goal to another more acceptable moral or aesthetic nature or use” (Dictionary.com). In On Narcissism, Freud used the term in approaching the perhaps endless entanglement of ego-libido/interest and object libido (Freud 1914, 550-551). Sexual desire---which itself is a transformation of an even more basic physical desire---is sublimated “into metaphorical, imaginal expression” (Downing, Lecture Two, pg. 5).

Though sublimation refers directly to the transformation of sexual desire, Freud relates it to the uniquely human ability to create symbols in general. The words “metaphor” and “transference” mean to carry across, over or beyond (etymonline.com). I think that it is particularly beautiful, however, that the Freudian discussion of sublimation starts with sexuality. “Sexuality itself…begins as a metaphor—as a carrying-over from one domain to another” (Downing, Lecture Two, pg. 5). In the connecting of our capacities for sexuality and poetry, it seems that Freud tells us that everything has both a self-contained meaning and transcendent symbolic connections.

Our capacity for symbol, metaphor, and meaning-making are what make us human. However---returning to my question of if it is ever really possible to really know another---might this malleability of meaning and capacity for making connections also be what keeps us from being more deeply human? Sublimation, displacement and transference make for a rich, polyvalent, and artful understanding of existence, but might these layers of meaning and steps of distance also be what keeps us from actually meeting an other as an other rather than just as a symbol for something in one’s self?

I think that the sublimation process turns on us when we get lost in the symbols as objects and forget that they are pointing to a bigger picture. Freud often made use of “synecdoche---the taking of a part for the whole” (Downing, Lecture Two, pg. 3). I think that this is one way his meanings have gotten lost in some interpretations. We think that he is speaking literally and so react literally, missing his symbolic point.

Freud seemed to understand how sublimation was both the obstacle and the path. Sublimation as applied to interpersonal relationships is called transference: “a reproduction of emotions relating to repressed experiences, esp. of childhood, and the substitution of another person for the original object of the repressed impulses” (Wikipedia.org*). Specific to the psychoanalytic process, it is the “redirection of a client’s feelings from a significant person to a therapist…often manifested as an erotic attraction” (Wikipedia.org). Freud saw transference as the primary tool in psychotherapy as it let the client revisit past relationships and continuing relational patterns within an analytical setting, making it possible to bring into view the repressed, more ambivalent aspects of relationships (Downing, Lecture Three, pg. 21).

In Observations on Transference Love, Freud gives the illustration of “…summoning up a spirit from the underworld by cunning spells…”(Freud 1915, 382). Telling us that transference is exactly what we want to evoke. But then, if the feelings being directed towards us feel too uncomfortable and we want them to go away, it would be as though we sent this spirit “…down again without having asked him a single question” (ibid.).

This story relates to the way that transference is a potential obstacle in analysis in the danger of literalizing symbols. On the therapist’s part, literalizing is dangerous because they may take an erotic transference to be genuine love for them and they might respond literally to a feeling that should have been seen as symbolic. If they engaged with the transference in this way, they might---through repetition---deepen the grooves of the client’s patterns as well as possibly cause more elements to be repressed. Literalizing is also a danger on the client’s part. If they consider the erotic feelings to be genuinely for the therapist, they might begin to engage with these feelings rather than with their own healing process. This is the basis for Freud’s assertion in Observations On Transference Love that erotic transference in the psychoanalytic process emerges mostly as resistance (Freud 1915, 380) (also: Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud 1919, 602).

Rather than engaging with the symbols as being literal, the therapist would help the client get some distance, witness the feelings without participating; perhaps making some different choices. In therapy, a person looks for the same things that they look for in all relationships, however, in the analytic context, they do not receive it (Downing, Lecture Three, pg. 20). For the example of erotic transference: when the therapist refuses to engage sexually and rather seeks to investigate the source and nature of the desires, the client moves “beyond the demand for literal gratification to learn appreciation of [the] symbolic” (ibid.). They are moving towards symbolic sight.

Bringing the client to a symbolic understanding of experience is one of the aims of psychotherapy. From there, another aim is to help the client use their understanding of the symbols of their life so that “…what was unconscious should become conscious” (Freud 1919, 602). However, in Beyond the Pleasure Principle Freud states one limitation to the use of transference in bringing the unconscious to the conscious, saying that “the patient cannot remember the whole of what is repressed in him, and what he cannot remember may be the essential part” (ibid.). Freud then reiterates the importance of the therapist not engaging in the repetition of what remains repressed, which illustrates another aim of therapy: helping the client engage with the fact that the process of making the unconscious conscious can never totally be done. In the lecture notes, Adam Phillips is cited as viewing Freud “as the expert on the impossibility of self-knowledge---who sees us as not in search of wholeness but of good ways of bearing our incompleteness, for whom there is no cure for the unconscious” (Downing, Lecture One, pg. 2).

This brings me back to my questions in the beginning: could we ever really know an other? And, is all love transference love? In Observations On Transference Love, Freud warns against the giving of surrogates in dealing with transference. He is relating to the idea that the client is unconsciously seeking substitutes for her deeper desires. However, he continues on to say that “what we could offer could never be anything else than a surrogate, for the patient’s condition is such that, until her repressions are removed, she is incapable of getting real satisfaction” (Freud 1915, 382). With the assertion that there is no cure for the unconscious, the answers seem to be that we will always see others obscured by whatever is repressed and unconscious in ourselves and that “all love [is] transference love, repetition---symbolic incest” (Downing, Lecture Three, pg. 20).

I do not think that to say that all love is transference love is the same as saying that all love is narcissism. The fact that we may never be able to truly know an other does not mean we cannot love them as a distinct other. Love is engaging with the familiar yet forever-unknowable aspect of the other. This is a reflection of the engagement of the conscious with the unconscious in the process of psychotherapy. It is the search for knowledge within the acceptance of mystery. Furthermore, seeing love as transference does not make it un-real. Transference is essential to our feelings of love and connection in general. Also, we can only know ourselves through this process, the “human self can’t be found in the individual…[the self is] discovered in dialogue, [through] transference love” (Downing, Lecture Three, pg. 2).

Like the examples of transference in studying Freud that I began with, transference love in a therapeutic setting is not unlike love and interaction in all of life. The therapeutic setting stands out as a magnification of the processes that are always going on. In Observations On Transference Love Freud points out how love in life is, in many ways, similar to transference in therapy, even in the ways that it is dissimilar:
We have no right to dispute that the state of being in love which makes its appearance in the course of treatment has the character of a ‘genuine’ love. If it seems so lacking in normality, this is sufficiently explained by the fact that being in love in ordinary life, outside analysis, is also more similar to abnormal than to normal mental phenomenon…these departures from the norm constitute precisely what is essential about being in love (Freud 1915, 385).

My Freud is a Freud of transference. He contains my experience of the writing of Sigmund Freud and I react to him in ways similar to how I have acted in relationships in the past. My Freud is a copy of a copy. He is influenced by Downing’s Freud and by all of the other Freuds I met before. In fact, I imagine that my feelings towards Freud very much have to do with my feelings towards Christine Downing.
It struck me in class when someone would say that they could not find Downing’s interpretation from Freud’s words. That was both the point and not the point. I do, however, feel that the Freud I met this quarter was better informed than the Freuds I have met in the past who have seemed to be containers for a lot of anger and hurt. To many, and to myself at times, Freud becomes only an adversary to rebel against. This part of Freud certainly must be there, but I do not think it is the only part. New to my experience, I found Downing’s Freud to be a Freud of love; a Freud that finds the world rich with meaning.

When I was in class listening to Downing talk about her Freud I too had a more loving view of Freud and a more loving view of the world. Finding myself in a consideration of love is interesting to me. I thought, at first, that to consider love in psychotherapy might make it feel like a false concept or like an impossibility. However, Freud said, “love is the medium of our work” (Downing, Lecture Three, pg. 20). Beyond the wonderings of whether love is coming from the conscious or the unconscious or is related more to the present or the past, the psychoanalytic process is based on love. It uses the feeling of love to inspire us to see symbolically, to choose to delay immediate gratification and move beyond our patterns and, therefore, to increase our capacity for depth and love.
Transference is certainly unavoidable. In one sense, all life is transference: billions of mirrors reflecting each other. Perhaps we will always see elements of the self in the other as we perceive them. Maybe this is because the unconscious can never be made fully conscious. It is always retreating: even as we bring things into light, other things are falling into the shadows. Maybe it is because we are all products of transference: copies of copies of copies, all made from the same stuff and from similar experiences.

I collected definitions for “love”, wondering if, to be love, an experience had to be free from transference. The definitions described tender feeling and passionate affection (dictionary.com); some did add that, in love, feelings become less self-centered. My favorite explanation that I found is not much of an explanation. It alludes to the fact that love cannot be defined and is, perhaps, missed when we try to look for it through logic: “The concept of love is not amenable to one authoritative definition” (wikipedia.org). I like that love is difficult to quantify or define. I like that it even starts to disappear or for a moment feel unreal when we try to consider it in theory.

Probably love can contain glimpses of an other as a distinct other and of the self as a distinct self. Probably it also always involves seeing the self in the other and the other in the self. Maybe love can be said to be this whole process: the desire to build metaphor and symbol and also the desire to get it all out of the way. I think that we move through three sorts of witnessings and can be in all three at once: we can see the symbol literally, we can see the symbol for what it represents and we can also see this moment as entirely new. The presence of transference in love is what makes us bigger than a particular moment and interpretation.

In conclusion, I do think that all love is transference love. Not because it is a re-enactment of all love re-enactments that came before…though, certainly, that is there. But, rather, because love is poetry. It is the affection for life that comes from being able to see multiple layers at once.

Bettelheim, B. (1984). Freud and Man’s Soul. New York: Vintage Books, Random

Dictionary.com. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved Dec. 18, 2006,
from Dictionary.com website: http//dictionary.reference.com/browse/love.

Downing, C. (2006) Lecture Notes from Sessions One, Two and Three, Freud’s Depth
Psychology. Pacifica Graduate Institute, Fall Quarter, 2006.

Etymonline.com. (n.d.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved Dec. 20, 2006, from
etymonline.com website: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=transference&searchmode=none

Freud, S. (1914). On Narcissism: An Introduction (pp. 545-561).
(1915). Observations on Transference Love (pp. 378-387).
(1919). Beyond the Pleasure Principle (pp.594-627). In P. Gay (Ed.), The Freud Reader. New York: Norton and Company.

H.D. (1974). Tribute to Freud. New York: New Directions Books.

Wikipedia.org (n.d.). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved Dec. 20-24, 2006,
From wikipedia.org website: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transference#_note-2. * citing Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language (2d College Ed. 1970). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love

December 12, 2006


Remebering another moment when I wanted to let things be real. Now, having watched myself move, walk waking through a collection of dreams. Wanting to know the meanning. Maybe regretting, maybe attached. Watching myself caring in that I don't like the not caring. the fear I feel, and fearing that maybe the fear is real. maybe I am right and it is pointless. I have lost my sense of self many times before, but not so much my sense of meaning, of god; whatever..... I want it not to be a pointless game, but I don't know what I'm looking for it to be.

From here, I feel as though I can stand in all rivers at once.

Fell off of this dream and splattered across the pavement
hit the ground hard with a hollow sound
bounced once and then rolled
to another sleep.
But this dream with you I know is the sweetest.
Sweeter each time I wake.

And now, this is the first sleepless night
after first said, "I love you"
I mean
I love the way life moves through you and
also I love you
you are so beautiful.

I lay here and tremble, the way your fingers touch the pages of your book
and the way your lips touch each word and
taste it by feeling
as though, from the heart--never thought.

And I slide down
in my black lace against your black leather chair
you stand facing me, honest and joy,
naked except for the spliff

In another life, I learned to doubt this
but not anymore
this dream is real.

December 07, 2006

Sometimes. When I dance. I think of you.

I’m thinking about the way we cheat on experience with other experience---not in a bad way, though. I mean: the running of a finger across the page of oil pastel and the delicious dirtying where the colors overlap and collide. You, are eating a carrot while fantasizing about onion rings. We, are talking on the phone: you doing your homework, me trying to find my underwear. While I do a dance, I start remembering another dance. And then, maybe, I start to think of you.

Our efforts are recorded in the rich layering of memory. An idea that experience is not a single point. Present has many pieces including bits of the past, the future…dreams. And as the layers are added, I notice which are opaque and which are more transparent. Where do I get pulled that I didn’t expect to go? What is so strong that I lose sight of everything? If I engage the intricacies, I am in a new world that I couldn’t anticipate. Not an overwhelming awareness of everything I’ve ever known. Rather, a magic random draw of that which I never thought would go with this but since they are sitting here together…let me just take it all in.

I remember: she was wearing a green shirt or a yellow shirt. It’s strange I don’t remember. There was a dinner conversation about the difference between “pushing” and “yielding”. I’m in a dorm hall doing contact with psychology students. We’ve been practicing listening skills all day; it is interesting to know these things through touch. We are light, we hold our own, and we like direct mirrors: a forearm is met by a forearm, a hand is met by a hand. Beneath this dance, I feel another dance. My partner becomes someone else though this partner is still here. You and I---our last dance---we had stopped talking and finally could listen. You might not agree, but---three years in---I think this is our first conversation. That story, I never wrote that story, though I guess I’m writing it now. How we took the key rings apart and you took off your tall shoes for one walk around the block. I remember another dance somewhere else, and then another. I remember the texture of a stranger floor: dirt beneath plastic. I am there and also here typing and I am in the dorm hall leaning against all these shoulders melting together. Maybe we were each other’s bowl of frosting, each other’s favorite poison. Someone who would push back hard. And---sifting through layers of present tense---really I am just here typing at a beach house. Stacy is on the phone. I remember the way you like to fall asleep at parties. My psychology dance partner and I: now we are wiggling our fingers.

So…evidence? Maybe this paper is about abundance and being in many places at once. Maybe it is about loss: things only existing when we think of them and the passing nature of everything. Maybe we could try to nail something down: write it out, diagram, choreograph. But I think reality is a little more fleeting. Proven by nothing and nothing proven except what is right here right now. All that we have that we want to hold on to: it’s never going to be all here at once. However---memory, life. inspiration---it floods us…in ways we can’t understand. Our consciousness is the evidence and we become the historians---of the past, the present, the future---in as much as we can let ourselves feel.