R. Gray
German 390/ Comp. Lit. 396/Engl 363/CHID 498/JSIS 488/Lit 298

"Freud and the Literary Imagination"

Lecture Notes: Freud, "Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria ('Dora')"

I. Background:

A. Hysteria: Real or "Imagined"? In a 1984 book, The Assault on Truth: Freud's Suppression of the Seduction Theory, Jeffrey Masson accuses Freud of undercutting the "truth" of his original theory of hysteria and its origins by abandoning the seduction theory.
-- For Masson, Freud caves in to social and professional pressure and thereby sacrifices truth of his theory.

What is at stake for Freud in valorizing the role of fantasy in the psychic economy? This is the move that gives structural coherence to psychoanalytic theory in its entirety:

Desire (erotic wish) > Resistance > Repression > Distortion > Hysterical Symptom:

Hysteria is structured is exactly the same way as all other expressions or "representations" of the unconscious mind: As in Freud's dream theory, a LATENT WISH must first be subjected to CENSORSHIP (Repression) before it can MAKE ITSELF MANIFEST in conscious life.
Thus: The hysterical symptom = a distorted wish!

B. Published 1905; Freud's motivation = to substantiate his earlier work on hysteria ("Studies in Hysteria," written together with J. Breuer and published in 1895; "Aetiology of Hysteria") and defend his theory on the origin of hysteria in sexual, infantile material. The treatment of Dora dates back to 1900-01.

C. "Dora" = Ida Bauer (1882-1945); she came to Freud in Oct. 1900, when she was 18 years old. (To view a picture of Dora, age eight, with her brother Otto, click here.) Her case history is the history of a failure: Dora broke off her treatment before a cure was effected.
-- Freud learned a great deal about his own analytical methods and their weaknesses from this case. In particular, he came to appreciate more the impact of the phenomenon known as transference for the therapeutic project.

1. Transference = the projection by the patient of the cause of his or her symptoms onto the analyst. The interaction between the patient and the analyst is structured or constructed by the patient as one in which the cause of the hysterical symptoms is transferred to the relationship with the physician.

D. The original working title of this essay was "Dreams and Hysteria": The functional or strategic purpose of the essay hence was to demonstrate the importance of dream interpretation for the work of analysis.
-- Freud thus conceived this essay as a companion piece to the Interpretation of Dreams, which had just appeared shortly before Dora came to Freud. Hence the aim of the essay is to demonstrate the practical application of the theory Freud developed in Interpretation of Dreams.

II. The Clinical Picture of "Dora's" Case: (to view a diagram that graphs the pattern of Dora's hysteria onto the structure of hysteria Freud developed in the essay "The Aetiology of Hysteria," click here.)

A. Dora comes from a typical upper-middle-class family, composed of father and mother, son and daughter = "classical" configuration of bourgeois family.

    1. In terms of personality and familial status, the father is the dominating figure in the family circle. Dora exhibits an extreme emotional attachment to her father.
    2. Mother suffers from "housewife psychosis" = she is confined largely to the household, obsessed with order and cleanliness in the household sphere.
      -- Note Freud's derogatory, demeaning attitude toward this position of the mother in the family; he seems to have no sense that this role might be enforced upon the woman as a function of her demeaning status in the family or the limitation of her activities (by society) to the sphere of the home.
    3. Dora's brother has nothing but a distant emotional attachment to his father. On the contrary, he tends to side in all familial disputes with the mother, while Dora defends her father.
      -- For Freud this set of alliances, father–daughter; mother–son, confirms what he sees as the typical pattern for the establishment of familial allegiances: The generations join together in a pattern that crosses gender lines since the core motive of this alliance is sexual in nature.
    4. Dora also displays a peculiar emotional attachment to a paternal aunt = her father's sister. Her identification with this aunt runs not only through association with the father she loves, but is also reinforced by the fact that this aunt shows signs of psycho-neurosis. Freud's implication = Dora identifies with her symptoms.
    5. Family K as distorting mirror: also constituted as a typical bourgeois "nuclear" family, 2 parents, 2 children, equal gender balance.
      -- Dora’s father and Frau K have a (sexual) liaison;
      -- Herr K attracted to Dora as sexual substitute for a frigid wife.

B. Dora's Symptoms:

    1. dyspnoea = difficulty breathing; hysterical choking
    2. depression
    3. avoidance of social contact; threatens suicide
    4. fainting spells
    5. aphonia = loss of voice

C. "Trigger" that unleashes Dora's hysterical symptoms:

    1. The sexual advances made to her by a certain Herr K., a good friend of the family, while on vacation at Herr K's residence on a lake.
    2. When Dora later confronts Herr K. about this sexual liberty, he asserts that Dora merely imagined it; she fantasizes this presumptive act of sexual seduction. (For Herr K, the best defense is a strong offense! He turns the tables on Dora's accusation.) See. Freud Reader 182.
    3. Dora's father sides completely with Herr K in this; he also asserts that Dora has imagined these sexual advances. (See Freud Reader 194) In Dora's world, the men take sides against her and construe Herr K's illicit advance as something she imagines or projects onto him. The victim of real sexual advances is thereby transformed into their perpetrator in the imagination. The men, at any rate, are absolved of all guilt.

D. Complication of the relationship between Dora and Herr K

    1. Dora's father does not receive sexual satisfaction in his home life, from Dora's mother. Their relationship has become asexual.
    2. This gives rise to a long-term sexual relationship between Dora's father and Herr K's wife, Frau K.
    3. This, in turn, causes Dora to importune her father to abandon the relationship with Frau K. Moreover, she believes her father's willingness to take Herr K's side and interpret his sexual advance as Dora's imagination is motivated by his desire to protect his relationship with Frau K. He acts, in other words, out of selfish motives.
      -- Dora interprets this as her father's willingness to barter her off to Herr K in return for Herr K's wife: the father thinks (she believes): you can have my daughter as a sexual compensation for the fact that I have a sexual relationship with your wife. We have regressed, in short, to the act of primitive woman-trading.

E. The events related to Dora's hysteria that are uncovered by Freud's analysis. Freud recognizes the impudent advance by Herr K as the trigger, but realizes also that this event itself does not suit the criterion of suitability for the hysterical symptoms. He must therefore seek in his analysis for memories that have a connection to coughing, aphonia, etc.

1. The sexual advance of Herr K at the lake, which occurred when Dora was 16 years old, is a screen memory for another, related event that happened when Dora was 14. Herr K arranges to meet Dora at his office, tells his wife not to come, and sends all his office staff home so he can be alone with Dora. He then kisses Dora passionately.

    1. Freud's prejudice: he believes that such a kiss by a mature man must elicit sexual excitement in a girl of 14. It must be pleasurable to her. Freud has no understanding for the possibility that Dora might not feel attracted to Herr K.
    2. Dora's reaction to the kiss is not pleasure, but rather disgust. Freud identifies hysteria with precisely this reversal of the pleasure of sex into a negative emotion.
    3. This, then, gives a partial explanation of Dora's symptoms: her choking, her nausea are connected to the disgust she feels when confronted by Herr K's lust. But she displaces the genital pleasure of a "healthy" girl in a two-fold manner:
      1. She displaces it from the lower to the upper body, from the genital region to the mouth and throat;
      2. She displaces the pleasure by transforming it into disgust.
    1. Freud also suggests that Dora was revolted by the sensation of Herr K's erect member when he pressed up against her to embrace her. Dora's reaction to this: She avoids all men who are in a state resembling sexual excitement.
    2. This also explains why Dora rejects her father's love for Frau K: it is disgusting not simply because it is her father, but because all male sexual expression is disgusting.

2. Dora acted as a babysitter for Herr and Frau K's children: Freud's interpretation = Dora displaces her feelings of affection for Herr K onto his children.

a. There is a parallel to this in the story of the governess in Dora's own family whose affection for Dora is interpreted as displaced love for Dora's father.

3. Dora's aphonia. This occurred, Freud is able to discover, when Herr K. was away from home on business. At a time when she can only have written contact with the person with whom she is secretly in love, Dora reflexively loses her voice. Loss of voice is a symptom of the value added to written communication in Herr K's absence.

4. Note that Freud takes over the position of the other two men, Dora's father and Herr K: he assumes that Dora is secretly in love with Herr K.

5. Dora insists that Frau K is only attached to her father because he is "wealthy" = "well endowed" [ein vermoegender Mann]; but Freud turns this into its opposite: Dora's father is not "well endowed" but in fact "unendowed" [ein unvermoegender Mann]. That is, he is sexually impotent.

    1. Dora hence must assume that Frau K. and her father arrive at sexual satisfaction by means of oral sex.
    2. This, then, explains Dora’s hysterical symptom, her coughing: the woman's throat is the area of sexual gratification for her father and is also the place where her symptoms occur.
    3. Dora's cough, according to Freud, derives from the fact that she imaginatively places herself in the situation of Frau K. gratifying her father sexually.
    4. Conclusion: Dora secretly loves her father erotically, has a strong erotic attachment to him.
    5. But Dora is also jealous of her father's love for Frau K. This explains her strong attachment to Frau K, who played the role of a kind of surrogate mother and friend for her.
    6. Freud thus interprets Dora's obsession with her father's love for Frau K as a cover-up, a diversion, a displacement of Dora's own attraction both to her father and to Herr K. In fact, her love for her father is an infantile impulse that is revived in order to deceive Dora herself about her love for Herr K (see Freud Reader, p. 202).

F. Analysis of Dora's two dreams and the information they reveal.

1. First dream: Dora awakened by father at night because of fire: must rescue her jewelry box.

2. Herr K had once given Dora a jewelry box. The position of the father in the dream reveals that he is a displacement of Herr K. The latent dream idea thus is: Dora must return Herr K's favor and give him her jewelry box = have sex with him.

3. Extinguishing the fire: Freud associates this with Dora's bed-wetting as a child; for him, this is a reference to masturbation on her part and her attempts to repress it.

4. Freud asserts that Dora is more afraid of this truth (her desire to have sex with Herr K) than she is of his advances themselves.

5. Freud turns the tables on the woman: he makes the victim of sexual advances into their perpetrator, but the woman must punish herself for these wishes. This punishment, this repression, creates Dora's hysterical symptoms.

6. Dora's hysteria = self-inflicted. It is caused by her self-repression of her own sexual desires, not by her disgust with Herr K's intentions.

7. Second Dream: Dora is in a strange town and receives a letter from her mother reporting her father's death. Dora can't reach the train station [Bahnhof] and hence comes to late to the cemetery [Friedhof] for her father's funeral. Freud goes through a complex interpretation of this dream from which he concludes that Dora's dream is one of defloration (Bahnhof and Friedhof as symbols of the female genitalia). Dora's dream is a fantasy of forced seduction.

8. Again Freud turns the tables on Dora: he transforms her into the willing victim, the lecherous woman who desires rape. The Dora analysis is like a rape case in which the male perpetrator is declared innocent because he was "led on" by the woman to expect consensual sex. (See Freud Reader, p. 195)

To view a diagram of the complex character configurations of Dora's case that outlines her love of her father and Herr K, on the one hand, and her identifications with other women, on the other, click here.

III. Freud's Postscript:

A. Freud emphasizes the technique of his analysis.

1. He insists on the scientific empiricism of his method. It is based, he claims, on pure observation. That is, he ascribes to his conclusions the status of absolute objectivity, as though his interpretive work merely uncovered what was always there but remained hidden. He refuses to acknowledge that the scenario he has derived is a wholly constructed one, based on questionable interpolations.

2. Freud stresses how this case analysis demonstrates the usefulness of dream interpretation for the pragmatic side of psychoanalysis. (Does it not in fact show the opposite?)

3. A patient's symptoms do not disappear during analysis; they occur only afterward and are postponed by transference. Transferences = facsimiles, "reprints" of the symptomatic impulses and fantasies in which the physician replaces other persons. (Doesn't this presume that the analyst will always be a male, his patient a female? Or vice versa?)

4. Transference = the most recent manifestation of the disease itself: past psychic experiences are projected onto the physician in the present.

5. Only once the transference is overcome can the patient be cured and the symptoms dissolved. In Dora's case this never occurred because she broke off the treatment prematurely. (Who can blame her!?)

IV. Critical Conclusions:

A. The "Dora case" reveals psychoanalytic treatment to be a process of coercion of the female patient by the male analyst. The message is: the woman should admit her sexual desires, confront the fact that she has led the male on to believe she wants to have sex with him, and submit herself freely and without pangs of conscience to the male's sexual advances.

B. Psychoanalysis is a strategy for male (sexual) mastery over the female, a theory that proclaims the duty of the woman to embrace sexual submission. It goes so far as to identify such submission with the woman's "pleasure principle": This is what she "really wants"!

C. The analytical situation models this relationship of mastery and submission. What is "transferred" are not so much the sexual desires of the (woman) patient onto the (male) analyst, as the power-politics of the (male) analyst onto his (female) patient. "Transference" is a theory that displaces and disguises this strategic mastery of the (male) analyst (to turn Freud's interpretive strategies against him).

Last Updated: 11/27/13