R. Gray

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

Freud and the Literary Imagination


Freud and Hysteria


Freud on the narrative, literary aspects of his case studies


In the Studies on Hysteria (1895), in the context of the case history of "Fräulein Elisabeth von R.," Freud wrote:


"I have not always been a psychotherapist. Like other neuropathologists, I was trained to employ local diagnoses and electroprognosis, and it still strikes me myself as strange that the case histories I write should read like short stories and that, as one might say, they lack the serious stamp of science. I must console myself with the reflection that the nature of the subject is evidently responsible for this, rather than any preference of my own. The fact is that local diagnosis and electrical reactions lead nowhere in the study of hysteria, whereas a detailed description of mental processes such as we are accustomed to find in the works of imaginative writers [Dichtern] enables me, with the use of a few psychological formulas, to obtain at least some kind of insight into the course of that affliction. Case histories of this kind are meant to be judged like psychiatric ones: they have, however, one advantage over the latter, namely an intimate connection between the story of the patientÕs sufferings and the symptoms of his illness—a connection for which we still search in vain in the biographies of other psychoses."



Freud on the "reality" of fantasies for our psychic life


In the Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis Freud comments, in reference to the case study known as the "Wolf Man":


"When he [the patient in treatment] brings up the material which leads from behind his symptoms to the wishful situations modeled on his infantile experiences, we are in doubt to begin with whether we are dealing with reality or phantasies. [. . .] It will be a long time before he can take in our proposal that we should equate phantasy and reality. [. . .] Yet this is clearly the only correct attitude to adopt toward these mental productions. They too possess a reality of a sort. It remains a fact that the patient had created these phantasies for himself, and this fact is of scarcely less importance for his neurosis than if he had really experienced what his phantasies contain. The phantasies possess psychical as contrasted with material reality, and we gradually learn to understand that in the world of neuroses it is psychical reality which is the decisive kind."