Leonardo Da Vinci, Sigmund Freud, and Fear of Flying

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IN 1904 LONDON'S theater-going crowd thrilled to the performance of Scottish novelist and playwright James Barrie's delightful musical, Peter Pan Or the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up. Initially presented on December 27, 1904, it was published as the short story Peter and Wendy in 1911 and as a play in 1928. Translated into many languages, the tale of the boy who flew from adversity continues to fascinate both children and their parents in numerous Broadway performances and in Steven Spielberg's 1991 motion picture, Hook.

It is not known whether Sigmund Freud ever read Peter Pan or saw it performed in Vienna, Berlin, or elsewhere. Probably the most brilliant man of the twentieth century, Freud virtually single-handedly (or single-mindedly) created psychoanalysis, the branch of the human sciences most useful for individual self-understanding, creativity, and insight. He does not mention the play in his published works or correspondence. Nonetheless, Freud was as preoccupied with the idea of man flying as the feisty urchin in the feathered cap. But for the father of psychoanalysis, the possibilities of human flight inspired neither joy nor celebration but fear. Freud's most recent biographer, Peter Gay, observes that he refused to leave Austria despite the Nazi threat after Hitler took power in Germany in 1933, partly because he dreaded airplane travel. "He had tried it once, in 1930, but would not again" (Freud, 594). Similarly, the renowned German Jewish psychoanalyst Erich Fromm emphasizes Freud's fear of traveling alone by railroad or on long trips, arguing that it reveals his abnormally "strong mother attachment" and dependence on others for approval, protection, and admiration: "Traveling is often a symbol of leaving the security of mother and home, of being independent, cutting one's roots" (17-18).

Fromm argues that Freud's theory of infantile sexuality and the Oedipus complex, which reduced the complex emotions between child and parent to innate drives and physical passion, as well as his travelphobia, were unconscious defense mechanisms by which Freud denied his overwhelming dependence on the mother. According to Fromm, the alleged premature waning of Freud's sexual potency and his insistence on intellectual sublimation rather than unrestrained exercise of libido indicated fear of sexual spontaneity. This anxiety, rooted in a mother fixation and exacerbated by an aversion to contraceptives, deprived him of full marital sexual gratification. Perhaps traumatic childhood experiences caused Freud's sexual inhibitions.

Noting Freud's lack of passion for his wife Martha, Fromm depicts him as incapable of loving anyone. For Freud, romance was merely an ephemeral "ego trip." According to Fromm, "His relationship to his wife, after the ardor of the first conquest had burned out, was apparently that of a faithful but somewhat distant husband" (31). Like Philip Rieff, only negatively, Fromm judges Freud a prude who, though "the great spokesman for sex, was a typical puritan. To him [Freud], the aim of life for a civilized person was to suppress his emotional and sexual impulses, and at the expense of this suppression, to lead a civilized life. It is the uncivilized mob which is not capable of such a sacrifice" (33).

Depicting Freud as essentially a neurotic Victorian, Fromm claims that self-analysis failed to improve his gloomy marriage. He had a "relatively weak interest in women, and ... little sexual drive" (28). Describing one of Freud's dreams, about a wilted flower pressed against a book's pages as a bookmark, Fromm renders the following interpretation: "He [Freud] lets love [flowers] dry up, and makes it the object of scientific examination.... He made love an object of science, but in his life it remained dry and sterile. His scientific-intellectual interests were stronger than his eros; they smothered it, and at the same time became a substitute for his experience of love" (28). Fromm argues that Freud's theory that civilization and culture were based on sexual repression defensively invoked his ascetic, inhibited lifestyle as a paradigm, rationalizing and extenuating his fear of sex and apathy toward eroticism. …