'The Healing Power of Love': The Literary/analytic Bond of Marriage in Freud's Essay on Gradiva

By Ashur, Dorit | International Journal of Psychoanalysis, June 2009 | Go to article overview

'The Healing Power of Love': The Literary/analytic Bond of Marriage in Freud's Essay on Gradiva


Ashur, Dorit, International Journal of Psychoanalysis


Freud 's declared position regarding the management of 'transference love' advocated 'abstinence', objectivity and even 'emotional coldness in the analyst'. However, his essay on Jensen's Gradiva reveals an identification with an involved and responsive 'maternal' analytic position associated with theorists such as Ferenczi, Balint and Winnicott. These theorists attribute the origins of transference love to the pre-oedipal stage, shaping their analytic model on the basis of the early relationship with the mother. Freud generally had difficulty identifying with such a position, since it entailed addressing his own inner feminine aspects. Yet a literary analysis of his 'Gradiva' reveals this stance in his textual performance, i.e. in the ways in which he reads and retells Jensen's story. Freud 's narration not only expresses identification with Zoe, the female protagonist, but also idealizes her 'therapeutic' conduct, which is closer in spirit to that of object-relations theorists. His subtext even implies, however unintended, that an ideal treatment of transference love culminates in a psychical 'marriage' bond between the analytic couple, a metaphor used by Winnicott to describe the essence of the mother-baby (analyst/ patient) bond. Freud 's reading process is itself analogous to Zoe's 'therapeutic' conduct, in that both perform a creative and involved interaction with the text/ patient.

Keywords: feminine, Gradiva, interpretation, literature and psychoanalysis, maternal, mother-baby, play, pre-oedipal, reading process, transference love

"Every psycho-analytic treatment is an attempt at liberating repressed love", writes Freud in his essay Delusions and dreams in Jensen's Gradiva (Freud, 1907, p. 90). Jensen's story constitutes, in Freud's eyes, an especially commendable dramatization of "the healing power of love" (p. 22) that is inherent in psychoanalytic treatment.

The essay on Gradiva is usually classified in the category of Freud's writings dedicated to literature. It presents different approaches and points of focus in the encounter between literature and psychoanalysis, including the psychoanalytic interpretation of the story and of literary characters (focus on the text), the analysis of the origins of the literary work (focus on the author), and the analysis of reading processes (focus on the reader). Since it addresses literature, the essay is generally not explored in terms of its contribution to theoretical and clinical issues in psychoanalysis. It is therefore not analysed in detail as a chapter in Freud's thought on 'transference love', not even by critics who acknowledge its relevance to this issue (for example, Eickhoff, 1993, pp. 35-6). I argue that Freud's position in this essay regarding the analytic management of 'transference love' differs from his declared and dominant position on this subject in other writings. This position is revealed not only in Freud's direct statements on this issue, but also in the ways in which he retells and analyses the story.

Freud's declared position with regard to transference and its management generally tended to advocate "neutrality", "objectivity", and even "emotional coldness in the analyst" (Freud, 1912, p. 115). In his essay Recommendations to physicians practising psycho-analysis, for example, Freud declares that "[t]he doctor should be opaque to his patients and, like a mirror, should show them nothing but what is shown to him" (Freud, 1912, p. 118). In his essay Lines of advance in psycho-analytic therapy, Freud (1919) develops the concept of 'abstinence' as a way of ensuring that the patient should remain in a condition of 'privation', so that the ongoing suffering should serve as a catalyst for profound analytic work that will guarantee the achievement of lasting changes. He emphasizes that the analyst should refrain from "spoiling" the patient, and should avoid giving the patient "out of the fullness of his heart ... all that one human being may hope to receive from another", and is adamant that in the therapeutic relationship "the patient must be left with unfulfilled wishes in abundance" (Freud, 1919, pp. …

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