Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Ana Ozores's Nerves

Academic journal article Hispanic Review

Ana Ozores's Nerves

Article excerpt

In the first days of May of 1897, after returning from a trip to Nuremberg, Freud sent four letters with extensive notes to his friend Wilhelm Fliess. In these notes, entitled "The Architecture of Hysteria," Freud laid out what he, drawing on the architectural metaphor, called "the structure of hysteria." He likened projected fantasies to defensive structures (Schutzbauten) and outworks (Vorbauten) that prevent access to the memories of primal scenes. Impressed by Nuremberg's medieval architecture, Freud was drawing a parallel between the city's fortifications and hysterical symptoms. In the second installment of notes, which Freud mailed to Fliess on May 25, he added a diagram of the disease that looks like a sketch of the Nuremberg towers ("Architecture" 203).

Aside from the spatialization of hysteria implied in the notion of structure, what I find most interesting in Freud's recourse to architecture is the temporal background of the metaphor. His inspiration in an architecture as densely historical as that of Nuremberg is well suited to a definition of hysteria that seeks to account for layers of experience concealed by symptoms.

Nuremberg's architecture, explains William McGrath, translates into form the contest between the city's ruling lord, the Burggraf, and the middle class. In 1377 the citizenry erected a tower on the eastern wall to spy on the activities in the Burggraf's fortress. Later, the descendants of the Burggraf responded in kind, and in the fifteenth century his fortress "was equipped with a peaked roof and wooden balconies" which allowed his men to keep watch on the city "while the city's men on their lookout were watching the Burggraf" (McGrath 192-94). In Freud's diagram, those peaked roofs represent the hysterical fantasy, an apparently static structure arising out of a dynamic power struggle.

The reader will have guessed that I am about to relate this bit of Freudian lore to the famous description of the Cathedral tower in the opening scene of La Regenta. I am not advancing a Freudian reading of this great novel, nor am I about to restate, for the umpteenth time, the pseudo-Freudian wisdom that Vetusta's tower is a phallic symbol, among other reasons because symbols gather their significance from their contexts. And it is far from clear that Clarin's description of Vetusta's municipal geography transcribes the Magistral's repressed sexual desire.

Freud's recourse to the towers of Nuremberg to theorize a psychic malady that was taxing doctors' ingenuity in the last decades of the nineteenth century is useful for other reasons. One of these reasons is that his architectural metaphor refers psychic conflict to a historical clash that appears congealed in architectural form. It is no coincidence that Freud was inspired by medieval architecture. As a Jewish scientist living in an increasingly anti-Semitic Vienna, he shared Jean-Martin Charcot's view that medieval religious culture was the cause of widespread hysterical manifestations (McGrath 196). So, despite Charcot's oft-quoted "c'est toujours la chose genitale," a phrase often cited in ignorance that it was reported by Freud (History 48), the young Freud introduced a dimension of social struggle in his description of the psychic mechanism of hysteria. This dimension identified social struggle with the power of vision. To see, to penetrate alien secrets is to master the owners of those secrets. To resist, to obstruct the searching gaze, to retreat from scrutiny and to camouflage behind symptoms is the strength out of weakness deployed in hysteria, an elusive or, as the English doctor Thomas Sydenham had called it (qtd. in Janet 18), a Proteus, an ever-changing disease.

From its inception, La Regenta focuses on this type of conflict. Like Nuremberg's towers in Freud's diagram, Vetusta's tower is both a symptom of a hidden morbidity and the place from which secrets are intruded upon. Up there, the Magistral sees himself as "el amo espiritual de la provincia" (I: 462). …

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