Freud's Cadence: Taking Chances with Julius Caesar

By Alfano, Chiara | Mosaic (Winnipeg), December 2011 | Go to article overview

Freud's Cadence: Taking Chances with Julius Caesar


Alfano, Chiara, Mosaic (Winnipeg)


[...] literature is also at the place of rendezvous, is this by chance?

("My Chances" 14-5)

Come on my right hand, for this ear is deaf

(Julius Caesar 1.2.214)

All literary criticism, perhaps every reading, is indebted to chance. This is certainly true for this paper, which sprung from the strange coincidences of reading Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, and Derrida's "My Chances/Mes Chances: A Rendezvous with Some Epicurean Stereophonies" roughly at the same time. I was immediately struck by the coincidence of Freud and Caesar's shared partial deafness and was particularly intrigued whether this bore any relation to Freud's to-ing and fro-ing regarding the Klang (German for "sound") of Brutus's famous speech in Julius Caesar in the interpretation of his Non Vixit dream. James Strachey's translation of Klang with "cadence" seemed to simply mirror this avoidance of sound, yet on closer examination his translation opens an avenue towards making sense of not only Freud's avoidance of Klang, but also the link between Klang and chance and their importance for a Derridean understanding of writing and literature. Reading Freud after Derrida's "My Chances" in the second part of my essay, I will argue that there is a significant link between these two avoidances: Klang is resisted because it represents what in literature opens itself most to the falling of chance, which in turn undermines not only the scientific seriousness of Freud's nascent discipline, but also the integrity of his mastery over it. I finally put forward the hypothesis that, despite Freud's avoidance, it is precisely in these correspondences, alluded to in his understanding of the mechanism of the dream work, in which one of his most important, yet still largely unexamined, influences on Derrida lies.

Freud's description and interpretation of his Non Vixit dream is an intricate and, stretching over three different passages in the last part of The Interpretation of Dreams, agile creature. Although he treats it as one, Freud's narrative actually comprises two dreams. In the first dream it is night and Freud is in Brucke's laboratory. Somebody softly knocks at the door and when Freud opens it, the late Professor Fleischl and a number of strangers come in and sit down at a table. The second dream is set in Vienna in July. Freud meets his friend Fl. (abbreviated by the same Fl., as Fleischer, but, as will emerge a couple of sections later, this is also Wilhelm Fliess) and their mutual friend P. (Joseph P., the brilliant and younger colleague of Freud's who, after taking his place at Brucke's laboratory, died prematurely). Fl. is talking about his sister, saying that she was dead in a quarter of an hour and something like "das ist die Schwelle" (Traumdeutung 287), or "that was the threshold" (V: 421). P. does not understand and Fl. turns to Freud, asking him how much he has told P. about his affairs. Suddenly Freud is "overcome by strange emotions" (V: 421) and tells him that P. could not possibly understand anything because he is dead. But rather than non vivit (he does not live), Freud mistakenly says non vixit (he has never lived). As he recognizes his mistake, he looks at P., whose eyes turn a "sickly blue" before vanishing under the intensity of Freud's gaze. Freud was "highly delighted at this" and then realizes that "Ernst Fleischl, too, has been no more than an apparition, a 'revenant'; and it seemed to [him] quite possible that people of that kind only existed as long as one liked and could be got rid of if someone else wished it" (V: 421).

What to make of such a dream? Due to the non-creative or reprocessing nature of the dream work, the origin of most of the dream's elements must be extraneous to the dream itself. The scene, in which Freud obliterates P. through his gaze, for instance, "was unmistakably copied from one which [he] had actually experienced" (V: 422). As Freud recalls, in his time as a demonstrator, Brucke had once reduced him to nothing with those "terrible blue eyes" for arriving late (V: 422). …

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