Freud's Playground: Some Thoughts on the Art and Science of Subjectivity and Intersubjectivity

By Hustvedt, Siri | Salmagundi, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Freud's Playground: Some Thoughts on the Art and Science of Subjectivity and Intersubjectivity


Hustvedt, Siri, Salmagundi


When I was in my adolescence, I used to tiiink that in every relation between two people, there was also a third entity- an imaginary creature the players made between them- and that this invisible thing was so important, it deserved to be given a proper name, as if it were a new baby. The insight arrived, I believe, because I had begun to notice that two people were able to create both fairies and monsters between mem, especially if love was involved. As I got older and read more, I realized that this zone between people had not gone unnoticed. It had been given different names and conceived of through various metaphors , but forms of one plus one make three or, better, one plus one make one out of two, were important aspects of the philosophical thinking I found most compelling. Questions about self and other have been central to psychoanalysis, but they also rage beyond its borders in analytical and continental philosophy, other disciplines in the humanities, in psychiatry, and, more recently, in the neurosciences . Subjectivity, intersubjectivity, mirroring , dialogue , and theory of mind are all terms directed at die problem of me between.

A couple of years ago, I re-read one of Freud's papers on technique, "Remembering, Repeating, and Working Through" (1914), and found myself fascinated by the following famous passage: "The main instrument, however, for curbing the patient's compulsion to repeat and for turning it into a motive for remembering lies in the handling of the transference. We render the compulsion harmless, and indeed useful, by giving it the right to assert itself in a definite field. We admit it into the transference as a playground in which it is allowed to expand in almost complete freedom and in which it is expected to display to us everything in the way of pathogenic instincts that is hidden in the patient's mind." This "creates an intermediate region between illness and real life," a geographical metaphor- the between is a road to wellness and realism.

James Strachey translated Tummelplatz as "playground." It's a sound choice as it evokes children romping at play, but the German carries additional connotations of hurry and commotion among adults, not just children , as well as a figurative possibility - a hotbed of action . Elsewhere , Freud characterized the transference as a field of "struggle" or, more dramatically, as "a battlefield" between doctor and patient. Whether a site of play or bloodshed, whether inhabited by benign characters or frightening ones, this intermediate region is where analysis happens. Just as dreams speak in archaic but overdetermined ways that must be interpreted, the expressive and resistant character of the transference is a language of repetitive actions, driven by primal bodily needs and affects that have become relational patterns, reenactments of early loves and hates that the patient does not consciously remember or understand.

The analyst sees in the patient what Anna Freud called defensive styles, individual modes of being with others in the world. Our need for other people is an essential drive, and that need is of us- body and soul. In his New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1932-33), Freud introduces drive, Trieb, (instinct) theory by saying openly that it is "our mythology," and that drives are "magnificent in their indefiniteness." Nevertheless, he continues, human beings are in the grip of "the two great needs- hunger and love." We know from Civilization and its Discontents that he is quoting Schiller: "hunger and love are what moves the world." Freud makes it plain that he is articulating a "biological psychology"- "the psychical accompaniments of biological processes." Our own age of neurobiology, which has mythologies of its own, returns us to the question of these "psychical accompaniments." What are they? Freud was most interested in love, as am I. In Affective Neuroscience (1998) , Jaak Panksepp writes , "It is now widely accepted that all mammals inherit psychobehavioral systems to mediate social bonding as well as various other social emotions, ranging from intense attraction to separation-induced despair. …

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