Beginning of Classes

Attendees of the Third Psychoanalytical Congress in Weimar in 1911 (Freud is centre; in front of him, to his right, with furry scarf, is Andreas-Salomé)
Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Sigmund Freud Papers

In 1911, having recently become interested in the field of psychoanalysis, 50-year-old German writer Lou Andreas-Salomé attended the Third Psychoanalytical Congress in Weimar and met, amongst other leading figures, Sigmund Freud. A year later, in September of 1912, she wrote to Freud expressing a keen desire to delve deeper into the discipline and asked if she could attend his classes in Vienna, to which Freud, evidently flattered and supportive, said yes. The following diary entry came a month later, on the first day of study, and sees Andreas-Salomé at the beginning of her journey to become the world’s first female psychoanalyst, mentored by Freud himself.

The Diary Entry

October 26, 1912

Beginning of Classes

On the twenty-fifth, as Ellen and I stood by the window of the train approaching Vienna, we had the thought: everything is already fully determined in all its interconnections; that is, everything that is to befall us is already here. Some amusing incidents have occurred. At the very start of my quest for a pension I ran into Dr. Jekels. He informed me that Freud’s class was about to begin today. Freud’s house, where I am to go for an admission card, turns out to be close by. The auditorium of the psychiatric clinic, which I expected to find at the university, is practically in front of our Hotel Zita. And only a few steps farther to the Alte Elster restaurant, where the Freud group gathers after the lecture and at other times. A promising beginning.

Freud looks older and more harassed than in the days of the Weimar Congress; he talked about that too while we walked part way home together. Maybe it’s the fight with Stekel, which is now in full swing. The lecture might have been a deliberate attempt to scare us away, with all the difficulties of psychoanalysis: even if we should succeed in wresting something from the unconscious, “swiftly, as a diver snatches something from the abyss,” any generalization derived from this bit would be promptly turned into a caricature. Since we have access to the unconscious only through pathological material, our efforts arouse the resistance of the conscious, awake individual.

Yet all this is inconsequential compared with the one great fact which he did not mention: that it is of the essence of his simple and ingenious approach to make something unconscious comprehensible by grasping it in illness and kindred states. Only through pathological material could sure knowledge be won, only there where the inner life makes a detour and betrays a little of itself, is formulated through expression, and can be caught with the logical hook in the shallows that shift between the surface and the depths. I recalled how this thought took hold of me on my first acquaintance with Freud’s ideas, when I happened on them for the first time in passing in Swoboda’s writings. Swoboda’s concept of the unconscious is to Freud’s as the living germ, growing and maturing, is to the bygone, sterilized product; but for that very reason Swoboda could never offer any evidence without recourse to metaphysics, and his “periodicity” is only a halfhearted attempt to draw the subject into the sphere of scientific observation. Consequently while it can be integrated with Freud’s assumptions, when for example, concrete data are involved, even then it has nothing profound to say about their origins. But just when Swoboda does say something of the sort he falls into philosophical speculation, which Freud can avoid completely by remaining in the realm of empirical interpretation, bringing to light something really new.

That is where the emphasis must always be placed.

Further Reading

Lou Andreas-Salomé’s record of this transformative period was first published in 1958, in German, as In der Schule bei Freud. Nine years later it was published in English by Quartet Books with the title, The Freud Journal, translated by Stanley A. Leavy with an introduction by Mary-Kay Wilmers. The entry above is reprinted by kind permission of Quartet Books.


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