Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Freud's Dora is subtitled 'An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria' and it would be premature - this is the only Freud I've read - to say that Freud's personal obsession drives him along a narrow track.

But his logic skips at a brisk pace, hard to follow and dense with allusion to other ideas and narratives beyond the page. It's a difficult book to like until you start to think about 'Dora' with more concentration.

Dora, a pseudonym, is a complex girl who suffers from nervous disorders, and no wonder. Her father has syphyllis from his youth. Her mother is clearly depressed and secrets herself away from her husband.

In fact, it is in the boring domestic details that Dora's story becomes most lively and engaging. Indeed, Freud took pains at times to transcribe whole conversations between himself and Dora, in illustrating a point.

The complex web of intimacies and friendships that constituted Dora's adolescence attest to either an enlightened or a very disorderly family. Her father's affair with Mrs K bleeds into her own intimacies with Mr K. Freud advises that it is a transference of anxiety about her father (doing it with Mrs K) that grows into jealousy, that manifests itself as disgust at Mr K's approaches.

At 14, she is unable to process his approach, and is referred to Freud. From our perspective, however, it is clear that the family life was not supportive. Her mother didn't engage with the kids and her father was always off with his mistress.

Unfortunately for Freud, we are not so morally concerned about physical things nowadays. His high minded attack on masturbation, accompanied by proof from other doctors, is frankly ridiculous, like Marx attacking the Jews.

Freud is, at the beginning, at pains to distance himself from other physicians, so it is a bit rich to conscript their opinions at such a delicate point.

I would recommend the book, though, for its inherent interest as a document of a girl's life at the turn of the century. Few other types of literature, at that time, dealt in the same issues. So from this point of view, Freud's analysis is unique. Even in literature you'll not find so much direct observation of individual utterances and events.

As a serious piece of scholarship, I'm not really qualified, especially given that I never - or hardly ever - read literary introductions. Nevertheless, I felt a lot of impatience.

This is not surprising in light of scientific advances and modern concepts of good domestic governance and behavioral theory, which most people can use to argue with to some degree. Definitely passee, but also worth the time and effort.

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