Experiments in Talking

January 9, 2015
Gustav-Mahler85

On the other hand, Freud was in no need of understanding artistic gifts in order to attend to the dreams, memories, and stories of any individual, whether neurotic, a painter, a musician, a talented inventory, an unrecognized genius, or a failed writer.  It is known that he did not like to accept creators, whom he regarded as adepts of the pleasure principle, for analysis.  And yet, in 1910, he made an exception for Gustav Mahler, who came to consult him because of sexual impotence.  In the course of a four hour walk in the streets of Leyden, he revealed to the composer an infantile fixation which caused him to drag one foot because his mother limped.  Then he brought to his attention a matter involving first names and interpreted the meaning of the repetition of a musical phrase heard in childhood.  That therapeutic episode was recounted by Jones, who erred on the date, and probably deformed the reality.  And yet through his account, it becomes clear that Freud, who was not a music lover, was not interested in Mahler’s talent.  He simply listened to what the composer said and offered him interpretations which were ‘wild’ but adequate to his discourse.

—  from Jacques Lacan and Co. by Elisabeth Roudinesco (19910)


In psychoanalytic historiography, episodes from Freud’s life often drift towards the mythic.  Freud’s walk with Mahler is perhaps a parable of the combined simplicity and scope of psychoanalytic interpretation.  Psychoanalysis has been considered many different things: a model of the psyche, a classification of pathology, a theory of aetiology and a therapeutic technique, to name only a handful.  The Mahler episode encourages an understanding of psychoanalysis as simply a style of observation.  It discovers that the elements of interaction in which we are already engaged in everyday life — words, gestures, and so on — contain an abundance of information beyond our awareness and intentions.  It encourages us to lend a more careful ear and eye to the environments in which we are already immersed.  Consideration of the unconscious lead by various paths beyond the traditional clinical space; this “beyond” offers exciting prospects to those who would explore.  

Extracted from folder: “Experiments in Talking” Cross reference: “Musical Psychoanalysis”; “Myth of Freud.”

From the Desk of the Unconscious

Experiments in Talking Freud