Friday, May 4, 2007

the dream of the totalitarian mind

"The traumatic neuroses and the war neuroses may proclaim too loudly the effects of mortal danger and may be silent or speak only in muffled tones of the effects of frustration in love."
--Freud, "Introduction to Psychoanalysis and the War Neurosis"

Addressing the fifth annual Psychoanalytic Congress in Budapest in 1918, Freud argued that the work that had been done by psychoanalysis on treating peace-time neurosis could be extended to the treatment of war-time neurosis. Through this timely discussion of war neurosis before "official representatives from the highest quarters of the Central European Powers," Freud defended psychoanalysis against its dissenters, and also attempted to put the techniques of psychoanalysis to use in a larger social context. The paper, "The Psychoanalysis of War Neuroses" was later revised as the introduction to a collection of papers on war neurosis given at the Congress by Sandor Ferenczi, Karl Abraham, and Ernst Simmel. Freud "laments," in his introduction, that the ending of war resulted in the collapse of state organizations that were interested in the problem of mental illness. In the following year, Freud testified to the Austrian War Commission against the use of electric shock therapy as a treatment for war neurosis, concluding that the cause of war neurosis was without doubt "psychical," and recommended the use of psychoanalytic therapy instead of corrective electrical treatment. Freud acknowledges the operative logic of war that justified the treatment of war neurotics "as maligners," but ends up condemning medical professionals who "may have forgotten that the patient whom he was seeking to treat as a maligner was, after all, not one." His sensitivity to this confusion alludes to a violence that is measured in the slightest degree, by "the strength of the current." Drawing a parallel between degrees of "curative" violence and the extreme external violence of war, Freud addresses the complicated issue of treatment in Brechtian "dark times." He writes, "the insoluable conflict between the claims of humanity, which normally carry decisive weight for a physician, and the demands of a national war was bound to confuse his activity." The activity that Freud here testifies against revolves around the question of what it means to continue "care" for the recovery of a patient even when a time seems to demand that the "cure" of a patient be "the restoration of his fitness for service." My work on the strange silence of postwar poetry begins with the problem of complicity in the activity of war, and involves the implicit parallel between the autonomy of therapeutic care and artistic practices of estrangement and obscurity.

1 comment:

albane said...

who can provide psychoanalysis in time of war? how can trauma be addressed in media res? as of frustration and instinct: can we begin to identify where they hit? at codePINK yesterday, an Irak vet shouted "SHAME, shame on you." my response was "BLESS you." Both stance were strong and displyed violence. i wondered then how shift operate as they can occur. i thought of the healing process and was left both invigorated and exhausted.