The Freud Museum

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Analysis of a Passion 1

"I gave myself a present, Schliemann's Ilios, and greatly enjoyed the account of his childhood. The man was happy when he found Priam's treasure, because happiness comes only with the ulfillment of a childhood wish. This reminds me that I shall not go to Italy this year."
Letter to Wilhelm Fliess 28.5.1899.

The quote above and the following one separated by over 35 years, illustrate the deep-rooted nature of Freud's continued fascination with antiquity. Like any complex relationship, we must assume that it had many determinants.

"Now I remember, of course - yesterday I went to the Louvre, at least to the antiquities wing, which contains an incredible number of Greek and Roman statues, gravestones, inscriptions, and relics... For me these things have more historical than aesthetic interest... I just had time for a fleeting glance at the Assyrian and Egyptian rooms, which I must visit again several times. There were Assyrian kings - tall as trees and holding lions for lapdogs in their arms, winged human animals with beautifully dressed hair, cuneiform inscriptions as clear as if they had been done yesterday, and then Egyptian bas-reliefs decorated in fiery colours, veritable colossi of kings, real sphinxes, a dreamlike world."
Letter to Martha Bernays 19.10.1885.

Freud went to Paris in 1896 to study with Jean Martin Charcot, the famous neurologist. Charcot collected antiquities and Freud began to do so soon after he returned from Paris. His father also died at this time. This letter to his fiancé reveals something of the childlike passion which informs his interest (which indicates that it was more than just 'historical' as he claims here).

Exercise:
Pick out the evocative and/or ambiguous words and phrases in Freud's description and discuss them. eg. 'tall as trees' (how do we feel in relation to things which are much bigger than us?); 'winged human animals' (what feelings do we have in relation to ambiguous objects which belong to more than one category at the same time?); etc.

What can these phrases tell us about the emotional structure of Freud's interest?

 



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