The Freud Museum


Archaeological Metaphor 5

"[The] analytic work of construction, or, if it is preferred, of reconstruction [of the patients forgotten years], resembles to a great extent an archaeologist's excavation of some dwelling place that has been destroyed and buried or of some ancient edifice... Just as the archaeologist builds up the walls of a building from the foundations that have remained standing, determines the number and position of the columns from depressions in the floor, and reconstructs the mural decorations and paintings from the remains found in the debris, so does the analyst proceed when he draws his inferences from fragments of memories, from the associations and from the behaviour of the subject of the analysis. Both of them have an undisputed right to reconstruct by means of supplementing and combining the surviving remains. Both of them, moreover, are subject to many of the same difficulties and sources of error".

"The analyst, as we have said, works under more favourable conditions than the archaeologist since he has at his disposal material which can have no counterpart in excavations, such as the repetitions of reactions dating from infancy and all that is indicated by the transference in connection with these repetitions... Here we are regularly met by a situation which with the archaeological object occurs only in such rare circumstances as those of Pompeii or of the tomb of Tut'ankamun. All of the essentials are preserved; even things that seem completely forgotten are present somehow and somewhere, and have merely been buried and made inaccessible to the subject."

Constructions in Analysis, 1937.

These two quotes from the same work late in his life sum up Freud's difficulties with the archaeological metaphor. In fact we are back with the question we started with - how far, and in what way, is the psychological past preserved in the present, and how does it reveal itself to us today? The second issue - for psychoanalysis - is how far the analysis of the past can bring relief to people suffering from emotional pain and other psychological difficulties. It should be remembered that psychoanalysts today tend to downgrade the work of remembering the past, and Freud himself emphasized that analysis has to take place in the 'here and now' of the therapeutic situation.

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