The Freud Museum

Events Archive

14 April 2010

Sigmund Freud's Dora: A case of mistaken identity

Film Screening and Discussion

Wednesday 14th April 2010, 7pm

Anthony McCall, Claire Pajaczkowska, Andrew Tyndall, Jane Weinstock and Ivan Ward
1979, 16mm colour, sound 40min

Screening followed by discussion with two of the film makers, Claire Pajaczkowska and Ivan Ward

30 years after it was made, the position of Sigmund Freud's Dora: A case of mistaken identity within the world of independent film is assured. In 2008 it was shown at Tate Modern for the 50th anniversary celebrations for the film theory journal Screen, and in 2009 it inaugurated the new Whitechapel Gallery film programme, screened four times with other works and public discussions. But the film is not just an 'art house' film. It is above all the reading of a text, Freud's 'Dora' case, what it shows us and what we can learn from it.

In 1899, Sigmund Freud began treatment with an 18-year-old girl who was brought to him for analysis by her father after she had written a suicide note. Freud was eager to use this case to demonstrate the hypotheses laid out in his Interpretation of Dreams but after only three months of treatment the young woman walked out, without being cured.

Five years later Freud published an account of this failed treatment, calling it a “Fragment of an Analysis” and giving his patient the name Dora – that of a servant in his household.

Recently, Dora has been a focus for the appropriation of psychoanalysis by feminist theory. Questions about the exchange of women, the representation of female sexuality, and the marginal or contradictory position of women in language, have been discovered in her story.

But the descriptions Freud gives of Dora are not innocent documentary facts. Freud constructs her as a character in the structure of his “novella”, as a recollection of the words he remembers her having spoken, as an object of his scientific detective-work. Thus the presentation of her sexuality is also a function of these analytic and narrative processes.

The psychoanalytic method itself is a process of reading the language and symptoms of the patient; Freud’s written case history is a reading of that reading, which we in turn read.

The film, Sigmund Freud’s Dora starts from the position that these processes of representation are not only a factor in psychoanalytic texts. They exist no less in the conventions of film editing than they do in advertising; no less in the iconography of the mother than they do in pornography.

Claire Pajaczkowska is a senior lecturer at the Royal College of Art. She is the author of Perversion in the Ideas in Psychoanalysis series, and co-editor, with Ivan Ward, of Shame and Sexuality: Psychoanalysis and Visual Culture (2009)

Ivan Ward is director of education at the Freud Museum.


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