Budapest: Great expectations (1918-1919)

Hard at work

In 1918, the year the war ended, the letters Freud and Ferenczi exchanged concerned primarily their analytic work. Having left behind, to a great extent, the torments of recent years, and free of the need to show himself to be a zealous Freudian, Ferenczi could now dedicate all his energy to psychoanalytic research that gradually acquired a new and more original character. In fact, he undertook to make a critical revision of analytic practices. He used the term “revision” in early February, in a letter to Freud: “Having returned after an uneventful trip, I am up to my neck in work. The time constraints caused me to undertake with a few patients, instead of a strict psychoanalysis, at least a cursory psychoanalytic revision [...]”

Caught up in his characteristic enthusiasm, he was unwittingly venturing into a sensitive sphere by attempting to find an alternative to classical analysis, which he had just experienced. His transferential grievances were replaced by technical experimentation. Later, he would write “The Elasticity of Psycho-Analytic Technique” (1928), to counter the lack of flexibility in rigidly structured classical analysis.

In the above-mentioned letter, dated February 5 and 9, Ferenczi specified that he was rewriting his paper on hysterical stigmata, that he was still working on the Hungarian translation of The Interpretation of Dreams, and that he hoped to “attack biology” shortly. On February 15 he confirmed the power of transference between work associates:

Yom two essays [Metapsychology of Dream Processes, Mourning and Melancholia] are occupying me constantly. Only now does one comprehend the structure of the psychic apparatus. But I fear you are correct in your assumption that at most one [or] two people will grasp the extent of what is being revealed. It will become necessary to revise the concept of introjections on the basis of the new findings. I will reflect on this.

He then announces the planned publication of four of his articles in German, in a special volume, explaining that in Hungary this is likely to earn him “scientific significance.” On May 4 he sent Freud three short articles, and on May 18 he seemed almost ecstatic when he described his newest practice, that of long-term analysis, a treatment he considered closest to the Freudian model: “I haven’t been working lately, except for my hours [...] In the next few weeks I am hoping to terminate a three-year treatment victoriously after hard final struggles. It will be a triumph for psychoanalysis.” His obvious confidence could be a due to several factors. The end of his own analysis has left him slightly euphoric; in addition, two men have entered the scene, and can serve as go-betweens between him and Freud: Georg Groddeck and Anton von Freund.

Over the past year, he has gradually gotten to know Groddeck’s ideas. The latter’s unusual therapeutic practices interest him, and allow him to legitimate and enrich his thinking about his own practices. On June 14, he revealed to Freud a discovery which, unbeknownst to him, was going to offer strong support to his critical re-evaluation of the practices of so-called classical Freudian analysis:

It strikes me altogether as much more probable that Groddeck is not curing at all with analysis, but rather that with the aid of transference he puts the plastic power of hysteria into the service of the organic tendency to heal. Precisely because he doesn’t analyze but rather displaces the tendencies as a block, he is able to perform such feats.

This faith in an innate tendency to heal stops him fr om fully agreeing with the Freudian hypothesis of a death instinct. In addition, Ferenczi has the support of Freund, whom he met in 1915, and who takes a very active part in the activities of the local gr oup of Hungarian analysts. In fact, he would play an important role in the major analytic event of the year, an International Psychoanalytic Congress, which was originally to be held in Germany.

On June 26, Ferenczi is looking forward to Freud’s planned visit to Budapest, before going to the Breslau conference in Germany: “We will only forge plans for your program on the spot. Nice walks in the surroundings of Budapest should play a considerable role in that, a good restaurant should always serve as a goal for an outing.” Very happy with this prospect, Ferenczi is looking back at the evolution of their friendship, its setbacks and its renewal:

I often think now about tire ‘honeymoon’ of our acquaintance in Berchtesgaden just ten years ago. In the meantime, some changes have taken place in me - the newest one may give me the inner freedom that still eluded me in Palermo.

On June 29 Freud confinns that he will be staying at Freund’s house in July. Freund had been in analysis with him after Freud had treated his second wife. Speaking of this analysis, Freud made a remark Ferenczi must have appreciated: “The analysis with our host was very interesting. Since it has as its aim the remaking of a person, I am pennitted to continue it beyond the disappearance of symptoms.” This comment must have bolstered Ferenczi’s opinion that an analysis must be deepened, and cannot limit itself to eliminating symptoms. Freud’s letter also contains this bit of information about Freund: “He himself will develop for you his intentions of helping out psychoanalysis.” This is another reason for Ferenczi to feel hopefill: Freund had told Freud of his intention to make a substantial financial donation in support of the Freudian project. This donation would make it possible to plan the setting up of a psychoanalytic outpatient clinic in Budapest, with an affiliated training institute for future psychoanalysts, whose analytic activities would be headed by Ferenczi.

In these favourable circumstances, the International Psychoanalytic Congress provided Ferenczi with an opportunity for double recognition: political and analytic. On his own initiative, and without consulting Freud, he took charge of organising the Congress. During tire proceedings, Freud made a momentous declaration, saying that the therapeutic way forward was “first and foremost” connected to activity on the part of the analyst, as advocated by Ferenczi - this master of psychoanalysis who, thanks to his personal analysis, had become acquainted with the good and bad consequences of the analyst’s close involvement in his practice.

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