From public consecration to personal aspirations (summer 1918-spring 1919)

An ominous future

In the only letter Ferenczi wrote to Freud in this dark month of August 1919, on August 28, he describes the catastrophic situation he faces in his country:

after the unbearable ‘Red tenor,’ which lay heavy on one’s spirit like a nightmare, we now have the White one [...] the ruthless clerical - anti-Semitic spirit seems to have eked out a victory [...] we, Hungarian Jews are now facing a period of brutal persecution of Jews.

He expects the conditions of life to become difficult: “It will very soon become evident how one can live and work here. It is naturally the best thing for psychoanalysis to continue working in complete withdrawal and without noise.” In these conditions, teaching psychoanalysis at the university has become impossible: “The blackest reaction prevails at the university. All Jewish assistants were fired, the Jewish students were thrown out and beaten.”

Ulis collision of the history of psychoanalysis with the history of mankind gives Ferenczi pause: “Personally, [I] will have to take this trauma as an occasion to abandon certain prejudices brought along from the nursery and to come to terms with the bitter truth of being, as a Jew, really without a country.” Therefore, to think that such a government could offer refuge or a home to psychoanalysis would have been an illusion. Hope had to come from another source: “One must distribute the libido which becomes free [...] between the few friends whom one has rescued from this debacle, the only true soul that accompanies one through thick and thin [Gizella?], and science.” But this love of science, while pursued alone, would have to be shared with a witness: “So you will have to excuse me if henceforth I seek the opportunity more often than before of communicating with you personally, or at least by letter.” On September 5, Freud’s reply is warm and frill of concern:

When I see you again in Vienna at the end of this month, a whole year will have passed, a year without personal intercourse, the first in the history of our relations. Perhaps the most difficult year for you as well, as it was one of the most difficult for me [...]

Sensing his friend’s distress, Freud goes on to say: “[...] a year which ends with a burning disappointment for you, one which has robbed you of a fatherland [...]” And that is the least of it, since Ferenczi loses not only his country, but also the political ideals he had adopted, hoping that the Republic of Councils would provide a favourable environment for the development and transmission of psychoanalysis.

Freud points out that despite the disappointments, the year had brought some rewards:

[... ] and yet - you will have to be thankfill to it, for it has brought you a wife, without whom you wouldn’t be able to bear life today; [and] the teaching position which you have wished for so long, and which will, let us hope, continue to be yours [...]

Freud knows, just as Ferenczi does, that these accomplishments owe much to the trying work of personal analysis carried out in the years just past. Without the analysis, Ferenczi would never have taken the bold initiative of having the 1918 Breslau conference moved to Budapest. Not only was the Congress a great success, but it led to Ferenczi’s two recent, though short-lived, nominations. In his letter, Freud lists yet another reason for which Ferenczi might feel doubly hopefill: “[...] and - if you didn’t have it yet - also the certainty that our scientific movement, in which you are assuming a leading role, [can stand] up to all storms and perils.” Thus, Freud asserts his faith in the strength of the analytic movement, and in the triumph of psychoanalysis; indeed, he sees it confirmed in Ferenczi’s eminent position at the head of the analytic movement. The letter ends with a heartfelt wish: “The next year should begin beautifully with the joyful meeting of friends who haven’t seen one another for a long time!”

In October, Ferenczi goes to Vienna. On October 12, Freud informs Eitingon about the decisions made during this visit:

Jones was here, Ferenczi and Freund are still here; alas, the latter is a man who is slowly dying, while displaying perfect lucidity and self-control. Our orientation towards the West has been accomplished, Ferenczi resigned the presidency in favour of Jones.

Thus, Ferenczi never exercised his functions as President of the IPA. A few weeks later, on November 20,1919, he acknowledged that he was shaken, but spoke with courage and great determination: “After the beautiful days in Vienna - despite all the calamities I had to learn of there, they were still the most beautiful of the year gone by - I began compulsory service here on the day after our arrival.” Aside from working on his own biological project (Thaiasset) and preparing the yearly report of the Hungarian Psychoanalytic Association, he has been writing reviews of biological works. Heeding Freud’s advice to believe, in those difficult times, only in the future victories of psychoanalysis, Ferenczi imparts a more confident tone to his writing: “I hope I have found the tone which expresses our superiority in the face of the new findings [...] approximately the way we came to an agr eement about this at one of our nice Thursday meetings.” Showing no change of heart or bad temper, Ferenczi pursues the work in the worst political climate: “[...] about the political conditions in Budapest [...] the anti-Semitic tenor rages on indefatigably, they won’t allow Jewish auditors into the university, harass Jews wherever possible.” Ferenczi is able to focus all his energy on science and on his active participation in the analytic movement because his desire for analysis is now rooted in what is left of his working relationship and his direct connection with Freud through the spoken (written) word: “Coming back to the Vienna vacation (it is certainly the nicest thing to think of our scientific and amicable relations), I must affirm that they will remain rmforgettable to me in marry respects.” Despite the progress achieved in his personal analysis, and despite its enduring deferred effects, Ferenczi remains dependent not so much on Freud personally -infantile position - as on the sphere of significance created and maintained on condition of his ongoing exchanges with the father of psychoanalysis. This need for a space of direct exchange, made possible by the presence of another, never left Ferenczi: “In the few hours that were at our disposal, we were able to exchange such a wealth of insights as perhaps never before [...] All this was able to compensate me frilly for the loss of this year’s summer vacation.” Ferenczi softens reality a great deal when he reduces the hardships of the previous year to the mere loss of his vacation. After all, has he not seen, within a few months, any hopes of the well-deserved recognition of his hard work as an analyst vanish? Has not the promising future emerging on the horizon been swept away by the White ten or reigning in Budapest and by the imminent death of Anton von Freud, his newfound friend? In order not to fall apart in such catastrophic circumstances, Ferenczi, like Freud, can shift his hopes to the future of science and psychoanalysis. But unlike Freud, he now needs another person to trust and to exchange with even more than before: “It will, to be sure, be difficult for me to renounce again for months this intimate contact, of which I have become so fond.”

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