Freud, Jung, Spielrein.

February 13, 2012 1 comment

‘A Dangerous Method’ is Cronenberg’s film of the Freud, Jung, Sabine Spielrein story. Spielrein is taken to the Burgholzli hospital to be treated by Jung. She has the classic symptoms of hysteria. Jung tries the ‘Talking Cure’, the revolutionary method pioneered by Freud whom he has not yet met. Jung soon gives in to the passions aroused by the transference and acts out, becoming Spielrein’s lover. ‘There’s no such thing as coincidence’, he tells her. alluding to his famous concept of ‘synchronicity’. A neat justification one might think for crossing the boundary. The rumours start and the fall out threatens his career.  He abandons her. She writes to Freud who defends his psychoanalytic son and heir. In a breakthrough which effectively casts her as the ethical saviour of psychoanalysis she demands that Jung write to Freud and tell him the truth about their affair. He reluctantly does so and she leaves for Vienna and becomes Freud’s patient. She becomes a psychoanalyst herself and writes a paper proposing  that sexuality (Eros) rather than being a binding force as Freud maintained, shatters the ego.

Jung plays the master, the doctor, the male analyst.  As he strays from analyst to lover, Spielrein enrols him as ‘master’ in her masochism.   He becomes part of her symptom and indeed of her research. She inhabits and explores Freud’s ‘dark continent’ of female sexuality. She emerges to write and think about it. She has gone subjectively and theoretically where neither Freud nor Jung could go.

It is the deadly oedipal rivalry of the two men that is the interesting subtext. On the boat to New York Jung recounts a dream to Freud which the older man interprets as Jung’s death wish against him. When asked by Jung to speak of his dream, Freud replies he has had a rich and complex dream but to relate this to Jung would be to put his (Freud’s) authority at risk. In another scene Freud faints in Jung’s presence. The split  between them happens not long after this. Rivalry and hatred win the day.

What could barely speak its name between them was homosexuality. They came up against the barriers of their own time and as rival patriarchs had too much to lose by going further down that road.

Spielrein had less to lose. Already sexually ‘humiliated’, she sexualises her humiliation. In his letter to Freud, Jung complained of her ‘planned seduction of him’. Disingenuous one might think. There is  an irony here however. Jung in the end is just an element in Spielrein’s masochistic deal. ‘Planned seduction’ overdescribes it but she knows what she wants and so salvages her self respect.  In the end she was able to find a place in the interstices of psychoanalytic politics and was creative with it.

The power structures that uphold the priveleges of gender, class and sexuality have remained in place even though two world wars and social movements since the 1960s have shaken them loose. Spielrein is more recognisable to us in our time as a sexual and political subject than either Freud or Jung.

This comes across however despite the film. It is suffused throughout with a souped-up version of music from the third Ring opera, Wagner’s ‘Siegfried’, and the orchestral piece, the ‘Siegfried Idyll’. Spielrein was a Wagner fan. She and Jung shared the fantasy of being the twins Siegmund and Sieglinde from Die Walkure. Their incestuous love would magically produce a son. Siegfried would also be a reborn heroic Jung who would renew a fallen world. Cronenburg’s Hollywood gloss falls in with the fantasy. There’s a sinister hint that Freud is Mime, Siegfried’s despised Nibelung guardian.

The credits at the end do nothing to dispel what seems to be a retrospective glorification of Jung: ‘Freud driven out by the Nazis and dying London, 1939’. ‘Spielrein and her son shot by the Nazis in Rostov 1941’. Carl Jung, however becomes the 20th century’s greatest psychologist, dying peacefully in 1962.  Really!

Stephen Gee

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