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Sigmund Freud

DORA: ‘FRAGMENT OF AN

DORA: ‘FRAGMENT OF AN ANALYSIS OF A CASE OF HYSTERIA’ (1905) The case of ‘Dora’ was originally recorded by Freud in 1901 from a patient he saw in 1900. Dora was in reality an eighteen-year-old girl named Ida Bauer, brought by her father to see Freud against her own inclination. She was suffering from recurrent depression, fits of coughing, fainting spells and the periodic loss of her voice, amongst other hysterical symptoms. She had become withdrawn from her father, with whom she had once been close, and she was on very bad terms with her mother. Dora’s father brought her to Freud after they found a note in her desk declaring her intention of committing suicide. Freud quickly discovered a complicated sexual and emotional triangle (or square) that included the girl – though it was not of her making – that had obviously affected her deeply. The situation was as follows. Dora’s whole family, but especially her father and herself, were very close to a couple, Herr and Frau K., whom they had met at a health resort that Dora’s father had attended to try and cure his tuberculosis. It emerged quite early in the analysis that Dora was aware that Frau K. and her father were having an affair. Yet Frau K. was also intimate friends with Dora, and Dora looked after the K.s’ children, becoming ‘almost a mother to them’. Dora was also very friendly with Herr K. When she was fourteen Herr K. made sexual advances towards Dora, which she spurned. This did not, however, seem much to affect the general intercourse between the two families. When Herr K. again propositioned Dora two years later she again reacted negatively and with another bout of hysterical symptoms. Her father, at this point, brought her to see Freud. The setting for Dora’s illness – her convoluted family relations – reads like a late Victorian melodrama full of sexual intrigue and unspeakable suspicions. By telling Freud her family history, Dora exposed the adult affairs that surrounded her and protested her unwilling place in the scheme of events. Dora told Freud that she felt that her father and Frau K. had offered her to Herr K. to appease him; if Herr K. agreed to overlook Frau K.’saffair with Dora’s father, Dora’s father would hand over Dora for Herr K.’s pleasure. It is a sordid and upsetting tale to read now about a girl who was between fourteen and sixteen at the time when most of these events occurred. Freud accepts Dora’s version of the events – he explicitly does not believe the version that Dora’s father proffers, that Dora simply fantasised Herr K.’s advances. And yet Freud is also part of the chain of powerful adults who treat Dora as an object of exchange. Freud describes how Dora’sfather‘handed her over to me for psychotherapeutic treatment’ (Freud 1905a: 49). With this ‘handing over’ Freud, too, becomes a player in the drama of Dora, reshaping her story to suit the needs of his psychoanalytic theory. Unlike Freud’s doctor–patient relationship with the Rat Man or the Wolf Man, Dora and Freud had a combative relationship from the beginning. The case history of Dora has been seen as a struggle between Dora and Freud to tell the story of Dora’s hysteria. Freud’s treatment of Dora is fascinating but often quite upsetting to read about. In my earlier discussion of Studies on Hysteria I talked of the ways in which hysterics suffer from gaps in their memories. The traumatic origins of their repressed desires are lost or missing. They themselves often seem like fragmented persons, unable to use their native language, or sometimes even their own limbs. One goal of psychoanalytic therapy was to help fill in these gaps in women hysterics’ stories – to make them readable to themselves. Listening to what the patient had to say about her dreams and free associations allowed Freud to suggest new versions of the contents of the patient’s mind and the actions of the patient’s body. But there is a danger in this sort of activity, as we have seen in the case of the Wolf Man; the story that the analyst wants to tell about the patient may not always be

identical to the story the patient tells about him or herself. The analyst, with his claims to being able to unlock the secrets of the unconscious, can seem quite powerful in relation to the patient; his story may appear to be the more convincing one, particularly when it is backed up by an impressive medical diagnosis and an official case history. Freud’s writing up of Dora’s case contains many moments when Dora disagrees with his interpretations. The most crucial instance of this is Freud’s insistence to Dora that she was actually in love with Herr K., and that her hysteria came in part from her own repressed feelings for him. Dora denies this explanation of Freud’s for much of the therapy, but eventually capitulates to his interpretation, and most of the therapy reads like a battle of wills. For instance, he finds her reactions of disgust to Herr K.’s advances on her when she is fourteen years old ‘already entirely and completely hysterical’ (Freud 1905a: 59). Dora must have been attracted to him, Freud reasons (even stating, admiringly, that Herr K. is a very attractive man), so how could she have spurned his advances? According to Freud, it was because she reacted to him with a hysterical reversal of affect, she repressed her desire for Herr K. and reacted in the opposite way to her unconscious desires. Freud’s interpretations of Dora’s dreams are a tour de force of detective prowess which I highly recommend reading. Yet Freud’s interpretations also seem brutal, forced and insensitive. Dora’s repeated complaints that she does not recall feeling the way Freud insists she must have felt bring forth his virulent insistence upon the superior interpretative power of the analyst, who can delve into the depths of the unconscious. If Dora says No, she really means Yes, because ‘there is no such thing at all as an unconscious “No”’ (Freud 1905a: 92). Any associations that Dora has with anything that Freud suggests can be turned around to prove his point. Any protest, at least in this case history, is filed by Freud under resistance or repression – as an idea that hasn’t made it past the unconscious into consciousness yet. It seems that resistance really is futile in psychoanalysis, at least if you are Dora. Hélène Cixous, the French psychoanalytic literary critic, describes Dora as ‘the core example of the protesting force of women’ (Bernheimer and Kahane 1985:1). Dora became an exemplary feminist heroine, in a sense, by walking out on Freud. Her case is a fragment because she refused to complete her analysis. By doing so, she denied Freud the possibility of an unfragmented, complete story. In Freud’s earlier case from Studies on Hysteria, ‘Elizabeth von R.’, he claims that ‘the whole work was, of course, based on the expectation that it would be possible to establish a completely adequate set of determinants for the events conceived’ (Freud and Breuer 1895:207). This assumption implies that a full set of facts – if the analyst is able to achieve knowledge of them – will yield a complete understanding of the determining factors of a case of hysteria. But, as we have seen in Freud’s sometimes contradictory attitude towards dream interpretation, psychoanalytic theorising can also dispute the possibility of ever being able to gain ‘a full set of facts’. Within the bounds of the case history, which is obviously written by Freud, Dora appears to dispute Freud’s sense of mastery, his claim to total knowledge of her. She finally tells Freud that she is quitting, opening one of her sessions with the following words: ‘Do you know that I am here for the last time today?’–‘How can I know, as you have said nothing to me about it?’–‘Yes, I made up my mind to put up with it till the New Year. But I shall wait no longer than that to be cured.’– ‘You know that you are free to stop the treatment at any time. But for today we will go on with our work. When did you come to this decision?’–‘A fortnight ago, I think.’‘That sounds like a maidservant or a governess – a fortnight’s notice.’

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