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Young Dr. Freud
Analysis Perspectives Family
Theories: Desires
Austrian Alps
The Austrian Alps
(David Grubin Productions)
In June 1897, Freud took his family to the mountains outside Vienna. They picked flowers and hunted mushrooms, as was their custom, but he remained haunted by the problem of hysteria. He was having, he wrote, "grave doubts" about his theory, leaving him in a state of what he described as "fathomless, and bottomless laziness, intellectual stagnation", Freud confessed. "I am dull-witted… I believe I am in a cocoon, and God knows what sort of beast will crawl out."

He continued to labor with the seduction theory he had presented the previous year, but with little progress. Then, on September 21, 1897, Freud wrote his friend Fliess an astonishing letter:

FREUD: "I will confide in you at once the great secret that has been slowly dawning on me in the last few months. I no longer believe in my theory of the neuroses."

GAY: He had a very simple theory that every hysteric had suffered from some kind of early sexual trauma. [But he] began to question whether there were other causes to hysteria, particularly as he discovered he wasn't able to cure his hysterics. It wasn't working out according to theory.

Freud concluded that most of his neurotic patients had not been abused.
Freud concluded that most of his neurotic patients had not been abused. His theory shattered, he fell deeper into despair. Then, after agonizing days of self-analysis, Freud reached a conclusion that would transform the very nature of the theory of mental life he was still inventing: his patients, Freud now believed, had been reporting fantasies. In most cases, there had been no abuse - only conflicted wishes and desires.

FREUD: "When I pulled myself together, I was able to draw the right conclusions… namely that neurotic symptoms are not related directly to actual events but to fantasies embodying wishes."

GAY: Freud takes the emphasis off the experiences that a person has in the world and puts them on the intra-psychic life, what happens in a person's inner world. And this liberated Freud, as it were, to appreciate the power of fantasy, the extraordinary complexity, the meaning of dreams, the richness of inter-psychic life.

EAGLE: We've moved from the notion of an external trauma to an inner wish and desire that's unacceptable to the person. That's now the trauma. That's a major shift.

By switching from actual seduction to seduction fantasies, Freud has now entered the world of the mind and the world of imagination.
By switching from actual seduction to seduction fantasies, Freud has now entered the world of the mind and the world of imagination. It becomes extraordinary material for the humanities, literature, the arts.

EAGLE: We're now into the area of self-deception, truth, confronting oneself, conflict, and that's the birth of psychoanalysis.

By November of 1897, he started writing a book that focused on how wishes and fear expressed themselves in dreams, the "royal road to the unconscious." Work on the book consumed him. He suffered from excruciating migraines and back pains, fretted about money, feared his psychoanalytic practice was failing, even considered changing his profession and moving to a new city. He was being devoured, he wrote, like a cancer.

As Freud explored the unknown, he grew dependent on his friend Wilhelm Fliess, the only person whom he dared entrust with the manuscript.

FREUD: "You shall not refuse me the duties of the first audience and the supreme judge… I shall change whatever you want and gratefully accept contributions… I cannot write entirely without an audience, but do not at all mind writing only for you."

Even on vacation Freud brought his manuscript with him, and drew inspiration from hiking the high Alpine trails.

FREUD: "The whole book is planned on the model of an imaginary walk. At the beginning the dark forest of authors… hopelessly lost on wrong tracks. Then a concealed pass through which I lead the reader and then suddenly the high ground."

Slowly, The Interpretation of Dreams grew in size until it reached 250,000 words, the longest book he would ever write. As he finished editing the last passages of the book in August 1899, Freud remarked on the change that had come over him in a letter to Fliess:

FREUD: "All this work has been very good for my emotional life; I am apparently much more normal than I was four or five years ago."

At the end of August, 1899, after 3 years, Freud finished his book in a farmhouse in Berchtesgaden, high in the German Alps. He felt that he was on the precipice of fame and fortune and his spirits soared. The book's first words rang out with a triumphant note of confidence:

FREUD: "In the pages that follow I shall bring forward proof that there is a psychological technique which makes it possible to interpret dreams, and that, if that procedure is employed, every dream reveals itself as a psychical structure which has a meaning and which can be inserted at an assignable point in the mental activities of waking life."

With these words, Freud introduced the world not only to a new way of interpreting dreams, but to a universal theory of the human mind and how to understand, and confront, its processes. The Interpretation of Dreams would lead to a revolution that would change the modern world.

Continue to the epilogue.

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