🐺 Encountering the Wolf-Man | 001

Hello 2023,

This year I'm starting a few projects that I think could b interesting to the people who read the [S][J][P] Blog and the ◉ Newsletter I send out.

One of those projects will be a small in-person study group/reading seminar focused on Freud's From the History of an Infantile Neurosis or The Wolf-Man case, as it is more commonly known nowadays.

The format of this reading seminar will meet one time per month. Each seminar session will look at each of the nine chapters of the published case study. If there is still interest in continuing to examine the case after these nine meetings, we can look into some of the other documents that pertain to the case.

Today, I'm sending out the notes I'll be using during the first meeting of the seminar. Future versions of these notes will be available to [S][J][P] Supporting Members.  

Introductory Remarks:

The first chapter of the published case is appropriately titled Introductory Remarks, where Freud gives us an overview of Sergei Pankejeff, the patient who will later become known as the Wolf-Man.


  • It seemed like all was normal enough until Sergei was four years old.
  • Freud tells us that after Sergei's fourth birthday, his life became "dominated b a severe neurotic disturbance, [...] in the shape of an anxiety-hysteria (animal phobia), then changed into an obsessional neurosis with a religious content," which lasted till he was ten.
  • This obsessional neurosis "came to an end spontaneously but has left a defect behind it after recovery."
  • From 10-18, Sergei seems to return to a normal enough existence.
  • At 18, Sergei's health deteriorated "after a gonorrheal infection." At this point, Sergei was "entirely incapacitated and completely dependent upon other people."
  • Before coming to Freud for treatment, "[Sergei] spent a long time in German sanatoriums, and was at that period classified in the most authoritative quarters as a case of 'manic-depressive insanity.'"
  • Freud tells us that he will write about the treatment of  Sergei's  "infantile neurosis [which he had from age 4-10], not while it actually existed but only fifteen years after its termination." This means that Sergei entered into analysis when he was about 25.
  • The first year of treatment (1910-1911) "Produced scarcely any change."
  • At some point after this, a transference did develop. This is evidenced by Freud writing, "I determined --but not until trustworthy signs had led me to judge that the right moment had come– that the treatment must be brought to an end at a particular fixed date, no matter how far [the treatment] had advanced [or failed to advance]." As far as we know, this is the only instance of Freud using a set end date as a psychoanalytic intervention.



There are three points of interest in this short first chapter. I'll outline them below.

(If seminar members find other areas of interest, I hope they will bring them up when we meet.)

Point 1: Treatment of Adults v. Treatment of Children

From here, Freud, who is rather honest about the limitations of what he is doing and how he is doing it, acknowledges that he will be treating something that happened in childhood via an adult's imperfect recollections.  He points out that in Sergei's case, he will be treating a neurosis 15 years after it has ended.

This state of things has its advantages as well as its disadvantages in comparison with the alternative. An analysis which is conducted upon a neurotic child itself ust, as a matter of course, appear to be more trustworthy, but it cannot be very rich in material; too many words and thoughts have to be lent to the child, and even so the deepest strata may turn out to be impenetrable to consciouness. An analysis of a childhood disorder through the medium of recollection in an intellectually mature adult is free from these limitations; but it necessitates our taking into account the distortion and refurbishing to which a person's own pst is subjected when it is looked back upon from a later period.
I was not going to mention this at all, but I know that many of the people in the seminar happen to work with children, and I thought this might be important to them. I'm not going to spend much time on this. However, if people want to come back to it later, we can return to it. 
The next two points are the points I think are the most interesting and useful for our clinic today. 

Point 2: Resistance to Psychoanalysis

Freud was aware that people resisted what psychoanalysis revealed. I would say that psychoanalysis is a process that reveals something I'll call a "truth," the truth of the unconscious, and Freud noticed that people resisted acknowledging the truth of this truth. However, people did not consistently in the same way! They changed their manner of resistance, and as a result, psychoanalysis had to change as well.

In the beginning, people resisted psychoanalytic truth by trying to say, "That's rubbish." However, this mode of resistance proved ineffective. Here I want to take a bit of digression and point out how the way that Freud's revolution was, in a way, an excellent example of what the historian of the philosophy of science Thomas Kuhn calls "the structure of scientific revolutions." In essence, the structure of a scientific revolution is as follows:

  1. The scientific method reveals a truth. This tends to be a truth that contradicts what people believe is true. It upends the established understandings.
  2. This truth is published, put out into the world, and people refuse it. People then attempt to prove the revealed truth is false.
  3. The more that people attempt to show the revealed truth is false, the more that its truth becomes established as truth.
  4. Eventually, the revealed truth is integrated into a newly established order, a new understanding of "this is how things are," which is to say the truth of the revealed truth becomes obvious.
  5. When something goes from being a disturbing truth to an accepted truth, people no longer actively contend with it. It (the revealed truth) is just the way things are. People don't need to struggle with it.  

So what did people do with the truth that psychoanalysis reveals --the truth of the unconscious? At first, they fought against it. But the more they fought, the more the truth of the unconscious was revealed. So what, then? The next move was resisting psychoanalysis by accepting it as an obvious truth. It's an interesting form of resistance, eh? When the truth of the unconscious is obvious and unavoidable, it does not need to be examined; it can be ignored. Freud comments on this directly,

People were content formerly to dispute the reality of the facts [truths] which are asserted by analysis; and for this purpose, the best technique seems to be to avoid examining them. That procedure appears to be slowly exhausting itself; and people are now adopting another plan --recognizing the facts [truths], but of eliminating, by means of twisted interpretations, the consequences that follow from them, so that the critics are defended against the objectionable novelties as efficiently as ever.

I think it is very interesting that the treatment of Sergei, and Sergei's resistance, started in 1910, very shortly after Freud visited America in 1909 for the Clark Lectures. Sherry Turkle has pointed out in her book Psychoanalytic Politics,

Only five years after his American visit, Freud noted that something was going wrong in America. Americans were accepting psychoana­ lysis too easily, and Freud took this as a sure sign that they were misun­ derstanding it, watering it down, and sweetening it to their taste. To his mind, if the Americans really had been accepting [the truth psychoanalysis reveals], things would not have been going so smoothly. Freud believed that too easy an acceptance meant that psychoanalysis was being denatured, and he also believed the converse: resistance to psychoanalysis suggested that it was being taken seriously. For Freud, psychoanalysis was so deeply subversive of common-sense ways of thinking about the world that to understand it was to resist it.

With this in mind, let's return to Sergei's case. Freud says,

The patient [Sergei] with whom I am here, concerned remained for a long time unassailably entrenched behind an attitude of obliging apathy. He listened, understood, and remained unapproachable. His unimpeachable intelligence was, as it were, cut off from the [drive]  forces, which governed his behavior in the few relations of life that remains to him. It required a long education to induce him to take an independent share in the work; and win as a result of this exertion, he began for the first time to feel relief, he immediately knocked off the work in order to avoid any further changes, and in order to remain comfortably in the situation, we should dustbin established. Is shrinking from an independent existence, was so great as to outweigh all the vaccinations of his illness. Only one way was to be found of overcoming it.

We can see from this description that Sergei was very good at resisting the truths, what Freud refers to as the "drive forces," or his singular mode of jouissance, his way of being comfortable, of being satisfied by remaining dependent upon others.

Freud saw only one way to get past this, bringing us to today's last point.

Point 3: An End Point

Continuing from here, the quoted text above leaves off, Freud says,

I was obliged to wait until his attachment to myself [transference] had become strong enough to counterbalance this shrinking [away from personal responsibility for what satisfies him], and then played off this one factor against the other. I determined. --but not until trust worthy signs, and let me to judge at the right moment had come– that the treatment must be brought to an end at a particular fixed date, no matter how far it had advanced [or failed to advance].

There is so much in this short bit of text!

  • Freud waited until there was a transference (i.e., a sort of love for Freud, or if we consider transference to be the Subject-supposed-to-know, love of the knowledge that Sergei supposed Freud to have). It was only after this transference had been established that Freud could produce an effective intervention. And what an intervention it was!
  • Freud went against all that was standard, all that was the "rule" of psychoanalysis to this point, and imposed a hard limit on the treatment. He said the analysis stopped on this date no matter what. What was implied in this? If you want to get something out of this, stop fucking around. Here, we can find a Freudian justification for what got Lacan in such hot water with the dogmatic IPA –Freud used a scansion.
  • Bot Freud and Lacan used the way that an analysand expected them to adhere to norms to resist establishing a psychoanalytic truth (the truth of the unconscious) and cut off that mode of resistance.

The thing that stands out to me the most:

The idea is that analysts need to change their practice as people change their modes of resistance to the truth psychoanalysis reveals. This is something that Lacan understood, and I believe it is one of the reasons Lacan did not want psychoanalysis to be stuck in an orthodox Freudian configuration forever and ever, no matter what.

My questions for you all:

What implications do you think this has for our clinical practice today?

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