Swans Commentary » swans.com June 4, 2012  



Freud's Dogs


by Peter Byrne





"Hence comes the four-legged friendships of so many of the better kind of men, for on what indeed should one refresh oneself from the endless deceit, falseness, and cunning of men if it were not for the dogs into whose faithful countenance one may look without distrust?"
—Arthur Schopenhauer, Ethics


(Swans - June 4, 2012)   In 1993 John Kerr published a 660-page study called A Most Dangerous Method. The title recalled what William James said of psychoanalysis at its birth in 1909. Kerr is an American clinical psychologist, editor of books in the field, including Freud and the History of Psychoanalysis to which he also contributed. A Most Dangerous Method probes deep into the difficult relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud. Freud had anointed Jung his successor, his heir to carry psychoanalysis forward after him. But the older man had an authoritarian streak. When Jung's speculations moved toward what Freud considered mysticism, the two men differed and became polite enemies. At the point their separation came, Jung was having an adulterous affair with a patient. The young woman, Sabina Spielrein, would later become a brilliant psychoanalyst.

Kerr sets all this in a proper scientific perspective. The subject deserves sober study. The break between Jung and Freud was crucial for the way Westerners see themselves today. We are in a sense all children of Freud and stepchildren of Jung. However, the very nature of the material both men built on -- what André Malraux called "a miserable little pile of secrets" -- leaves an opening for leering sensationalists.

Christopher Hampton wasn't one of them. Nonetheless his 2002 play, The Talking Cure, based on Kerr's book, did fix the spotlight on Jung's marital life, the affair with the hysterical Spielrein, and Freud's role as a stern patriarch with a judgmental glare. Live theatre is at home with ideas. The way the stage sets people before us makes them representative of more than themselves.

Movies are something different. Their characters stand closer to us than our everyday acquaintances. They represent only themselves. No zone of ideas stands between us and them. This is brought home by the movie David Cronenberg made in 2011 of Hampton's play. The movie, A Dangerous Method, isn't sensationalism. Cronenberg is a Canadian director worthy of respect. His actors, scriptwriter -- who was Hampton himself -- and others involved are all serious people. Nothing could be more serious than the movie's musical score based on Wagner's Siegfried. All the same, as the movie unfolds we can't help giggling in the wrong places.

Michael Fassbender, excellent actor and current cinematic heartthrob, plays Carl Jung. He is reduced to sitting behind his raving patient and considering the back of her head with Germanic concern. Sometimes he has a break and goes horizontal to pleasure her with zeal or else stands ramrod straight -- remember he's a Swiss German -- and turgidly feeds us the dope on what psychoanalysis was all about at the time.

Keira Knightley has the redoubtable task of portraying the lovelorn hysteric. Now it's true that Ms. Spielrein, no fiction, was in a bad way. She did erupt in orgasm when confronted with threats of authority and regularly roll around on the floor. But having Knightley reenact all that in detail with foam at her mouth amounts to a freak show. It becomes hilarious when we have to watch her being indulged in her pet delight. Dr. Fassbender, doing his stiff-necked Teuton, administers, for scientific purposes, measured slaps on Kingsley's rump while she moans with pleasure.

The subject, then, couldn't be more serious. So why are we laughing? It must be because Kerr's thick book about the difficult birth of psychoanalysis at the beginning of the twentieth century, attended by a drive for intellectual hegemony and warring opinions, can't be told in this medium. Marital problems and juicy adultery are all very well as a subject for entertainment or farce and even for domestic tragedy, but these can't be burdened with Wagnerian soul-searching turned toward the larger world. A bit of hanky-panky in the asylum isn't the Götterdämmerung. Moreover, all we learn about actor Viggo Mortensen's Freud is that he smoked many cigars, looked terribly like God the Father, and was given to schadenfreude-edged smirks.

Faced with such simplifications we might do better to go along with Freud family legend. The great man's grandson, the very British wit and politician, Clement, had his own explanation of the riff between his grandfather and Jung. They had attended a conference together in America in 1909 at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. While taking a walk with Jung, Freud, whose prostate gave him no peace, couldn't reach a toilet. He asked Jung to stand close by him while he urinated down his own pants leg. Jung's awareness of this particular dirty little secret would, said Clement, have soured their relationship.

To return to the halfway serious, then, we know that Freud the man was much more than he appeared on screen and that he was also, in a way, much less. Let's leave his genius as a psychic researcher and builder of a monumental synthesis in more competent hands, such as Kerr's. As for Freud's everyday self, there was much more to him than being a grumpy chain-smoker. One of his most congenial and human sides was his love for dogs. The professor was mad about chows.

In fact there were many more chows in Freud's life than bipedal lovers. If we were to give him the Cronenberg treatment, Freud could hardly stand up to his Swiss challenger. The man who alienated Jung by putting sex at the base of his system opted out of the game in his thirty-ninth year. He and his wife forswore intercourse in 1895 after the birth of their sixth child.

That is not to say that the first psychoanalyst had an easy time escaping sex as he sat in his green tub chair listening to his prone patients. The very couch they lay on had been given to him by an adoring female analysand back in 1891. Love for the analyst, or "transference" in house lingo, was fundamental to the psychoanalytic process. Freud had to be nimble to avoid the pit Jung had fallen into. A case in point was his experience with Princess Marie Bonaparte.

The "Princess," as Freud called her with affection until his death, was the great-grandniece of Napoleon Bonaparte. She married Prince George of Greece and Denmark, thus connecting two royal lines. Her immense wealth came from her maternal grandfather, the real estate developer of Monte Carlo. If we exclude members of Freud's family, she was clearly the woman of his life. She supported his work financially as well as by her own research. It was her money and influence that got him and his possessions out of Nazi hands and to London in 1938. Though he had to be wary of her eager "transference," she did manage to transfer to her idol her great love for dogs.

The Princess first went to Freud for treatment in Vienna in 1925. She complained of not reaching satisfaction when laboring under the missionary position. Similar meetings provoked Freud's famous question, uttered with a shrug of exasperation, to Marie herself: "What does a woman want?" It was a question that echoed the misogyny of the times and revealed the grave flaw in the great theorist's thinking. After all, if female sexuality was terra incognita, male sexuality hardly furnished a more familiar landscape. Freud would spend a lifetime trying to determine what men wanted, never pushing the problem aside with a sardonic question.

A few days after the Princess started her analysis with Freud, she declared her love for him and insisted he was the peer of Einstein and Pasteur. He immediately doubled his analytic time with her but insisted she not become too attached. "I am 69 years old," he said, "and there are a few things that don't work so well." He praised her for having "no prudishness whatsoever" and assured her that no one understood her better than he. Not that he approved of her repeated surgery to have her clitoris moved closer to her vaginal orifice or of her bright idea to sleep with her son. "In my private life," he told her, "I am a petty bourgeois. I would not like one of my sons to get a divorce or one of my daughters to have a liaison." When she suggested that "he must have a supernormal sexual development," he replied, "Of this you will not learn anything; perhaps not so super."

However, Freud was soon sharing the Princess' passion for chows. He had come to the love of dogs late in life. The first of the family's pets was an Alsatian called Wolf acquired, like the friendship of the Princess, in 1925. Strictly speaking Wolf was Freud's daughter Anna's dog. The following year, on Freud's seventieth birthday, Anna wrote ten lines of doggerel about Wolf. In what would become a family tradition, the poem was attached to the dog's neck and sent to the celebrant of the day. Anna's last lines read: "He greets you, despite the transience of every delicacy, / With unchanging doggy fidelity."

Fidelity would be a quality Freud appreciated in dogs. Malevolent observers who shared his taste for analysis insisted that harping on an animal's faithfulness was a sign of misanthropy. Worse, it was a trait that Freud shared with his famous contemporary Adolf Hitler. The Führer could be a bore when launched into one of his unstoppable monologues in praise of canine loyalty. Along with his old soldier's stories of 1914-1918, it was his favorite topic. Freud's insight went further, of course. He thought a dog's love was pure, unperturbed by ambivalence, the central concept of psychoanalysis. Unlike his human master, a dog could not love and hate the same thing.

In 1928 Freud was given a dog of his own, the chow bitch Lun Yug, Just a year later Lun Yug got lost and was found dead on the railroad tracks. Freud was so mournful he couldn't envisage taking another pet for months. Finally he adopted a chow bitch, this one called Jofi, Hebrew for beautiful. She would be by his side for the next six years. During sessions of analysis the dog would rest by Freud's chair. The story goes that she would get up and leave exactly after an hour, letting her master know it was time to stop. If Jofi turned away from a candidate for treatment, Freud was capable of refusing the patient.

Hilda Doolittle, the American poet known as H.D., wrote about her encounter with master and dog. When in 1933 she presented herself for analysis, Jofi suddenly appeared from under the couch and Freud brusquely stopped Doolittle from petting her, saying: "Do not touch her -- she snaps -- she is very difficult with strangers." But the chow snuggled her snout into Doolittle's hand. The new patient noted that the master wasn't jealous because Jofi liked her and reflected to herself, "Good dog, good sage." Doolittle would become Freud's friend and was proud that he treated her as an intellectual equal.

Doolittle would have been amused to know that Freud took afternoon naps on the historic couch. He would hum to Jofi while he rested. This was after lunch shared with the dog who under the table would receive an occasional morsel from the father of psychoanalysis. By his eightieth birthday Freud was thoroughly besotted with the canine species. He wrote Doolittle that Jofi for the first time ever had come into his bedroom to show him her love. He asked Doolittle the not very scientific question, "How does a little animal know when a birthday comes around?" Now in the course of her treatment the poet had grown less fond of Jofi and once noted, "I was annoyed at the end of my session as Jofi would wander about and I felt the Professor was more interested in Jofi than he was in my story." She might have answered Freud's question by saying that Jofi knew it was his birthday because the family tied a poem around her neck and with a slap on her flank directed her to Freud's bed.

The Princess who had initiated Freud into the joys of chows had not ceased being what Freud called her at first sight, an "energy devil." Frigidity not withstanding, she had blossomed not only into a serious writer, but a psychoanalyst. Her chauffeur drove patients to her Saint-Cloud home near Paris and she would often sit with them in her garden. They would stretch out on a chaise longue and the Princess would listen nearby, her fingers busy crocheting. She was content living in the closed world of her villa sharing love with her beloved chow, Teaupi.

The idyl suffered an interruption when Teaupi, Topsy for short, developed cancer in the right side of her face. The Princess bypassed four-legged medical care and took Jofi to the best clinic for Homo sapiens in Paris. Topsy had surgery and was treated with roentgen rays and radium. The dog's cure produced such relief in her mistress that the Princess wrote a book about the ordeal. It braved ridicule and gushed on, decidedly off-the-wall: "Topsy, Topsy little healed dog, looking at you I am prouder to have almost magically prolonged your little life, than if I had written the Iliad." There were chapters entitled "Implorations to the God of the Rays" and "Topsy and Shakespeare."

The curious thing about the Topsy book wasn't its bizarreness. The power and money of the Princess let her ignore conventional behavior. If she felt unembarrassed to keep transplanting her clitoris, why couldn't she indulge in a splurge of sentimentality toward her beloved pet? The curiosity was that in the years 1937-38, hounded by the Gestapo in Vienna, Freud and his daughter Anna translated Topsy, chow-chow au poil d'or into German. Freud then had the translation issued by his own publisher. When we read Freud's judgment of the Topsy book we can't help but wonder if there wasn't more than a tad of self-interest in his friendship with the Princess. In a sober mood, he told Arnold Zweig, "The Princess is of inestimable value to us," which sounds like more than gratitude for her tips on raising chows. Freud told her the book (Topsy: The Story of a Golden-Haired Chow in its eventual English translation) was "moving and genuine," demonstrating "the analyst's thirst for truth and knowledge." If Freud was trading book reviewer's baloney for crucial help in the life or death world of Vienna in 1938, it was an astute move. No one person did more for Sigmund Freud than Princess Marie Bonaparte.

Freud, like Topsy, had cancer on the right side of his face. He had to undergo operation after operation. To the Princess he wrote: "I wish you could have seen with me what sympathy Jofi shows me during these hellish days, as if she understood everything." But that consolation wouldn't last. At the beginning of 1937 Jofi recovered well enough from having two ovarian cysts removed, but she died shortly afterward of a heart attack. Freud, devastated, wrote Arnold Zweig: "One cannot easily get over seven years of intimacy."

This time Freud had another chow close at hand. Lun had belonged to him for some time though he had farmed her out to a friend because of a personality clash with Jofi. Now Lun, from the day after Jofi's death, became Freud's constant companion. Mourning like everything else had to be speeded up because the Nazis had invaded Austria. The complications of Freud's exit from his country dragged on. But when he finally arrived at the Princess' Saint-Cloud villa, Lun was with him. In fact the mongrel immediately engaged in a territorial conflict with the aristo Topsy.

The Freuds moved on immediately to London. In 1938 as today, no dog could enter the off-shore island without passing a forty-day period of quarantine. Freud, a sick man in his eighties, appeared to suffer more because of his separation from Lun than from his cancerous jaw. Ever helpful, the Princess arrived in London with the illustrious Professor Antoine Lacassagne of the Curie Institute who had been consulted about Topsy. If he saved a chow, certainly he could do the same for one of the great chow owners of the century? There is somber comedy here. We seem to be in a children's story where dogs stand on their hind legs and banter back and forth with men.

As it turned out, Freud was beyond even expensive help. He nevertheless finished his last complete book, Moses and Monotheism, which he foresaw, and surely desired, would upset the Jewish establishment. When the Royal Society honored him with a fellowship he said he was too ill to complete the formality of visiting the Society to sign the members book after the signatures of Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. In an exception that had only been granted before to the King of England, three of the Society's secretaries brought the book to Freud so he could sign at home.

Yet Freud had not been too ill to visit Lun at what he called the "animal asylum" in Ladbroke Grove. A newspaper quoted the kennel's director: "I have never seen such happiness and understanding in an animal's eyes. Freud played with her, talked to her, using all sorts of little terms of endearment, for fully an hour. And, though the journey is long for a man of his years, he said he was resolute about coming to see Lun as often as he can."

Man and dog would be reunited in Freud's pleasant new home in Hampstead. But they didn't have many months together. Freud's rotting jaw had begun to stink, and this evoked a man-dog tragedy. Lun, who had always stayed within arm's reach of her master, now cowered in the far corner of the room. She was put off by the stench. It was the odor of death. Freud could no longer think or work, only suffer. He could, however, still face reality. Lun had let him know it was time to depart. He told his doctor to remember his promise and administer an excess of morphine. It was September 23, 1939.

A photograph of the Alsatian Wolf and Freud now hangs in the London house where Freud died, the very homey Freud Museum. There is also an embroidered picture of a chow in what was Anna Freud's bedroom. She was not only her father's intellectual heir but his Antigone, as he put it, his defender of the family traditions. Anna kept chows for the rest of her life, each one called Jofi. When Anna was old and ailing, a friend sent her the embroidered picture to bolster her spirits.


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published June 4, 2012