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Sutton, P. (2011). Freud's Requiem: Mourning, Memory and the Invisible History of a Summer Walk Matthew von Unwerth, Continuum, 244 pp, £16.99 ISBN 0-8264-8032-2, Published March 2006. Free Associations, 12(1):116-119.

(2011). Free Associations, 12(1):116-119

Book Review

Freud's Requiem: Mourning, Memory and the Invisible History of a Summer Walk Matthew von Unwerth, Continuum, 244 pp, £16.99 ISBN 0-8264-8032-2, Published March 2006

Review by:
Paul Sutton

This review marks a series of returns that are themselves marked by mourning and memory, the concepts that feature at the centre of Freud's brief essay ‘On Transience’, the starting point for Matthew von Unwerth's literary perambulation of Freud's life and work. These returns are both intellectual and biographical. They signal the re-emergence of a transformed Free Associations that nonetheless retains the memory of its predecessor (through a process of transformative and creative mourning that will feature in this introductory edition and in the launch issue that will follow it), but they are also symptomatic of a rather more personal revisiting of ‘On Transience’, the essay from which and around which my own doctoral thesis germinated and was formed. Freud's essay also marks, for me, the site of a specific memory (and mourning) of a love now lost, just as for Unwerth it came to enable, through the writing of Freud's Requiem, a ‘making sense of’ and a reclamation of ‘lost aspects of our lives’.1

‘On Transience’ was written as a contribution to a special collection on Goethe, Das Land Goethes/Goethe's Land, during the First World War and in it Freud combines the psychoanalytic theme of mourning with an exploration of transience. He describes an episode in which a poet and a somewhat reserved friend, thought to be Rainer Maria Rilke and Lou Andreas-Salomé respectively, are unable to enjoy a scene of beauty because ‘it was fated to extinction’ (Freud 1916, p. 288). However, for Freud it was precisely ‘beauty's “scarcity value in time” that gave what is precious its worth’ (Unwerth 2006, p. 2). Thus as Unwerth notes ‘the poet was correct, of course, that all earthly things must pass away […] but rather than subtract from their beauty, Freud protested, this evanescence only added to beauty's increase’ (2006, p. 2).

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