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Spitz, R.A. (1952). International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XXXI, 1950: The Significance of Freud's Earliest Discoveries. Ernst Kris. Pp. 108–116.. Psychoanal Q., 21:138-140.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XXXI, 1950: The Significance of Freud's Earliest Discoveries. Ernst Kris. Pp. 108–116.

(1952). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 21:138-140

International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XXXI, 1950: The Significance of Freud's Earliest Discoveries. Ernst Kris. Pp. 108–116.

René A. Spitz

This paper is an account of and a thoughtful comment on Freud's correspondence with Wilhelm Fliess between the years 1887 and 1902, as well as on nineteen of Freud's manuscripts, clinical notes, drafts of papers, several essays, and one monograph. Freud intended none of this material for publication. It has only recently come to light and has now been published in German.1

From the wealth of material Kris selects three interrelated problems: the relation of psychology to physiology in Freud's early thought, the circumstances that led to the discovery of infantile sexuality, and the meaning of metapsychology for the development of Freud's ideas. A brief biographical survey culminating in the publication of Studies in Hysteria in 1895 is given. In 1892 Freud gave up hypnosis for treatment and instead used it for exploration and thus arrived at the cathartic method. He formulated the law of constancy after having already introduced metapsychology as a concept. This concept anticipated a future hypothesis and appeared here in its earliest formulation, to be published only twenty years later in his official publication. The concept of quantity is introduced into psychic functioning and the concept of libido formulated. Its toxicological application—'Anxiety is generated by repressed libido'—was abandoned thirty years later. Freud and Fliess had both been trained in the doctrines of a physiology based on physics, that of Helmholtz and Du Bois-Reymond. Accordingly Freud attempted to organize into a system all his new discoveries in the light of brain physiology in a treatise which he first called Psychology For the Neurologist, draft after draft of which is mentioned in the correspondence. The book was never completed.

A new discovery intervened, for in 1895 he included the psychology of dreams into his research and suddenly the wishfulfilling tendencies of their latent content became evident to him. He embodied the main ideas of his Psychology For the Neurologist into the seventh chapter of The Interpretation of Dreams which appeared in 1900, though these ideas were already clearly outlined in Freud's mind in the autumn of 1895. They were to form the backbone of psychoanalytic theory. In the draft of his treatise of 1895 the concept of a special organization, the ego, is formulated for the first time. It is conceived as inhibiting or delaying certain processes of discharge and in particular controlling the secondary process which is distinguished from the primary process that follows the impulse to immediate discharge.

A dynamic hypothesis is formulated in terms of mobile and of bound energy as motive forces. For the assumption of such dynamic relations examples could already be found in neurophysiology and psychology. For the other hypothesis introduced in this draft, namely the ontogenetic hypothesis, no model existed.

Freud's study of the individual past as etiology grew out of his observation of clinical data. The investigation of the etiology of neurosis led Freud in 1896 to the formulation that all neuroses are caused by the seduction by an


1 Freud: Aus den Anfängen der Psychoanalyse, Briefe an Wilhelm Fliess, Abhandlungen und Notizen aus den Jahren 1887–1902. Edited by Marie Bonaparte, Anna Freud and Ernst Kris. London: Imago Publishing Co., Ltd., 1950.

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adult. This hypothesis broke down in 1897 and he relates his abandoning it in a letter to Fliess which shows an extraordinary fortitude, courage, and self-reliance. He rejected those parts of his theory which he had found unreliable but at the same time reaffirmed the theory of dreams and indicated that the beginnings of metapsychology have only gained in his esteem. This marks a decisive turning point in the development of Freud.

In July 1897 Freud started his self-analysis which dealt largely with his relation to his father who had died in 1896. In this undertaking, which has no parallel in the history of science, he applied to himself what he discovered in his patients and simultaneously facilitated his progress in therapy with the help of insight gained concerning himself. As a result, the great discoveries followed each other rapidly: the Oedipus complex, infantile sexuality, the anal phase of libidinal development. The draft of The Interpretation of Dreams was begun in 1898, written and finished in 1899. Inklings on parapraxes became visible, while the concept of resistance and the phenomena of transference were understood. The therapeutic technique of concentration was replaced with the method of free association.

During the period in which all observations seem to lead back to scenes of seduction, Freud's own infantile fantasies probably limited his capacities as an observer. Kris believes that it was self-analysis which led Freud to the recognition of errors in his theory or at least helped him to reject them.

The consequence of this internal liberation included Freud's change of attitude toward the relation between psychological and physiological concepts from which he had tried to free himself for quite some time. The manuscript of 1895 is the greatest approximation to the physiological tradition. With his findings in the field of ontogenetic hypotheses and with his self-analysis Freud's position changed. He revolted against Fliess's attempts 'to biologize psychodynamics' and the relation between the two ended.

Kris stresses that this problem of the suitable degree of separation is still with us. It is, he says, determined by the specific character of the data on which psychoanalysis is based. The concept of instinct was not formulated to fit into a system but to allow a comprehensive explanation of the data of psychoanalytic observation. Thus it allows for an integration of maturation and social learning.

By the same token the objection against psychoanalysis, that its concepts are antiquated because they are derived in analogy from the neurophysiology of the nineteenth century, is refuted. This objection concerns the terms only, not the concepts, for Freud constructed new concepts closely linked to the data of observation and broad enough to allow far reaching generalizations. With these concepts Freud placed psychoanalysis in the center of modern science: rooted in clinical thought and in biological and physiological hypotheses, it formed a link with the social sciences into which it extends. Kris ends by mentioning another, often overlooked fundamental discovery of Freud, the calibration of the observer by psychoanalysis which is an essential prerequisite for fruitful observation.

Kris's article is a masterful condensation of the fundamental thoughts contained in this collection of unpublished writings of Freud. It points out what Kris calls 'the hidden texture of Freud's writings', the whole of which he sees

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as a continued attempt to revise and check theory against experience. It conveys a moving and inspiring picture of Freud's desperate struggle with a new field of science, with a hostile environment, and with the resistances in himself.

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Article Citation

Spitz, R.A. (1952). International Journal of Psychoanalysis. XXXI, 1950. Psychoanal. Q., 21:138-140

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