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Eastman, J. (2009). Freud's Castles in the Air. Psychoanal. Rev., 96(3):515-528.

(2009). Psychoanalytic Review, 96(3):515-528

Freud's Castles in the Air

Jennifer Eastman, CAS, JD

Sigmund Freud used the phrase “castles in the air” in three different places in his writings. In two of these instances he was destroying the castles, and in the third, building them. In 1872 he admonished Emil Fluss, the brother of his first love, Gisela, for making too much of Freud's relationship with her (E. Freud, 1969). In 1899, disguising himself as one of his patients, he used the metaphor of building castles when wondering what would have happened had this love affair resulted in marriage (Freud, 1899). On the third occasion, he wrote in a letter to his friend Wilhelm Fliess in 1900 that “I have had to demolish all my castles in the air” (Masson, 1985, p. 405); several scholars have linked this comment to Freud's disappointment over the response—or lack of response—to his The Interpretation of Dreams, published in 1900. I believe instead that the notion of building and destroying castles sprang from more personal issues in Freud's life, specifically a heightened ambivalence about himself, his relationships, and his professional life, both past and present. In support of this view, I first discuss Freud's encounter with Gisela as he described it in letters and poems to friends in the 1870s. I then describe Freud's memory of that meeting and the personal context from which he wrote about it in the essay “Screen Memories” in 1899. I suggest, finally, that there was a further shift in 1900 in his ambivalent feelings and their object, which influenced some of his theoretical concerns.

Freud and Ichthyosaura: An Ambivalent Love

In 1871, Freud traveled from Vienna to Freiburg with his friend Eduard Silberstein to visit the Fluss family, whom he had known when he had lived there as a young child.

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