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Masson, J.M. (1904). Aftermath. The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904, 459-460.

Masson, J.M. (1904). Aftermath. The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904, 459-460

Aftermath Book Information Previous Up Next

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

The Letters that follow are the sad aftermath of a passionate friendship. It is difficult to reconstruct, from these few documents, what actually happened. But it seems clear that the impetus to end the relationship came from Fliess, and that Freud only slowly came to realize that his friend was withdrawing from him. Without Fliess's letters it is impossible to know whether Freud overlooked the first signs of the break, or whether Fliess gave no hint of what was to follow.

One document that has recently come to light is relevant. In the Library of Congress are several pages of a paper by Fliess that was never published. It is entitled “Die Entdeckung der dauernden Doppelgeschlechtigkeit: Eine geschichtliche Darstellung.” Fliess quotes from a letter he wrote to Freud, unfortunately without date, but which obviously belongs to the time of the break — hence, in Fliess's judgment, to 1900. The portion of the letter that Fliess reproduces in his article reads: In this case you are, in my opinion, no more responsible for the relapse than for your quick and brilliant success: for I have often observed that a period of euphoria lasting many months precedes the outbreak of malignant tumors. During that period neurotic symptoms recede as well. Later they return with astounding suddenness, simultaneously with the first symptoms of the neoplasm. Fliess continues, “Freud was appalled by this communication.” No doubt he was. It meant, very simply, that there was no need for Freud to engage in psychotherapy; a patient got better or worse according to strictly biological periods. Fliess's view undermined all of Freud's work. Estrangement was inevitable.

Another facet of the breakup is that Freud initially shared not only Fliess's views about his own importance for biology, but agreed that he, Freud, had attempted to rob Fliess of his prominence.

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