Sabina Spielrein dreams of a son

June 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

Sabina Spielrein dreams. “The night is so wonderful, so treacherously warm. In the distance, plaintive notes of a violin float on the air. Siegfried, my baby son!” (A Secret Symmetry 21). She is a Russian émigré, at first a subject of psychoanalysis & then its student & practitioner, remembered as the woman between Carl Jung (as patient & beloved) & Sigmund Freud (as student & colleague).

The child she dreams of is an invention, German & male like her intellectual inheritance. The will to have a child is one form of expressing a need to liberate oneself “from the paternal edicts” (30) by imagining oneself outdoing them, although to Spielrein it is more importantly a way of remaining connected to life (7, 31) & the effigy of a great destiny she sees for herself (20). This coming together of the world & her genius are likened elevations, confused for one another sometimes with a childish enthusiasm to contribute to both [here, the childishness vouches for sincerity]. This joy is where love for the husband & child, for procreation meet with the act of creation.

In a diary entry of December 1910, she writes, “My whole being is suffused with love. I would like to create something great & good. Help me Guardian Spirit! Help me, Fate. Show me the noble ideal that I should love, show me the field of action, & I will bear the joys & sorrows obediently” (36). This is the prayer; its language is mimicked two months later — “I have something noble & great to create & am not made for everyday routine. This is the life-or-death struggle” (39). Spielrein’s life is an especially potent expression of this struggle: between the old world & the new, between art & science, between her obligations & her desires, & between passions & economic requirements. The culmination of it she expresses as “the grim &? oppresses me” (35) — very to the point, in terms of this blog.

The child represents, most certainly, the amalgamation of love & the world with learning: Jung is its only imaginable father. Spielrein’s love is scathing. It is dramatized in an event of appropriation, she writes, “I must be worthy of him, & the idea I gave birth to should also appear under his name” (35) — a characteristic of lawful wedlock a child.

The admiration of wisdom opens an instance of free progeneration, by which I mean a certain keenness to be instructed, to read the books on the instructor’s shelves, to possess the instructor, & to re- (pro)create. [She will not remain so dutiful to this spiritual husband forever, turning from him intellectually first & emotionally much later.]

To Freud, Spielrein confesses (c. 1909), “Thus Siegfried came into being; he was supposed to become the greatest genius, because Jung’s image as a descendent of the gods floated before me, & from childhood on I had had a premonition that I was not destined for a mundane life. I felt flooded with energy, all nature spoke directly to me, one song after another took shape in me, one fairy tale after another” (108). Here, she is as the virgin mother, prescribing her own genius to the act of parturition; Freud is enthusiastic to have her recognize herself as more still.

In a 1912 essay, the source of the Siegfried symbol is elaborated. In the Nibelungenlied, the namesake is a stand-in for the sun, a symbol of rejuvenating spring. He impregnates his mother. Spielrein insists, “for the unconscious, a symbol has the value of reality” (179). This same essay, ‘Destruction as the Cause of Coming into Being‘, considers the anxiety which follows at the heel of the human awareness that one day we will be superseded, as we have superseded our forebearers, that our illnesses & failings may regenerate into the future, that we can be blamed or judged at all [what has once been better known as, the state of sin].

In our depths, there is something that, as paradoxical as it may sound, wills self-injury while the ego counteracts it with pleasure. A wish for self-injury, a joy in pain, is, however, thoroughly incomprehensible if we believe merely in the existence of an ego that only desires pleasure (160).

In other words, there is more happening in the psychological faculties than our run-of-the-mill survival instincts. We are creatures of ambiguity.

For our personal preservation, the future — embodied in a child — is the enemy. Paradoxically, it is also the only genetic possibility of transference. “Self-preservation is a ‘static’ drive because it must protect the existing individual from foreign influences; preservation of the species is a ‘dynamic’ drive that strives for change, the ‘resurrection’ of the individual in a new form. No change can take place without destruction of the former condition” (174).

The view of the self must then be reconsidered because “[t]he collective psyche denies the present ego &, directly through this denial, creates anew” (163). We redevelop an illusion of completion to “de-differentiate” (174), to retrace the long road which led to individuality so as to make something communicable — this is necessary even for any self-understanding that is remotely conscious. We strive to engage with the collective experience; our tools are science, art, discovery, contribution, enjoyment, engagement, struggle. “With differentiation, one is, for the first time, consecrated to life & to death (de-differentiation). Death’s source lies in life itself & vice versa” (181). It is a neat, if difficult, description of mortality, philosophic rather than psychological. When Freud introduces this theory under the name of the death drive in Beyond the Pleasure Principle eight years later it will become a phenomenon. The position is in fact an ancient one found in the idea that all art is a way of dealing with death, for instance. Spielrein brings to it expression for the modern world. Freud gives it a name. Naming is the extent of the diagnostic art.

Sometimes, to name is as good as to diagnose.

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