JOHN BLISS - RIFFING ON “THE CUT, AND THE BUILDING OF PSYCHOANALYSIS, VOLUME I AND II SIGMUND FREUD AND EMMA ECKSTEIN” BY CARLO BONOMI PHD.
John Bliss lives with his wife Leslie in New York City. He is a psychoanalyst and clinical social worker that co-founded an outpatient licensed substance abuse clinic thirty years ago where he continues to work. He has focused on writing about personal experiences at the encouragement of his wife, daughters Jenna, and Jillian, patients, and musician friends and now his writing buddies. Map Literary published his story ‘Keep The Change’ in the fall of 2017. John’s story “Dares” is in the November, 2017 issue of Adelaide Literary Magazine. The process of developing narratives in his therapy practice, playing saxophone, and writing is exhilarating to him. Writing has a special appeal, he can do it anytime and it doesn’t wake up the neighbors the way the horn does.
Riffing on “The Cut, and the Building of Psychoanalysis, Volume I and II Sigmund Freud and Emma Eckstein” by Carlo Bonomi PhD.
I began training to become a psychoanalyst at The National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis in 1986 and graduated in 1997. My training was grounded in classical theory and Freud was the pinnacle of this orientation. I loved training to become a psychoanalyst and found Freud’s theories exhilarating. Psychoanalytic theory became the foundation of how I understood the world, well tried to understand the world. Yet, I had been puzzled by Freud’s use of the word castration to describe the amputation of the penis since first reading about it decades ago.
Freud used the word castration and circumcision synonymously. He also described castration as the amputation of the penis as opposed to removal of the testicles. This bothered me. I would often question it and the responses from instructors and colleagues attributed my inquisitiveness to my personal castration anxiety. These pseudo interpretations never satisfied my curiosity.
The convoluted use of these words seemed unusual for Freud, a man who ascribed great significance to the specificity of language. I maintained an irritable curiosity over Freud’s corrupted use of the word castration until reading The Cut, and the Building of Psychoanalysis, Volume I and II Sigmund Freud and Emma Eckstein” by Carlo Bonomi PhD.
Theodore Thaas-Thinenemm in “The Interpretation of Language Volume I & II: Understanding the Symbolic Meaning of Language” addresses the fusion of two words that creates a third meaning. “In most cases it can be demonstrated that there is a repressed energy at work seeking outlet by creating new forms of speech.”
I am indebted to Carlo Bonomi PhD and the accomplishment that he has achieved in these two books. Carlo Bonomi PhD, president of the Sandor Ferenczi Cultural Association discovered and developed a concise explanation of the “repressed energy” in Freud that created the fusion of the words, castration, circumcision and genital mutilation. Bonomi explained how the word castration was used to communicate amputation.
I met Bonomi in Rome in 2016 at the International Association of Relational Psychoanalysts conference. I attended a seminar introducing the conceptual framework for his writing. He discovered evidence that Freud’s concept of penis envy resulted from his unexplored counter transference to Emma Eckstien and her traumatic genital mutilation in childhood. Penis Envy is the parapraxis of an unexplored enactment between Freud and Emma Eckstien. Prior to these remarkable books, the concept of penis envy and its acceptance or rejection lacked a coherent and fact based understanding about its theoretical development. Bonomi made sense of the emergence of penis envy and castration anxiety.
Castration fears and penis envy are linked in Freudian theory. Men fear castration which in Freud’s vernacular is synonymous with not only circumcision but with the amputation of the penis. In Freud’s view women unconsciously desire the penis that was once taken away from them and wish their little penis (clitoris) would grow into a full functioning male organ. Prior to “The Cut” psychoanalysts either accepted penis envy and castration anxiety as truth or dismissed the concepts as culture bound relics of the late 19th century bourgeois mind-frame.
The excitement I experience reading and re-reading The Cut Volume I and II is similar to the thrill I had when learning about Quantum entanglement or when a musician friend revealed to me the song Autumn Leaves embedded in Bach’s Allemande in E minor. Bonomi’s application of psychoanalytic theory to the evidence he discovered proves that psychoanalysis is best understood as a relational practice.
The uniqueness of The Cut lies in the fastidious research and compilation of facts Bonomi uncovered and connected to Freud and his treatment of Emma Eckstein. These facts and his interpretations created a thorough and logical summation of what transpired in Freud’s analysis of Emma Eckstein and subsequently formulated the foundation of psychoanalysis. Lengthy sections of Volume I read like a legal brief laboriously documenting a step-by-step analysis of the facts that led Bonomi to his conclusions.
The denseness of Volume I is possibly a reason that Bonomi hasn’t received more recognition for his work. It is as if Bonomi felt compelled formulate an airtight defense to counter any anticipated argument to his thesis. He found the material he was uncovering about Freud and Emma Eckstien in a sense unbelievable and kept researching. It took Bonomi 30 years to write Volume I.
Freud was often intolerant with colleagues who developed psychoanalytic ideas that weren’t aligned with his own. Arguments around Freudian theories like castration anxiety or penis envy often take the form of litigations, resulting in polarized divisiveness within the psychoanalytic community. Bonomi concentrated his efforts on understanding how these ideas came about.
Psychoanalysis eventually became divided between classical theory loyal to Freud and the relational or interpersonal schools. I tried to see the merits of both orientations and often had one foot in each school of thought. There was an uncomfortable sense of indecisiveness about picking a theoretical orientation. Did I lack conviction? Bonomi proved that these concepts are not separate and the theoretical unity has been there since psychoanalysis started.
The Cut dispels the traditional notion of castration anxiety and penis envy and simultaneously integrates these concepts into psychoanalytic theory. As I will explain The Cut bridges the schism between classical and relational psychoanalytic theories. The factual link between these orientations did not exist prior to Bonomi’s work.
Jonathan Sklar, MD in his review in Psychoanalysis and History calls The Cut an “impressive and complex book.” Judith E. Vida MD in the American Journal of Psychoanalysis described The Cut as a “whirlwind of scholarship, destined to forever alter your understanding of Sigmund Freud, the birth agonies of psychoanalysis, and the hitherto unacknowledged origins in trauma of the entire psychoanalytic enterprise”.
Skeptics of Bonomi’s work reiterate their belief in the truth of Freud’s theories. However there has not been any evidence discovered by any other researcher to substantiate a counter-argument to Bonomi’s thesis.
Samuael Abrams M.D. in his paper titled “Pernicious Residues of Foundational Postulates: Their Impact on Women,” published in The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child discusses the distinction between hypothesis and hypostatized based theories. Hypothesis based theories are based in facts and observations. Hypostatized theories are derived in obscure and ambiguous ways, yet they are often compelling. Regardless of their lack of evidence hypostatized theories are often incorporated into an established concrete narrative. Otto Fenichel discussed this in his review of Freud’s last book An Outline of Psychoanalysis. Fenichel thought Freud’s last book was hypostasized. Numerous psychoanalytic scholars have recognized that core psychoanalytic structures are based on hypostatized theories. The hypostatized theories are often vehemently defended as factual.
The acceptance of penis envy is associated with the view of Freud’s imagination as genius. Helene Deutsch was the first woman to write a feminine perspective on psychoanalysis. In her two volumes, Deutsche refers to penis envy as an established fact and often simply moves on to discuss other topics. Karen Horney, similar to many feminist analysts renounced penis envy as idiosyncratic to the predominance of the male perspective in psychoanalytic theory. Clara Thompson emphasized the competitive cultural factors surrounding penis envy. In “Psychoanalysis and Feminism,” Juliet Mitchell highlights that it is the castration complex that differentiates males and females. As per Mitchell, castration and penis envy defines women as envious by nature. Men are genetically fearful of loosing their penis when they become aware of vaginas.
The question arises if the castration complex is dispelled is the psychoanalytic community able the grapple with the question of how are men and women different if at all other than the obvious anatomical qualities. It would seem that Bonomi is tearing down psychoanalysis’ temple veil. However, he is actually strengthening psychoanalytic theory by re-integrating the notions of penis envy and castration anxiety into a relational paradigm.
The Cut begins with Freud’s work in pediatrics early in his career. Bonomi was intrigued that Freud’s work with children was virtually ignored by previous theorists, historians and biographers. From 1886 to 1896 Freud worked three days a week at The Public Institute for Children’s Diseases in Vienna. Freud was most likely exposed to the practice of female circumcision and clitoridectomy at that time.
Bonomi, “The term ‘castration’ in the years 1850-1900 referred almost exclusively to a surgical treatment of nervous, psychical, and ‘immoral’ disturbances in women (nymphomania for instance).” He examined hundreds of medical files in Vienna that revealed the prevalence of female genital mutilation to ‘cure’ masturbation and hysteria. It was a disturbingly common practice to surgically remove young girls’ labia and clitoris to “treat” hysteria and hyper sexuality during childhood.
Bonomi determined that Freud’s patient Emma Eckstein had endured genital mutilation, which in spite of being revived in her analysis with Freud, was not discussed as a traumatic event. One crucial piece of evidence is found in the letters between Freud and Wilhelm Fliess. The specific letters refer to a female patient of Freud’s who had been cut at a time he had only one female analysand, Emma Eckstein. Anna Freud omitted these letters from the initial publication of the Freud and Fliess letters.
The clitoris was often referred to as the little penis. But it wasn’t a penis that was amputated but Emma’s clitoris. In Freud’s castration theory Emma’s dream about her mutilated clitoris became her envy for a penis. Her trauma was then projected into Freud’s unconscious psyche. Bonomi states “The fact that Freud had become the depository of the salvific penis which Emma fantasized was presented by me as the unconscious true source of Freud’s phallocentric doctrine. In other words, Emma’s psychic reaction to her cut not only managed to survive beyond her carnal body, but became a relic which was preserved and worshipped in the psychoanalytic crypt.”
Freud wrote, “Circumcision is a symbolical substitute of castration, a punishment which the primeval father dealt his sons long ago out of the awfulness of his power, and who so ever accepted this symbol showed by so doing that he was ready to submit to his father's will, although it was at the cost of a painful sacrifice.” This is indicative of the confusion regarding the word circumcision as being described as an amputation of the penis. The idea of castration was a veneer covering the actual trauma of Emma’s genital mutilation.
Penis envy was Freud’s interpretive reaction to Emma’s mutilation and mourning her own severed clitoris. Emma’s dream about growing a penis was a reparative attempt to cope with her actual traumatic mutilation. Yet penis envy became the accepted Freudian truth.
Bonomi writes, “Freud’s reconstruction of the female child’s psyche that her tiny penis would grow as large as a boy’s, when that fails the child fantasizes she once possessed a big penis and it was cut off. Emma’s genital mutilation morphed into a universal biotrauma.”
Bonomi sheds new light on Freud’s defense of Fliess’s botched operation on Emma’s nasal cavity. Freud referred Emma to his surgeon friend Fliess believing his surgery would cure her hysterical symptoms. The nasal operation almost killed her yet Freud defended Fliess. This position was symptomatic of Freud’s unconscious struggle with Emma’s actual trauma. Freud’s denial of Emma’s genital mutilation led to his overdetermined defense of Fliess’ nasal mutilation of Emma. In essence she was re-traumatized by Fliess’ operation and Freud was unable to process it as such.
Freud’s countertransference to Emma’s traumatic circumcision explains his developing a universal psychology that put penis envy and castration anxiety at its core. According to Freud the phallus is the primary genital.
Prior to The Cut explorations about Freud’s unconscious were restrained. Knowledge of the reality of genital mutilation forces us to wrestle with the trauma and its damaging effects. Penis envy and castration anxiety become an accommodating misdirection away from the actual torture that was inflicted on an unknown number of women including Emma Eckstein.
Bonomi questions Freud’s self-analysis and its acceptance as thorough and evidence of his creative genius. Previous explorations of Freud’s self analysis consistently didn’t go far enough and lack the evidence and the subsequent formulations made by Bonomi. The Cut challenges this notion of the analysts’ “supreme autonomy” exposing the absence of any exploration of Freud’s countertransference to Emma. Previous writings were concerned with Freud’s transference to Fliess. The Cut frames these unanalyzed events as a psychoanalytic enactment between Freud and Emma. Bonomi argues that this historic enactment between Freud and Emma perpetuated the stifling and institutionalized notion of a one-person psychology with its fantasy of the neutral and impervious psychoanalyst.
The grandiosity implied by the infallible psychoanalyst is pervasive in psychoanalytic culture. Freud’s theory perpetuated the notion that women exist to pleasure men. For Freud vaginal orgasm was evidence of mature feminine sexuality. The clitoris is bypassed as an important nerve center for sexual satisfaction based on a male centric theory of sexuality. I view this as a psychoanalytic mutilation/castration of the clitoris by virtue of the denial and negation of the clitoris’ importance to women’s sexual gratification. The notion that women are capable of orgasms without men certainly minimizes the man’s role and can eliminate it altogether, an unimaginable construct within Freud’s concept of pathology and normality.
Bonomi’s research re-examines material regarding Freud’s personal experiences with circumcision and his rebellious decision to not have his own male children circumcised. The intersection between Freud’s emotional reaction to Emma’s genital cut and his aversion toward the Hebrew ritual is indeed found by Bonomi as the matrix of many dreams of Freud, starting with the founding dream of psychoanalysis, the famous Irma dream, and ending with the dream of Freud’s dissection of his own pelvis, in which the horrible cut is replicated on his own body. Thus, in spite of Freud’s intellectual disavowal and dissociation, the genital cut endured by Emma resonated deeply in him, awakening a series of painful memories while the “cut” emerges in these dreams.
The Cut exposes Freud’s humanity and that he in part unwittingly discovered a method of therapeutic help that incorporates countertransference into the cure that psychoanalysis is capable of. Bonomi has upset the psychoanalytic applecart and proved the practice of psychoanalysis has been relational since its inception.
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