Freud’s Masterplotting

Section 2
Freud’s Masterplot Revisited

1. Narratology and the Wolf Man

Referring to Freud’s presentation in Beyond the Pleasure Principle of the fort/da game played by his grandson, Derrida argues in "To Speculate–on ‘Freud’" that
It is neither a narrative, nor a story, nor a myth, nor a fiction. Nor is it the system of a theoretical demonstration. It is fragmentary, without conclusion, selective in that it gives something to be read, more an argument in the sense of a schema made of dotted lines, with ellipses everywhere. (Der87a 298)
It seems that the same could be said about Freud’s case histories, especially the Wolf Man case, which is very much part of an extended argument, seemingly directed at Jung primarily, concerning the importance of infantile sexuality. In "Fictions of the Wolf Man: Freud and Narrative Understanding," Peter Brooks argues that though a case history is a "nonfictional genre concerning a real person, the case history of the Wolf Man is radically allied to the fictional," and he gives the following as reasons:
… its causes and connections depend on probabilistic constructions rather than authoritative facts, and on imaginary scenarios of lack and desire, and since the very language that it must work with, as both object and medium of its explanations, takes its form from histories of desire consubstantial with what cannot be. (Bro84 284)
As I have gone to some lengths to show that Freud was only satisfied with facts discovered in a context of determinism (no probabilities, no chance), and that the case histories he created he saw as histories of truth (consubstantial with what is)–Freud went to great lengths to distance his work from the fictional, and himself from the creative writer. That Freud went to such lengths, however, would suggest that Brooks is indeed on to something. Moreover, that Freud intended to produce the nonfictional is hardly a conclusive argument regarding what he actually produced. But his intentions are significant with respect to the arguments of the Wolf Man case history, and whether it should be read as an argument.

Is the Wolf Man case history an argument, a history, a narrative, or all three? How should we read it? Logos for Aristotle was an argument, an imitation of the real, and provided the basis for mythos or plot. The category myth is useful to include in our discussion when considering Brooks’s notion of fiction. Frank Kermode’s differentiation of myth and fiction creates yet another level of complexity to our already overly complex categories:

We have to distinguish between myths and fictions. Fictions can degenerate into myths whenever they are not consciously held to be fictive…. Myth operates within the diagrams of ritual, which presupposes total and adequate explanations of things as they are and were; it is a sequence of radically unchangeable gestures. Fictions are for finding things out, and they change as the needs of sense-making change. Myths are the agents of stability, fictions the agents of change. Myths call for absolute, fictions for conditional assent. Myth makes sense in terms of a lost order of time, illud tempus as Eliade calls it; fictions, if successful, make sense of the here and now. (Ker66 39)
Certainly the Wolf Man case history, with its source in the ritual of analysis and its appeals to a primaeval time, which creates a stable and absolute context of significance, should be associated with Kermode’s category of myth. Yet, in his reading of the Wolf Man case, Brooks associates Freud and his Wolf Man case with modern novelists:
In his narratives–as in all his writings–Freud shares with such other modernists as Conrad or Joyce or Proust a basic pessimism about life stories and their putative plots. His vision of man insists on the limits to man’s self-knowledge and mastery of his own biography. (Bro84 284)
Freud was pessimistic about the life stories others told themselves, but it is clear from one consistent aspect of Freud’s rhetoric that his pessimism regarding self knowledge obviously did not extend to his own mastery of his or others’ life stories: and that aspect is his confidence in the curative power of his analyses (though this confidence, especially with respect to the Wolf Man, was misplaced), including his self-analysis. I would group Freud with those modernists whom Kermode would "without difficulty convict … of dangerous lapses into mythical thinking," those modernists who "venerated tradition and had programmes which were at once modern and anti-schismatic" (Ker66 104). In contrast to these mythopoeic modernists–Pound, Wyndham Lewis, Yeats, and Eliot–Kermode applauds Joyce for writing fiction:
Ulysses alone of these great works studies and develops the tension between paradigm and reality, asserts the resistance of fact to fiction, human freedom and unpredictability to plot. Joyce chooses a Day; it is a crisis ironically. The day is full of randomness. There are coincidences, meetings that have point, and coincidences which do not. We might ask whether one of the merits of the book is not its lack of mythologizing; compare Joyce on coincidence with the Jungians and their solemn concord-myth, the Principle of Synchronicity. From Joyce you cannot even extract a myth of Negative Concord; he shows us fiction fitting where it touches. (Ker66 113)
This passage touches on several issues. What is the tension between paradigm and reality? Can fiction containing a plot ever avoid being mythical? How does chance factor into this tension? What is the relation of chance to mythologizing? to reality? Does what I will argue is Freud’s Negative Concord show us something "fitting where it touches"? Does Freud’s Wolf Man case history? Again, how should we read it?

In "Freud’s Masterplot: A Model for Narrative," Brooks turns to Freud and his Beyond the Pleasure Principle

… not in the attempt to psychoanalyze authors or readers or characters in narrative, but rather to suggest that by attempting to superimpose psychic functioning on textual functioning, we may discover something about how textual dynamics work and something about their psychic equivalences. (Bro84 90)
Though Brooks’s essay is a complex reading of Beyond the Pleasure Principle that foreshadows Derrida’s "Speculate" in significant ways, it is severely limited by his definition of "textual" as "narrative" that "rejects the merely contingent" and moves "toward totalization," and "plot" that structures "action in closed and legible wholes" (Bro84 91). In his analysis of Sartre’s La Nausée, Kermode finds "a kind of crisis in the relation between fiction and reality, the tension or dissonance between paradigmatic form and contingent reality" (Ker66 133). For Kermode, the contingency of life is not representable in narrative or plotted time. The time of narratives is always kairos, "the season, a point in time filled with significance, charged with a meaning derived from its relation to the end," whereas the time of life or reality is chronos, "‘passing time’ or ‘waiting time’–that which, according to Revelation, ‘shall be no more’" (Ker66 47). Though narratives and life share in that the end may be imminent, in life the end of death does not create kairos because of the uncertainty and contingency that surround death, its timing, and its beyond. Events in the context of chronos are like the letter that may not arrive at its destination, and, indeed, Brooks’s "textuality" is similar to Lacan’s language: it always arrives at its destination.

The rejection of "mere contingency" leads to the world of plots being of kairos and destiny (destinational). Freud’s myth of Negative Concord fits "where it touches" only if "psychic reality" is one of determinism, if there is some kind of "omnipotence of thought," and within a metaphysical context of logocentrism, where thought (argument) imitates reality (logocentrism). Whether the Wolf Man’s primal scene was a representation of an ontogenetic and external reality becomes immaterial, as Freud claimed, if the ontogenetic truth of the individual is preprogrammed phylogenetically, and if truth is primarily concerned with psychical reality, and if psychic reality constitutes a context of determinism. Yet, if it does not matter whether the primal scene was an ontogenetically produced memory that in some way corresponds to an ontogenetically experienced and external reality, or a phylogenetic fantasy-memory, then whence the pathology? Using a well-worn trope, one that is disavowed by the psychoanalytic orthodoxy, Freud attempts to save the argument of/in his case history from the abyssal question that follows his grounding all of his claims on the foundation of a phylogenetic origin–why would the Wolf Man suffer from pathology given the determinism of psychic reality and phylogenetic origins?–by contradicting the determinist logic of the totality that results from his "it doesn’t matter": the chance "seduction" by his sister supposedly disrupted the healthy ontogenetic realization of the normal disharmony (the proper disharmony of the Negative Concord) between the Wolf Man’s consciousness, primal phantasies (unconscious), and the external world. Several (abyssal) problems stem from this answer with respect to the totality of the "it does not matter" logic. First, why such a seduction would be pathological when seduction is also one of the primal phantasies remains unexplained. In other words, it is the contingent nature of this event that seems to be what separates the Wolf Man from a normal development, and contingency is negated by the "it does not matter" and the fact that the contingent event is also a primal phantasy (if dogs can count as a primal scene, then a sister can count as a seduction). Moreover, much of Freud’s rhetoric leads the reader to equate the primal scene, if not to the original trauma, then to the origin of the deferred process of trauma, the origin of the etiology of neurosis, that "memory" which is deferred to the time of the dream. The reality of the external and ontogenetic event of the primal scene seems to be important for Freud initially because he is trying to establish what in the Wolf Man’s unconscious is pathogenic, what makes his wolf dream so unsettling. Another seemingly contingent or arbitrary element of the Wolf Man’s development also seems to be at the core of his pathology according to Freud–his identification with his mother–but the source of this identification is left unclear. Regardless of the source of his identification with his mother, the "it does not matter" of 1918, regarding the nature of the primal scene, creates a logic that conflicts with the logic of the initial writing of the Wolf Man case history in 1914, where it did matter, where the contingent event, that which is supposedly unique to the Wolf Man, that which will explain his unique psychology, was the memory of an event and the basis of an etiological narrative. At the core of this conflict is the relationship to contingency of Freud’s arguments and the masterplots for which he argues. If we are all endowed with a determinist phylo-"genetic" preprogramming, what separates the neurotic from the normal would depend on ontogenetic, "exogenic" contingency, though it is difficult to see how this contingency could have an impact on psychic reality within Freud’s "it does not matter" logic.

I read Freud’s Wolf Man case as an ultimately internally conflicted argument: first for the importance of infantile sexuality directed at Jung and Adler; and then, second, for the importance of primal phantasies for determining this reality when he realized that "reconstructions" of events at age one and a half cannot escape sounding like the analyst’s constructions. Given the significance of infantile sexuality and phylogeny for Freud during the war years, and how both of these issues were associated with Jung and the emotional break up between them, these factors–their interrelatedness and how they manifest in the Wolf Man case in a way that makes the text conflict with itself–should not be marginalized in any reading of this case history. Whereas infantile sexuality and the conflict with Jung are often kept front and center in readings of the Wolf Man case, I have not discovered a reading unfettered by marginalization and neglect of phylogeny’s role in creating the conflict of logics between the initial writing in 1914 and the addition of 1918.

In "Fictions of the Wolf Man," Brooks writes about the Wolf Man case:

… in the place of a primal scene we would have a primal phantasy, operating as event by deferred action. And Freud refers us at this point to his discussion of the problem in the Introductory Lectures, where he considers that such primal phantasies may be a phylogenetic inheritance through which the individual reaches back to the history of mankind, to a racial "masterplot." (Bro84 276, my italics)
How could a primal phantasy not be a phylogenetic inheritance? I read Brooks "may" as suggesting his own desire that these theories of Freud’s had indeed been merely peripheral. More to the point, Brooks does not consider the sea-change of context and logic the switch to phylogeny as the true "origin of origins" (ibid.) certainly introduces, nor does he consider the significance of the differences between what Freud wrote in 1914 and what he wrote in 1918. Though Brooks (strangely) deems Freud’s turn toward phylogenetics and his "does not matter" twist of rhetoric in 1918 as "one of the most daring moments of Freud’s thought, and one of his most heroic gestures as a writer" (Bro84 277), Brooks does not read Freud as being committed to the certainty of such phantasies in the Wolf Man case, despite the case’s dependence on this "third" to pull it together, and, moreover, despite what Freud wrote in the Introductory Lectures and the obvious fact that Freud wrote several volumes to which he gave central importance to phylogenetics.

Brooks’ essay, "Freud’s Masterplot," reserves the idea of "masterplot" for ontogenetic plots, which suggests t hat Brooks doesn’t consider Freud’s phylogenetic plotting as integral to his ontogenetic plotting. He differentiates phylogenetics by calling it a "racial masterplot" (Bro84 276). Though a phylo-"genetic" plot that determines ontogenetic plots would seem, in one respect, to qualify it for the qualifier of "master," Brooks’s idea that the plotting of Beyond the Pleasure Principle is more general is based on the idea that, for Freud, the plotting of the life and death drives is applicable to all life. Yet the only grand or master plotting Freud commits to–any beyond on which we might base a masterplot–is one that is limited to the human race (the beyonds of Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Derrida argues, are left as hypotheses). Moreover, it seems that any Freudian masterplot would be centered on the Oedipus complex, and Oedipus is hardly mentioned in Beyond the Pleasure Principle.

Freud’s "racial masterplot," like his case histories, however, does not provide what Brooks considers to be essential to plotting: Kermode’s idea of the "sense of an ending." Brooks privileges the plotting of Beyond the Pleasure Principle due to the prominence of death in its plotting, and as an ending, which is in harmony with Brooks’s Lacanian-destinational conclusions about "how textual dynamics work and something about their psychic equivalences." What Brooks calls a "racial masterplot" suffers from being more like a history, or case history, in that the present is the end of the fabula, and the sjuzet is a simple cause and effect working backward in time to the end at the origin. But Freud’s sense of oedipal destiny–Freud consistantly associates destiny and fate with the oedipal inheritance of every individual, the super-ego–is the product of a "sense of beginning." The ending is immanent in the origin, the history–ontogenetic (case history) or phylogenetic–is one of determinism and destiny, and the time is kairos.

Given how Freud explicitly argues that phylogeny determines the foundation of human ontogenic psychology, how could any Freudian masterplot be limited to ontogeny? In other words–and what seems rather obvious in retrospect–any Freudian masterplot for humankind would have to have the type of oedipal essence that the phylo-"genetic" primal phantasies of primal scene, seduction, and castration constitute: the origin, teleology, and destiny of the Freudian oedipal "racial masterplot." With respect to the Wolf Man case and the war years, the ending of Freud’s plotting is not yet death but cure: it relies, as almost all of his theorizing beyond Beyond the Pleasure Principle does, more on the sense of a beginning rather than "the sense of an ending." Of course, the sense he posits blurs the boundary between neurotic and normal, between etiology and metapsychology, and therefore blurs his plotting. The coherence of the Wolf Man case as an etiology, as a case history of an analysis, suffers from being on the cusp of this significant and overlooked transition in Freud’s thought: the transition from ontogenetic narrative origins to phylogenetic ones. This transition follows from Freud’s transition from a memory-based theory to a fantasy-based one and therefore can be seen as an extension of Freud’s supposed abandonment of the "seduction" theory, which I have argued was more a transition from the chance of memory (a scene of writing potentially of mobile texts) to the determinism of a preprogrammed, fantasy-based psychic apparatus (a scene of writing of immobile texts, translation).

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Copyright 2000 by Eric W. Anders