Northern California Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology

From the Editor

by Adam Blum, Psy.D., Impulse Feature Editor


I made two lifelong friends in college; coincidentally (I think), they both happened to be children of immigrant German mothers.  Out of some fruitful interplay of jealous exclusion when they would speak German in front of me and emerging aspirations toward fluency in the lingua franca of psychoanalysis, I decided to spend a summer immersed in the disorienting excitement of Intro to German.  While my summer studies left me far from competent in the art of conversation, I have found myself from time to time (thanks to PEP-Web) comparing Freud's original wordings with Strachey's standard translations, which have themselves become a topic of metacognitive inquiry.

The subject of re-translating Freud -- which may have culminated in Penguin'sThe Freud Reader, for which Adam Phillips recruited poets and writers to infuse the canonical texts with contemporary sensibilities -- has on occasion attracted mainstream attention; Bruno Bettelheim's staggering essay, "Freud and the Soul," which criticizes Strachey's medicalized, Latinate words (e.g., "cathexis") in favor of more colloquial, bodily language (e.g., "occupation"), appeared in a 1982 issue of The New Yorker.  The implications of Freud's intended meaning, however, extends well beyond academic curiosity toward profound clinical relevance.

Take the concept of "working-through," a relatively ambiguous term considering how regularly it is applied to psychotherapy and mental life in general -- as in, working through a trauma.  This popular use diverges from the way it actually appears in the eponymous paper, where Freud (1914) refers to the "working through of the resistances [Durcharbeiten der Widerstände]" (p. 155).  The popular usage reads as a direct object relationship, like a massage working through a muscular knot.  But this is precisely not how Freud composes the sentence; he chooses not the direct (die) but the genitive (der) article, suggesting a possessive relationship between verb and object.  The work, in other words, claims the resistances; resistances belong to, comprise, and continue through the work.

Here the "object" is, of course, a grammatical object, not to be confused with the objects we usually discuss in psychoanalytic theory -- or is it?  At play here, essentially, is the difference between working something through, like we usually say it, and working through something -- as in, something is happening, and we just keep working.  "See you next week."  

The latter interpretation aligns nicely (better, in fact) with another line from the paper: "[T]o work through it, to overcome it, by continuing, in defiance of it, the analytic work..." (ibid).  In the direct object version, the object (like the "object") is the direct focus of analytic work; insight, with all of its trappings, is the desired outcome.  In the non-direct, genitive version, the technique is to keep working, right on through the resistances that might otherwise stop work (which would engender the other phenomenon Freud addresses in the paper: repetition).  This translation reveals working-through to be more an ancestor of Winnicott's "going-on-being" or Milner's analytic frame than perhaps Strachey's (and now the popular) use of the term might have led us to imagine.

Freud, S. (1914). Remembering, repeating and working-through. SE XII, 145-156.

Freud, S. (1914). Erinnern, wiederholen und durcharbieten. GESAMMELTE WERKE: X126-136.