From the Founding Editor
by Cleopatra Victoria, MFT
MAKING A FREUDIAN TRIP
From my hotel window, I could see the Salzburg railway. In Vienna, the cobblestone street drops down approaching Freud's office and house of 50 years. His consulting room looks out over a deep courtyard with tall trees -- very vertical. The air in his room was as dense as Sachertorte; rich with thousands of stories, the sting of truth, salve of interpretations, and words polished as stones. Freud warns us life is painful. We need distractions, satisfactions, and intoxicants. Freud advises that our primary duty as a human is to bear life. As one tourist's T-shirt read: "Get up. Survive. Go back to bed."
In a Viennese museum, the installation Hello Robot displays Paro, a small, furry robot who purrs when petted and is used by dementia patients worldwide. Kip is a robot that assesses your emotions, helping you regulate your feelings. A software program evaluates whether your job might be replaced by a robot. Professions requiring empathy were less likely to be supplanted. Whew.
Touring the Royal Apartments, I learned that Sisi, the 16-year-old Empress of the 1800s, rode horses, wrote poetry, and shirked her duties, calling her ladies-in-waiting "fat and dumb." An exhibit stated, "she sought to escape the burden of her own personality." She was assassinated by an Italian anarchist. Crossing the Danube, I saw a 12-year-old Hasidic boy in a top hat, long black silk coat, and with side curls, skateboarding by. In my hotel lobby, a woman in a red burqa argued with her husband about shopping: "Will the taxi driver speak Arabic or English?"
My train to Hungary was the next day. I ate shrimp at a restaurant, waking at 3:00 a.m. with severe itching, hives, and swelling. Panicking, I walked to the apothecary, rang the bell, and a sleepy pharmacist dressed in his pajamas dispensed antihistamine through a door slot. My train ride the next day was very uncomfortable. While in Budapest, I needed the state hospital ER, steroid cream, and doctor visits.
Finally, I had a mind and could think again. Was the allergic outbreak Bion's "thoughts without a thinker," raw, undigested psyche-soma beta elements? Had the separation from Austria and my good internal objects there (psychoanalysis, my former analysts, my European parents) precipitated a psychic catastrophe -- "going to pieces?" Was the fantasy of bad food (bad mother) a projection of my own imagined internal badness? Was the allergen internal or external -- what was me or not-me? Was my razed skin an unconscious attack on my mother (who had beautiful skin)? Did the scratch marks on my limbs symbolize the lost, mourned maternal object? Between steroids and sleeplessness, I was psychotic, hearing the parental couple's enthusiastic intercourse: "Let's scratch! Yes, yes, yes!" Did the consults with five Hungarian doctors replace five missed sessions with my San Francisco Hungarian-American psychologist?
Freud sees the early ego as rooted in the body, especially the skin. Esther Bick speaks of mother as a skin for the baby, holding together parts of the self which have no coherence. Luis Chiozza, the Argentinean analyst, views the skin as a wrapper, delineating the ego from the world, and when the feeling of ego is insufficient, the skin may form a shell, functioning like an insect's exoskeleton. In psoriasis, the red, flayed skin could represent a fantasized beating by the rejecting love object. Herman Muspah links itching to thwarted desires. But, Freud might say, sometimes an allergic reaction is just an allergic reaction.
Lacan's sinthome is a reinscription of the symptom, a leftover, which remains after analysis and can appear in writing, suggests Elizabeth Stewart in Catastrophe and Survival. Sinthome holds the self together and produces its own container out of writing. Writing functions as a skin that is mobile, deflatable, and reshapable.
Home, unpacking, I was startled by my souvenirs -- a leather wallet and purse -- two beautiful skins.