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Carl Jung: On Tausk’s Criticism of Nelken  

8 nelken

Symbolic Life

In the first issue of this periodical there was a review by Tausk of Nelken’s “Analytische Beobachtungen iiber Phantasien eines Schizophrenen.”

In this review I came upon the following passage: In the first catatonic attack the patient produced the fantasy that mice and rats were gnawing at his genitals.

Nelken derives the symbolic significance of these animals from a suggestion of Jung’s, who sees them as symbolizing nocturnal fear.

There is no doubt that this interpretation is correct, but it comes from a later elaboration of this symbol and bars the way to deeper insight.

Analysis of dreams and neuroses has taught me beyond question—and I find my view supported by other psychoanalysts—that mice and rats are cloacal animals and that they represent, in symbolic form, the defecation complex (anal complex).

I would like to defend Nelken’s view against Tausk’s.

I do not doubt in the least that Tausk’s view is also right.

We have known this for a long time, and it has been completely confirmed once more by Freud’s rat-man.

Further, we know very well that catatonic introversion and regression reactivate all the infantile impulses, as is evident from numerous observations in Nelken’s analysis.

So there is no question of this aspect of the case having escaped us; it merely seemed unimportant because by now it is self-evident.

It is no longer of vital importance to know that the anal complex can act as a substitute for normal modes of transference or adaptation, since we know already that the pathological regression of libido reactivates every variety of infantile sexualism and produces infantile fantasies of every conceivable kind.

Anyone who still thinks that a definite group of fantasies, or a “complex” has been singled out just hasn’t seen enough cases.

We therefore consider it irrelevant that the castration is performed by cloacal animals.

Incidentally, mice are not “cloacal animals” but animals that live in holes, and this is a more comprehensive concept than “cloacal animals.”

The only thing we learn from this interpretation is that an infantile complex or infantile interest takes the place of the normal interest.

It may be of some value for the specialist to know that in this particular case it was the anal fantasy that contributed a bit of symbolism for the purpose of expressing the introversion and regression of libido.

But this interpretation does not supply a generally applicable principle of explanation when we come to the far more important task of discovering the real functional significance of the castration motif.

We cannot content ourselves with a simple reduction to infantile mechanisms and leave it at that.

I was once given a very impressive example of this kind of interpretation.

In a discussion on the historical fish-symbol, one of those present remarked that the fish vanishing in the sea was simply the father’s penis vanishing in his wife’s vagina.

This kind of interpretation, which I consider sterile, is what I call sexual concretism.

It seems to me that psychoanalysts are confronted with the much greater and more important task of understanding what these analogies are trying to say.

What did men of many different races and epochs mean by the symbol of the fish?

Why—in the present case too, for that matter—were these infantile channels of interest reactivated? What does this fetching up of infantile material signify?

For this obviously is the problem.

The statement: “Infantile reminiscences are coming to the surface again” is vapid and self-evident.

It also leads us away from the real meaning.

In Nelken’s case the problem is not the derivation of part of the rat-symbol  from the anal complex, but the castration motif to which the fantasy obviously belongs.

The rats and mice are the instrument of the castration.

But there are many other kinds of castrating instrument which are by no means anally determined. Tausk’s reduction of the rats is merely of value to the specialist and has no real significance as regards the problem of sacrifice, which is at issue here.

The Zurich school naturally recognizes that the material is reducible to simpler infantile patterns, but it is not content to let it go at that.

It takes these patterns for what they are, that is, images through which the unconscious mind is expressing itself.

Thus, with reference to the fish-symbol, we would argue as follows :

We do not deny the Viennese school the possibility that the fish symbol can ultimately be reduced to parental intercourse.

We are ready to assume this provided there are fairly cogent reasons for doing so.

But, because we are not satisfied with this relatively unimportant reduction, we ask ourselves what the evocation of parental intercourse or something similar means to the patient.

We thus carry the assumption a stage further, because with the reduction to the infantile pattern we have not gained an understanding of the real significance of the fact that the reminiscence was regressively reactivated.

Were we to remain satisfied with the reduction, we would come back again and again to the long-since-accepted truth that the infantile lies at the root of the mental world, and that adult mental life is built upon the foundations of the infantile psyche.

Even in the backwaters of the psychoanalytic school one should have got beyond marvelling over the fact that, for instance, the artist makes use of images relating to the incest complex.

Naturally every wish has these infantile patterns which it makes use of in every conceivable variation in order to express itself. But if the pattern,

the infantile element, were still absolutely operative (i.e., not just regressively reactivated), all mental products would turn out to be unbelievably trivial and deadly monotonous.

It would always be the same old infantile story that formed the essential core of all mental products would turn out to be unbelievably trivial and deadly monotonous.

It would always be the same old infantile story that formed the essential core of all mental products.

Fortunately, the infantile motifs are not the essential ; that is to say, for the most part they are regressively reactivated, and are fittingly employed for the purpose of expressing currents and trends in the actual present—and most clearly of all when the things to be expressed are as far-off and intangible as the most distant childhood.

Nor should it be forgotten that there is also a future.

The reduction to infantile material makes the inessential in art—the limited human expression—the essence of art, which consists precisely in striving for the greatest variety of form and the greatest freedom from the limitations of the conventional and the given.

The reduction to infantile material makes the inessential in art—the limited human expression—the essence of art, which consists precisely in striving for the greatest variety of form and the greatest freedom from the limitations of the conventional and the given.

Herbert Silberer once made the very good observation that there                    is a mythological stage of cognition which apprehends symbolically.

This saying holds good for the employment of infantile reminiscences: they aid cognition or apprehension and are expressive symbols.

No doubt the infantile reminiscence or tendency is still partly operative and thus has an extraordinarily disturbing and obstructive effect in actual life.

That is also the reason why it is so easy to find. But we would be wrong to regard it as a source of energy on that account; it is much more a limitation and an obstacle.

But because of its undeniable existence it is at the same time a necessary means of expression by analogy, for the furthest reaches of fantasy cannot offer any other material for analogical purposes.

Accordingly, even if we do approach the primitive images analytically, we are not content with reduction and with establishing their self-evident existence, but, by comparing them with similar material, we try rather to reconstruct the actual problem that led to the employment of these primitive patterns and seeks expression through them.

In this sense we take incest primarily as a symbol, as a means of expression, as Adler too has suggested.

Hence I cannot agree with Tausk when he says that comparison with analogous material “bars the way to deeper insight.”

We do not regard the discovery of the anal fantasy as an insight that could be compared in importance with an understanding of the castration motif.

I must therefore defend Nelken’s attempt to establish general connections in a wider context.

We can hardly expect proof of the self-evident existence of infantile fantasies to furnish any insight  nto the general problem of sacrifice, which makes use of the castration motif among others.

That Nelken has this question in mind is clear from his footnote, in which he refers to the snake and scorpion as historical castration animals.

I have taken the liberty of dwelling at some length on Tausk’s comment because it seemed to offer a favourable opportunity to sketch out our different approach to these matters.

We do not by any means deny the possibility of Tausk’s reduction, as should be obvious.

But in this and all similar reductions we find nothing that seems to us to offer a satisfactory explanation.

We believe, on the contrary, that a satisfactory explanation must make clear the teleological significance of the castration motif. In psychology, as is generally known, you cannot get very far with purely causal explanations, since a very large number of psychic phenomena can be satisfactorily explained only in teleological terms.

This does nothing to alter or to detract from the exceedingly valuable discoveries of the Freudian school.

We merely add the factor of teleological observation to what already exists.

I have devoted a special study to this question, which will shortly appear in the Jahrbuch.

Our attempts to develop and broaden the previous insights have given rise to absurd talk of a schism.

Anything of that sort can only be the invention of people who take their working hypothesesas articles of faith.

This rather childish standpoint is one which I do not share.

My scientific views change with my experience and insight, as has always been the case in science generally.

It would be a matter for suspicion if this were not so. ~Carl Jung, CW 18, Pages 433-437