Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The Freud Museum and Garden, Hampstead, London

When I first encountered the couch brought from Vienna, and on which Freud's patients had reclined, my first thoughts cohered around the privilege which wealth can afford, in contrast to the relative suffering of poorer men and women who must try handle their emotional problems with the assistance of an over stretched health service or avail the support of their friends and family. The Freudian couch manifests (to my mind) as more than mere furniture or the place where a patient would recline, but as an altar to analysis. I did not feel a shred of resentment before the richly robed chaise, as therapists of any kind need to pay bills and must charge for their services, and national health services surely cannot run to installing their patients on couches draped in exotic rugs, or comfortable seating in private living rooms, on the funding available, and we cannot surely expect this to be the case. At most, from my limited experience of trying to set up in therapy via a team based around my practice, we may have the offer of a chair beside a desk in a rather cold, functional looking room. 
   I have been to assessments in surgeries where I am frequently disturbed by random staff entering the room to look for items they need, no thought at all for the fact that I could be divulging private, personal history or that they may break the free associative flow, which, I think, seems an unimaginable luxury of an idea that we accept is mainly happens in private practice.

After ten months I have not succeeded to set up any therapy although I was on a waiting list for a service based at Camden Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Service. The offer of therapy appears to have entirely fallen through and I had no correspondence to confirm the pending appointment pencilled in for January. The point of contact has sent a reply saying 'out of office' until February.
I am seriously thinking then of wandering up to the Freud Museum on occasion, and perhaps sitting in the garden, imagining that I am talking to a deceased Freud. The couch of course will be out of bounds, set within a roped off area...

H.D., who travelled to Vienna in 1933 to undergo analysis with Freud,  described the couch used by Freud in his practice as a psychoanalyst, as an "old-fashioned horsehair sofa that had heard more secrets than the confessional box of any popular Roman Catholic father-confessor in his heyday, the homely historical instrument of the original scheme of psychotherapy, of psychoanalysis, the science of the unravelling of the tangled skeins of the unconscious mind."

I think it is rather fascinating to consider how it must feel to recline on this couch and find ourselves somehow transported as if through a portal into a world where our conscious processes have less hold over us permitting a freer flow of thought from a kind of hinterland place in the mind usually less accessible. Apparently (according to Christopher Turner in an article written for the LRB)  the antique objects in his cabinet were described by him as 'dirty old gods' and it seems that they point as if to an inverse deity in the usually hidden, in the personal space, totems of all that is potentially adverse and unacceptable and not part of formalised convention and religion but something quite apart from all this. They are companions in the dark confessional of the chamber of psychoanalysis which permits the analysand freedom we assume to wander at will in through the hidden recesses of the mind.
The couch was given to Freud by a patient, Madame Bevenisti in around 1890 and then travelled after him from Vienna to London. The rug which covers it was an engagement present from his cousin, Moritz, a trader in oriental antiques.

The study in which the couch is located is filled with antiquities from ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and the Orient. Freud likened the unconscious to archeological finds which are durable and unchanging like the unconscious where as the conscious mind is more subject to change with conscious material somehow 'wearing away'. According to Freud, the objects had been found in a tomb and had been preserved through burial.

In his library which adjoins his study, where the couch is located, there are many books by authors such as Goethe and Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Thomas Mann and Anatole France, and several paintings, including Oedipus and the Riddle of the Sphinx -

I wonder often about the horse and rider image and how it is facing left when usually we interpret and read texts and images from left to right. This suggests an almost Zen koan disruption of reason to my mind, a provocation that sends the mind on a journey of a kind that is less predictable than that of purely rational, ordered processes.

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