Anna and her Father


The paper deals with the origins of psychoanalysis as they are intertwined with the roots of the father-daughter relationship between Sigmund and Anna Freud.  Anna arrives at a psychoanalytic theorization which is different from the father’s theory by way of emphasizing the Oedipal complex as the matrix of the feminine identity.

Highlighting the transgressive character of Anna Freud’s work, the author shows how her theoretical accomplishment marks the passage from the Ego as daughter to the Ego as woman.  The relationship between Anna and her friend Dorothy would represent in this perspective the presupposition of a ‘recognition’ of her feminine identity, positing the foundation of feminine identity itself “beyond” the structuring function of the Oedipus.  In the end, the paper also argues whether the precocity of the pre-Oedipal relationship of a daughter with her father might constitute an impediment to her capacity for biological procreation.

  Anna Freud came into the world in December of 1895, born of a pregnancy as much unexpected as it was undesired.  About one year prior to her birth, Freud, at the age of thirty-eight, had begun to come to terms with illness, felt a “dreadful uncertainty about whether he was a man awaiting death by heart attack or a hypochondriac”[1].  Forced to give up his cigars, he was depressed enough to confess to Fliess that “the libido by now belongs to the past”[2].  The research on contraception which Fliess was doing for the Freuds arrived too late: Martha was pregnant again.

            And all of this was transpiring during the dramatic vicissitudes of Emma Eckstein and Freud’s ensuing difficulties in his relationship with Fliess.  Yet despite some mistrust, Freud would continue to find in his friend an interlocutor and sustaining source.  To Fliess, who was also awaiting the birth of a child his first he wrote, “Do you have any objection to my calling my next son Wilhelm?  And if it turns out to be a girl, we are thinking of calling her Anna”[3].

            A female secondly, a him transformed into her, Anna was born amidst various difficulties.  Her mother, who had already given birth to five other children over the last six years, was unable to nurse her, and given the family s meager economic circumstances, they could not even hire a wet nurse.  Still, her birth did coincide with her father’s developing profession, and Freud liked to believe that Anna was a talisman, a good omen.

            Her name was taken from that of a family friend: “Anna Hammerschlag Lichtheim, the same Professor Hammerschlag s very intelligent but quite plain daughter, who had been widowed after only a year of marriage.  She was a schoolteacher as well as a patient of Freud s.” Anyway Anna “objected to her name because she thought it was common and plain, while Sophie  was lovely and sophisticated.  Her father tried to console her by pointing out that Anna was a palindrome, reading the same left to right as right to left  [as Anna stated in a letter of August 12, 1922, to Lou Andreas-Salomé].  But it was the child in him and not his child who enjoyed this kind of orthographic game”[4].

            “…Anna was also the name of one of Freud’s sisters, the one he loved the least”[5].  We know from Jones that Anna always denied that her name might come from her aunt, the oldest sister, or from “Anna O.”, the fictitious name given by the authors of Studies on Hysteria to Bertha Pappenheim.

            But a name is never irrelevant, as Freud himself affirmed in The Interpretation of Dreams, it is chosen and imposed precisely because it both hides and reveals the revenants of the parents.  As Freud wrote some years later:

Even a civilized adult may be able to infer from certain peculiarities in his own behavior that he is not so far removed as he may have thought from attributing importance to proper names, and that his own name has become to a very remarkable extent bound up with his personality.  So, too, psychoanalytic practice comes upon frequent confirmations of this in the evidence it finds of the importance of names in unconscious mental activities.[6]

And do, starting with her name, Anna’s existence begins under the sign of ambivalence.

            Even though Sigmund took no part in the daily routine of caring for the children, nor did any father then, he utilized the material provided by them for his work.  And although Martha had explicitly expressed that their children not be “used” for his research, Freud seemed to take no notice, especially with the smaller ones; one of Anna’s dreams, in fact, had already showed up in The Interpretation of Dreams[7].

            One might wonder if Anna’s attachment to her father preceded Freud’s counter-Oedipal feelings, or if he himself with his feelings induced in Anna this propensity; what is certain is that the daughter’s life became the confirmation of the Freudian Oedipal conviction according to which “the female child’s first leaning is towards the father”[8].

            Anna, born during the period of the “Project”, was five years old when Freud wrote The Interpretation of Dreams, ten when he wrote Three Essays on Sexuality, and in full adolescence when her father was delving into The Antithetical Meaning of Primal Words (1910)[9].  The terms “male”, “female”, “mother”, “father” do not in fact appear in this text.

            Anna was shy and gracious, taking after her paternal side, with a serious and restless temperament.  In the winter of 1912, when she was 17 years old, she took ill, and her father wrote her on that occasion:

Your plans for school can easily wait, until you learn to take them less seriously.  Nothing will escape you.  You have to live a little day by day, and be happy to have such a beautiful winter sun: this can only do you good.  And now, if you are tranquil because your stay in Merano will not be imminently disturbed, I want to tell you that all of us are pleased with your letters. [10].

The period of turmoil and work had already begun, and thus Anna passed her adolescence envying the psychoanalytic doctrine that deprived her of her adored father and, as an adult, to get him back, she would choose to enter into a group of psychoanalytic disciples.

Without having even finished high school, she worked as a governess throughout the years of the First World War (1920), but even prior to this, in 1913, during a visit to London, she would have a first initial impact with the psychoanalytic movement, and find herself implicated abruptly in the middle of a relationship between her father and Ernest Jones.

            Jones, who had accompanied to Vienna his lover who was then in analysis with Freud, began to court Anna.  Warned of this by his very same patient, Freud was displeased, and addressed a letter in very decisive tones to Jones:  “She is the most gifted and accomplished of my children, and a valuable character besides, full of interest for learning, seeing sights and getting to understand the world… [Anna] does not claim to be treated as a woman, being still far away from sexual longings and rather refusing man. There is an outspoken understanding between me and her that she should not consider marriage or the preliminaries before she gets 2 or 3 years older. I don t think she will break the treaty.”[11].

            A few days before, Freud had sent a letter to his daughter: “I know & that Dr. Jones has serious intentions of seeking your hand.” He declared himself reluctant to interfere with the freedom of choice that her two older sisters had enjoyed. But since she had had as yet no proposals in her young life , and lived even more intimately  with her parents than had Mathilde and Sophie, Freud thought it right for her to make no major decisions without being sure of our (in this case, my) consent beforehand. [12]

Jones, embittered by the refusal, responded in turn : Anna has a beautiful character and will surely be a remarkable woman later on, provided that her sexual repression does not injure her. She is of course tremendously bound to you, and it is one of these rare cases where the actual father corresponds to the father-imago [13].

Anna adhered to her father’s wishes, and sought to “make a name” for herself in Freud’s circle of disciples.

            She had neither Sophie’s beauty nor Mathilde’s elegance, and felt inferior for not having succeeded in her studies, but thanks to her marked qualities of courage, tenacity and taste for spiritual matters, but above all to her father’s constant support, Anna twinned up with psychoanalysis.  “To Anna Freud s reckoning, she and psychoanalysis were twins who started out competing for their father s attention.”[14].

            Because she did not deem herself ready to ask entry into the Viennese Society, she sought at first to enter into that of Berlin, and asked advice of Max Eitingon who was then its president.  Anna was counting on attending the International Congress of 1922 as an official member of a psychoanalytic society.  In fact, in only six weeks she succeeded in writing a work which she presented to the very same Viennese Society, thereby challenging the likely difficulties and opening herself to criticisms, which she withstood thanks to her father’s help.  The collegial ambience was very demanding, and Anna’s text very weak.  The work was completed in record time, which only confirmed that “the patient whose case is discussed was herself the one patient she knew intimately. In the written version of her lecture, she simply noted that the patient, whose story is reconstructed to the age of fifteen, had been the subject of a rather thoroughgoing analysis , she did not say by whom”[15].

            The last becomes first in her father’s heart.

Enjoyed and consumed

            Freud for his part does not hide his need for Anna and her affectionate proximity, a need so strong and gratifying as to produce a pleasure similar to what he had garnered from his cigars and his dogs.  In a letter to Lou Andreas Salomé of March 13, 1922, Freud said of his daughter: “I have felt sorry for her for quite some time now, because she is still living at home with us old folks &, but yet, on the other hand, if she really had left us, I would have felt diminished, like what is happening to me now, for example, almost as if I had to give up smoking.”[16]

            Freud held that to lose Anna, just like living without cigars, would require a great resignation.  His emotions seem to be more on the order of a primary dependence, certainly diverse from the Oedipal character that he himself individuates in the child-parent relationship.  Here, it is not as an object or a recognition of the other as separate from oneself, that Anna and her father are operating; but rather they fall into a narcissistic zone.

            In 1930 Freud, in a letter to Lou, confessed his desire to have his little dog Jo-Fi near by, “almost as much as my cigar, it is a delightful creature, and interesting, even in its feminine qualities, indomitable, impetuous, affectionate, intelligent, and yet less dependent than dogs usually are.”[17]  Her father considers Anna docile but at the same time impetuous like a dog, and as pleasurable as a cigar.

            Freud’s control over Anna, which seems a bourgeois attitude of paternal authoritarianism, hides the reality of a deep “oral” need, which is underlined by the painful experience of his mouth cancer, which his daughter could care for with love, solicitude and “maternal” intimacy.

            Freud’s relationship with his daughter lies in a confusional area between self and non-self, without any real possibility of elaboration.  It will fall to his followers to delve more deeply into the primary-maternal level, but not even Anna will be able to confront it, imprisoned as she is in the early damage of the maternal relationship, which renders her an accomplice to the father’s needs.  In this way, Anna is forced to respond to her own needs through a sort of appropriation of his life and thought, as though he were the sea wherein to swim and drown[18].

            Anna’s response to this archaic and unthinkable need albeit without being able to free herself from it for her entire life was to expropriate her family members and above all her mother, in a sort of total cure of a father who is hers alone: a reciprocal capture.  Anna devotes all her energies to him: his illness renders him ever more needful and the daughter ever more devoted.

            These are the epiphenomena of a tendency to a claustrophilic relationship[19].

This is the reading which the official biography transmits, and these seem the manifest intentions of their particularly touching relationship.

            A sense of painful curiosity leads us to ask ourselves where Anna’s mother is, and she is always discovered hidden, shadowed, silenced: a “dead mother”[20].

            One might also ask where in all of this is Freud’s mother, what unconscious place does she occupy in the relationship between father and daughter.   These seemingly marginal questions in reality throw a halo on that world of life which marks for psychoanalysis both the possibility to be in time, and simultaneously the possibility to elaborate time and its traumas.

Freud as Father-Analyst

            The bond between Anna and Freud exclusive, mutually idealized, viscous, inseparable, and without conflict  will strengthen over time by a bond stronger than blood: personal analysis [21].

            At this pioneering time, it was not unusual to break with the orthodoxy of the setting, and there were many valid motives historical, economic and organizational which seem to justify a sort of habit of mixing personal facts with professional ones. The expediency of anonymity and abstinence, while proposed as analytic rules not to be ignored, were frequently ignored in practice. More than one analyst analyzed his children, friends and relatives.  Anna’s analysis with her father was kept in great discretion, “a jealously kept secret,”[22] and on various occasions omitted or denied.

            Anna while still young was afflicted by a light depression and insomnia.  Daydreams linked to masturbation obsessed her.

            For some four years, between 1918 and 1922, which according to the standards then were really many, Anna stretched out on her father’s couch.  At 10 p.m. six times a week in the studio that would later become famous, her analysis was carried out.

            Anna s figure, out of respect for her father and her own personality, was untouchable and her analytic undertaking unspeakable.  Psychoanalytic literature would only begin to question this analysis many years later.

            In a letter written in 1935 to Edoardo Weiss, who was asking whether or not to analyze his son, Freud responded that with his own daughter the analysis had gone well, but that with a son things could have been different:

Concerning the analysis of your hopeful son, that is certainly a ticklish business. With a younger, promising brother it might be done more easily. With one s own daughter I succeeded well. There are special difficulties and doubts with a son. Not that I really would warn you against a danger; obviously everything depends upon the two people and their relationship to each other. You know the difficulties. It would not surprise me if you were successful in spite of them. It is difficult for an outsider to decide. I would not advise you to do it and have no right to forbid it.[23].

Freud’s conviction that it was easier to analyze daughters than sons because the relationship was freer from hostile feelings, seems to confirm his myopic view of the feminine.

            Freud s difficulty in coping with conflicts and ambivalence with his women patients is not only a limit in Anna’s analysis, but a  result of the general Freudian conception of child psychic development.  Freud refers to male fantasies and generalizes them without the possibility of individuating specifics and differences on the order of gender identity.  Anna’s theory will confirm her father s approach, anchored substantially to penis envy for feminine identity, and to fear of castration for male identity, as seen in her 1925 work Jealousy and the Masculinity s Desire[24].

            Anna’s analysis was “carried out at home”[25], although it was anything but informal, characterized by Freud’s enormous scientific aspirations.  Anna obeys the father’s desire, and through her analysis permits Freud to build the “case”, the “patient”, allowing a certain verifiability.  The father, by placing himself in the position of the analyst, conceived the didactics: the transmission of psychoanalysis by means of analysis.  Freud really did desire that Anna enroll in the Viennese institute, perhaps also to compensate her for what he had asked her to give up on an emotional level.

            The deep meaning of this experience is enormous, but it is not difficult to imagine how disturbing an analytic intimacy of this type may have been.  The difficulty in containing the emotional transfer surely influenced and limited even the clinical ingeniousness of Freud.

            It would be superficial to attribute this choice exclusively to contingent factors.  One might maintain that “both were unconsciously convinced that Anna would not have been satisfied by any other analyst and, in Freud s eyes, no one but himself would have been suited to her.”[26].

            Certainly, it took Freud some courage to establish a transgressive analytic pact which allowed both him and his daughter to “feed off” each other.

            In but one year of experience with Anna-as-patient, Freud developed the ideas he expressed in 1919 in A Child is Being Beaten[27], wherein he recounts six clinical cases of four women and two men, making brief comments on five of them, with no comment on the sixth.  This last patient is not even described; perhaps Freud’s silence was meant to protect his daughter.  On the other hand, the fifth patient seems to resemble Anna very much; of this patient Freud states, “had come to be analyzed merely on account of indecisiveness in life, would not have been classified at all by coarse clinical diagnosis, or would have been dismissed as psychasthenic  ”[28].

            A few years later Anna took up the same topics in one of her first works entitled The Relation of Beating Phantasies to a Day-Dream (1922)[29].  It appears from some of her letters that the material for her essay derived from her very own case, interweaving with her father’s hypotheses her own experiences of a self-analytic nature.

            The results of her analysis were quite disappointing, and in a letter to Lou dated 16 December 1922, Anna herself confesses, “With me, everything became so problematic because of two basic faults: from a discontent or insatiability with myself that makes me look for affection from others, and then from actually sticking with the others once I have found them. [The first] is just what you and Papa cannot understand”[30].

            Freud, in allowing himself the analysis of his very own daughter, took extraordinary liberty with his passion: psychoanalysis.  He used Anna, her dreams, her emotions, and their own affective relationship, all of  which, as her father, not to mention analyst, come into play with transfer.  In doing so, he not only acts with a superficial naivete and transgresses an analytic neutrality; he transmits something disturbing but essential in psychoanalysis: the contradictory and transgressive essence of the unconscious.

            Paul Roazen evaluates the event:

Psychoanalysis was so important to both of them that everything else became trivial; the primary consideration might have been whether the analysis would help equip her as a future analyst.  But then Anna may have been more afraid of her father than either of them knew.

Freud s motives may have been the very best, but medically and humanly the situation was bizarre.  As her analyst, he would inevitably mobilize her feelings of overvaluation, while at the same time invading the privacy of her soul; he added new transference emotions to their relationship, without the possibility of ever really dissolving them. [ &] Taking his daughter into analysis undoubtedly gratified an oedipal tie on his part; and at the same time it was good for the psychoanalytic movement to have Anna as an analyst.  But for Anna, the analysis helped to limit the possibilities for personal gratification, although she had a role in her father s life as well as her eventual leadership of the movement, which constituted a rich exchange.  Perhaps only by normal standards was her relationship to such a father a tragic one.[31]

Without falling back on commonplaces, let us look at Freud’s relationship with Anna starting precisely from this “tragic” height.


            Freud referred to his daughter as Antigone.  It appears that Anna acquired this nickname thanks to her constant and affectionate dedication to her sick and old father.  Freud wrote to Arnold Zweig : “My idea of enjoying spring on Mt. Carmel with you was, of course, only a fantasy. Even supported by my faithful Anna-Antigone I could not undertake any journey.”[32]

            Freud’s evocation of the mythical name of Antigone is significant and complex.  The name reveals a symbolism which, like a slip of tongue, unveils far more than its apparent significance.

Antigone.  Sophocles presents us with a tragedy: the father (Oedipus) after many wanderings finally arrives at Colonus; the mother (Jocasta) has killed herself after discovering her incest.  The two brothers (Eteocles and Polynices) have killed each other in a duel.  While Eteocles will receive a proper burial, having died defending his native city, Polynices, who invaded and raised arms against Thebes, will have no right to any funeral rite: these are the laws of Creon.

            Antigone asks her sister to help her with the forbidden burial of her beloved brother, but Ismene reminds her of the edict forbidding this, and of the obedience owed by women towards men and the law.  Antigone angrily rejects her sister, and declares the right of blood over that of law.

            The sisters become estranged, and Antigone will go alone to pay homage to her dead brother.

            Anna was far too dependent on her father to be able to think of disobeying; she was too close to her father, to psychoanalysis, to her patients and to Dorothy to be able to think independently.  But then, why Antigone?  Antigone, because she was the daughter of Oedipus.  Freud, in calling her Antigone, would like to enclose her within the Oedipus.  And so it tallies, transgressing the law would make her the father s bride, and being unable to marry him would make her single.

That psychoanalysis founded on the Oedipal myth will consider Freud and Anna s story an Oedipal one, and Oedipus the carrying force of the psyche, to account for the tragic life  of a daughter and an exceptional father.  And in any ways this is true:

This young girl can only be understood in the context of her strange experience which is her love for her father Oedipus.  Father, essentially, because so she has experienced him, witnessed by the expression with which she mourns his death, Oh Father, oh dear me (philos)”.  Oedipus at Colonos is the Sophoclean tragedy which gathers all of Antigone s paternal love.. &. It thus touches the errant ways of desire, where it is this desire which drives the human being, where who traverses it does not direct it, nor can bring it back to the ordinary ways, those of the city, of hierarchies, of powers and their practice &.  Where the props of all one has fall, where the father is son, son of nothing, where paternity does not exist, a vacuum, an uncertainty inhabited by the brother. .[33]

But Antigone wears many dresses…

Antigone, paladin of unwritten laws.

Antigone, individual against the state.

Antigone, heroine of blood laws.

Antigone disobedient.

Antigone lonely.

Antigone born not to share hatred, but to share love .[34]

Simone Weil, who also looked closely at the question of Eros in Greek culture, gave ample space to Antigone, placing her always there where love is, impersonal love which is also a desire which seizes us, within which we do not say no to the being that we will be [35].

George Steiner defines as Antigones  the many configurations of Antigone in his historic research. Antigone, the symbolic young maiden, reappears over the course of centuries to fascinate, and above all to question.

For Hegel Antigone is the figure who marks the passage from the consciousness of one s immediate self to the consciousness acquired in the Absolute Spirit, in the Phenomenology of the Spirit.  Kierkegaard will reinvent her, interpreting her as the discriminating figure between pain and the Ego s sufferance, thus speaking both of her innocence as well as her blame.  Oblivious and at the same time knowledgeable, Antigone would represent the modern Ego which carries within even before the father recognizes it the consciousness (and conscience) of the father s blame.

It is important to note that

all research took place over centuries as if the two sexes were a secondary variation of that singular one which is the person, the individual.  Homo, Mensch.  Or when, like in Hegel or in Kierkegaard, Antigone s femininity is revealed, it is done so traditionally: for Hegel, Antigone s no   is that of the family, and it is self evident that a woman is the symbol of the family, and especially of fraternal love.  (And why did she not love her sister Ismene, Goethe rebutted, skeptical and antipathetic.)  For Kierkegaard, Antigone is a woman in another of the traditional configurations, she is inherent in the seduction of the more ambiguous and deeper I; his speech contains the irony of Don Juan, a counterpoint to desperation [36].

For Lacan, Antigone is the turning point  of ethics.  In emphasizing that Antigone is a tragedy, Lacan points out how, in analytic expansion, tragedy must be in the forefront.  And while Freud finds his fundamental tragic reference in Oedipus, for Lacan Antigone is the very essence of tragedy whose nucleus is the function of catharsis that finds its trajectory in the function of desire.  And in this light Lacan shows how precisely Antigone reveals to us the line of sight that defines desire [37].

Her very figure is the fascination of tragedy; beyond dialogue, beyond family, beyond country, beyond law: Antigone herself [..] fascinates us, Antigone in her unbearable splendor. She has a quality that both attracts us and startles us, in the sense of intimidating us; this terrible, self-willed victim disturbs us [38].

And for her transgression, Antigone knows that she will be condemned to a terrible death, that she will be buried alive.

Sophocles celebrates this confusion between life and death, death which is still life, and life which is already dead, in the third part of his play, where he defines Antigone s position.  Lacan, distancing himself from the Hegelian interpretations of the tragedy, enters in the range traced by Goethe.

Goethe certainly rectifies the Hegelian view that Creon is opposed to Antigone as one principle of the law, of discourse, to another. The conflict is thus said to be linked to structures. Goethe, on the other hand, shows that Creon is driven by his desire and manifestly deviates from the straight path; he seeks to break through a barrier in striking at his enemy Polynices beyond limits within which he has the right to strike him. He, in fact, wants to inflict on him that second death that he has no right to inflict on him. All of Creon s speeches are developed with that end in view, and he thus rushes by himself toward his own destruction.[39]

We can make out Creon s desire for revenge and, at the same time, Antigone transported by emotions.

Lacan affirms that Antigone is the incarnation of desire in its pure state.  Think about it. What happens to her desire? Shouldn t it be the desire of the Other and be linked to the desire of the mother? The text alludes to the fact that the desire of the mother is the origin of everything. The desire of the mother is the founding desire of the whole structure, the one that brought into the world the unique offspring that are Eteocles, Polynices, Antigone and Ismene; but it also a criminal desire [40].  And it is Antigone the guardian of this desire.  Antigone is transported by passion .

The philosophical, as well as psychoanalytic, interpretation opens a meta-historical scenario which paradoxically, against the challenge of time, allows us to record acknowledgements and similarities, and thus to compare the partial Antigones : aspects of Antigone which exist in every woman.

As Maria Zambrano affirms, We cannot avoid hearing her because Antigone s tomb is our obscured conscience.  Antigone is buried alive within us, in each of us. [41].  …..through a crime, a transgression &emerges from a slumber to enter into consciousness.  Consciousness is awaking from the dream of life, to live at the source, at the origin. [42].  Every configuration of Antigone sends us back to the father, to that aspect of the paternal instance which leaves in every daughter the call of desire.

We can hypothesize that even Freud attributed to Anna-Antigone more than just a symbolic register.  Beyond being a faithful support to her aged father, on a deeper level Freud perceived the complex, contradictory and transgressive identity of his daughter, and certainly intuited Anna s power, which he wanted as guardian of his desire.

Balsamo and Napolitano, in a chapter entitled in fact Antigone , deal with Anna Freud, and maintain that her destiny is completely subject to her father.  They draw conclusions which in my opinion are too reductive.  The authors interpret Anna s life as a mortifying dependence on her father:

Anna, in deciding not to leave, allowed something in an other s destiny to indelibly mix with that of her own which, however, perhaps never came to be.  One might reasonably suppose, in fact, that Anna never succeeded in applying to her relationship with her father and therefore to attempt in turn to extricate herself what Freud once wrote her regarding the impossibility of their separating:  You should be generous with your sister, otherwise you two will end up like two of your aunts, who could never get along as children and as punishment could never part for love and hate are not very different [43].  Can one not but hate the imprint of such a sweeping destiny ?  Can love for one s father really hide the pain of a life subjected to the other?[44]


Notwithstanding these convincing arguments, I nevertheless maintain that they do not completely do justice to the life and work of Anna, whose existential and intellectual perspective were certainly far richer than that which her father proposed, or which was attributed to her in the name of the father .

Anna in fact expressed herself with an intellectual theorization which came from her father s, but which certainly went beyond  and distanced itself, creatively and originally, from the Freudian corpus.  Anna Freud s thought does not translate (traduce) that of her father, rather, it betrays (tradisce) him.

Gaburri in his book An hypothesis of relationship between transgression and thought proposes considerations which adequately illuminate the question of Anna Freud s intellectual creativity.

To transgress in the sense of going beyond.  The term transgression, beyond its usual meaning of breaking the norm, is also linked to overtaking, going beyond.  I quoted Ferenczi and the metaphor of the sea and the mother, and in this respect, I find it helpful to use the geological definition of a transgressive zone : transgression is the advancement, and prevalence, of the sea on a previously emerged zone &a transgressive terrain, by filling a stratigraphic gap with new deposits, is in stratigraphic discord with what it has covered.  It represents a band of continentality with a corresponding stratigraphic gap [45].  The transgressive area is that between the sea and the continent: a surprising semantic agreement which recalls the psychic functions.

To make thought emerge: this is transgressive with respect to the omnipotence that would bring one to be concerned with one s own survival from birth to death & [46].  Even Freud had linked the birth of thought to the frustration generated by the deferment of the drive discharge.  In underlining the connection between transgression and thought, Gaburri notes that the nature of thought has its own qualities which are substantially different from knowledge (unlike thought, knowledge has no need for an awareness of death) [47].  Taking up once more the Bionian distinction between notion  and thought , one can underline that thought is borne from the experience of a relationship event that increases the tolerance towards the non-thing, a presupposition itself of the possibility of representation.  A lack of reverie in the mother is translated into a lack of thought, and where there is a lack of thought, transgression is often carried out.  The maternal reverie lies in the mother s capacity to tolerate the child s anguish over death, offering him the prospect of overcoming this.  The transgressive function is thus the nature itself of thought.

Something more

Freud had Anna, and Anna confirmed herself in her love for the father.  Notwithstanding her numerous suitors, all part of Freud s entourage, Anna never married and never had children.

To turn her affection to another man proved impossible, as if separating herself from her father would mean losing him .  Instead, an affective bond with a woman, Dorothy, was the only means by which to reconcile her need for a love relationship without having to face the terrible anguish of separation, and the sense of blame, which a heterosexual relationship would have involved for her.  But even in this case, the significant element lies not in the defensive and neurotic aspects, but in the fact that starting from all this, the union between Anna and her friend would prove to be deep and very solid, enriched by mutual trust and by a very fertile professional collaboration which would last until Dorothy Burlingham s death in 1979. [48]

Anna and Dorothy, beyond the shadow [49] of Freud, helped each other, and nurtured a deep, mutual affection which lasted over 50 years.

Dorothy asked Anna to look after her children, offering her the possibility to care for them, analyze them, and feel them her own.

Anna would offer to Dorothy Freud, father, analyst and master.  They would share cases, friends, interests, thereby creating a common expressive area that developed the capacities of both women.  We would like to point out not the possible homosexual relationship between Anna and Dorothy, but how this relationship developed solid and gratifying affective, professional and human strengths.  In her involvement with Dorothy s children, and with Dorothy herself, Anna finally found something all for herself.  Unable to confide in either her father or in Lou, she would write to Max Eitingon that being with Mrs. Burlingham was for her a great joy.

While in her relationship with her father Anna remained closed in by her being a dependent and infantile daughter , this feminine mirroring instead unlocked a new area for her identity.  In her relationship with Dorothy, where she recuperates and re-appropriates the originary maternal imago, Anna is finally a woman, and not just a daughter .  Her female being expresses itself with passion and creativity, in a body of work destined to become an other theorization with respect to the Freudian one.  In fact, Ego-Psychology constitutes at that time a contradictory evolution with respect to the paternal theoretical corpus.

Anna will continue to manage and preserve throughout her life her father s theoretical patrimony, with the consciousness of having distanced herself from psychoanalysis  principal nuclei.  Even Anna will use  Freud as father analyst to remain in her father s thought, placing herself in the history of psychoanalysis in his shadow.  Anna never dealt with female sexuality, nor was she ever sensitive to the question of female emancipation.

One of her mature writings (1953) allows us to follow a complex internal itinerary which produces an interesting unconscious differentiation from her father by means of a profound elaboration on dependence.

The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense constitutes for Anna the possibility of elaborating the passage from I-daughter to I-woman; the sublimation of her passion for her father, next to her fruitful relationship with Dorothy, permits her to be creative and original, to give origin  and to forcefully express that femininity of which she is the rich bearer.  Finally, Anna is a woman who thinks, and her femininity is not reduced to the fact that others recognize her as being maternal with her father, or with the children of others, even if all of this will still remain a rich aspect of her personality.  Anna  &has finally discovered inside herself the possibility of feeling a new, non altruistic feeling & [50] and through such an innovative internal experience succeeds in founding an expressive feminine area all her own, and not necessarily linked to biological maternity or care.  Anna intuited, starting from her passionate relationship with her father as well as from her painful and difficult relationship with her mother, the necessity to re-define her Self.  She intuitively felt the importance of being alone , which for her meant losing  her father.  In 1936, near the end of her elderly father s life, and threatened by the imminent Nazi occupation, Anna at the age of 41 would gift the 80-year-old Freud with The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense.

In this gift there is both the offer and the substraction of self.  Anna s work marks the birth of her psychoanalysis, which not by chance will take the shape of a psychoanalysis dealing with children with Anna as child, with children not had, with Dorothy s children, and with child patients.

The opposition between fantasy and reality is a matter of conflict between Melanie Klein and Anna Freud.  Anna s pedagogic ambitions, at times excessive and seemingly caricatures, nonetheless do not prevent us from sympathizing with her, without however sharing her theoretical model.  The Kleinian model is more adherent to the constitutive force of fantasy and thus her approach to the constitution of the psychic apparatus seems more convincing.

Anna Freud s elaboration the Ego as affirmation of an Ego separated from drives is a celebration of defensive systems.  At a certain level, Anna s personality appears structured in such a way as to inhibit, to limit and to impede the heterosexual libidinal area, procreative functions, and aggression: but certainly there is in her another more evolved and rich defensive level, which through sublimation and her relationship with Dorothy, allowed her a libidinal affirmation of self.  This level is expressed in her theoretical elaboration, in her pedagogical and clinical initiatives, in her organization, propagation and publication of her father s work.

Her life was lived for her father, and her analysis was not without him, and thus was Anna in her life and in analysis a daughter.  Her Ego, the root of her identity, started to be in the minds of her parents an female Ego in the sense of a lacking Ego, of a child without a penis.  Anna, who never theorized on female identity, sought to gather the structuring defenses of the Ego to cure that unloved and lost  infantile part of herself, through the strongest and most developed of defenses: sublimation.  Passionately , she sought an answer to the sense of the Ego, attempting a definition beyond that marked out by her father, as a response to her need for a sense of self.  Anna courageously forged ahead with this research, and certainly must have been frightened and bewildered at having been able to write the beautiful work On Losing and Being Lost.  To re-find herself, Anna sought to be recognized in her identity through the affirmation of her Work: the sound of life [51].

The loss

The end of the Second World War left Anna with emotions similar to those of a mourning following the illness of a loved one:  something is gone that you were keyed up for the whole time, but instead of feeling merely relieved, you begin to realize how strenuous the time has been [52].

Her own illness, and the loss of many dear friends, took a heavy toll on Anna.  In January 1946 Fenichel died at the age of 48; Ruth Mack Brunswich died some time later, and although Anna declared that she held no sympathy for her owing to her lack of objectivity, the mourning for her was painful, probably also because their relationship was spoiled by envy, given that Ruth had done some interesting research on the pre-oedipal relation, particularly in girls, and on the mother-son relationship[53].  Furthermore, Freud s four oldest sisters who had remained in Austria had been killed by the Nazis.  These terrible losses left the Freud family particularly sad and mournful, and Anna, ill, passed her time thinking about what her father would have thought, about what he felt during his illness, and about psychoanalysis  destiny in Germany.  In this difficult period, identifying with her father, she often thought of how much more atrocious it would have been if even she and her mother had had to face illness in a concentration camp.  While during adolescence she had found reassurance in the poetry of Rilke and daydreams and weaving [54], now she found comfort only from reading Mourning and Melancholy.

On 6 May 1946 on what would have been her father s 90th birthday Anna began a work which her biography would define as self-analytic .  Starting from this date, we have notes on her anguish at the publication of her father s letters which she had decided in the end to publish, but not without doubts.  This decision was certainly a transgression, given that her father had wanted his letters to be burned.

Anna thus undertakes an elaboration of dependence by means of a difficult and painful phase of regression.

During my illness, I felt that the most difficult thing about it was that I had to let so much be done for me by others, and becoming healthy really meant that I had to manage for myself again. I am always surprised that people forget to consider how much a child must suffer from the fact that it needs so much help.[55]

In this period, Anna began to dream again: dreams of loss.  She will utilize these dreams for a work titled On Losing and Being Lost.  The first notes date back to 1942: one year earlier Aunt Minna had died, in 1939 it was her father, and in 1951 the 90-year-old Martha.

When her mother died, Anna Freud lost her chief rival along with her being-a-child. But she also lost her mother hard as it was for her to admit that she in any way needed her mother. The dreams she had had during her 1946 illness were in her interpretations of losing her father and of his being lost as a projection of her own being lost; the dreams of a manifestly maternal cast were not interpreted. [ &]

But she interpreted her feelings and her dreams in her characteristic fashion: she was a child (of unspecified gender) longing for her father s past, not for a past her parents had shared.  She had thought of herself as desiring her mother s (and Tante Minna s) place, but not as loving her mother, not even in and through her identification with her father. Her father was always at the center of her longing, and her mother at the center of her jealousy[56].

&.Anna Freud, always so controlled, particularly with her mother, wept openly when she died. She called one of her analysands to cancel a session and wept over the telephone to his complete surprise[57].

On Losing and Being Lost was written in 1948, presented at a conference in 1953, and published only in 1967.  This long gestation is connected to the laborious elaboration of mourning over her father and to the succession of other losses, above all of her mother, and allowed her to theorize on the loss proposed in this essay as a meta-historic event, structuring the psychic space.

The significance of losing some items which may be of some value in itself differs greatly from that of losing through death a person who plays an important role in our lives [ &] Such differences in the magnitude of an event may altogether change the quality of the accompanying emotions, and therefore should not be taken lightly. Nevertheless, certain similarities or even identities between the two types of happenings are open to view in the specific case of losing.[58]

With every loss, her suffering.  Anna wrote:

Lost souls  are pitiable rather than threatening and uncanny rather than outrightly frightening. They are poor,  since they symbolize the emotional impoverishment felt by the survivor. They are lost  as symbols of object loss. That they are compelled to wander  reflects the wandering and searching of the survivor s libidinal strivings which have been rendered aimless, i.e., deprived of their former goal. And, finally, we understand that their eternal rest  can be achieved only after the survivors have performed the difficult task of dealing with their bereavement and of detaching their hopes, demands, and expectation from the image of the dead. [59].

Anna was always aware of her distance from her mother, of her father s ambivalence, and of his narcissistic possessiveness.  Anna expressed herself with great lucidity on this.

It is only when parental feelings are ineffective or too ambivalent, or when aggression is more effective than their love, or when the mother s emotions are temporarily engaged elsewhere, that children not only feel lost but, in fact, get lost. This usually happens under conditions that make rationalization easy, but which, on the other hand, are much too common to explain the specific event, such as crowds, a full department store, etc. It is interesting that children usually do not blame themselves for getting lost. An example of this was a little boy, lost in a store, who, after being reunited with his mother, accused her tearfully. You losted me!  (not I lost you! )[60].

Intimate matter

Let me recount one of my patient s dreams, a patient who had requested analysis in order to think through a decision regarding an adoption after many attempts at artificial insemination.

I was in my parents  house, where I had lived until I was 13.  In the dream, the building was different, more prestigious, an older atrium, marble everywhere. I arrive and take the elevator to the apartment on the top floor, which appears to me empty and mysterious.  It seemed to me an unknown house, and I go down one floor, and then actually enter into my house; before, the furnishings were cheap, but now it is full of furniture, there is an enormous living room, where my mother never allowed us, and which was always closed.  I enter, on a piece of furniture at the far end there is a big mirror, and there I see reflected a shadow, the shadow of a figure behind me, the shadow of my father.  I continue to look and to wander through the house.

In the feminine psyche identity is problematic because of the woman s passage from the mother, the primary object of identification, to the father.  A specific difficulty often is found there where the generative area of femininity is formed, biologically and culturally ascribed to maternity.  With the discovery of the unconscious, mother  and maternity  become psychological functions, the subject expresses them in desire, which as such is a never defined vector and never quite acquired.  Certainly, psychoanalysis unveiled the unconscious mother, the maternal unconscious and the fantastical mother-daughter relationship from whence originates the psychic work that distances or brings the woman closer to generating.  By identity, we thus mean a subjectivity marked by psychological birth, an internal dimension that does not correspond to coming into the world and that is possible only through the elaboration of the lack of mother [61].  That corresponds to the elaboration of the mourning and to the birth of thought.  The generative capacities of each one are located in this area of lack.

The inhibition to procreate which is found in women like Anna who express themselves creatively, seems anchored to an early and idealized relation with the father.  This relation need not be understood as an oedipal defense, but rather as the constitution of a pre-oedipal modality anchored in the impossibility of acceding to the maternal body as the place of identificatory mirroring.  Anna Freud faced up to this painful internal question of not procreating, and only after the mourning for her father and the death of her mother was she able to tolerate the void, and disconnect herself from the idea of an all-encompassing protection.

Before, Anna Freud was only marginally present in my mind, then having situated her in the question of the paternal function she established herself in my thoughts, posing me many questions.  I often committed the slip of calling her Anna O.  As though running through a tape of Moebius, this thinking about Anna keeps coming back to itself, and superimposing itself on thinking about Anna O.  Certainly Bertha, like Anna, is stuck in a psychosexual neurosis, and like Anna, Bertha is altruistic and philanthropic.  But above all, Bertha, like Anna, signal the origin of psychoanalysis: every birth springs from incestuous fantasies.  The articulation of these fantasies with the complex internal events linked to one s own individual and family history marks every woman with the possibility to free, repress or not recognize the desire to be or not be a mother.

Terrifying fantasies even for men: Breuer, faced with Bertha, escapes just as Fliess flees from Emma.  Freud, coping with these incestuous fantasies, treats hysterics like Bertha in a profitable, loving, transferal fantasy, and thus founds psychoanalysis.  Freud again strongly couples with his daughter, and thus asks her to respond to his desire: to be loved by the mother.  Anna herself will answer her father s desire by loving him maternally.  She could remain trapped, sacrificed in the atrium of the tomb which encloses her alive like Antigone; she could die out with her father.  This feminine mothering relation, provoked by the paternal desire and in parallel by the daughter s desire to regenerate the father, quells a woman s life when she is unable to separate herself from the incestuous fantasy of her father-lover.  But all of this characterized only in part Anna s life, because it was contrasted by a vital antagonistic desire: Anna opens herself to a new freedom, letting Dorothy do what Ismene was unable to let Antigone do.

Lacan presents Antigone as the figure which exemplifies desire.  The subject s desire is born alienated from the Other s desire.  This interpretation risks reducing feminine subjectivity to a phallocentric logic.  In fact, Lacan interprets Antigone s desire as a criminal desire, and the crime is apparently the adhesion to incest through phallic identification.  Why not instead conceive as criminal the lack of recognition, and the burying of that autonomous part which in the oedipal relation can really risk being sacrificed?

Anna succeeds in finding her way out of the shadowy cone of her father s narcissistic possessiveness; she allies herself with Dorothy, a woman extraneous to her family, a continent to touch down on, cover and go beyond.

This pact between Anna and Dorothy allows us to question the power of the symbolic foundation (which in Anna Freud extends so far as to become her Body of Work ).  Can such a foundation be subtracted from the paternal symbolic primacy?  The case of Anna testifies, at psychoanalysis  beginnings, to a feminine subjectivity which harks back to the relationship among women.  In Anna, this takes place in an internal context where the father certainly ran no risk of being denied or absent.  With Anna, we might say that the father neutralized  the mother[62].

In the Freudian conception, the woman is subjected to maternity to such a degree that she is tout court relegated to a dependence on the father.

Psychoanalysis is divided between those who sustain the name of the Father , and those who propose the centrality of the primordial, sensory, sensual relation between the mother and the child.   The former, concerned that the fusional aspects might end up denying the paternal event, the Oedipus, they deny in other terms the centrality of the third guarantor of symbolization.  We concur with Pontalis that theoretically opposed formulae like fusional relationship with the mother  and access to the symbolic  make us blind and deaf to the psychic event[63].

Anna Freud s story is a stimulating pretext for questioning ourselves again on these themes.

Aware of possible misunderstandings and forcing, we tossed ourselves onto terrain that, to quote Benjamin[64], touches the original just as the tangent glances the circumference and in only one point , which is the infinitely small point of  meaning .

                        Translated from the Italian by Gianmaria Senia and Claudia Vaughn


[1] Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, Anna Freud (London: MacMillan, 1988), p. 25. [Some quotations were translated by Claudia Vaughn because of the missing references in the original.]

[2] Sigmund Freud, Letter to Fliess, April 25, 1894, in The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904, edited by Jeffrey M. Masson (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985).

[3] Sigmund Freud, Letter to Fliess, October 20, 1895, ibidem.

[4] Young-Bruehl, cit., p. 46.

[5] Paul Roazen, Meeting Freud s Family (Boston: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993).

[6] Sigmund Freud, Totem and TabooSE, XIII, p. 56.

[7] Freud, SE, IV.

[8] Ibidem, p. 256-8.

[9] SE, XI, pp. 153-161.

[10] Sigmund Freud, Letter to Anna, December 13, 1912, in Letters of Sigmund Freud, edited by Ernest L. Freud (New York: Basic Books, 1960)[Claudia Vaughn s translation].

[11] Sigmund Freud, Letter to Jones, July 22, 1914 in Peter Gay, Freud (New York: Anchor Books, 1989), p. 434.

[12] Sigmund Freud, Letter to Anna, July 16, 1914, in Gay, cit., p. 433.

[13] Letter by Jones to Freud, July 27, 1914, in Gay, cit., p. 435.

[14] Young-Bruehl, cit., p. 15.

[15] Ibidem, p. 104.

[16] Letter by Freud to Lou Andreas Salomé in Sigmund Freud and Lou Andreas-Salomé. Letters, edited by Ernst Pfeiffer (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972).[Claudia Vaughn s translation].

[17] Op.cit. [Claudia Vaughn s translation].

[18] Sandor Ferenczi in Thalassa (1924)  ( Thalassa. A Theory of Genitality [New York: The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 1938]) overturned the metaphorical perspective of the sea as symbol of the mother, seeing in the mother herself the metaphor of the sea.  The “thalassic regression” is the return to the sea.  This topical reversal has the advantage of attributing to the mother a symbolic function, thus unbound from the real mother.  Using Ferenczi’s metapsychological view, even the father, as in the case of Freud and Anna, can represent the primordial, the archaic evoked by the sea.

[19] The term, which harks back to Elvio Fachinelli’s research, seems particularly adequate for accounting for a psychic motor which puts us in contact with an altered function of temporality.  The term “symbiotic relation” is narrower, and limits itself to the fusional model of the mother-child relationship. See Elvio Fachinellli, Claustrofilia (Milan: Adelphi, 1983). See Marco Conci, Elvio Fachinelli. A Profile , Journal of European Psychoanalysis, 3-4, Spring 1996-Winter 1997, pp. 157-162.

[20] André Green, Narcisismo di vita, narcisismo di morte (Rome: Borla, 1985).

[21] Simona Argentieri, Anna Freud, la figlia  in Silvia Vegetti Finzi, ed., Psicoanalisi al femminile (Milan: Laterza, 1992).

[22] Paul Roazen, op.cit., p. 107.

[23] Paul Roazen, Freud and His Followers (New York: Da Capo Press, 1992), p. 439.

[24] Quoted by Simona Argentieri without any bibliographical reference [Claudia Vaughn s note].

[25] Simona Argentieri, op.cit., p. 59.

[26] Ibidem, p. 60.

[27] Sigmund Freud, A Child is Being Beaten . A Contribution to the Study of the Origin of Sexual PerversionsSE, XIII, pp. 175-204.

[28]S. Freud, cit., p. 183.

[29] Anna Freud, Schlagephantasie und Tagtraum , Imago, 8, 1922, pp. 317-32; in Int. J. Psycho-Anal., vol. 4, 1923, pp. 89-102 (republished in The Writings of Anna Freud [New York: International Universities Press, 1974], vol. 1.)

[30] Young-Bruehl, op.cit., p. 134.

[31] Roazen, Freud and His Followers, cit., p. 440.

[32] Sigmund Freud, Letter to Arnold Zweig, May 2, 1935, The Letters of Sigmund Freud and Arnold Zweig, edited by Ernst L. Freud (London: The Hogarth Press, 1970), p. 106.

[33] Angela Putino, Amiche mie isteriche (Naples: Cronopio, 1998), p. 8. Here is a reference to Gilles Deleuze, Critique et clinique (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1993).

[34] Sophocles, Antigone, 523.

[35] Putino, op.cit., p. 8.

[36] Rossana Rossanda, Antigone ricorrente  in Sofocle, Antigone (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1987).

[37] Jacques Lacan, The Seminar. Book VII. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis (1959-60) (London: Tavistock-Routledge, 1992), p. 247.

[38] Ibidem.

[39] Ibid., p. 254.

[40] Ibid., pp. 282-3.

[41] Maria Zambrano, All ombra del Dio sconosciuto. Antigone, Eloisa, Diotima (Milan: Pratiche Editrice, 1997), p. 87.

[42] Ibidem, p. 83.

[43] Young-Bruehl, op.cit., p. 55.

[44] Maurizio Balsamo & Francesco Napolitano, Freud, lei e l altro (Milan: FrancoAngeli, 1998), p. 156.

[45] Eugenio Gaburri, Un ipotesi di relazione tra trasgressione e pensiero , Rivista di Psicoanalisi, 4, 1982, p. 514.

[46] Ibidem.

[47] Ibid., p. 515.

[48] Simona Argentieri, op.cit., p. 91.

[49] Nadia Neri, Oltre l ombra (Rome: Borla, 1995). Neri s research tends to emphasize the scientific contributions by Jung s female disciples, pulling them out of the shadow of their dependence on the Master.

[50] Simona Argentieri, op.cit., p. 73.

[51] Nadia Fusini, Nomi (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1986).  With this very evocative and pregnant expression, the author recalls the work of Karen Blixen, where it seems that the entire text exists only to offer as a figure the sound of life, its rhythm, its voice , p. 9.  This expression can be symbolically extended to the specificity of female intellectual production when it is made actual by life.

[52] Young-Bruehl, op.cit., p. 277.

[53] See Young-Bruehl, cit., p. 278-9.

[54] Ibidem, p. 135.

[55] Ibid., p. 284.

[56] Ibid., p. 311.

[57] Ibid., p. 310.

[58] Anna Freud (1953), On Losing and Being Lost in The Writings of Anna Freud (New York: International Universities Press, 1967), vol. IV, p. 313.

[59] Ibidem, p. 316.

[60] Young-Bruehl, op.cit., p. 34.

[61] Patrizia Cupelloni, L identità femminile: mancanza di madre e maternità , paper read at the conference Siamo donne e uomini, non programmi di laboratorio  (May 15, 1997) at the Valdese Faculty in Rome.  In this work I compared the relation between feminine identity and maternity.  Hypothesizing that generative capacities place themselves in a lack or absence, I proposed thinking of maternity in terms of a vacuum rather than something full. 

[62]Manuela  Fraire, Oltre la parentalità , in Sofia, 2, 1997.  Here Fraire questions the possibility of unlinking femininity from maternity, proposing a foundation of the female subject that goes beyond Oedipus and starts from the singularity of self.

[63] Jean-Baptiste Pontalis.(1988), Perdere di vista (Rome: Borla, 1993), p. 193.

[64]Walter. Benjamin, Angelus Novus (Turin: Einaudi, 1976), p. 48.

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