Freud, the Wolf Man and the Encrypted Dynamism of Revolutionary History
Freud’s analysis of the Wolf Man was notoriously problematic, with this most famous patient resisting psychoanalytic interpretation and requiring attention from its practitioners for the duration of his long life. The case study, published in 1918, draws into its orbit the narratives of a neurotic personality and a dying class of Russian aristocracy, along with key theoretical assertions and political posturing (regarding the dissention of former colleagues) on the part of Freud. What the author locates in Freud’s text and the Wolf Man’s later memoirs and interviews is an exclusionary attitude, in both theory and personal reflections, to the very dramatic forces of world history that were to have a considerable impact on the lives of analyst and analysand. Using the related concepts of incorporation and the crypt developed in Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok’s text The Wolf Man’s Magic Word, the author reconstructs this exclusion as both generative and disruptive of the Wolf Man’s engagement with, dependence on and resistance to psychoanalysis. Identifying a compromising and silenced dynamic regarding the Russian Revolution traced into the Wolf Man’s fragmented and uncertain identity, the author uses evidence of an irreconcilable subject position to inform a more cryptic understanding of the often bizarre attitudes, behaviour and language demonstrated by Freud’s patient. More than providing an answer to the Wolf Man’s pathology, this suggests instead a re-imagining of the case as an elusive, enigmatic and poetic work of symbolic mediation to which a similarly open and multiple interpretation is the only appropriate interpretative response.
Recorded in Freud’s 1918 text From the History of an Infantile Neurosis, the case study of Sergei Konstantinovitch Pankejeff, “the Wolf Man”, is an account of a complete analysis from first diagnosis to cure and was intended by its author to demonstrate the validity of psychoanalytic theory and the success of its method. The Wolf Man was a wealthy Russian aristocrat, twenty three years old when he first arrived at Freud’s consulting rooms in 1910. He describes to Freud a childhood beset by nightmares and phobic reactions in which wolves appear as the dominant image. From his eighteenth year, when he had been put on a particularly aggressive treatment for gonorrhoea, his life had become unmanageable, and from then on he is dogged by a resilient symptomatology that includes chronic constipation and obsessive thinking. Having already travelled extensively across Europe in search of a cure, the Wolf Man is finally treated by Freud from February 1910 to July 1914 and on a second occasion to deal with “a piece of transference which had not hitherto been overcome” (Freud 1918, p.122) from November 1919 until February 1920. Attributing his suffering to an “anal fixation”, psychoanalytic intervention, according to Freud, alleviated much of the Wolf Man’s suffering and on its conclusion his patient “felt normal and … behaved unexceptionally” (1981, p.122). Despite this assurance, the fact that the Wolf Man required further analysis by Freud’s pupil Ruth Mack Brunswick in 1926-7 and reveals in his memoirs that he relied on regular analytic sessions into at least his eighty-second year (Gardiner 1971, p.363), testifies to another less generous view of his treatment. Psychoanalysis, it appears, could never completely remove the Wolf Man’s symptomatology.
Despite being irresistibly drawn together, the Wolf Man’s analysis with Freud is characterised by resistance and misrecognition. As a pivotal text in the history of psychoanalysis its irresolution has been a source of unease for Freud and his followers. It has consequently become a locus of considerable critical work, with psychoanalytic reinterpretations on one side trying to repair or deny the problematic analysis, and more pugnacious critics on the other using it as a focus to attack the Freudian model. Perhaps the most interesting and important of recent responses to the case is Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok’s The Wolf Man’s Magic Word. Studying the vast body of literature that has grown around the Wolf Man, Abraham and Torok do not see his resistance to Freudian treatment as necessarily a failure of psychoanalytic method, but instead they transform his evasiveness into the very essence of his being (1986, p.lxxi).
Abraham and Torok theorise a mechanism of incorporation whereby contradictory demands created within a linguistic environment produce conditions in which an as yet unformulated desire in the individual can be neither expressed nor rescinded. This desire is included and maintained in the psyche through a symbolic structure that denies its existence and refuses it articulation. Silenced by a signifying network that Abraham and Torok describe as a crypt, a gap opens in the psyche like a traumatic wound and draws all future symbolisation into its orbit of disruption and failed expression. It is only where meaning is avoided or broken, or there is an uncanny sense that something remains to be said that the structure of the crypt and what it incorporates can be glimpsed.
Abraham and Torok diagnose incorporation as the pathology that underpins the Wolf Man’s symptomatology and creates his resistance to psychoanalytic interpretation. Their analysis takes the form of a complex deciphering that treats the Wolf Man as a labyrinthine system of enigmatic and polyvalent signs to be restored with meaning. The Wolf Man becomes one monumental text, a living poem in which can be discerned a multitude of voices. As Jacques Derrida elucidates in his foreword to The Wolf Man’s Magic Word, the Wolf Man is “a work as language, ‘a single poem for several voices,’ as it is called, a ‘poem of life’ in which, in addition to the Wolf Man himself, all the analysts known or unknown to him will have participated” (1986, p.xxvi). The “Wolf Man” moniker given by Freud names but also exceeds the biographical individual who identified so strongly with it and denotes instead a cryptic construct in which are implicated the multiple stakeholders in the writing of psychoanalysis’s most important patient. Transformed into a work of art, the Wolf Man generates multiple readings and, structured around a gap in signification, also refuses to surrender a unitary and ubiquitous meaning. Abraham and Torok’s innovation is in establishing that any interpretation of the Wolf Man text must itself be a work of art. The new type of psychoanalytic reading produced in The Wolf Man’s Magic Word is one that recreates anew the poetry that it uncovers in its object and becomes itself imbued by the same creative structures. Abraham and Torok describe their interpretation of the Wolf Man as the “translation of an established text into an invented text (in both meanings at the same time, ‘bringing to light’ and ‘creating’)” (1986, p.lxxii).
Never content with one angle, The Wolf Man’s Magic Word is always willing to take up new connections when previous associations are exhausted and render too little (or too much) success. It is this spirit of tireless reading and rereading along with the hypothesis of incorporation that informs the present work. My intention here is to revisit Freud’s case and examine how, in his recreation as exemplary psychoanalytic patient, the Wolf Man silences the impact of contextual matters on his psychical constitution. I will argue that the Wolf Man enters the psychoanalytic milieu and becomes its special charge as a cryptic response to an unliveable set of historical circumstances in which is implicated the very possibility of his identity. I contend that a fundamental incorporation of specific historical processes structures the investments of Freud, Pankejeff and the institution of psychoanalysis in the formulation of the Wolf Man and produces a disruptive symbolic action that works through their individual and ideological narratives.
Living through and being directly affected by some of the most catastrophic events of modern history, including two World Wars and the Russian Revolution, the Wolf Man’s story is conspicuous for its protagonist’s apparent ignorance of these external forces. His disregard for the real events that were defining his political and historical context is cultivated, I contend, with pathological insistence. From her numerous interviews with the Wolf Man, Muriel Gardiner observes that:
His “Memoirs, 1914–19” contain little about the world-shaking events of those fateful years. … many people in their personal narratives would find it difficult to disregard national and world events to the extent that the Wolf Man does. This relative disregard spreads even to the effect of these events upon his personal life. (1971, p.345-6).
This problematic exclusion of the impact of historical forces on his present situation is one that is reflected in and compounded by his incomplete assimilation to the psychoanalytic enterprise.
Freud’s inward turn into life of the mind and the psychical determination of all external processes, has drawn to psychoanalysis reasonable accusations of a-historicism (Voloshinov 1976). Freud can give consistency to his model of psychoanalytic subjectivity, however, only by incorporating the significance of possible historical and contextual determinants through a structured silence. The Wolf Man, Freud and psychoanalysis are brought together, therefore, in their mutual exclusion of history. By entering the psychoanalytic frame the Wolf Man is able to abandon any aspect of himself that does not conform to its model of individual psychology. Likewise, the a-historicism of Freudian theory brings all external influences into the orbit of psychical causality, and supports its hypotheses through the analysis (and recreation) of a-historicised subjects such as the Wolf Man.
My aim here is not to re-historicise psychoanalysis, and with it produce a circumstantial explanation of Freudian theory and the Wolf Man’s pathology. This has already been attempted with some success in recent studies (Schorske 1961; Brooks 1984). In my argument, the Wolf Man and Freudian psychoanalysis do not pursue an individualistic model of subjecthood simply because of some personal structure of repression determined by their historical circumstance. In spite of the indications that the Wolf Man and psychoanalytic theory epitomize a mode of ideological functioning defined by their contexts, the exclusion of history is, for me, a far more cryptic process. To enunciate this secret mechanism will afford us a glimpse into an incorporated historical dynamic that can re-invest the meaning of the Wolf Man’s analysis and also reconnect it to its necessary indeterminacy.
By concentrating his interpretative efforts almost exclusively on the wolf dream and the links it uncovers between the Wolf Man’s adult neurosis and some precipitating event in childhood, Freud neglects aspects and meanings of his symptomatology that could open onto the other structures of explanation. In my reading, the wolf dream and its interpretation enter into a deception that is motivated by cryptic operations to which both Freud and the Wolf Man are subject. Although the wolf dream will be implicated in much of what I say, my focus will instead be on supplementary details that have been sidelined by Freud, and that are capable of producing interpretations that counter the stranglehold of psychoanalytic orthodoxy in this central case study.
The Wolf Man assimilated and was assimilated to the psychoanalytic project like no other patient that Freud discusses. He recalls his reciprocated attachment to Freud, considering himself “less as a patient than as a co-worker,” (Gardiner 1971, p.140) and even signs his Memoirs as the “Wolf Man” and not Sergei Pankejeff. Freud’s description of the Wolf Man as a “piece of psychoanalysis” (Gardiner 1971, p.150) is fitting, therefore, but also sits uneasily when the relative inefficacy of his treatment is considered. Given its apparent failure, the Wolf Man’s identification with the psychoanalytic project must be conceived in terms different from that of a mere neurotic driven to alleviate his symptoms. His complete relocation from Odessa in 1910 to begin his treatment with Freud, after all, is drastic even for one as wealthy as the Wolf Man. Such a willingness to place himself at the heart of the psychoanalytic enterprise (theoretically and geographically) must therefore have other advantages for the Wolf Man.
The very change of context and attentions of Freud have a positive impact on the Wolf Man’s health even before the treatment and this seems to continue almost in spite of the analysis (Gardiner 1971, p.89). It is my contention, that in their meeting the empathic relation between the Wolf Man and Freud is intensified precisely through their exclusionary attitudes toward history. Even hearing about the ideas of psychoanalysis from his physician Leonid Drosnes fills the Wolf Man with a great sense of excitement and anticipation as “I began again to hope that I could be helped” (Gardiner 1971, p.80). The Wolf Man finds in Freud’s methodology something that reflects a self-conception that he finds increasingly necessary to maintain. He uses the psychoanalytic frame to validate a particular attitude towards his identity in which the impact of historical forces on this can be denied.
This attitude is intimated in the Wolf Man’s initial psychopathology that he characterises in terms of chronic introspection and narcissism (Gardiner 1971, p.31), reflecting Freud’s observations that the “principal subject of complaint was that for [the Wolf Man] the world was hidden in a veil” (Freud 1918, p.74-5). This closing-in of his psychical boundaries against external forces is also expressed in his idiopathic constipation that, for Freud was the physical manifestation of the Wolf Man’s neurosis. Like his withdrawal from social and political events, the Wolf Man’s anal sphincter closed access to and from the outside world in a way that is pertinent to my argument.
Freud interpreted the Wolf Man’s constipation as a conversion symptom “by which his identification with women, [and] his passive homosexual attitude towards men, was able to express itself” (1918, p.78). As the most crippling and obvious manifestation of his pathology, Freud understands the Wolf Man’s bowel movement as key to understanding the structure of his psyche, and also uses it as a barometer for the success of the analysis. The lengthy periods of constipation punctuated by bouts of diarrhoea become, therefore, expressions of the transference. Along with his obsessive thinking and his ambivalent relation to money, Freud traces the significance of the Wolf Man’s anal pleasure economy to the moment in the primal scene, when as an infant he interrupted his parents’ copulation by producing a stool. Whilst the excretory function is clearly important in the Wolf Man’s symptomatology, Freud’s reduction of this to a psychological structure of anal fixation with its origin in infancy overlooks a network of alternative signification that also demands exploration.
Contrary to Freud’s hypothesis that “the intestinal symptoms were … carried forward from the infantile neurosis” (Freud 1918, p.75), the Wolf Man describes perfect bowel function before his introduction to psychoanalysis (Obholzer 1982, p.47). He locates the beginning of his intestinal difficulties to 1909 when Drosnes prescribes him a diarrhoea medicine. As it is Drosnes who introduces his patient to psychoanalytic theory and precipitates his meeting with Freud, the Wolf Man insightfully relates these two events concluding that the “intestinal business came through psychoanalysis” (Obholzer 1982, p.49).
It is this connection between the Wolf Man’s bowel and his relation to Freud that allows their mutual exclusion of history to be identified and re-imagined in terms of an incorporated trauma. The cryptic significance of the excretory symbolism generated in their encounter can be intimated when one listens to its rhymes and hidden allusions. With the analysis conducted and then published in German, it is this language that supplies the interpretative clues, particularly as a foundational uncertainty exists as to whether the crypt is the Wolf Man’s, Freud’s, or perhaps most likely is produced in their interaction. Overlooked by Abraham and Torok through their focus on Russian and English as the cryptic languages (1986, p.lxxi), the Wolf Man spoke fluent German from an early age and he gravitated towards Germanic countries during his worst periods of emotional distress and upheaval. As a non-native German speaker, this language would have given the encrypted indeterminacy of his pathology a fresh symbolism to recreate its production and annulment of figurative meaning. Freud also cites the great influence of Herr Reidel, a German tutor and virtual father substitute, on the Wolf Man who seemed to instil in his pupil a preference in later life for “German things (as, for instance, physicians, sanatoria, women) to those belonging to his native country” (Freud 1918, p.69).
In his original text of the case study, Freud uses the various modifications of “darm” [intestine] when referring to the Wolf Man’s bowel and its movements, and “kot” to refer to the faeces. This renders all meanings of the problematic bowel in scatological terms and Freud is therefore able to focus on the anus as central in the structuring of his patient’s psyche. By using the anus as the locus of his speculation, however, Freud neglects the significance of the bowel in a more general operation of excretion. It is by re-signifying the bowel disorder according to its excretory function that the problematic intestine can symbolize with an earlier bout of gonorrhoea that precipitated the Wolf Man’s adult breakdown.
Despite being subject to a harsh regime of treatment for his gonorrhoea, what is surprising is that it is only when the Wolf Man’s physician discharges him as cured that his mood takes a negative turn and he descends into physical and psychical incapacity. The Wolf Man recalls how the disease “frightened me terribly”, but it is on his doctor’s comments that “for a while, there will be a drop on your member” (Obholzer 1982, p.27-8) that he fixates his obsessional hypochondria. It is this “drop” or residual secretion that becomes the focus of his brooding and causes his emotional withdrawal and collapse.
Centred in the two fundamental organs for excreting waste from the body, the penile “drop” and problematic bowel are linked in terms of their symptomatic functioning and begin to trace the symbolic contours of the Wolf Man’s incorporation in their interaction. Denoting the processes of excretion and secretion along with the excreta or precipitation produced, it is through the German term ausscheidung that the connection between gonorrhoea and the immovable intestine can be made. Neither ausscheidung nor any of its derivatives appear in the Freud’s text on the Wolf Man, despite its relevance in this case. Incorporating the connection between the two symptomatic episodes, this silence shows Freud’s susceptibility to the cryptic mechanism of his patient. It is through the meanings of ausscheidung as these are secreted and excreted in both affected ausscheidungsorgan that the problematic bowel and the discharging penis can join the analytic exchange in ways that Freud did not envisage.
Impacted in the colon, the meaning of ausscheidung as elimination indicates an ambiguity, as most of the time this is precisely what can’t happen. Freud explains away this contradiction in terms of a pleasurable stimulation associated with the retention of faeces (Freud 1918, p.84). The ambiguity of the excretory function in the Wolf Man, however, must be kept in circulation as it demonstrates the operation of the crypt. The elimination of ausscheidung (as excreta) and the meanings it must not disclose is just as effectively served by an inclusion or “holding in” that mirrors the mechanism of incorporation. As ausscheidung escapes through gonorrheal secretion, its incorporated secret intimates links with a traumatic structure of signification that exposes him to an unformulated threat. His “drop” therefore becomes a focus of his obsessional concerns.
The uncertainty with which the Wolf Man deals with his excreta reflects a more foundational ambivalence that has been generated as traumatic in the manifold significance of ausscheidung. It is this incorporated ambivalence, I contend, that runs through Wolf Man’s crypt and manifests itself particularly in his encounter with Freud. Through its part homonymy with aufhebung [sublation] meaning both “abolition; repeal; rescindement” (“aufhebung,” def.1)and to “keep; preserve” (“aufheben,” def.2), ausscheidung seems to draw this contradiction into its structure by maintaining a personal and conceptual ambivalence in the Wolf Man case. Indeed, the Wolf Man expresses his own distrust of simple psychological reconciliation, lamenting that in the psychoanalytic setting “calling [an affect] ambivalence doesn’t benefit me. On the contrary, the word ambivalence makes it … more harmless than it really is. … there are contradictions there, and they don’t get anywhere with logic.” (Obholzer 1982, p.175).
Paralyzed by the contrary demands to shore up as secret and express, the excreta in his intestine manifest the meanings of aufhebung as both to keep and abolish. The pressure of the faeces in the bowel encrypts in the Wolf Man a fundamental ambivalence that refuses to be resolved and is dealt with, therefore, in the antagonistic and ultimately unsuccessful processes of chronic constipation and acute diarrhoea. A similar process fraught with cryptic signification is also provided when Freud discusses the Wolf Man’s obsession with his skin condition in the text The Unconscious. Squeezing blackheads fills the Wolf Man with both “great satisfaction” and reproach for having produced a “deep cavity” (Freud 1915, p.199). Freud traces this ambivalence to the Wolf Man’s uncertain sexual identity; the squeezing of the blackhead substituting masturbation and the cavity left symbolizing female genitalia and the threat of castration (Freud 1915, p.200). The Wolf Man’s obsession with his blackheads, however, also joins the cryptic dialogue of the bowel and gonorrhoeal “drop” to mark the ambivalent secretory/excretory function on which his hypochondria focuses. In addition to the more apparent symbolism of the secretory pore, the “cavity” [aushöhlung] produced also enters into the secret signifying operation. In removing the blocked pore, the removal of ausscheidung as secretion, is only replaced by its part homonym aushöhlungand the incorporated associations can still threaten their traumatic expression.
The Wolf Man’s ambivalent anal symptomatology begins with and reflects his equivocal relation to psychoanalysis, with the prospect of a talking therapy conducted in German allowing certain linguistic meanings to be crystallised in the excretory function. For Freud, the Wolf Man’s bowel returns to its normal movements when “at last I recognized the importance of the intestinal trouble for my purposes” (1918, p.47-8, my emphasis). The Wolf Man is able to enjoy relief, therefore, only when Freud focuses on “childhood experience” as “the cause of the illness” (Obholzer 1982, p.30). Only providing a temporary cure, however, Freud’s interpretative intervention does not locate the definitive truth of the intestinal disorder. Psychoanalytic explanation instead provides an avenue for the Wolf Man to avoid dealing with the equivocal signification of his problematic bowel. Freud fixes the meaning of the intestinal function and provisionally removes the ambiguity of the fraught excretory symbolism. Normal evacuation is now restored keeping the symbolically insistent pressure on the anus to a minimum, and temporarily assuring the harmonious balance of the incorporative structure.
Freud recognizes the correlation between the Wolf Man’s empty bowel and his well-being recalling how his “veil [to reality] was torn only at one moment – when, after an enema, the contents of the bowel left the intestinal canal; and then he felt normal and well again” (1918, p.75). In the postulated structure of incorporation, the psychical demands of shoring up the walls of the crypt are momentarily relieved with the evacuation of the faeces and the Wolf Man’s psychical focus on the excretory mechanism is free to engage once again with “reality”. The obstructing veil, however, is merely torn and, like all tears, is easily sutured ready to once more fixate the Wolf Man’s obsessions. Indeed, the German verb for “to tear open” is aufreißen, a part homonym of the ambivalent and threatening ausscheiden.
As the reason for his return to Freud’s couch for a second course of therapy in 1919, the Wolf Man’s persistent excretory problems are where his resistance to psychoanalytic treatment is most doggedly manifest. The ambiguity of the excretory symbolism also begins to reflect a more equivocal attitude towards his psychoanalysis. Questioning the validity of psychoanalytic interpretation as “terribly farfetched” (Obholzer 1982, p.35), for example, the fixity of Freud’s childhood explanation begins to unfurl for the Wolf Man on later reflection and this ambivalence makes itself known elsewhere. Describing the “sense of relief I now felt when Freud asked me various questions about my childhood and about the relationships in my family” (Gardiner 1971, p.138), the Wolf Man also demonstrates the struggles he has to realise this connection. Gardiner describes how, in her meeting with the Wolf Man “he seemed to avoid mentioning not only his childhood but his past altogether” (1971, p.345) and how he struggles to recollect this for his memoirs. The Freudian explanation of repression to account for this seems inadequate, particularly when Gardiner intimates the connection between the Wolf Man’s difficulty in recollecting his childhood and his inability to consider “certain fields of concern, particularly political matters and international problems” (1971, p.345). His ambivalence towards his childhood as causal in his adult pathology, therefore, reflects a more cryptic relation to his past in which the ambiguity of a historical dynamic has been necessarily incorporated.
What the Wolf Man silences in his relation to history begins to emerge through the circuits of meaning that surround his bowel dysfunction. His intestinal problems draw him back to Freud’s consulting rooms just as the Russian Revolution is gaining momentum. Uncertain whether he should return to his property in Odessa under the gathering storm, it is Freud who advises the Wolf Man to stay in Vienna. As the Red Army march into Odessa, the Wolf Man’s life is probably saved by this action, but he is also unable to re-enter his homeland, becoming dispossessed by the new administration and losing his fortune in the process.
This link between the Wolf Man’s excretory/secretory symptomatology and the Russian Revolution is a key to understanding the structure of incorporation and is further supported by the coincidence of his gonorrhoeal episode and breakdown with the first wave of revolutionary activity in 1905. Here, the massacre by Tsarist troops of participants at an organized worker’s procession in St Petersburg lead to widespread discontent and strikes that provided the momentum for full-blown socialist revolution in 1917. This network of signification circulates in secret around the silenced term ausscheidung whose rhymes open up the Wolf Man’s ambivalent bowel function to his relation with the forces of revolution that profoundly impacted his historical situation. Through the similar sounding auflehnung, translating “rebellion; revolt” (“auflehnung,” def.1) one can hear a direct evocation of the refused meaning. The Wolf Man’s ambivalence to his excretory function manifests, therefore, a contradictory attitude towards revolution and its network of allusions that has necessitated a structure of incorporation.
As his analysts regularly observe, it is this condition of irresolvable contradiction that most characterises the Wolf Man (Gardiner 1971, p.359; Obholzer 1982, p.31). Freud relates this to his ambiguous sexual identification and is able to connect it to the primal scene. It is in some of his other reflections on the analysis, however, that this ambivalence, like his bowel function, can be connected to the conflict in (and with) his historical circumstance that encrypts the significance of revolution.
Throughout his personal recollections, there is a great sense that the Wolf Man does not feel comfortable in the Russian environ. His initial breakdown, for example, is alleviated by a trip to Berlin, whilst a second, more intense crisis in 1907 seems only to be exacerbated by his movement from Odessa on the fringes of the Russian Empire to St Petersburg at its heart, (Gardiner 1971, p.42). The Wolf Man’s brooding is immediately alleviated, furthermore, when he leaves St Petersburg for a sanatorium in Munich, noting “a peculiar change that had come over me in the short time since I had boarded the train” (Gardiner 1971, p.45). The relation of the Wolf Man’s emotional state to his locality seems in little doubt. His distaste for the Russian context seems focused on the monuments to Imperialism, such as the Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg that he describes as “sad and gloomy” (Gardiner 1971, p.55), and this translates in other instances to a profound avoidance of his nation’s aristocracy. Despite being a member of the Russian elite class many of the Wolf Man’s actions appear devised to mark his separation from their tradition and history.
In one instance from 1908, for example, the Wolf Man attends a sanatorium in Frankfurt that is populated predominantly by Russian aristocrats who create a sense of disquiet in him. Befriended by two Russian society women, it is through their continual attentions and demands that the Wolf Man, already dependant on the care of others, feels himself “completely taken over” (Gardiner 1971, p.72). Making an early departure from the oppression he feels there, he reflects on his decision to leave in terms of “having escaped from [the] sanatorium” (Gardiner 1971, p.73, my emphasis). Similarly, during his first stay in Vienna, he completely separates himself from the small community of wealthy Russians, eschewing even the Consul’s invitations (Gardiner 1971, p.88).
Like his flight from St Petersburg, the Wolf Man’s “escapes” seem not to be from any overt threat, but instead from the symbols and proximity of a stagnating class of aristocrats. The Wolf Man’s aristocratic status seems to cause him considerable unease and contact with signs or individuals that reflect this back to him creates a desire to escape. In each of these episodes, the Wolf Man is able to alleviate his distress with a move away from Russia and into the German-speaking environ. Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt are each cited as places of refuge and foreshadow the Wolf Man’s most significant Germanic re-location in his geographical and ideological move to Freud’s Vienna. With no apparent interest in returning to Imperial Russia, the sense of foreboding generated by the Wolf Man’s origins joins his preference for German things in signifying with the cryptic structure revealed by the excretory dialogue and the exclusion of history it draws into its mechanism.
Although an aristocrat whose paternal grandfather had been “one of the richest landowners in Southern Russia” (Gardiner 1971, p.15), the Wolf Man occupied quite a unique status within the Russian class system. His family benefited hugely from an embedded Feudal structure, but they did not demonstrate the same cruelty and rights of conduct advocated by other members of their class. The Wolf Man’s father was a famous liberal politician and journal editor who followed a largely republican agenda. From an early age, the Wolf Man was consequently exposed to an anti-Tsarist position in which, he recalls, it was “inadmissible for me to be friends with a monarchist” (Obholzer 1982, p.68). His position as an aristocrat is not one that he holds with any great favour. He idealizes both the Decembrists and the Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov (Gardiner 1971, p.20; Obholzer 1982, p.68) for being born of noble descent yet railing against the Tsarist regime. His youthful identifications here allow him some reconciliation of his status with the liberal ideology that pervades his childhood. Discovering these revolutionary figures under the tutelage of Herr Reidel, following the Wolf Man’s relocation to Odessa at the age of five, it is this context that elucidates the mechanisms of his idolatry and also demonstrates its problematic and therefore cryptic structure.
The move from the rural family estate in Kherson to the port of Odessa exposed the Wolf Man to a more cosmopolitan culture in which the feudal inequalities characteristic of his childhood encountered the bourgeois attitudes that were permeating the Germanic states, France and Britain. In this context the Wolf Man speaks of “Mademoiselle,” a dearly loved Swiss governess who, more than any other figure introduces the Wolf Man to the Western European sensibility. Mademoiselle is the epitome of high bourgeois culture and for the two years of her employment, the Wolf Man confesses how he “spent almost the whole of the day under her influence” (Gardiner 1971, p.15). Through her bourgeois mindset, the Wolf Man is exposed to ideas, literature and history that would compromise his identification with an aristocratic past. The oppressive structures of feudalism still implicit in his wealth and position face the bourgeois shift in attitudes toward egalitarianism and political self-reflection.
With the seeds of his aristocratic discomfort sown in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Odessa, the numerous “escapes” the Wolf Man makes enact his growing sense of unease with his historical identity. Even as his past is cast under a shameful light by the more rational and democratic attitudes of bourgeois ideology, this is not sufficient to explain why a structure of incorporation was necessary to negotiate his identity with the historical forces that ordinarily frame this. There is considerable evidence that the Wolf Man’s migration, in both physical and ideological terms, to a bourgeois mindset, is resisted by a contrary attitude that connects him still to his aristocratic roots. He idealises his summer estate, for example, as a retreat from the cosmopolitanism of Odessa to a more simple (and exploitative) existence (Gardiner 1971, p.12) and defends his childhood privilege by arguing that “we had always treated the peasants well” (Obholzer 1982, p.77).
The influence of his bourgeois tutors can also be contrasted the Wolf Man’s mutually devoted relation to his nurse or “Nanya” who cared for him as a child. Nanya is “a peasant woman from the period when there was still serfdom” (Gardiner 1971, p.8), and quite the antithesis of Mademoiselle. As Freud acknowledges, however, she is at the heart of the Wolf Man’s affectionate life and he “loved her better than his parents” (Gardiner 1971, p.3). Significantly, the Wolf Man gives Mademoiselle and Nanya almost equal consideration in his Memoirs and this divided attention is also reflected in the care he extends to them in their old age. In their retirement both are pensioned on the Wolf Man’s family estates, with Mademoiselle living in Odessa and Nanya in the country. Settled in distant locations and with little chance of contact, the Wolf Man keeps these two maternal figures separate whilst maintaining them in his life as significant. It is as though he is announcing (albeit cryptically) a division in his attachment to not only the women themselves, but also to what they represent. To keep them apart is to avoid having to deal with the incompatibility of that representation.
Divided between his Russian noble status and his Western bourgeois education, the Wolf Man’s identity straddles and is composed by two largely irreconcilable ideologies. He is an aristocrat and oppressor, but also a republican and a liberal. In the progressive context of Odessa, the Wolf Man sits uneasily within a strange and temporary class of Russian bourgeoisie that have been largely unacknowledged in historical accounts of pre-revolutionary Russia (Nabokov 1967, p.241). Drawn from liberal-minded aristocrats and a small contingent of nouveaux riches, the Wolf Man is to all intents and purposes a member of this short-lived class, but his identification with it is always incomplete. Whilst adopting “grand bourgeois airs” (Obholzer 1982, p.229) for example, he distances himself from “the class of nouveaux riches” (Gardiner 1971, p.103) who, to his chagrin, make money in the most unstable financial circumstance at the end of the First World War.
This ambivalence towards his membership of both aristocratic and bourgeois classes is bound intimately (and cryptically) to his assumption of a historical identity. As a Russian aristocrat, the Wolf Man enjoys a relation to history in which his class are its celebrated subject and dominate its official telling. History in feudal Russia only distinguishes the monarchy and nobility from the otherwise undifferentiated mass of (mostly agricultural) workers (Marx and Engels 1970). Recording their lives and legacy in collective memory, history is a tool for the aristocracy to fashion their identity in terms that allows for the constant reduplication of their hegemonic position. As the product of a noble heritage, therefore, this intimacy with the historical process is traced into the Wolf Man’s personal identity.
This attitude of class dominion over history is also repeated (albeit in quite different terms) in the Wolf Man’s assumption of a bourgeois status. In the model idealism of Hegel, the great chronicler of the bourgeois spirit, history is merely a series of superseded stages in the dialectical progression of Weltgeist (‘world spirit’) towards rational self-consciousness and constitutional democratic governance. Here, empirical history is a function of this idealising process and has no importance other than in its relationship to the evolution of spirit (Hegel 1975).
In the formulation of the Wolf Man’s personal identity his division between two antagonistic ideologies creates ambivalence in his position as a historical subject. From a privileged family lineage, history is something he experiences as constitutional, yet this frame is also problematised as the bourgeois context with which he increasingly contends from his fifth year, casts his former aristocratic life in quite negative terms. Not only is the Wolf Man’s feudal identity deemed to be more primitive in the evolutionary stages described by Hegel, but its barbarity and hereditary inequality are also recognised as aspects to be superseded in the aspiration to a perfect bourgeois state.
The Wolf Man’s attempted recreation of himself as grand bourgeoisie is already, therefore, a contended structure of identity. It carries within its formation a legacy of aristocratic continuity and dominion over the historical process, which the bourgeois attitude purports to dispel by privileging the forces of freedom over the determination of history. Recognising how in him “the old and the new struggle with each other” (Obholzer 1982, p.42), the Wolf Man is divided between these two structures of historical identification. This conflict is at the heart of an identity that has become so compromised that an incorporation excluding from personal consideration the forces of history is the only structuring possibility available to the Wolf Man. The compromise that renders the full articulation of the Wolf Man’s historical subjectivity impossible is created precisely by the conditions of revolution that are incorporated in the symptomatic rhymes of auflehnung.
The cryptic function of the Russian Revolution in the Wolf Man’s story can be unravelled through Walter Benjamin’s work on history. For Benjamin, the emancipation of the common worker through revolution is also the emancipation of history from the claims on it by the ruling classes (be this aristocracy or bourgeoisie) (Benjamin 1970, p.247-9). History, for Benjamin, is irreducible to both the present discourse that reinterprets it and the reality that would see it as the chronological progression of events that exist before and independent of its narration. Against the bourgeois and aristocratic attempts at control and domination, the historical process marks a radical discontinuity between past and present that refuses assimilation to a discourse of coherence. For Benjamin, history is a vast palimpsest of ciphers that “is not a tangle of purely factual details, but consists rather of the numbered group of threads that represent the weft of the past feeding into the warp of the present” (Benjamin 1979, p.362). Its texture is the multiplicity of alternative interpretations that undermine homogenous historical narratives used by the ruling classes to relegate the past to a safe distance and dismiss all trace of rupture and revolution. For Benjamin, it is socialist revolution that liberates history from its authorised forms by emphasising the heterogeneity of the historical process (Benjamin 1979, p.362). In the Russian context, revolution gave the oppressed majority the power to articulate repressed strands of history excluded by generations of tyranny and injustice, not simply for the purpose of rewriting replacement histories, but more forcefully “to make the continuum of history explode” (Benjamin 1970, p.253). Revolution lays bare the historical process as an irreconcilable landscape of alterity, excess and multiplicity.
It was against this force of historical alterity that the Wolf Man had to contend from at least 1905. With full-blown socialist revolution beginning in February 1917, he would not only have felt a threat to his personal safety, but he would also have felt a blow to his historical and therefore personal identity. According to Nabokov, the class of liberal bourgeoisie in Russia were virtually excluded from collective memory as both new and old money are forced together in the Bolshevik imagination (1967, p.241). Where the aristocracy were suddenly confronted with a rupture in the historical continuity underpinning their privileged identity, the bourgeoisie had their apparent a-historicism rent open and exposed to the historical process. Revolution throws into question the certainties on which both bourgeois and aristocratic identities rely.
With his identity already divided, the Wolf Man’s ability to assume a position as historical subject is assaulted on both fronts. Already sympathising with a bourgeois emancipatory ideal, the return to an identity conceived in terms of his aristocratic roots is untenable. The Wolf Man’s link to a supportive frame of linear history and the privilege it transfers is broken and the shame associated with that heritage makes its reconstruction impossible through normal signifying channels. As this tradition is fundamental in the constitution of the Wolf Man’s identity it can also not be rescinded, and its fragmentation and scandal, therefore, necessitate an incorporative structure of silence.
Similarly faced with the heterogeneity of history to its ideal structure of rational self-consciousness, the bourgeois identity bound up with the Wolf Man’s Germanic “escapes” offers only failed reprieve from his aristocratic past. Revolution undermines the ideal of sublation (aufhebung) at the heart of bourgeois ideology, as the negative aspects of his feudal identification can no longer be contained in a new (bourgeois) synthesis. With no stable referent for situating himself as a historical subject in either his aristocratic or bourgeois identifications, it is Freudian psychoanalysis that provides him with a framework for negotiating his identity. This is a structure however that also bolsters the fundamental encryption of his historical circumstance by providing the consummate theoretical rejection of historical forces on the constitution of personal identity.
Gardiner observes how the Wolf Man’s “talk was mostly about current personal problems or the immediate past” (1971, p.345) and she is naturally astounded when, following Hitler’s annexation of Austria, “he scarcely even knew that the Nazis were in power” (1971, p.312). Although it is one of the most profound manifestations of the Wolf Man’s psychopathology, this radical a-historicism does not seem out of place in the Viennese context. Far from the expression of a fixed bourgeois ideology though, it is precisely this assimilation of the historical process and the assumption of a contiguous identity that the Wolf Man cannot achieve. His identification as bourgeois is as fraught as his aristocratic status. Whilst he functions well within his Germanic environment, the Wolf Man can never fully submit to his changed circumstance. It provides him with a sympathetic standpoint from which to assert his historical exclusion, but the structure of incorporation makes his identification ambivalent. The Wolf Man fixates on the psychoanalytic enterprise “as a kind of religion” (Obholzer 1982, p.136) and through it he does not have to contend with those aspects of his identity that the revolutionary infraction of history has rendered unspeakable. The crypt that motivates and disrupts his relation with psychoanalysis, however, does not accept the silence of what it incorporates. With its walls created through the impossible articulation of an already uncertain identity, it is through the Wolf Man’s ambivalence to his new context and specifically the Freudian enterprise that he manifests his relation to the incorporated material.
The Wolf Man’s attitude towards money and his wealth, for example, is indicative of his encrypted position towards socialist revolution. Brunswick notes in her analysis how the Wolf Man’s usual candour and honesty with money is interspersed with uncharacteristic moments of financial recklessness and greed (Gardiner 1971, p.267). He regularly expresses his lack of regret for being left penniless by the Bolsheviks declaring that his “views are rather socialist” (Obholzer 1982, p.115), yet he also has a fondness for fine clothes and “playing the role of the fine gentleman” (Gardiner 1971, p.344). For several years at the end of his life the Wolf Man also suffers a relationship with a woman who unashamedly drains him of what little money he has, whilst continually levelling at him accusations of “having exploited people as the owner of an estate” (Obholzer 1982, p.230). He is, however, unable to finish the relationship, silencing her instead with gifts of money, the meaning of which is uncertain, signifying at once and at least: a penance in its atonement of past sins; a gesture to silence the accuser through a pay off; an assertion of financial power; a socialist redistribution; a mark of wealth; a mark of poverty and so on.
The multiple signifying structures that circulate around ausscheidung, cannot be reduced to the singular trope of the Russian Revolution that is traced through auflehnung. Evoked in its manifold symbolism, the meaning of ausscheidung as revolution transcends this specific instance and figures as well the resistance of the Wolf Man’s symptomatology to authoritative understanding. In its cryptic structure, therefore, the secreted rhymes of ausscheidung signify a historical moment of revolution, but also make that meaning ambivalent, as the revolution of history theorised by Benjamin refuses fixed signification.
There is an additional event in the Wolf Man’s life that is perhaps most indicative of the crypt that underpin his equivocal identity. This is a particular occasion when he is arrested by the Bolsheviks in occupied Vienna at the end of the Second World War. The meanings that he attaches to this episode circulate around the activity of painting that pre-empted his arrest and elucidate further the mechanisms of incorporation to which the Wolf Man is subject.
The Wolf Man’s episode with the Russian occupying forces in 1951 deeply affected him and constitutes a significant portion of his memoirs (Gardiner 1971, p.321; p.325-6). The event in question was of him painting a scene in Vienna that “reminded [him] of his childhood” (Gardiner 1971, p.326) but that also happened to include the headquarters of the Bolshevik army in Vienna. The Wolf Man is arrested by resident soldiers and brought before their superiors for questioning. As a former nabob, this places the Wolf Man in a very dangerous position, although he describes his interrogation and interment as fair and reproaches himself for his stupidity (Gardiner 1971, p.330).
His apparent loss of control at having placed himself in direct danger announces its cryptic motivation when his reaction to these events is considered. Triggered by the investigating Officer asking him “how it is possible that a real Russian can work against his country”, the Wolf Man succumbs to “a dreadful burden of moral guilt, as though I were a spy or criminal” (Gardiner 1971, p.327). The accusation is made against the relation of his activities to the other occupying forces (particularly the Americans) in Vienna, but he feels its impact “as though I had betrayed my country” (Gardiner 1971, p.326). This experience furthermore, throws him into a new depth of despair and a paranoia (verging on psychosis) that he had not experienced before (Gardiner 1971, p.327; p.361).
What exacerbates the Wolf Man’s guilt and paranoia is that he is requested to return to the Russian base with evidence of his vocation as a painter; a proof that he suggests for his acquittal. The Wolf Man is instructed to do this after twenty one days and it is in the intervening time that his feelings of persecution are most pronounced. When he discovers on his return that the interrogating officer has left and his case has been all but forgotten he still remains anxiously fixated on this event for years after. Gardiner notes that the persistence of his uneasiness “is the most ‘unrealistic’ feature of this episode” (1971, p.362), and makes the related observation that the Wolf Man’s focus of concern in the Russian episode “was not so much the fear of what might happen to him … as his self-reproaches for … going into the Russian zone and thereby inviting arrest, [and] his torturing doubts as to why he had done so” (1971, p.361). Apart from the inherent danger, the experience elicits (and enacts) the mechanism of incorporation in his psyche that also generates guilt, self-reproach and paranoia.
The Wolf Man’s ambiguous identity as historical subject is played out during this episode and it is through its uncertain meanings that the traumatic structure of the incorporated secret is mapped. Touching on the fundamental ambivalence of the crypt through an act that is both meaningful and equivocal, the Wolf Man’s behaviour creates in him paranoia. His sense of persecution is itself revelatory of a hidden mechanism, as it suggests both his own persecution at the hands of his captors and the persecution in which he is implicated by virtue of his Russian past. Both the actions that lead to his arrest and his exaggerated response to this, threaten the revelation of his crypt and their uncertainty draws out a feeling of paranoid persecution that in turn becomes a point of fixation for what it intimates about the Wolf Man’s incorporation.
It is possible to unfold this cryptic performance by first considering the meanings that the Wolf Man attaches to the activity that landed him in so much trouble. Painting is the Wolf Man’s most passionate interest and, as his analysts note, connects to the deepest aspects of his psyche (Gardiner 1971, p.315). He credits the cultivation of his artistic talent to Herr Riedel (Gardiner 1971, p.20) and accepts it as the purist expression of the romantic (bourgeois) frame of mind that Mademoiselle had cultivated in him. Removing the Wolf Man from circumstantial concerns, painting enters into the same crypt of historical exclusion that also functions in the Wolf Man’s relation to psychoanalysis (Obholzer 1982, p.98; Gardiner 1971, p.345).
Obholzer recalls how “time and again he called my attention to a painting with the title What is Truth? He explained that Russian has two words for truth, pravda, which means truth in the everyday sense, and iistina, for the truth that lies behind appearances” (1982, p.7). The Wolf Man is here pointing towards the significance of his painting in the determination of (his) truth. This is a truth, however, that is already divided between pravda and iistina. The truth of the Russian episode, therefore, could be rendered in terms of its overt representation (pravda) by explaining the Wolf Man’s paranoia in terms of a very real fear for his safety. Whether or not the Wolf Man deliberately enters the Russian zone – it is probable that he is as much in the dark about this as his readers – the meanings attached to the act of painting assert a bourgeois identity that masks his aristocratic past from his captors.
When considering iistina, the truth behind appearances, the cryptic significance of the Wolf Man’s actions reveal a more complex and ambivalent network of meanings. The verb “to paint”, for example, is commonly rendered in German as both malen and anstreichen (or streichen). The similarity of anstreichen to ausscheiden connects the act of painting to the irresolvable aufheben at the heart of the Wolf Man’s excretory/secretory symptomatology. This sense of his incorporation structuring a fundamental ambivalence is also indicated in ich streich[I paint], which also means to “delete; cross out; cancel” (“streichen,” def.7) and connects with the homonym streit, to signify a “dispute; argument” (“streit,” def.1). The act of painting, therefore, is one whose symbolism reveals a conflict in meanings and the meaning as conflict. Like ausscheidung, painting also connects the ambivalence circulating in the Wolf Man’s crypt with revolution. Not only are anstreichen and auflehnung related through the intermediary of ausscheidung, but in streich, there is a further association with streik [strike] that for many Russians is the enduring image of the 1905 revolution. The Wolf Man’s painting works cryptically, therefore, because it draws into its signifying action his equivocal identity that inscribes beneath bourgeois a-historicism a silenced and shameful past that the impact of socialist revolution has separated from any possible assimilation. The episode in the Russian zone opens the cracks in the Wolf Man’s bourgeois identity, and exposes these other meanings of his painting. The threat posed by the revelation of his incorporated secret drives him to the point of psychosis and shoring up this breach fixates him for many years after.
In the way that his wandering into the Russian zone manifests an underlying dynamic of incorporation, much of the Wolf Man’s searching for a cure from 1907 also expresses this cryptic structure. His migrancy across Europe is marked by an encrypted need to escape a Russian situation that was becoming more fraught and ambiguously encoded as the revolution approached. The Wolf Man’s eventual expulsion from Russia is not characterised by any bitterness, as Freud notes, but on the contrary, “contributed to the consolidation of his recovery” (Freud 1918, p.121). Where Freud understands the psychical relief brought about by his dispossession and later hardship in terms of guilt and a sense of just punishment, this reading instead sees in his new circumstance the very avoidance of guilt. Forced out of Russia, he can realise his separation from its problematic significance by being “no longer a citizen of any country, but one of those forgotten thousands of persons made ‘stateless’ by the First World War” (Gardiner 1971, p.313).
In his literal wandering he enacts what I describe as a psychical itinerancy that reflects the cryptic structure of his ambiguous identity. The Wolf Man’s statelessness is also an internal situation that has been necessitated by his inability to institute a historical identity of any permanence. To be stateless is a position that frees him from having to consider his determination by contextual forces, and allows him to cut off his relation to a situation that has been rendered so traumatic.
This sense of psychical itinerancy is also symbolized in his painting. As a noun, “paint” is most commonly translated in German by farbe and its plural form farben. Through homonymy with the adjective fahrend meaning “itinerant” (“fahrend,” def.1) a sense of a journey is implicated. Further to this fahnen, meaning both a “flag” and an “oath of allegiance,” from which is derived fahnenflucht, meaning “desertion” (“fahnen,” def.1) symbolizes with the Wolf Man’s predicament as his journey from Russia is inscribed with a secret and silent nationalism that bears his home flag, yet also signifies his desertion from the equivocation it traces in him. A further allusion is also apt in this regard. In the meanings of streichen is the lesser used verb of “to prowl around” or “wander” (“streichen,” def.b) that connects the Wolf Man’s painting to his physical and psychical itinerancy as he permissively strays from sanatorium to sanatorium and couch to couch (and tailor to tailor, dermatologist to dermatologist and so on) leaving his symptomatology unresolved and his specialists bemused. The Wolf Man’s journey through Western Europe and its treatments is a journey across meanings. He seeks significance in the a-historicism of his favoured context to fix his identity, but the historical forces that he also incorporates, necessarily announce this as uncertain. With his assumption of a historical subject position that is always compromised, the Wolf Man faces his interlocutors as an enigma.
As this foundational uncertainty is re-signified through the explanatory frame of psychoanalysis, not only is the Wolf Man disturbed, but so is the discourse that attempts to describe him. As psychoanalysis draws out his ambivalence, the Wolf Man’s resistance demonstrates his excess to Freud’s curative ideal. He becomes a theoretical problem that feeds parasitically off psychoanalytic ideology spreading disorder to the very heart of its enterprise. In his encounter with the Wolf Man, Freud is confronted with a crypt that also implicates his fledgling theory and practice. By figuring the revolution phantasmatically through his ambivalence to psychoanalytic assertions, the Wolf Man presents Freud with a historical position that is alterior to the context of psychoanalysis and “about which Freud knew absolutely nothing” (Obholzer 1982, p.50). Through his dense and equivocal encoding of its manifold operation, the Wolf Man also demonstrates the alterity of the historical process to the assimilative structures of psychoanalytic meaning.
There is much in the Wolf Man’s case study and the events surrounding its writing that suggests Freud was haunted by his patient’s incorporation of history, and re-encrypted it in his own speculation and institutional movements of the time. His introduction of nachträglichkeit in the case history to account for the deferred structure of trauma and his postulation of the primal phantasy as a counterpoint to the primal scene, for example, each challenge linear temporality and a traditional causal logic. Freud, however, does not follow through with his insight in this case and instead turns increasingly towards establishing infantile aetiology. He thereby misses the chance to encounter and reconstruct the crypt that is haunting the Wolf Man’s analysis and that transmits its uncertainty in the legacy of psychoanalysis. This uncertainty resonates through all subsequent engagements with the Wolf Man case and my reading here is not exempt. Producing a text that attempts to re-signify the excluded historical process in the Wolf Man as revolutionary, the singularity of my interpretation joins Freud’s case history and later analyses as an alternative that draws on the weight and excess of an alterior position. It is in this way that I believe the Wolf Man’s analysis can be turned into a future of interminable re-imagining that has only just begun and whose impact stretches beyond the narrow confines of the specific treatment.