In May of 1938, on the eve of Sigmund Freud’s expulsion from Vienna and flight to London, Freud’s colleague August Aichhorn met with the photojournalist Edmund Engelman at the Café Museum on Karlsplatz to make a proposal. Would it be possible, Aichhorn wondered, to take photographs of Freud’s office and apartment without drawing the attention of the Gestapo who, since Hitler’s annexation of Austria two months earlier, had been keeping the home of one of Vienna’s most famous Jewish intellectuals under constant surveillance? The purpose of this photographic documentary was to provide an inventory of Berggasse 19 so exact that, as Aichhorn envisioned it, the home of psychoanalysis might be painstakingly recreated as a museum after the impending war. Engelman, a mechanical and electrical engineer who ran a local photography shop on the Karntnerstrasse, agreed to try to provide a pictorial record of Berggasse 19. In the course of four days and using two cameras (a Rolleiflex and a Leica), two lenses (a 50mm lens and a 28mm wide-angle lens), and a light meter, and working without the aid of either flashes or floodlights, Engelman took approximately one hundred shots of Berggasse 19, focusing on the consulting room, study, and family living quarters. These photographs, together with a short film segment of Freud’s office taken by Marie Bonaparte in December 1937, provide the only extant visual record of the place where, for forty-seven years, Freud treated his patients, met regularly with his colleagues, and wrote his scientific papers and case histories.
Freud’s biographers have written eloquently of his traumatic expulsion from his home in Vienna; cultural historians have studied in fascinating detail the peculiarities of Freud’s domestic arrangements and the routine of his office schedule; psychoanalysts have analyzed at length the procedures of Freud’s clinical practice; and art historians have recently begun to examine the meaning of Freud’s extensive collection of antiquities and the links between psychoanalysis and archaeology. But we have yet to consider the significance of the spatial site that housed these practices and objects. We have yet to fully enter, in other words, Berggasse 19. How might the spatial configuration of Freud’s office, and the arrangement of furniture and objects within it, frame our understanding of psychoanalytic theory and practice? What might an architectural study of Berggasse 19 tell us about the play of vision, power, and transference that structures the analytic scene?
Taking as a point of departure Engelman’s black and white photographs, as well as architectural drawings gathered from site visits to Freud’s offices in London and Vienna, this essay traverses the porous boundary between the two-dimensional space of photography and the three-dimensional space of architecture. The convergence of these two languages of space highlights the confusion of surface and depth, inside and outside, subject and object that characterize psychoanalysis’s own primal scene. Until recently, questions of spectatorship have been theorized largely in terms of a subject’s perception of a two-dimensional image (photography, film, television). This study explores the role of both vision and hearing in three-dimensional space, examining how architecture organizes the physical and sensory interaction of bodies as they move through the interior of Freud’s study and consulting room. Architecture and psychoanalysis come together here in a reading of the interior, for both are cultural discourses of the seen and the unseen, of the audible and the inaudible—of public and private space.
This project is impelled by the same powerful fantasy that drives Edmund Engelman’s photographs—namely, the illusion that one can relive the experience of early psychoanalysis by retracing the footsteps of Freud’s patients. But the space of Freud’s office is a fundamentally irrecoverable one. The photographs of Berggasse 19, originally taken for the postwar construction of a Freud museum, have themselves become the museum, miniature sites of preservation and display. Today visitors to the consulting room and study in Berggasse 19 will find a space emptied of Freud’s possessions (currently housed in the Freud Museum in London) but encompassed with enlargements of Engelman’s photographs displayed on the walls. This highly unusual mode of museum exhibition insists on the mediating function of the photographs, while preserving the empty rooms of the office as a space of exile and absence: the place Freud was finally forced to flee at the end of his life “to die in freedom.” To the extent that this research project is an attempt at recovery, at reconstituting from the fragments of history what has been buried and lost, the following reading of Berggasse 19 is inevitably a work of mourning, framed by the same logic of memorialization that, the following pages will argue, so pervasively organized the space of Freud’s office.
Engelman’s photodocumentary opens with three exterior shots of Berggasse 19, motivated, as he was later to write, by a presentiment that the building itself would be destroyed in the war. The façade of this typical late nineteenth century apartment house comes into focus through a progressive sequence of long, medium, and closeup shots of the entry door. Exerting a kind of centrifugal force, the swastika placed over the door of Berggasse 19 by the building’s Aryan owner pulls the camera in, gradually focusing and delimiting the social boundaries of the photodocumentary’s visual field. What kind of space is the urban street space? For the European, the street is the place of chance encounters and accidental dramas. It is also, historically, the site of political uprising and counterrevolution—the birthplace of the modern revolutionary subject. But, as Susan Suleiman notes of the modern wayfare, “after 1933, any attempt to think politically about the street had to grapple with its profound ambiguity.” The street, formerly a place of collective resistance to state intervention, becomes, with the rise of fascism in Europe, a public venue for Nazi torchlight parades and other forms of national socialist ideology.
Engelman’s three views of the street, taken with a wide-angle lens, capture a near-deserted Berggasse. Far from removing us from the sphere of political action, however, these daytime shots of a scarcely populated urban street illuminate, in visually arresting fashion, the realities of political occupation for the predominantly Jewish residents of Vienna’s Ninth District. Most of the Ninth District’s Jewish population were located on eleven streets, including the Berggasse which ran from the fashionable upper-middle class neighborhood of the University of Vienna at one end, to the junk shops of the Tandelmarkt owned by poor Jewish shopkeepers at the other. Though located just outside the Ringstrasse, the Berggasse was very much at the center of the German occupation. By the time Engelman embarked on his pictorial record of Freud’s residence in May 1938, the image of a scarcely populated urban street operated as a potent indexical sign of political danger and social displacement. For Vienna’s Jewish residents, occupation meant incarceration; to be “occupied” was to be exiled, driven out of the public space of the street and into the home.
Operating without the use of a flash ordinarily employed for interior shots, and continuing to use a wide-angle lens designed for exterior shots, Engelman transports the codes and conventions of street photography inside Berggasse 19. The building becomes an interior street as the camera’s peripatetic gaze traffics through domestic space. Engelman begins his pictorial walking tour by bringing us across the entry threshold and into the lobby, a wide linear space which, with its cobblestone floor and coffered ceiling, resembles a covered arcade. At the end of the entry corridor, a pair of glazed doors, their glass panes etched with antique female figures, provides a view of an aedicule located, on axis, in the rear service courtyard beyond. These symmetrical semi-transparent doors establish a recurring visual motif that is progressively disrupted and finally displaced as we approach and move through the suite of rooms comprising Freud’s office. Interestingly, Berggasse 19 wears its façade on the inside; those architectural elements normally found on the exterior of a building can be seen on the interior of Freud’s apartment house. At the top of the switch-back stair, for example, we encounter a translucent window, an interior window that looks not onto an exterior courtyard but directly into the Freud family’s private apartment. Illuminated by a light from within, but draped from view by an inside curtain, Freud’s interior window troubles the traditional distinction between privacy and publicity by rendering completely ambiguous whether we might be on the outside looking in or the inside looking out.
The architectural transposition of public and private space chronicled by Engelman’s camera captures Freud’s own relation to his work place, for although located at the back of the apartment and insulated from the street, Freud’s office nonetheless operated as a busy thoroughfare. Patients, colleagues, friends, family, and even pets moved in and out at regular intervals. When he needed privacy, Freud would seek refuge on the Ringstrasse where he would retreat for his daily constitutional, occasionally with a family member or friend to accompany him. For Freud, the interior space of the office and the exterior space of the street were seamless extensions of one another; both were places of movement and conversation, of chance words and surprise meetings, of accident and incident . The commerce of everyday encounters constituted the primary source materials of interior reflection his patients brought to their private sessions with Freud. The transactions of the street quickly became the transferences of the therapeutic scene.
Inside Freud’s consulting room and adjoining study, we are confronted with a confusing assortment of furniture and objects: couch, chair, books, bookcases, cabinets, paintings, photographs, lights, rugs, and Freud’s extensive collection of antiquities. Freud displayed in the close space of his office the entirety of his collection, acquired mainly from local antique dealers with earnings set aside from his daily hour of open consultations. The experience of viewing Engelman’s photographs of Freud’s office is like nothing so much as window shopping, as we are permitted to view, but not touch, the objects before us, many arranged in glass showcases. Ultimately, what Engelman seeks to document in these photographs is not just the objects but their particular sites of display. It is the very specific spatial arrangement of objects within the interior that constitutes the photodocumentary’s visual field and that offers a blueprint for the future reconstruction of the office-museum.
The gaze of Engelman’s camera is systematic, not random: it documents and surveys, inventories and catalogs. It moves from one corner of the room to the next, from wall to wall, window to window, memorizing the details of the office interior. This archival gaze is also a slightly manic one, obsessively traversing the same spaces, partitioning the office into a series of overlapping but discrete perceptual fields, at once contiguous and enclosed. The prosthetic eye of the camera attempts to take everything in, but finds its efforts frustrated by the very objects it seeks visually to preserve. The visual space becomes a carceral one as Engelman’s camera repeatedly tries, and fails, to negotiate the crowded terrain of Freud’s office, so cluttered with objects that many of the two thousand antiquities can be seen in these photographs spilling onto the study floor.
Two months after his father’s death in October 1896, Freud began assembling the antiquities that would transform his office into a veritable tomb. The debilitating illness and lingering death of Jakob Freud is generally recognized as the emotional crisis that galvanized Freud’s compensatory interest in collecting. A father’s demise is “the most important event, the most poignant loss, of a man’s life” (4: xxvi), Freud famously opines in The Interpretation of Dreams, a book which has itself been read as an extended work of mourning, Freud’s gradual coming to terms with the loss of his father. But it is not just his father whom Freud mourns through his accumulation of reliquary objects; it is also, in some profound sense, himself. Freud’s self-described “death deliria” played a central role in shaping the psychical and physical space of his office. Long before his father died, Freud was preoccupied with foretelling the exact time of his own future death. In a letter to Wilhelm Fliess dated June 22, 1894, Freud insists that although he has no scientific basis for his predictions, he “shall go on suffering from various complaints for another four to five to eight years, with good and bad periods, and then between forty and fifty perish very abruptly from a rupture of the heart.” As Freud moved into the period forecast for his “rupture of the heart,” it was not his own death that occurred but that of his father, who fell fatally ill and died of heart failure shortly after Freud’s fortieth birthday: “All of it happened in my critical period,” Freud writes to Fliess a day after his father’s funeral, “and I am really quite down because of it.” Freud apparently felt that his father died in his place, prompting a labor of self-entombment that exhausted itself only with Freud’s own painful and prolonged death almost half a century later.
Like Osiris buried alive in his coffin, Freud began surrounding himself with disinterred objects: Egyptian scarabs, Roman death masks, Etruscan funeral vases, bronze coffins, and mummy portraits. The attempt to chronicle the space of Freud’s office for the purposes of erecting a future museum upon its ruins was, by 1938, a touchingly belated act, for Freud’s office was a museum long before Engelman arrived to document it. Like all museums, this particular memorial site doubled as a mausoleum, showcasing the self-enshrinement of a collector buried among his funerary objects. “Museum and mausoleum are connected by more than phonetic association,” Adorno once commented; “museums are the family sepulchers of works of art.” Engelman’s photographs dramatically capture what half a century of Freud commentary has overlooked: the location of the analytic scene within the walls of a crypt. When patients arrived at Freud’s office, they entered an overdetermined space of loss and absence, grief and memory, elegy and mourning. In short, they entered the exteriorized theater of Freud’s own emotional history, where every object newly found memorialized a love-object lost.
We might recall at this juncture that Berggasse 19 was not Freud’s first professional office. Freud initially set up his medical practice in a new residential building erected on the ashes of one of Vienna’s most famous edifices, the Ring Theater, which burned to the ground in 1881 in a spectacular fire, killing over six hundred people inside. Austria’s Franz Josef commissioned the Viennese architect F.V. Schmidt to construct on the ruins an apartment house for the haute bourgeoisie, a portion of whose rent would be allocated to assist the hundreds of children orphaned by the fire. It was here, in an architectural monument to the dead of Vienna’s Ring Theater, that psychoanalysis first took up residence. Not even the birth of the Freud’s first child, which brought the newly married couple an official letter from the Emperor congratulating them on bringing new life to the site of such tragic loss, could completely erase for Freud the symbolic connotations of treating patients’ nervous disorders in a place that came to be known as the Sühnhaus (House of Atonement). Freud’s psychoanalytic practice, from the very beginning, was closely associated with loss and recovery, the work of mourning.
The patient’s entry into Freud’s office initiates a series of complicated and subtle transactions of power, orchestrated largely by the very precise spatial arrangement of objects and furniture. Freud held initial consultations, between three and four every afternoon, in the study section of his office (figure 1). Preferring a face-to face encounter with prospective patients, Freud seated them approximately four feet away from himself, across the divide of a table adjacent to the writing desk. Located in the center of a square room, at the intersection of two axial lines, the patient would appear to occupy the spatial locus of power. As if to confirm the illusion of his centrality, the patient is immediately presented, when seated, with a reflection of his own image, in a small portrait-sized mirror, framed in gold-filigree and hanging, at eye-level, on a facing window (figure 2). As soon as Freud sits down at his desk, however, interposing himself between patient and mirror, the patient’s reflection is blocked by Freud’s head. Head substitutes for mirror in a metaphorical staging of the clinical role Freud seeks to assume. “The doctor,” Freud pronounces in Papers on Technique, “should be opaque to his patients and, like a mirror, should show them nothing but what is shown to him” (12: 118).
1. Freud’s Study
For their first consultation with the doctor, patients were seated in the chair at the very center of the study, surveyed not only by Freud but also by the heads and figurines on the surrounding walls and tables. Many of Freud’s 2,500 books lined the walls of the study, also cluttered with antiquities.
2. Study Desk
The patient sees his reflection framed within the portrait-sized mirror on the central mullion of the window behind Freud’s desk. When Freud sits in his desk chair, his head blocks and replaces the patient’s image in the mirror, initiating the transferential dynamics governing future therapeutic encounters.
Freud’s clinical assumption of the function of the mirror, and the substitution of other for self that it enacts, sets into motion the transferential dynamics that will structure all future doctor-patient encounters. In preparation for the laborious work of overcoming their unconscious resistances, patients are required to divest themselves of authority while seated in the very center of power. In a reverse panopticon, the most central location in Freud’s study (the point from which the gaze normally issues) turns out to be the most vulnerable, as the patient suddenly finds himself exposed on all sides to a multitude of gazes. Viewed from both left and right by a phalanx of ancient figurines (all displayed at eye-level and arranged to face the patient), as well as from behind by a collection of detached antique heads and from in front by Freud’s imposing visage, the patient is surveyed from every direction. Power in this transferential scene is exercised from the margins. From the protected vantage point of his desk chair, Freud studies his patient’s face, fully illuminated by the afternoon light, while his own face remains barely visible, almost entirely eclipsed by backlighting from the window behind him.
“The process of psychoanalysis,” Freud goes on to remark in Papers on Technique, “is retarded by the dread felt by the average observer of seeing himself in his own mirror” (12: 210). The analogy of the mirror, used to describe the process of psychoanalytic self-reflection, makes its first appearance in Freud’s work in his reading of the memoirs of Daniel Paul Schreber. Mirrors figure prominently in Schreber’s transvestic identification: “anyone who should happen to see me before the mirror with the upper portion of my torso bared—especially if the illusion is assisted by my wearing a little feminine finery—would receive an unmistakable impression of a female bust” (12: 33). And what did Freud see when, alone in his office amongst his classical heads and ancient figurines, he turned to face his own image in the mirror? Freud, too, saw the unmistakable impression of a bust—head and shoulders severed from the body, torso-less and floating, like the Roman head overlooking his consulting room chair or the death mask displayed in his study. His head decapitated by the frame of the mirror, Freud is visually identified with one of his own classical sculptures, transformed into a statuary fragment.
Looking in the other direction Freud also saw only heads. A wooden statue of a Chinese sage sitting on the table between Freud and his patient severs the patient’s head in the same way Freud’s head is decapitated by the frame of the mirror. From the vantage point of the desk chair, the patient’s disembodied head assumes the status of one of Freud’s antiquities, homologous not only to the stone heads filling the table directly behind the patient (the only table in the office displaying almost exclusively heads) but also to the framed photographic portraits above them, hanging at the exact same level as the mirror.
For Freud, every self-reflection reveals a death mask, every mirror image a spectral double. In his meditation on the theme of doubling, Freud remarks in “The ‘Uncanny'” that while the double first emerges in our psychical lives as a “preservation against extinction,” this double (in typically duplicitous fashion) soon reverses itself: “from having been an assurance of immortality, it becomes the uncanny harbinger of death” (17: 235). By captivating our image, immobilizing and framing it, the mirror reveals a picture of our own unthinkable mortality.
Yet, as Freud notes elsewhere, it is finally impossible to visualize our own deaths, for “whenever we attempt to do so we can perceive that we are in fact still present as spectators” (14: 289). The mirror that memorializes also reincarnates, reconstituting us as phantom spectators, witnesses to our own irreplaceability. The mirror thus functions simultaneously like a window, assisting us in passing through the unrepresentable space of our violent eradication, and helping us, in effect, to survive our own deaths. This was indeed the function of Etruscan mirrors (so prominent in Freud’s own private collection) on whose polished bronze surfaces mythological scenes were engraved. By differentiating between pictorial space and real space, the frame of the Etruscan mirror offers the illusion of a view onto another world. These mirrors, originally buried in tombs, assisted their owners in passing through their deaths: the Etruscan mirror opened a window onto immortality.
Lacan saw as much in his early reflections on the mirror stage. Radically dislocating the traditional opposition of transparency and reflectivity (window and mirror), Lacan instructs us to “think of the mirror as a pane of glass. You’ll see yourself in the glass and you’ll see objects beyond it.” In Freud’s office, the placement of a mirror on a window further complicates this conflation of transparency and reflectivity by frustrating the possibility of opening up the space of looking that both crystalline surfaces appear to offer. Normally, when mirrors are placed against opaque walls, they have the capacity to act as windows; they dematerialize and dissolve architectural edges, creating the illusion of extension and expanding the spatial boundaries of the interior. But in this highly peculiar instance of a mirror superimposed on a window, visual access is obstructed rather than facilitated. Unlike the glass panes on Berggasse 19’s rear entry doors, which allow the viewer’s gaze to pass easily along a central axis from inside to outside, the composition of Freud’s study window, with the mirror occupying the central vanishing point, redirects the gaze inward. By forcing the subject of reflection to confront an externalized gaze relayed back upon itself, the mirror on Freud’s window interrupts the reassuring classical symmetries of self and other, inside and outside, seeing and being seen.
Instead, the architectonics of the Freudian subject instead depends fundamentally upon a spatial dislocation, upon seeing the self exteriorized. It is not only that when we look in the mirror we see how others see us, but also that we see ourselves occupying a space where we are not. The statue that confronts us in the mirror permits us to look not just at but through ourselves to the “object who knows himself to be seen.” The domain delimited by Lacan’s imago, “the statue in which man projects himself,” is thus a strangely lifeless one. As Mikkel Borch-Jacobsen pictures it in “The Statue Man,” this mirror world is “a sort of immense museum peopled with immobile ‘statues,’ ‘images’ of stone, and hieratic ‘forms.'” It is “the most inhuman of possible worlds, the most unheimlich.”
What Freud sees in his mirror is a subject who is, first and foremost, an object, a statue, a bust. The “dread” of self-reflection that Freud describes in Papers on Technique appears to issue from a fear of castration, of dramatic bodily disfigurement. If, as Freud insists in “Medusa’s Head,” the terror of castration is always linked to the sight of something, then it is the sight of seeing oneself seeing that possesses lethal consequences for the figure in the mirror. Like Medusa, who is slain by the fatal powers of her own gaze reflected back to her by Perseus’s shield, Freud’s narcissistic gaze makes him “stiff with terror, turns him to stone” (18: 273). Self-reflection petrifies. Perhaps this is the knowledge that so frightened, and so fascinated, Freud: the realization that the subject’s “optical erection” could only be achieved at the price of its castration, its instantaneous, fatal transformation into a broken relic.
As the clinical treatment moves from the initial consultation in Freud’s study to the sessions on the consulting room couch, the distribution of objects in the room produces a new kind of body, and a reconfigured doctor-patient relation (figure 3). In the study, the patient, sitting isolated and exposed at the center of the room, occupied the point of maximum exposure; in the consulting room, the patient finds herself securely situated outside a circuit of visual surveillance. The arrangement of couch and chair, with their occupants facing outward at perpendicular angles, ensures that, once the analysis formally begins, there will never be an unobstructed line of vision between patient and doctor. The most intimate space in the room is thus also the most highly mediated, as if such close physical proximity between patient and doctor can only be sustained by the structural elimination of any direct visual transaction. The placement of articles on and around the consulting room couch—the heavy Persian rug hung vertically from the wall and anchored to the couch by a matching rug, the chenille cushions supporting the patient’s head, neck, and upper back, and the blanket and porcelain stove warming the patient’s feet—all create the impression of a protected enclave, a room within a room, a private interior space.
3. Freud’s Consulting Room
The arrangement of couch and chair creates a warm, protected, intimate corner for the analytic conservation. The silent sitting figures carved out of stone, depicted in the picture of the temple of Ramses II hanging over the couch, may have struck Freud as classical prototypes for the sedentary analyst, required to listen patiently for long hours.
The profusion of sensuous Oriental rugs and throw pillows, and the horsehair sofa in the consulting room in Berggasse 19 suggests the subtle encroachment of “female” domestic space into the public sphere of the office. Freud’s professional office as a scene of domestic comfort is precisely how the Wolf Man remembers it thirty-eight years after the completion of his formal analysis: I can remember, as though I saw them today, his two adjoining studies, with the door open between them and with their windows opening on a little courtyard. There was always a feeling of sacred peace and quiet here. The rooms themselves must have been a surprise to any patient, for they in no way reminded one of a doctor’s office . . . . A few potted plants added life to the rooms, and the warm carpet and curtains gave them a homelike note. Everything here contributed to one’s feeling of leaving the haste of modern life behind, of being sheltered from one’s daily cares.
In her autobiographical work, Tribute to Freud, the American poet H.D. recalls Freud’s office in similar terms, emphasizing the feelings of safety and security generated by the space encompassing the consulting room couch: “Today, lying on the famous psychoanalytical couch, . . . [w]herever my fantasies may take me now, I have a center, security, aim. I am centralized or reoriented here in this mysterious lion’s den or Aladdin’s cave of treasures.”
H.D. goes on to describe the “smoke of burnt incense” (TF, 23) and the “fumes of the aromatic cigar” (TF, 132) that waft above the couch, emanating from the invisible corner behind her. Freud considered his passion for collecting “an addiction second in intensity only to his nicotine addiction.” The air in Freud’s treatment room, densely humidified by ceramic water tubes attached to the Viennese stove, hung heavy with the smell of Freud’s favorite cigars, which he often smoked during analytic sessions. Reading the visual record of Freud’s office alongside these verbal accounts, a carefully staged orientalist scene insistently begins to take shape. Reclining on an ottoman couch, cushioned by Eastern carpets, and wreathed in pungent smoke, patients find themselves at home in a late Victorian fantasy of the opium den.
In Europe’s fin-de-siècle fascination with the East, oriental interiors—especially the smoking room—were closely associated with leisure and relaxation. The bright dyes, luxurious textures, and bold designs of increasingly popular Persian carpets were instrumental in importing into the bourgeois Victorian home a stereotypical aura of Eastern exoticism. In fact, the last decades of the nineteenth century found Europe in the grip of what one German design historian has called “Oriental carpet fever.” The first major European exhibition of Oriental carpets took place at the Imperial Austrian Trade Museum in Vienna in 1891, the very year Freud moved his home and office to Berggasse 19. For Freud, these Persian carpets and Oriental fabrics may well have reminded him of his father, by profession a wool merchant who traded in Eastern textiles. For Freud’s patients, the enchantment and mystery of these Oriental rugs further sequestered them in the interiorized, reclusive space of the consulting room couch, a place of private fantasy and quixotic danger: “[a] mysterious lion’s den or Aladdin’s cave of treasures.”
As if in compensation for the risks that must be taken there, Freud envelops the patient on the couch in all the comforts of a private boudoir, ordinarily the most interior and secluded room of the Viennese home. Freud’s office, in fact, is located in the back wing of what was originally designed to be part of a domestic residence, in that area of the apartment house typically used as sleeping quarters. It is the sexual overtones of the famous couch—the sofa as bed—that most discomforted Freud’s critics and, if Freud himself is to be believed, no small number of his patients. In one of the few essays to take note of the spatial organization of the scene of analysis, Luce Irigaray has pointed out that the sexual connotations of lying supine can vary dramatically, depending on the sex of the patient. A woman reclining on her back with a man seated erect behind her finds her relation to the doctor inevitably eroticized. The same could be said for Freud’s male patients, whose daily sessions of private sex talk with their male doctor tacitly homoeroticized the clinical encounter. “Some men,” Freud once commented, “scatter small change out of their trouser pockets while they are lying down during treatment and in that way pay whatever fee they think appropriate for the session” (6: 214). The association of lying down with scattered change—in short, of sex with money—invokes the specter of (male) prostitution, a connection that Freud appears to intuit here but not fully register.
What is being staged, or restaged, around the privileged, centralized, over-invested figure of the consulting room couch? “I cannot put up with being stared at by other people for eight hours a day (or more),” Freud acknowledges, defending his mandate that all patients, without exception, assume a reclining position on the couch. But why a couch? The couch turns out to be yet another museum relic—a “remnant,” Freud calls it, “of the hypnotic method out of which psycho-analysis was evolved” (12: 133). While Freud abandoned his early hypnotic practice of placing patients into a somnambulistic sleep, he retained the couch as a serviceable memorial to psychoanalysis in its infancy. The couch, given to Freud as a gift by his former patient Madame Benveniste around 1890, operated as a nostalgic reminder of his professional past.
But there is more to this couch than its store of personal memories for the doctor; the analytic couch served a mnemonic function for the patient as well. The following anecdote, recounted by Freud in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, provocatively suggests a different way of thinking about the prominence of the consulting room couch: A young lady suddenly flung open the door of the consulting room though the woman who preceded her had not yet left it. In apologizing she blamed her ‘thoughtlessness’; it soon turned out that she had been demonstrating the curiosity that in the past had caused her to make her way into her parent’s bedroom. (6: 214).
What is being subtly replayed here, across the threshold of two rooms, is none other than the spectacle of the primal scene. The patient in the waiting room, hearing sounds through the consulting room door, bursts into Freud’s office, propelled by the same “curiosity” that drew her, as a child, to cross the threshold of her parent’s private bedchamber. Freud’s intruding female hysteric sees all too clearly the highly eroticized choreography made possible by the very particular configuration of consulting room couch and chair, so closely juxtaposed that if one were to remove the arm of the couch and the arm of the chair behind it, the patient’s head (formerly propped at a thirty-five degree angle) would fall nearly into Freud’s lap. Shortly after this incident of analysis interruptus, Freud soundproofed his consulting room by adding a second set of doors lined with red baize. The sound barrier between treatment room and waiting room now insulated the analytic couple, whose muffled voices previously risked transporting the patient in the next room back to the trauma of the primal scene, to that interior place of fantasy where “uncanny sounds” are registered but only belatedly understood.
Freud’s own placement in this scene is by no means a simple one; the question of the analyst’s identificatory position is far more complicated than Irigaray’s “orthogonal” pair of prone patient/erect doctor might suggest. Significantly, Freud chooses to assume a passive position in his exchange with the patient. Advising against the taking of notes during treatment sessions, a practice that prohibits the doctor from maintaining a posture of “evenly suspended attention” (12: 111), Freud recommends that the analyst “should simply listen, and not bother about whether he is keeping anything in mind.” This passive listening technique represents the exact correlative to the fundamental rule of analysis for patients, the injunction to say anything that enters one’s head “without selection or censorship” (12: 112). The analyst must never engage in the work of scientific research while involved in the clinical act of listening. He must instead make himself vulnerable and receptive; he must “lay . . . [himself] open to another person” (12: 116); he must allow himself “to be taken by surprise” (12: 114).
To put it in a formula: he must turn his own unconscious like a receptive organ towards the transmitting unconscious of the patient. He must adjust himself to the patient as a telephone receiver is adjusted to the transmitting microphone. Just as the receiver converts back into sound waves the electric oscillations in the telephone line which were set up by sound waves, so the doctor’s unconscious is able, from the derivatives of the unconscious which are communicated to him, to reconstruct that unconscious, which has determined the patient’s free associations. (12: 115-16).
Opening himself to the risk of feminization, Freud assumes the role of an orifice, a listening ear, while the patient becomes a mouth, an oral transmitter. The only telephone in Freud’s office was the circuit of communication between analyst and analysand; Freud, as office receptionist, opens a direct line to the patient, adjusting the patient’s unconscious to the frequencies of his own psychical interior. This interconnection between patient and doctor, transmitter and receiver, mouth and ear, sets up a technology of oral transmission: transference operates telephonically.
After his surgery for oral cancer in 1923, Freud lost much of the hearing in his right ear. His biographer Peter Gay writes that Freud actually moved the couch from one wall to another so he could listen better with his left ear. The gratification Freud’s listening ear derived from the “electric oscillations” of the transferential line suggests that at the center of psychoanalysis’s primal scene is a performance of what Neil Hertz has dubbed “oral intercourse in that other sense of the term.” Freud’s choice of a telephone to describe the intimate exchanges between doctor and patient highlights the “epistemological promiscuity” that characterizes psychoanalysis’s therapeutic practice. The very arrangement of couch and chair facilitates an erotics of voice, privileging sound over sight, speech over spectatorship. In the consulting room, telephone replaces mirror as the governing topos of the doctor-patient relationship.
However, like the mirror on the window, Freud’s imaginary telephone immediately connects us to the place of mourning. This indeed is the lesson of Avital Ronell’s The Telephone Book, which reminds us that the telephone has always been involved in a hermeneutics of mourning, in a call to an absent other: “like transference, the telephone is given to us as effigy.” Invented originally as a device for the hearing and speech impaired, the telephone works as a prosthesis to compensate for radical loss. Freud’s ear detected in the electric speech of the telephone the soft reverberations of distant connections, the sound of the unconscious. A powerful transmitter of disembodied presence, Freud’s telephone was capable of summoning the very spirits of the dead, modulated voices from beyond the grave.
In one respect, the arrangement of bodies in the consulting room bears a certain disquieting resemblance to a wake, with Freud holding vigil over the body of his patient lying immobilized on the couch, most likely enshrouded (mummy-like) in the blanket provided, and surrounded by hundreds of funerary objects. Eros and thanatos turn out to be comfortable bedfellows as Freud’s analytic couch doubles as not just a bed but a bier. Occupying the space of an off-screen presence, the analyst’s listening ear and ventriloquized speech offer the patient the promise of re-establishing a tenuous connection to the Other who has been lost. By assuming the position of telephone receiver, the one who accepts the call to the Other, Freud thus finds himself addressing the patient from the borderline between presence and absence—the threshold between life and death.
In the minds of his patients, Freud was not only healer, prophet, and shaman but gatekeeper to the underworld, “patron of gate-ways and portals” (TF, 106). Like the stone Janus head on his office desk, Freud “faced two ways, as doors and gates opened and shut” (TF, 100). A modern-day Hermes or Thoth, Freud keeps vigilant watch over the dangerous passage across the invisible borders of past and present, memory and forgetting. “‘In analysis,'” Freud once explained to H.D., “‘the person is dead after the analysis is over,'” to which H.D. responded, “which person?” (TF, 141) With characteristic acuity, H.D. troubles the notion of physician as mourner, alluding to the possibility that it is Freud himself who is mourned, Freud who may already find himself on the other side of the portal. In the journey through death staged by the work of analysis, the question of who is the traveler and who the guide remains, at the very least, open.
In one of Freud’s most interesting metaphorizations of the scene of treatment, he imagines doctor and patient as fellow passengers on a railway journey. Tutoring the patient on the technique of free association, Freud recommends: “Act as though . . . you were a traveler sitting next to the window of a railway carriage and describing to someone inside the carriage the changing views which you see outside” (12: 135). The train, associated throughout Freud’s work with death and departure, carries doctor and patient along the same track, advancing the familiar genre of the travelogue as a model for the talking cure. The picture of easy companionship and leisurely conversation that Freud paints for his patient clearly seeks to domesticate what threatens to be a terrifying venture. Yet what is particularly striking about Freud’s scenario of the fellow train travelers is his own severely circumscribed role within it, for Freud is the passenger whose vision is impaired, who can only imagine the view outside the window that his companion is invited to describe. While doctor and patient are located on the same side of the window, the patient alone is visually empowered while Freud is functionally blinded. Freud can listen but he cannot see; hearing must compensate for a radical loss of vision. Once again, then, Freud imagines himself as a passive, responsive organ: “two open ears and one temporal lobe lubricated for reception.”
In depriving himself of visual authority, Freud assumes the role of the blind seer, the one who “sacrifices sight . . . with an eye to seeing at last.” Through his figurative self-blinding, Freud inserts himself into a long line of blind healers and sightless soothsayers: Oedipus, the guilty son, who achieves wisdom by putting out his own eyes; Tiresias, the prophet of two sexes, who suffers blindness at the hands of the goddess Hera after testifying to women’s greater sexual pleasure; and Tobit, the man of last respects, who never stops asking his sons to close his eyes as the time approaches for his own burial. It is impossible to forget the dream Freud had on the night after his own father’s funeral, a dream about closing the eyes. Freud dreamt that he was in a place (in one account, a railway station) where a sign was posted that read: “You are requested to close the eyes.” Late for his own father’s funeral, Freud reads this dream as an expression of guilt for his failure to give his father a proper burial. Freud explains that “the sentence on the sign has a double meaning: one should do one’s duty to the dead (an apology as though I had not done it and were in need of leniency), and the actual duty itself. The dream thus stems from the inclination to self-reproach that regularly sets in among survivors.”
“You are requested to close the eyes” refers to the literal act of performing a burial rite and to the symbolic necessity of taking one’s leave of the dead. As Didier Anzieu perceptively notes, however, the request to “close the eyes” is also one of the instructions Freud habitually gave to his patients when beginning an analytic session. The clinical rehearsal of this particular ritual provides what is perhaps the clearest illustration of the extent to which Freud envisioned the work of psychoanalysis as an elaborate funeral rite. Freud eventually discontinued the practice of enjoining his patients to close their eyes, but vision and blindness continued to define for Freud the core dynamic of the therapeutic relation. Eyes now open, the patient on Freud’s consulting room couch encounters the penetrating look of Gradiva, a plaster cast bas-relief hanging on the wall at the foot of the ottoman, carefully positioned to stare directly down at the patient. It is Wilhelm Jensen’s Gradiva—for Freud the very incarnation of immortality—who offers patient and doctor (eye and ear) a new set of instructions: “look, but not with bodily eyes, and listen, but not with physical ears. And then . . . the dead wakened” (9: 16).
In Freud’s theater of inversions, where a healing ritual can lull the living into a nether world of dreams and a funeral rite can waken the dead, subjects and objects are also transposed. When H.D. first enters the office in Berggasse 19, it is the objects, not their owner, that seize her attention: “The statues stare and stare and seem to say, what has happened to you?” (TF, 110) There are more sculptures in Freud’s vast collection of antiquities than any other kind of art object, figures with a more immediate and anthropomorphic presence than either painting or photography. Apparently these statues are endowed with the vision that Freud himself is denied; the figurines, their faces and their sight animated, stand in obverse relation to Freud, his face composed and his eyes veiled. In one of H.D.’s only physical descriptions of Freud, she describes him as though she were appreciating a piece of statuary, sculpted by an expert craftsman: His beautiful mouth seemed always slightly smiling, though his eyes, set deep and slightly asymmetrical under the domed forehead (with those furrows cut by a master chisel) were unrevealing. His eyes did not speak to me. (TF, 73).
The portals of Freud’s eyes are closed to his patients, as if he himself were an inanimate statue. By prohibiting the patient from looking at him during analysis, Freud, ostensibly seeking to ward off the possibility of idolatry, actually lays its foundations. Positioning himself in the place of “the one who must not be looked at,” Freud immediately assumes the status of an otherworldly presence, concealed behind the inscrutable exterior of a powerful and mysterious graven image.
Is this why the view from Freud’s consulting room chair resists all attempts to reproduce it technologically? And why Engelman’s camera, when it attempts to see the space of the office through Freud’s eyes, is effectively rendered blind? “I wanted to see things the way Freud saw them, with his own eyes, during the long hours of his treatment sessions and as he sat writing,” Engelman concedes in his memoir, “[but] I couldn’t . . . fit my bulky tripod into the tight space between Freud’s chair at the head of the couch and the little table covered with an oriental rug on which [were] set a half-dozen fragile looking Egyptian statuettes.” Unable to simulate the view from the analyst’s chair, Engelman finds that he must redirect his gaze back to the perspective of the patient. The consulting room chair stands as a fundamentally uninhabitable space, a tribute to the imposing figure of the analyst who remains, even to the searching eye of the camera, totally and enigmatically other.
“Tucked” away in his “three-sided niche” (TF, 22), Freud once again can be seen to occupy a spatially marginalized position. But while Freud’s physical mobility in the consulting room may be more severely restricted than that of his patient, his field of vision is actually far greater. From his treatment chair, Freud can see not only the cabinet of antiquities below the now famous reproduction of Pierre Albert-Brouillet’s engraving, La Leçon clinique du Dr. Charcot, but also the room’s two main apertures (window and door) that frame it on either side. While from this position he is capable of monitoring any movements in or out of the consulting room, Freud’s view of the entry door is partially obscured by a set of fully intact antiquities displayed on the table in front of him, a double row of figurines that, like the patient on the couch, are carefully arranged on a Persian rug. Are we to see these unbroken antiquities as visual surrogates for Freud’s patients (“there are priceless broken fragments that are meaningless until we find the other broken bits to match them,” H.D. writes [TF, 35]; “I was here because I must not be broken” [TF, 16])? Or are we to see Freud’s patients as simply another part of his collection, a conjecture reinforced by the photographs of Marie Bonaparte and Lou-Andreas Salomé, two of Freud’s former patients, placed on the study bookcases alongside Freud’s other antiquities?
It seems likely that the relation between Freud’s antiquities and his patients is more complex than either of these two possibilities allows. Notably, the Egyptian statues in front of the consulting room chair are visible to Freud from the side, like the figures in profile found on the Egyptian papyrus hanging on the wall closest to Freud’s immediate line of vision. This particular mummy covering, which depicts a scene of embalming, holds a privileged place amongst Freud’s antiquities, its location next to the treatment chair permitting hours of careful study. For Freud, interpreting a patient’s dream is like deciphering an Egyptian hieroglyph. Pictographic script emblematizes the work of dream interpretation, offering a visual analog to the template of the dream text, the “picture-language” (13: 177) of the unconscious.
From his consulting room chair, Freud also has an unobstructed view of the desk in the adjoining study, where he will adjourn late in the day to take notes on his sessions and to write up his research. “One of the claims of psycho-analysis to distinction is, no doubt, that in its execution research and treatment coincide” (12: 114), Freud remarks, immediately qualifying that it is, in fact, unwise to begin scientific research on a case while treatment is still in progress. The architectural design of the office accordingly splits the interior in two, artificially divorcing the space of listening from the space of reflection. But the strict methodological barrier Freud erects between study and consulting room is nonetheless breached by the two doors that remain, like listening ears, perpetually open between them [figure 8]. A single axial line links desk chair to treatment chair, reflection to reception. While Freud listens to the patient from his consulting room chair, he has a clear view of the desk that awaits him, and a vision of the work of analysis towards which the clinical session aspires. Similarly, while Freud composes his scientific notes and theoretical papers at the study desk, consulting room couch and chair stand before him like an empty stage set, a visual reminder of the drama that has recently unfolded there in which Freud himself played a prominent role. The centers of knowledge in these adjoining rooms are thus visually continuous: treatment anticipates research; research rehearses treatment.
The immediate view from Freud’s desk chair is no less phantasmatically staged, with many of Freud’s favorite figurines lined up in a row on his desktop like so many members of a “silent audience.” Freud’s desk, the most interior place in the office and the most difficult to access, is also the site of greatest structural fortification. Surrounded on three sides by three wooden tables, Freud’s work area marks out yet another protected enclave, more confining yet more secure than the interior room created for the patient on the couch. It is at his desk that Freud makes the perilous transition from listening to writing; it is at his desk that he enters into dialogue with his professional demons; it is at his desk that he struggles to put his own manuscripts to rest. Visible in Engelman’s photographs of the study desk are the spectral outlines of Freud’s Moses and Monotheism, Freud’s last completed work that, he confesses, “tormented me like an unlaid ghost” (23: 103).
In what sense might Freud’s office, and the clinical encounter that takes place there, be read not just as an elegiac space but as a haunted one? Freud, it appears, was forever exorcising ghosts. A year after moving his office into a wing of his living quarters, Freud writes to Carl Jung of what he calls his “poltergeist,” a cracking noise issuing from the two Egyptian steles resting on top of the oak bookcases. Believing at first that these ancient grave-markers are possessed by spirits whenever Jung is in the room, Freud only reluctantly relinquishes his fanciful superstition when the steles continue to groan in his friend’s absence: “I confront the despiritualized furniture,” Freud laments, “as the poet confronted undeified Nature after the gods of Greece had passed away.”
But the Greek gods are not the only apparitions haunting the furniture and antiquities in Freud’s office; for Freud’s patients, these possessions operate as spectral doubles for the analyst himself. At least once in every analysis, Freud explains, the patient claims that his free associations have stopped; however, if pressed, he will admit that he is thinking of the objects around him—the wallpaper, the gas-lamp, the sofa: “Then one knows at once that he has gone off into the transference and that he is engaged upon what are still unconscious thoughts relating to the physician” (18: 126). had been occupied with the picture of the room in which he was, or he could not help thinking of the objects in the consulting room and of the fact that he was lying here on a sofa . . . . [E]verything connected with the present situation represents a transference to the doctor, which proves suitable to serve as a first resistance” (12: 138).] A transferential force emanates from Freud’s possessions; these overinvested forms operate, for the patient, as shadowy substitutes for the analyst who must not be seen. Whether or not Freud’s patients actually related to their physician’s objects in this way is perhaps less interesting than the revelation of Freud’s own deeply cathected relation to his things, which his theory of animation implicitly betrays. For this quasi-mystical account of the patient’s transference onto the doctor through the medium of surrogate-objects is based on Freud’s ready presumption that these inanimate possessions could somehow function as versions of himself.
The possibility that Freud may identify with these objects, may actually see himself as a part of the vast collection amassed around him, finds ironic visual confirmation in the last of Engelman’s office photographs. In the only office photograph that includes a human figure, Freud’s upper torso and head appear behind the study desk like yet another classical sculpture [figure 9]. Captured in a moment of statuary repose, Freud’s imperturbable facial features appear to imitate the bust of him sculpted seven years before by the Yugoslavian artist Oscar Némon. This final image of Freud amidst his collection provides eloquent testimony to Jean Baudrillard’s claim that, while “a given collection is made up of a succession of terms, . . . the final term must always be the person of the collector,” for in the end “it is invariably oneself that one collects.”
The very medium of the photograph participates in the process of memorialization that so deeply permeates the space of Freud’s office. Theorists of photography inevitably return to the camera’s technological capacity to objectify the subject, to turn the image of the living into a memorial to the dead. “The home of the photographed is in fact the cemetery,” Eduardo Cadava writes; “a small funerary monument, the photograph is a grave for the living dead.” Engelman’s camera captures that moment, identified by Roland Barthes, when the one who is photographed is neither subject nor object but a subject becoming an object, a subject who is truly becoming a specter. The photograph of Freud amongst his relics mortifies its living subject; it embalms Freud in a tomb he spent over forty years preparing. It is a suitable memorial to the man who seemed to glimpse, more assuredly than anyone, the many elusive ways in which our deaths anticipate us and our lives encrypt us.
Photography might be said to haunt psychoanalysis in another way, for a principle of photographic likenesses, of double exposures and exposed doubles, animates and reanimates the transferential scene. Insofar as the mechanism of transference works precisely by means of a double exposure—a superimposition of one figure onto another—the process of psychoanalysis can be seen to operate as a form of photographic development. Like photography, the technology of transference performs a kind of spirit work in which the phantoms of missing or lost others come back to life in the person of the analyst. In “Introjection and Transference,” Sandor Ferenzci refers to the physician as a “revenant” in whom the patient finds again “the vanished figures of childhood.” Freud, as object of his patients’ transferences, was just such a revenant, the living image of an absent person. Psychoanalysis, in this respect, was never very far from the schools of nineteenth-century spiritualism it so vigorously sought to bury. The ghost of the spirit medium speaks through the psychoanalyst every time the patient, through the agency of transference, communes with the dead.
A year and four months after Engelman took his clandestine photographs of Freud’s Vienna office, Freud died of cancer in his new home at 20 Maresfield Gardens in London. He died in his office, a room that had been renovated by his architect son Ernst and arranged by his maid Paula Fichtl to reproduce, as closely as possible, the office at Berggasse 19. In this, the most painful period of his sixteen-year battle with oral cancer, Freud’s office became his sickroom. It was here that Freud slipped into a coma after Max Schur, at Freud’s request, administered the fatal doses of morphine that would end Freud’s life on September 23, 1939. Cremated three days later, Freud’s ashes were placed, according to the family’s wishes, in a Greek urn, a red-figured Bell Krater presented to Freud as a gift by Marie Bonaparte. One might say that Freud at last found a resting place amongst his beloved antiquities.