Fighting “ghosts”—Between science and art

Dr. Osamu Kitayama

A boy “murdered” his younger brother. Artistic ghosts chased him throughout his journey as a scientist.


With “ghosts”

  “At the age of three years I passed through the station there [Breslau] when we moved from Freiberg to Leipzig, and the gas flames which I saw for the first time reminded me of spirits burning in hell. (Dated December 3, 1897) (Freud, 1985)
    In Freud’s original German text, the word for “spirits” was Geister, perhaps reminding him of the ghost of his younger brother, who had died at a very early age and whom he was leaving behind at his birthplace Freiberg, now known as Příbor. Concerning his travel anxiety, moreover, in his letter to Wilhelm Fliess dated October 3, 1897, Freud described the following experience of traveling at night from Leipzig to Vienna:
“…that I greeted my one-year-younger brother (who died after a few months) with adverse wishes and genuine childhood jealousy; and that his death left the germ of [self-] reproaches in me…”  
    Now I can interpret that one of the ghosts chasing him in his trip was his younger brother Julius, whom he had “murdered” out of jealousy, and who had later threatened him. In “The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud,” author Ernest Jones describes Freud’s phobia of traveling by train as follows:
“It turned out to be connected with the fear of losing his home (and ultimately his mother’s breast)—a panic of starvation which must have been in its turn a reaction to some infantile greed.” (Jones, 1955)
      It appears that the “ghost” of his younger brother with whom Freud had fought over their mother’s love, had chased him, filling his journey with fear and anxiety. There is a well-known episode in which, Freud, who was supposed to have overcome his fear of traveling, went to Munich in 1912, criticized the Swiss people for ignoring his works and even his name, and fainted in the presence of Carl Jung. A similar incident had also occurred before this, in 1909, when he was about to leave on a journey to America.
 “All his attacks could be traced to the effect on him of his young brother’s death when he was a year and seven months old…”
With the doubles 
     This was in connection with a train that was taken on a journey again, but, in later years, an “uncanny double” appears like a ghost:
“I was sitting alone in my wagon-lit compartment when a more than usually violent jolt of the train swung back the door of the adjoining washing-cabinet, and an elderly gentleman in a dressing-gown and a travelling cap came in. I assumed that in leaving the washing-cabinet, which lay between the two compartments, he had taken the wrong direction and came into my compartment by mistake. Jumping up with the intention of putting him right, I at once realized to my dismay that the intruder was nothing but my own reflection in the looking-glass on the open door.” (Freud, 1919)
      Of course, one cannot actually fight a ghost or one’s double. In reality, however, artists repeatedly appear before him as real objects whom Freud becomes jealous of, and compete with. For young Freud during the 1880s, for example, his rivals in love who tried to take his lover away from him were artists. One such rival was Martha’s cousin Max, who was a musician. Freud becomes distressed on hearing that Max had composed a song and sung it to her. Another rival was Freud’s friend Fritz Wahle, who was also an artist.
“I think there is a general enmity between artists and those engaged in the details of scientific work. We know that they possess in their art a master key to open with ease all female hearts, whereas we stand helpless at the strange design of the lock…” (Jones, 1953)
      The following sentence also clearly shows how jealous Freud was of the creativity and fame of male artists who win the hearts of women.
“An artist is oppressed by excessively powerful instinctual needs. He desires to win honour, power, wealth, fame and the love of women; but he lacks the means for achieving these satisfactions. Consequently, like any other unsatisfied man, he turns away from reality and transfers all his interest, and his libido, too, to the wishful constructions of his life of phantasy, where the path might lead to neurosis.” (Freud, 1916-17)
      This type of people can be found anywhere; they might be frequently encountered especially among artists. Freud seemed to have acknowledged that works of art did have a powerful effect on him but felt that he could not allow himself to be moved by them without knowing why he was thus affected, and states,
“…as for instance with music, I am almost incapable of obtaining any pleasure.” (Freud, 1914)
       Biographer Peter Gay (1988) described Freud as being “unmusical.” The fact that his mother had been “musical,” according to Jones, may have contributed to this “love triangle” concerning music. The technique of free association, moreover, was inspired by a book called “The Art of Becoming an Original Writer in Three Days” (Börne, K.L.), which became Freud’s cryptomnesia, or hidden memory.
“He said that when he was fourteen he had been given Börne’s works as a present, that he still possessed the book now, fifty years later, and that it was the only one that had survived from his boyhood.” (Freud, 1920)
       This shows that Freud had wanted to become an artist, and, at the same time, had directed towards them the feelings he had harbored about his younger brother Julius, making him intensely jealous of artists. He worked to sublimate these feelings, and ultimately developed a method of weaving a patient’s life story using words. So he himself became an artistic writer: although he could not win a Nobel Prize for his scientific work, he received the Goethe Prize, Germany’s prestigious cultural award, in recognition of his creativity.
      To learn how Freud had recognized his own feelings of jealousy and conflict towards artists, it may be worth reading his letter written in 1906 to Arthur Schnitzler, a writer six years younger. This writer was an artist and physician whom Freud himself acknowledged as his alter ego. In his letter, however, Freud confesses his envy: 
“…and I finally came to the point of envying the author whom hitherto I had admired.” (Freud, 1975)
        Fifteen years after this, in a letter to Arthur Schnitzler who had celebrated his 60th birthday, Freud wrote that, in a dichotomy of science or art, he chose to become an analyst rather than a writer.
“I have tormented myself with the question why in all these years I have never attempted to make your acquaintance and to have a talk with you… I think I have avoided you from a kind of reluctance to meet my double…I am inclined to give preference to the explorer.”
       For both writers and psychoanalysts, human beings are the targets of analysis, so, in that sense, the focus of their interest is the same. However, whereas a well-known writer reports his understanding to the masses, we psychoanalysts turn to a single patient. This major difference brought about the agony of jealousy to Freud. Indeed, even in his later years, he shows his continued ambitendency toward Romain Rolland, a writer ten years his junior. In his exchanges with Rolland when the so-called “oceanic feeling” is reflected back to him by the artist, as if in a mirror, Freud denies such a feeling and dismisses it. (Freud, 1930) I personally think that, while shrugging off the emotions stirred by artists, he was at the same time being chased by an “artistic ghost.” He chased it off, and chose science over art, at least at the conscious level.
What I see here is not real
      Having overcome his phobia of travel, he invited his youngest brother Alexander, with whom he had formed a peaceful relationship, to accompany him on a trip to Greece. It appears that this journey was one of his attempts to restore the persecutory relations with his “ghosts.”
“I had long seen clearly that a great part of the pleasure of travel lies in the fulfillment of these early wishes—that it is rooted, that is, in dissatisfaction with home and family.” (Freud, 1936)
      In an “open” letter to Rolland in 1936, he writes about the momentary feeling “what I see here is not real,” then fantasizes a conversation with his brother, who is of Rolland’s age:
“And now, here we are in Athens, and standing on the Acropolis! We really have gone a long way!”
      This satisfactory feeling of “having gone such a long way,” tinged with feelings of guilt, took place during the trip at the earlier age of 48.  But now retelling it to his “younger brothers” — Alexander, Rolland and us, the readers—he wrote in the end:
“…I myself have grown old and stand in need of forbearance I can travel no more.”
      As we all know, his last journey from Vienna was made for Paris on the Orient Express in June 1938. Its destination was London, where the traveller completed his whole journey on September 23, 1939.
        My conclusion is that Freud’s younger brother Julius, who had robbed Freud of their mother’s attention and love by using a live artistic performance in the form of “creative appeals,” was the very origin of the artistic ghost of whom Freud remained jealous. A clear-cut proof of Freud’s literary and artistic talent can be found in his writings. However, positioning himself as a scientist, he put up with other artists’ abilities and fame while feeling jealous of them.
       In the journey called life, he overcame these difficulties and became an “artistic scientist.” In other words, he confronted the ghost that came about through “killing” his younger brother Julius out of “ill wishes and real infantile jealousy” and despite suffering from travel phobia and syncope and feeling jealous and envious of other artists, he acknowledged value in these people, gained an insight into the origin of his sufferings, and created psychoanalysis as an artistic science.
      The problem was the dichotomy of art and science. The creative solution for Freud was the attainment of psychoanalysis which was both art and science. 
      Dichotomy is always an extremely difficult problem. Hamlet, who was tormented by the ghost of his dead father, was unable to solve the problem “To be or not to be.” Oedipus, the king, was torn apart by the problem of being a husband or a son and was unable to solve the dichotomy of Jocasta being either a wife or a mother. The fact is that she was both.
      It is true that, as Wissenschaft (a German word translated into English as “science,” but is perhaps more accurately “a body of knowledge”), both art and psychoanalysis are methods that equally possess the capacity to head towards the truth of human beings. In terms of the fact that psychoanalysis uses words, in particular, we have much to learn from literature. However, if psychoanalysis were to vigorously compete against “artistic ghosts” to see which is superior, it would ultimately blur the crucial difference between psychoanalysis as a form of personal communication that deals with a single analysand, and art as a form of mass communication that deals with a mass audience. Those whom we, as artistic scientists, deal with are the second party in front of us, first and foremost, and not any unspecified third party. Psychoanalysis is neither just science nor art, but both. 
     So we must make multiple round-trips between two extremes in our practice as well as in life and ghosts may appear and disappear in the halfway region where we must struggle with the dilemma and make terms with them. Dichotomy of life and death, above all, is most difficult to integrate and for us, traveling in life is a dichotomous journey to the end.
Freud S (1914). The Moses of Michelangelo. SE13: 209-36.
Freud S (1916-1917). Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis. Part 3. SE16.
Freud S (1919). The uncanny. SE 17: 217-56.
Freud S (1920). A note on the prehistory of the technique of analysis. SE18: 263-5.
Freud S (1930). Civilization and its Discontents.  SE 21: 57-107.
Freud S (1936).  A disturbance of memory on the acropolis. SE 22: 239-48.
Freud S (1975). Letters of Sigmund Freud. ed. Freud EL. New York: Basic Books.
Freud S (1985). The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904. Trans. and ed. Masson JM. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Gay P (1988).  Freud: A Life for Our Time. New York: W.W. Norton.
Jones E (1953). Sigmund Freud: Life and Work. Vol. 1: The Young Freud 1856-1900. London: Hogarth.
Jones E (1955). Sigmund Freud: Life and Work. Vol. 2: Years of Maturity 1901-1919. London: Hogarth.
Osamu Kitayama, M.D., Ph.D.
Psychoanalyst (Private Practice); Training and Supervising Analyst of the Japan Psychoanalytic Society; Professor Emeritus at Kyushu University
Born in 1946 on the island of Awaji located off Kobe.
1972: Graduated from Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine
1993-2010: Professor of Psychoanalysis and Clinical Psychology and later Concurrent Professor of Medicine, Kyushu University
2006-2009: President of Japan Psycho-Analytical Association
2009-Present: Vice-President of Japan Psychoanalytic Society
2014-Present: Vice President of Hakuoh University

More articles by: